Exploring this Job
Join a music group to get a sense of the collaborative process of putting songs together. Your school may have equipment available for recording performances, and your school's music teacher or media department director may be able to assist you in a recording project. Since a large part of being a producer involves good communication skills, any experience you can get dealing with a variety of people—as in a retail sales job, for example—will be helpful.
Listen to all types of music. Try to get a sense of the "big picture" for each recording—what the artist and producer are trying to get across. Spend time on the Web sites of musicians and music producers and follow them on social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. Read the backs of CDs and production notes for digital downloads, to familiarize yourself with the names of producers.
Students can contact record companies or recording studios to get more information; local studios can usually be found online or in the classified telephone directory, and others can be located in the music trade papers. The Recording Academy is another good source for information on the industry. There are also numerous books and music trade magazines that cover music production.
Music producers have to be creative and innovative, with their own style and method for achieving set goals. Artistry and experimentation aside, the goal of the successful music producer is to produce profit-making recordings that sound as good as they possibly can.
The degree of involvement a producer has with a recording project varies from producer to producer: Some are involved in every phase of production, and some (those at major labels) handle only certain elements and assign the rest to specialists. Most producers, however, will at least put together the talent (if it is not already there in the form of an established band or orchestra) and the music that will make a recording. Some producers, particularly the independents, arrange for the recording studio, technicians, and background musicians, and they frequently become involved in the mixing and editing of a recording, album cover art, packaging, contracts, administrative paperwork, and marketing and promotion. In a major record company, some of these elements are more likely to be handled by separate departments.
Music producers usually specialize in a certain musical genre, be it rock and roll, rap, country and western, jazz, or classical. A record company may specialize in all, several, or one of the musical genres.
Music producers never stop seeking new talent or projects to record. They keep in close contact with the label A&R staff, whose job it is to scout up-and-coming talent, or they find talent on their own. Some producers build talent by assembling a group of musicians to release a recording or series of recordings that the producer feels will be successful based on the musicians' skill and reputation.
Producers discover new talent in a number of ways. Personal contacts today are one of the most important methods; managers, musicians, conductors, songwriters, and arrangers often introduce the producer to a band or solo artist. Musicians frequently send demo recordings to record labels and producers they feel might take an interest in their music. Many producers find talent on independent labels. Since the early 1990s' success of the one-time independent-label rock band Nirvana, there has been an influx of "indie" bands (indie is industry slang for "independent") signing on to the majors. Other leads may come through reading the show business trade papers, such as Variety and Billboard. Once the producer finds up-and-coming talent, he or she offers contractual negotiations to the musicians, which may involve the musicians' agents or managers and lawyers.
After the talent has been signed, the producer usually will have to prepare a budget covering all of the expenses of production. The next step might be setting up a rehearsal schedule and making arrangements for a rehearsal studio. Depending on the project, the producer either selects the songs the talent will record, or lets the musicians decide and make suggestions on ways to make the songs fit better in the label's target market.
After consulting with the musicians, the producer selects the recording studio and the audio recording engineers who will control the quality of the recording. Producers make certain all necessary equipment and instruments are available at the studio during the scheduled sessions. Some record companies have their own recording studios, which are convenient and save costs. Independent producers can be more flexible in their choice of studios and often choose places other than studios to record. Because some major recordings may take months and hundreds of hours in the studio, producers make sure the atmosphere is comfortable for the musicians. Most producers work closely with the recording engineers to get the most desirable sound quality during the session. They frequently adjust levels, microphone placement, sound quality, and other factors to improve the recording.
After the recording session, time allowing, producers wait a short period of time—a few days or a week or more—before attempting the final editing of the multi-track recording into a two-track stereo master. This process is called the mix. Mixing involves determining in which part of the stereo sound spectrum each recorded track will be placed to produce the optimal effect. This can be an enormously complex process, especially when some recordings have more than 24 tracks. During the mixing process other musical elements can be added, such as instrumental or vocal background, echo, and other sound effects. Mixing can go on for days even though the process has been sped up through the use of computerized mixing boards.
After the producer is satisfied with the mix, a master is made from which music is recorded to digital files, or on CDs (which are still produced and sold) and records (ocassionally) for manufacturing. The producer also may oversee the mastering to be sure of the final quality of the recording before manufacturing begins. Music is often released initially on bands' Web sites and to sites such as Apple, Amazon, and others, depending on the bands' contract terms. After the manufacturing process, the recording is ready for distribution and promotion. Radio stations and reviewers are given advanced promotional digital files and/or copies of the recording. Personal appearances on television and radio talk shows are booked for the talent where possible, and a tour is scheduled to support the new release. From a rock, rap, or country recording session, producers and label executives decide which song will be the likely hit, and from this song, a video may be made—which can be as important and complex as the recording itself.