writes on December 1, 2017
The record producer is the music world’s equivalent of a film director.
– Phil Ramone
Becoming a producer is a creative endeavor, and because of that there is no guarantee you’ll find success. The average salary for a producer can range from $25,000 to $1 million (the average salary is $49,000). The work is hard and the competition is crazy. This isn’t the type of job where you know you’ll take home a check at the end of every week. You’ll need to get out there and hustle for every project you get, and keep hustling to secure the next one (and the next one after that).
And you’ll be working this hard in an industry whose fans want everything for free.
So where do you start?
If you want to become a producer, you’ll need to think about your skillset. Eventually, you might be responsible for everything from composing and arranging songs, engineering audio, to managing an artist’s output. You have to be truly passionate about this career because you’ll need to spend a lot of time practicing and expanding your abilities. So many producers nowadays don’t just produce. They DJ, write songs, perform, book musicians for recording sessions, or engineer.
Forget about the money or compensation, it will come. Think about releasing a great record that people will really enjoy.
Start by analyzing your strengths and weaknesses as a producer. What are some things you do well (like mixing beats or arranging chords)? What are the areas you need to improve (like working with artists, promotion, or networking yourself)? You might be the Jordan of beat-makers, but if you don’t have a following no one is going to hear it. Almost every aspect of you as a producer needs to be on point if you’re going to stand out and make a career for yourself.
So make a plan to practice the skills you’ll need to take your career to the next level. Look at how you spend each hour of your day and decide what’s helping you survive, what’s working to make you a producer, and what’s not. Any successful producer will tell you that if you’re not prepared to dedicate your life to pursuing this—if there’s anything else you could do—then don’t bother.
Every penny you make at your day job (above the cost of living), should be invested in your music career. #NewMusicBusiness
— Ari's Take (@ArisTake) July 25, 2017
Jaron Luksa, owner of The Rattle Room recording studio and a classically-trained musician who’s produced for artists such as John Legend and Foster the People, says, “Working as a Producer can be time-consuming, with late hours, long days in the studio, and a constant scramble to get paid work.”
“When you first start, take any gig you can at the drop of a hat,” advises Luksa. “Date with the significant other planned? Guess what, canceled. Going snowboarding with friends…nope taking the call. It will suck at first, but the real people who support your dream will understand and love you regardless.”
Arrange your days to maximize the time you spend working on turning your passion for producing into a career. This may mean learning an instrument to make you a more well-rounded musician or to give you a better sense of musical arrangements.
But don’t let any lack of knowledge prevent you from getting a start. The best way to hone your production skills are to start producing music. Begin by working on your own songs. Once you can produce quality songs, you’ll be able to start collaborating with artists and possibly earn money doing it.
The key to longevity is to learn every aspect of music that you can.
How will you know if you’re ready to charge for your skills? When someone wants to pay you for them. Promote yourself as a producer-for-hire. Everyone starts out working for free, but if you keep working you’ll make the transition to a paid professional.
Develop the reputation of someone you’d want to hire: a hard-worker who will go the extra mile to make something great. Maintaining a clear brand is central to this. Know what type of music you want to make and develop a unique sound. The legendary producers have distinct styles that are instantly recognizable as theirs. Phil Spector’s style was so specific in 60’s popular music they called it the “Wall of Sound.”
Use the beats you’ve created to build a following online. You can showcase your music live by becoming a DJ and inserting your tracks into a lineup of other’s songs, like Calvin Harris does.
An important aspect of becoming a producer is maintaining an expansive knowledge of music, history, and trends. All successful producers listen to music all the time. They listen to everything across a wide span of genres. You’ve got to learn to analyze what makes a song work. Engineering and mixing skills rely on an understanding of the different elements of a song. Consider listening to music daily, required homework in becoming a producer.
Everything I make as a producer, I visualize it as a DJ first. And all those beats, I test them as a DJ.
– David Guetta
Some go to school to gain a deeper understanding of music—from the technological and creative sides. Tailored instruction can be a great avenue for focusing potential producers on their craft. If you don’t have the time or funds to pursue a degree, you’ll have to work that much harder on improving yourself.
As a producer, you are your own business and you’ll need to invest a lot in yourself. There are a million possible first steps you might take in starting your career. But you just need to take one. And keep going from there. Every day, take a new step.
Stay tuned, because next time we’re getting into networking and promoting yourself as a producer to develop your career.
The Become a Producer series will feature information for you about producing, the music production process, educating yourself, and other producing opportunities.
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