Becoming a music producer isn’t difficult, being successful is. Earning a living from making music is a dream for many but a reality for few. So, how do you become a music producer? What pitfalls should you look out for? If you want to breakthrough in the industry and travel further than the decks in your bedroom, we’ve got some essential advice, guidance, tips and tricks for you.
So, let’s start with the basics…
What is a Music Producer?
Okay, let’s start obvious. What actually is a music producer?
Careers in Music offer this definition:
“Music producers write, arrange, produce and record songs, whether they’re shaping the sound of another artist’s album or creating beats or songs for their own projects. With the growth of home recording technology and boutique recording studios, many producers find themselves pulling double or triple duty as studio owners and sound engineers”.
So, what does it take to actually get there?
What You Need to Be a Successful Music Producer
There’s no set path or direction to take if you want to become a music producer, there are countless ways to work your way into the industry. Having said this, there are some common traits all successful producers have, these are:
A Creative Approach to Music
You need to be able to know how to make music better. This isn’t necessarily better by your own standards but what is considered commercially viable (if that’s the route your artist is taking) or appreciated by fans.
An Understanding of Music Creation
It’s very rare to find a music producer who can’t pick up an instrument and play to a high standard. An understanding of music and the theory behind it is vital. You should be aware of the creative processes and making your own tracks too. If you don’t have this, you’re unlikely to make it. You should be consistently looking for new ways to discover and create music.
An Ability to Work with People
You’re going to be working with lots of different artists. Some with large egos, some with attachments to their work. Approaching their music and making changes isn’t always easy. You need to be able to work well with others and be sensitive about the content you’re using. Patience is also pretty important here.
Engineering and Mixing Skills
An understanding of music engineering as well as track mixing is helpful when it comes to producing. You should be regularly reading about the latest developments in these fields and trying them out in your own tracks.
Ultimately, these skills will put you in a better place to make difficult decisions about a track’s sound and production.
Unafraid of Corporate Labels
If you make it to the big time in producing, you’ll be dealing with some very large labels. These can be a little corporate in their approach to music – profit is everything. You need to be able to balance commercial viability with artistry.
A Head for Numbers
From getting in session musicians to ordering the tech you need in the studio, you should be able to weigh up the costs and budget accordingly. Many producers find themselves arranging the details of recordings – so a head for numbers goes a long way.
Promotional and Marketing Capabilities
A lot of producers dabble in management and promotion. You need to understand the full process of how a track is marketed and distributed to its audience once recorded. You should already be doing this with the music you’re currently creating.
How to Become a Music Producer
So, you have what it takes and now you need a route to get there. Here are some tips to help you achieve your ambition:
Have a Vision
There are countless different types of music producers. Have a vision for yourself and ask which of these you’d like to be. Do you want to work with a specific genre? Would you rather work with a specific studio? Are you looking to work locally? Or, would you rather go mainstream?
There are no right or wrong answers here (though we’re sure you’ll debate this yourselves). Having a vision will keep your ascent structured and on-track when things aren’t going your way.
We’d also suggest not being too stringent about this vision. If you get an opportunity but it’s not necessarily in your target genre or location, we’d recommend taking it. Opportunities in this industry are hard to come by.
A structured education with qualification in your field is going to be invaluable but it’s not the only route. If you’re unable or uninterested in going to university, it’s not an issue.
There are countless routes into this type of job. The biggest constant is an understanding of music. Educate yourself. Read as much as you can online, take guidance and follow relevant blogs. Then try what you’ve learnt.
Get Studio Experience
It’s going to be very tough to get a job in music production without any studio experience. Hound your local studios with emails and calls until they eventually let you visit and help out in your spare time. This will probably be unpaid but the knowledge you’ll gain will be hugely beneficial.
Network, Network, Network
Relationships are crucial in this industry. Whether you’re talking to other producers, studios, labels, artists or publishers – make friends. Being sociable is one of the most important characteristics of music producers looking to make it.
Buy yourself some equipment and get creating. Let your music do the talking. Nothing hones your craft better than hours of tireless work. You may not be great to begin with – keep working at it.
Pair Up With Artists
Find some up and coming artists who share your vision. Work with them and get some original music made. Do this with as many fresh artists as you can – it only takes a track to get traction and you’ll get noticed.
Get Your Music Out There
Put your music in the public domain. Upload it to YouTube, Vimeo or Soundcloud and promote like crazy. It pays to build your social media following. If you can be seen as an influencer in your field, you’ll possess authority.
Once you’ve got a reputation as a capable music producer, see whether you can collaborate with publications or brands to get your name out there to new audiences.
Essential Advice for Becoming a Music Producer
As an up and coming music producer, it can be tricky to know whether you’re on the right path. Here’s some essential advice for everyone who’s thinking about becoming a music producer:
You Get Out What You Put In
Your success is based on how hard you work. You really do get out what you put in. Work tirelessly at this and you’ll make progress. It takes a lot to be successful in this game – an uninspired attempt just won’t cut it.
Eat, breathe, live and sleep music!
Listen to Every Genre You Can
You may only want to create Hip-Hop, though it’s important to learn an appreciation for every genre. You can learn just as much from Claude Debussy as you can from Dr Dre.
Have Your Own Sound
Don’t just copy what everyone else is doing, have your own unique sound. When you hear a Timbaland track, you can tell immediately. All the best producers have their own unique sound – it’s why artists keep going back to them.
Take Constructive Criticism
As soon as you put your music in the public domain, you’re likely to get some criticism. Take the constructive feedback and learn from it. Especially when this comes from people more experienced than you. In fact, go a step further and invite criticism – it’s how you’ll learn.
Don’t let people dissuade you from your dream though. There’s a clear difference between constructive feedback and those looking to deflate your enthusiasm.
Sharpen Your People Skills
“People skills are also very important – often as important as the music you make. When you work with people like Will Smith or Jay Z, you must be able to relate to them and make them feel comfortable. The business is full of different types of people and you have to be able to suss them out and adapt”.
Put in the Time and Hard Work
DJ Chuckie, producer and DJ has this to say in the same article:
“To be successful in this industry, you have to put in a lot of time and a lot of hard work… Some people think being a DJ is an easy lifestyle, but it is actually very demanding… Stick to your own beliefs and ideals instead of doing what you think is popular and expected of you. Stay patient and work towards becoming a more rounded artist, instead of looking to become as big as possible as soon as possible”.
Money or a Fun Time?
“If wealth means being able to create something, and have a self-sustainable business, even if a profit margin is extremely minimal… And everyone’s having fun… then f*ck it. I’m having a great time then”.
Don’t be Afraid to Change the Game
Rick Rubin, Former Co-President of Columbia Records and Co-Founder of Def Jam Records shares his wisdom:
“Before Def Jam, Hip-Hop records were typically really long, and they rarely had a hook… those songs didn’t deliver in the way the Beatles did. By making our Rap records sound more like Pop songs, we changed the form. And we sold a lot of records”.
Learn From Your Mistakes
Talking to Careers in Music, producer and sound engineer Jaron Luksa offers this advice:
“Find an artist and start, even if you have to do it for free. Trial by fire is the best way to get your hands dirty, you will learn more from your mistakes than your successes. This applies to not only creating the music but the business aspect as well”.
Look the Part
One of the best ways to get noticed is to create a sleek track video that attracts views on YouTube. It can be daunting to create a video, most artists and producers fear they don’t have the money or skills to do this. It’s no longer an issue.
Here at Rotor, we offer a cheap professional video maker tool that will take all the hassle away from this process. Just upload your song, select a video style, add any unique clips and customise the text. We’ll do the rest for you. Let us focus on creating a professional video while you focus on the music. Find out more about how Rotor Videos works here.