How To Become a Music Producer: A Complete Guide
Updated June 30, 2023
Music producers help create the songs and albums people listen to in their homes, and they play an essential role in choosing which singles are released for radio listening and TV viewing. Music producers are also responsible for a variety of aspects of music production. If you're passionate about music and entertainment, you might benefit from learning how to turn that passion into a career.
In this article, we explain the role of music producers, describe the steps to becoming a music producer and answer frequently asked questions about this career path.
What does a music producer do?
A music producer is a creative and technical artist. They're people who develop and craft creative content. They often scout talent and coach artists in a variety of genres and oversee all aspects of recording and producing singles, records and albums. Producers used mixing boards, sound boards and other recording equipment to ensure albums have professional sound and quality.
Another element of a music producer's job is the promotion of artists and their music. They help artists hone their crafts, identify their niches and reach their target audiences. To a certain degree, music producers also help artists create an entertainment persona and professional image.
Work environment for music producers
Most music producers work in music studios. They collaborate with sound engineers, managers, marketers, production assistants and other artists. People in this career use computers, musical editing programs and mixing equipment. Their workday is likely to be divided between office work and technical work in sound booths and audio engineering rooms.
The work environment is typically fast-paced, collaborative and highly creative. The nature of this career sometimes includes working long hours and collaborating with artists outside of the usual 9-to-5 business day.
Salary and career outlook
According to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the national average salary for a music producer is $49,130 per year. Currently, nearly 56,000 music producers are working in the U.S., with an estimated 2,700 job openings projected in the field over the next decade.
Your earnings might be more or less dependent upon the musical artists you're working with, your geographic location and whether you're taking on extra projects or roles along with studio work.
Requirements for music producers
Here's a list of the requirements for becoming a music producer:
There's not a fixed standard educational requirement for becoming a music producer, but most employers look for candidates who have a bachelor's degree in music production or a related field, such as music performance, music theory or audio engineering. A bachelor's degree is a four-year program and includes a broad range of topics and courses relating to music and a career path in music production. Here's a list of common topics of study for people who enroll in this type of program:
Digital audio software
Recording industry law and ethics
Artist and product management
Marketing and advertising
Your training is crucial to your success in becoming a music producer. Whether gained during formal education, an internship or personal practice, hands-on experience is how you'll gain the skills and abilities needed for your future career.
During an internship, for example, an aspiring music producer learns how to properly manipulate sound equipment. They work with industry experts to develop melodies, hooks and other important aspects of a song or record. Internships are also likely to teach people how to interact with musicians and bands.
This hands-on training and experience is also extremely important for your understanding of marketing musicians and it's likely to help you get a realistic impression of the work environment and industry as a whole. Additionally, internships or apprenticeships also help expand your network, which is particularly important for people who want to work in this field.
Certificate programs can be completed in lieu of a four-year college degree or they can be used to bolster the education provided by a traditional degree program. A certificate in music production, audio production, talent management or audio arts can help you enhance your ability to craft music and develop marketing plans or techniques. Depending on the program, certification can take between six to 18 months to complete.
Top music producer skills
Here are five key skills you should have as a music producer:
1. Passion for music
Becoming a music producer requires dedication, knowledge and patience as you make professional and social connections. The industry is very selective and having love, respect and passion for music and entertainment is crucial. Your dedication to music is likely to come through in your work, as the art you create may reflect many of your most personal feelings or values.
2. Knowledge of music theory
Having a deep understanding of music theory—melody, rhythm, harmony, form, pitch, scales and other musical elements—can help you make informed decisions when producing songs. You also can use this advanced knowledge to speak with other people in the industry about important aspects of music and music production.
3. Trained ear
In music and production, the phrase ear training refers to a person's ability and practice connecting music theory with the sounds they hear. Someone with advanced training or natural ability can identify different intervals, chords, scales and notes without having to look at sheet music. You can train your ear to recognize notes by playing the same note continually and listening to a wide variety of music with and without musical notes. Using this ability, you can produce music more efficiently and creatively by using your intuition and gained knowledge to adjust tracks based on their sound alone.
4. Audio engineering
Audio engineering involves the use and understanding of technical equipment related to the production of recording music and live performances. This process involves balancing and adjusting sound and beats. People who have strong audio engineering skills use equalization tools, audio effects and other mixing tools and programs. They also use their knowledge of music theory to assist in the operation of audio engineering equipment, such as adjusting the volume and mix of various instruments and vocalist parts.
5. Interpersonal skills
Interpersonal skills refer to a person's ability to interact with others in accordance with social norms and professional expectations. Some of these skills include active listening, conflict management, empathy, negotiation and public speaking. Because much of a music producer's time is spent acquiring and managing talent and collaborating with artists, it's important to have strong interpersonal skills so these relationships are built on trust and mutual understanding. Music producers also promote artists and their labels, which requires using your interpersonal skills to maintain a broad professional and social network.
Frequently asked questions
What types of jobs are there if I want to gain experience before becoming a producer?
People who want to gain experience in the music business before applying to become a music producer may want to find entry-level roles in the industry. A job as an assistant at a recording studio or a role in a prep sound booth or as a recording technician can provide exposure to many industry contacts and allow you to build your production skill set. For example, you may have access to high-end industry software and hardware to advance your technical production abilities.
Can I be an independent music producer?
To be an independent music producer, you'll usually need access to production equipment and a recording studio. You may choose to start your own record label or produce music for people without representing them as a label or manager. Some studios rent space and time for independent music producers and aspiring musicians.
How come some producers don't charge for their services?
The reason why some producers don't charge their clients for their services is to build a better resume and make connections with artists or other people in the industry. Most independent producers do not do this for a long period of time. Rather, they use this as a temporary tool to build their portfolio, develop their skills and get an idea of how much money they can charge for their services. Once your portfolio is larger, you can often attract more clients and negotiate higher wages for your work.
Is it essential to learn how to mix and master music as a producer?
Whether you intend on being an independent music producer or have aspirations for working for a specific record label, it's important that you know how to mix, master and engineer music. These skills are crucial to earning respect from musicians and fully understanding the process of producing music. Mixing is a fundamental part of making instruments sound good together and mastering is just as essential for making cohesive pieces of musical work. Over time, you may grow more confident in your mixing abilities, allowing you to improve your efficiency in creating finished pieces of work.
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