CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a music producer.
Is becoming a music producer right for me?
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Listen to all kinds of music
Many, if not all, music producers start on the path to their profession very early in life, simply by virtue of their love for music. They listen to a lot of songs across a lot of genres. They write down what they hear in every song and begin to recognize the patterns, characteristics, and features of various genres and styles. This early openness to all kinds of music, song writing, and production is very often the foundation of a career in the field. Diverse musical exposure is one of the music producer’s most basic keys. When a recording session is not going well, flexibility and willingness to consider a fresh perspective and approach can be the way to finding the right sound, tempo, or rhythm and to ending up with something even better than was originally planned.
Become a musician
Music producers are intimately involved in shaping the sound and the vision of a recording. They must have the expertise to recognize what makes good music. Becoming a musician, learning how to read and write music, and understanding composition, therefore, are logical steps to cultivating this talent; to knowing the sound and reach of different instruments in particular arrangements.
Start making music
You have cultivated your love of music. You have researched music genres and recording styles. You have learned to play one or more instruments. Now it’s time to start making music. Playing or singing in a band will teach you about microphone placement and how the volume of the instruments affect the overall performance. In addition, seek out feedback from music forums. A great way to do this is to upload your work on online music platforms, such as Soundlcoud, Beatport, and Audiomack.
At this stage, you will probably identify the kind of music that most speaks to you and begin thinking about specializing in a specific genre.
Some post-secondary institutions with outstanding music programs, such as New York University offer summer programs in music production to high school students.
While educational requirements for music producers may vary, a Bachelor’s Degree in music production is the unofficial standard.
Having developed an appreciation for and an informal understanding and knowledge of music, most prospective music producers pursue an undergraduate degree in music production, recording arts, or a related field. Coursework may cover music theory and composition; audio engineering and recording software; digital sound equipment and hardware; song writing; and music genres and their structures. As music producers are essentially the entrepreneurs of the music industry, music production programs also incorporate business concepts: legal, financial, administrative, and marketing.
Research music production schools here.
Recognized worldwide, London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Music is one of the leading schools for the study of music and music production.
Many music and music production schools form partnerships with local studios and radio stations to provide students with internships and opportunities to learn from working professionals. At some educational institutions, completing an internship is a requirement for graduation.
Throughout these internships students are exposed to producers, as well as other industry professionals. They see the entire production process, learn industry terminology and methodology, and come to recognize that the music business is all about making connections. These connections often open doors to future career opportunities.
Some of the most sought after internships are with record labels:
Network and make use of available resources
Once you have achieved a certain level of skill – through both formal and informal training and experience – it is time to take networking and making connections to the next level. Music production is largely a word-of-mouth business. The more relationships you build the more links to potential work and potential clients you will have. Take initiative to meet people in the field.
Use the resources provided by industry associations, which can often help with message boards, sample contracts, and general questions about the business:
• The National Association of Recording Professionals offers educational programs, a job bank, a member resume database for employers, a mentor network, and other services.
• The Society of Professional Audio Recording Services offers educational programs, internships, business conferences, and networking opportunities.
• The Association of Music Producers provides music production payment guidelines, sample music rights, master recording license agreements, messages boards, and classified ads.
• The Recording Industry Association of America is a trade association for recording companies, not individuals, but its website provides music industry links and licensing information.
Find and promote new artists
While the importance of connections in the music industry cannot be overstated, finding and promoting your own new artists is the ultimate goal. Scout new bands and artists by keeping up with industry social media. Consider hiring promoters to inform potential audiences of your artists’ upcoming events. Always remember that your success as a music producer relies largely on the music you release and the referrals that may follow those releases.
Frequently Asked Questions
Steps to becoming a Music Producer
Listen to music. Become a musician. Make music. Get a degree. Complete an internship. Network and take advantage of industry resources. Find and promote new artists. These are the most common steps on the pathway to becoming a music producer.
How long does it take to become a Music Producer?
Because there is no standard level of education required to become a music producer, there is no standard answer to this question. However, many aspiring producers – though not all – choose to establish a foundational knowledge base by earning a Bachelor of Science Degree in Music Production or a Bachelor of Music. Others wishing to work in the field may forego this formal education and pursue the career via a strictly informal track of constantly making music and intense networking.
Beyond a four-year music-focused undergraduate degree, there is no determining the typical length of time needed to officially enter the field. Connections, dedicated and effective networking, and luck usually all play a part in the process.
Are Music Producers happy?
Music producers rank among the happiest careers. Overall they rank in the 100th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.
This extraordinary, perfect happiness quotient in the field is very likely a reflection of the creative nature of producing music. People who do creative work consistently report the highest levels of on-the-job satisfaction and interest in their work, compared to employees in the accounting and finance, administrative, legal, and technology fields.
What are Music Producers like?
Based on our pool of users, music producers tend to be predominately artistic people. This comes as no surprise, because music production is an art, a fluid and creative process aimed at evoking emotion in performers and audiences alike.
Should I become a Music Producer?
The answer to this question lies in the answer to another question: Which skills will you need to succeed as a music producer?
Musical Aptitude Music producers do not need to be classically trained musicians. In fact, many of them are self-taught. But since the majority of people in the field are musicians, it is clear that a musical grounding of some kind is vital.
Interpersonal Skills Recording projects involve a significant number of people working in various roles and in close confines. The capacities to work with different personalities and when needed act as mediator or peacemaker are invaluable for music producers.
Creativity The best music producers can offer creative advice to their musicians. They also know when their input is called for and when they should defer to other professionals in the room.
Leadership In every creative process there must be a leader who is capable of laying down ground rules and of demanding the best of others. In the music production field, these responsibilities fall to the music producer.
Project Management Abilities As is the case with any kind of project, successful music production occurs with established proven workflows. The best music producers possess organizational skills and confidence to effectively direct technicians and artists. And while the production of music is by its nature creative, some kind of business background allows producers to remain pragmatic and aware of what the project requires.
Self-Motivation The work of music production is not a 9-to-5 venture. It is work that relies on a personal dedication to the craft, especially in the face of inevitable stumbling blocks, from studio availability to temperamental musicians to demanding business partners.
Patience Patience is an invaluable skill in any walk of life. For the music producer, it is a must. It is rare for projects to proceed without issues. Most will involve dealing with time constraints, people who work at a different pace than your own, retakes, rewrites, and delays. Quite simply, the job of facilitating creative expression typically demands massive levels of patience.
Capacity to Merge Art with Business Music producers who reach the pinnacle of their field will be dealing with large corporate labels where profit is everything. In this scenario you will need to be able to balance commercial viability with artistry.
A Head for Numbers Music production is about more than just producing music. It is about producing a budget, weighing costs, and contracting technicians. A head for numbers, therefore, is a definite asset.
Promotional and Marketing Capabilities Producers with some knowledge of management, promotion, and marketing have an advantage, because they understand the entire process of how a track is marketed and distributed to its audience once recorded.
Vision and Flexibility As a music producer, it is important to have a vision for your career. Do you want to work in a specific music genre? Do you want to work with a specific studio? Do you want to work locally or do you want to explore other possibilities? While knowing the answers to these questions will help to keep you focused and on-track, it is also wise to remain flexible and open to other pathways, because opportunities in the music production industry are not generally plentiful.
Networking Skills The music industry is one in which relationships are crucial. Therefore, a talent for networking is indispensable to connect with other producers, studios, labels, artists, and publishers. How you treated someone five or ten years ago will often have an impact on potential future opportunities. Case in point: Jimmy Iovine started off as a janitor in a recording studio. He worked his way up and formed a relationship with a young musician named Bruce Springsteen. Now he runs Apple Music.
Capacity to Take Constructive Criticism Every accomplished music producer knows that as soon as they put their music in the public domain, they are likely to get some criticism. Some of the criticism will be constructive feedback; some of it will be unfounded jabber. Learn to absorb the former and ignore the latter.
How to become a Music Producer
Although there is no standard level of education needed to become a music producer, many colleges offer four-year Bachelor’s Degree programs in music production. Curricula typically cover a broad range of topics, including musical history and theory; composition, song writing, and ear training; recording arts technology; contracts and copyrights; artist and project management; music publishing and distribution; marketing and advertising; finance and accounting; as well as entrepreneurship and the music business as a whole. Courses may include recording industry law and ethics, sound editing techniques, digital audio software, and electronic music. Some programs require students to produce a full-length recording and/or participate in an internship. Common degrees earned are a Bachelor of Science in Music Production or a Bachelor of Music with an emphasis in production.
While formal education is encouraged, by no means does it guarantee entry into and success in the field. Simply stated, this is because being a music producer is diverse and difficult. Certain producers may excel in sound design; others in sound mixing and mastering. And it invariably takes a long time to get to a level where your music is actually worth releasing. There are intricacies in music production that not only take a while to understand in theory, but require significant practice.
Regardless of the individual path they choose to hone their craft, music producers generally have some things in common. They have a love of music. They become an expert of a specific music genre. They listen to and appreciate all genres of music to cultivate a rich musical palette. They know what sounds right and how to transform an ordinary song into a hit. They know how to assemble and manage a musical production team, which includes the songwriter or music publisher, the artist, recording engineers, the mixing engineer, and the mastering engineer. More often than not, they know how to play several instruments – a skill that is particularly valuable when it comes to working in a studio in collaboration with multiple musicians. Many music producers start their careers as sound engineers.