So, what does a music producer actually do? This is a question many people find themselves asking, and quite frankly, it’s an important question. The role of a music producer has changed significantly over the years.
Today, individuals who make hip-hop beats and electronic music refer to themselves as producers. In the past, a producer looked more like a manager in creating the record. Nether answer to this question is wrong depending on who you talk to and when they were involved in the music industry.
In the following content, I will answer this question from the traditional standpoint and what the term has come to mean today.
Tradition, Tradition, Tradition
A music producer often plays many roles in the process of making a record. However, some stand out more than others.
Don’t Break The Bank.
In the more traditional meaning of music producers, they were heavily involved in keeping a project on budget. They often oversaw scheduling the recording session, hiring the musicians, and ensuring everyone is paid for their work.
Music producers were very detail orientated and trusted by major labels. They refer to the acronym OTOB, which stands for On Time On Budget. It was easy for an artist to go over budget and be behind on album delivery. Producers were implemented to ensure this didn’t happen.
A producer can be thought of almost as a supervisor. They provide stability throughout the recording process, handling issues with the label, hiring and firing the correct musicians for the job, and capturing the idea as the artist intended.
Producers do a lot; they excel at many things and that’s why a great producer is always in demand.
What’s It Going To Sound Like
When you look at a large-format recording studio, you will often see what looks like a kitchen island directly behind the recording console. These are referred to as producer desks.
Producers often received the project before recording started. They were responsible for shaping the sound into something competitive. Many producers were sought after due to their unique sound. Artists and labels wanted certain producers because they knew their impact on their records.
Balance is Key
Artists need space and time to create. However, someone needs to keep them on track. The producer was tasked with balancing work and play. Obviously, they knew that an artist’s main goal was to enjoy the creative process and they needed to have a great time doing it.
With that said, many artists have type B personalities and have trouble staying on task and managing their own projects. A truly skilled producer is a master at keeping this balance and will streamline the entire process.
A music producer is in a leadership role and needs to remain confident in their ability to progress a project from start to finish. They need to be aware of what needs to be done and why.
The New Producers
As I mentioned above, the term producer has taken on a new meaning. You will often hear beatmakers and electronic musicians refer to themselves as producers. And honestly, they’re not wrong. They’re legitimately producing the music you hear.
This term came to be with the onset of digital audio workstations or DAWs. With recording technologies becoming more affordable, many people have started creating music and recording it in home studios. That birthed the era of the bedroom producer.
With pop music taking the world by storm, many of these songs did not incorporate live instrumentation and were created on software such as ProTools, Ableton Live, FL Studio and others. With people able to produce music from their own studios, the term shifted into a new role.
Do You Have The Skills?
Many modern music producers work from home studios. Some are self-taught and with that comes learning different roles in the studio. So, what skills does a modern producer have?
Well, for one, they have a keen ear for putting sounds together to complete a finished quality instrumental. Many producers will often double as a sound engineer, mixing their own tracks before it is sent to a potential artist to lay vocals over.
Music theory is something that comes up a lot. Although many producers have made it in the business knowing nothing about music theory, it’s an enormous plus if you do. Understanding how and why specific notes go well together will speed up your production process, making it easier for you to create without getting frustrated.
Many producers today are self-employed. Because of this, understanding the business is incredibly important. Producers need to understand how they are paid, when they are paid and who is actually paying them.
Publishing plays a large part in how big your check is. The most important topics a producer can understand today are how contracts and publishing work. Yes, you could get a flat fee for one of your productions. However, the real revenue is in the royalties of the song.
As a business owner, it’s vital to protect your creations. Understanding how to copyright your material is something you should look into. The last thing you want is for a production of yours to gain momentum and you have no proof that you are the creator.
This happens more times than you think and is usually a long and tiring process to fix.
What Should I Create?
The answer to this is really anything. With how advanced DAWs have become in the last decade, you can create anything you can think of in your head.
It’s also important to understand the trends and what is hot right now in the industry. It’s never good to be stuck in your ways and model your sound after someone else because it usually doesn’t produce your desired results.
Many modern producers simply create what they like and what makes them happy. If your tracks are quality, a vocalist will usually gravitate toward them. And they often network within the producer community and find others with the same interest and sound. Connections are important. Making them early in your career could seriously affect the outcome.
In short, modern music producers are creating the music you and I hear on the albums. Many of the traditional music producer roles are now handled by others on an artist’s team. But that doesn’t mean traditional producers don’t exist. They absolutely do.
Neither path discussed is wrong. There are just different ways of looking at two different jobs in the industry. Ironically they just have the same name. The most important thing is figuring out what you love to do and why you love it. Maybe you want to overlook the project but not create the tracks yourself, then do it. Maybe you love creating music in your room for other artists, then do it.
Just remember why you are starting down this road. It’s what you love to do!
If you are interested in a career in the Music Industry, Dark Horse Institute’s Composition and Songwriting, Audio Engineering, or Music Business Programs are a great way to take things to the next level!