How to Get Work and Become a Successful Music Producer

Ah, the music business – glamorous, full of fame and money. What better way than to be at the heart of it all either as a performer or as the one who creates those chart-topping tunes. No wonder it’s one of the top dream jobs of many when it comes to the entertainment industry.
The following might seem like a laundry-list of what’s required but the more you commit yourself to excellence and mastering many areas, the better and the more in demand you will become.
Learning how to play an instrument is not necessary – but it helps.  
Curiosity is a great thing. Many a great musician became successful through simply messing around with instruments, developing their inquisitiveness and ‘pushing the boundaries of what could be achieved. If you develop your curiosity and find an instrument you like, you could build a future niche around that.
The best way to be able to identify where your musical strengths and weaknesses exist is by:
    • Taking some lessons. A little formal training can go a long way. In particular, learning the  piano/keyboard or guitar is great, since those instruments common and versatile.
    • Experimenting with whatever you can get your hands on. Bang around on a drum set/pots and pans, fool around with a bass, and pick up a bow and start with that violin/cell. It doesn’t matter. Just immerse yourself in playing around with instruments.  
Education
If possible, always go somewhere where you can learn from those much better. If your college/university offers music production courses, start looking into them with the view to taking one. Pick the brains of any teachers/lecturers who have worked in the music business so you can get knowledge on just what you might need to learn. If you know Universities which do music production degrees, consider taking one if you feel it is right. A degree is not necessarily a prerequisite for getting a job in a studio (experience as in most fields takes precedence), but it helps. It also helps to know about the different technologies – both analog and digital – that you’ll learn about in a degree program. If nothing else, a degree gives you something to fall-back on. Sound engineering or something to do with business would be a good choice. If you’re in the UK or US, some Universities well known for specializing in music production include:
UK
Aberdeen College
BBC Music – ‘introducting’
Coventry University
De Montford University
Future Works
Glamorgan University
Guildford University
Islington Music Workshop
LIPA
SAE Institute
Salford University
University of Hertfordshire

USA
Berklee College
Full Sail University
Expand your musical knowledge
Producing music becomes much easier if you know the theories behind the sounds.
    • Learn about music theory and composition. While the word ‘Theory’ conjures up thoughts of intervals, tones, semitones and accidentals (sharps and flats) a little knowledge can go a long way and help you identify issues when the music just doesn’t sound right, e.g. out of beat or the wrong type of notes, keys, instruments etc. Aural test CDs can help regarding your ear training.
    • Learn about songwriting and lyric writing techniques  Basic song structure like verses, chorus and bridge are easy enough to understand. Producers often work with artists and songwriters to streamline and improve their songs.
Listen to lots of music
As a producer, most your time should be listening to music.
    • Listen to the arrangements and instruments used in songs. Get familiar with how different instruments affect the sound and feel of the music.
    • Identify common features in great songs. While no one knows an exact magical formula to write a hit, you may discover several key elements that make songs indelible. Often it can be found in the melody (either at the beginning or in the chorus) which is simple but written in such a way that is catchy and memorable .
    • Pay attention to mixes and how they help/hurt the song. Producers work closely with engineers to craft the sound quality of music.
Book knowledge
The number of books you read a year (and what you learn from them) will determine your expertise and ultimately your career success.
    • Read books, articles and jounals about recording techniques, songwriting and composition. It’s easier to know what you’re listening for if you know the recording process intimately.
Learn About the Music Recording Process
Most recording is done digitally these days. Experiment with audio recording programs to get some experience with the standard recording tools of today. As a producer, you should learn as much as you can about the recording process. This will involve actual real-life experience. Learn how to use multiple computer programs. Some popular recording software titles include Pro Tools, Logic and Digital Performer. Some of the major pop producers use Cakewalk Sonar, Reason and Pro Tools. Even Sibelius is worth using. A well-known favourite to start off with is Cubase. Hip-hop and dance producers/beatmakers may use FL Studio, and this could be used for pop as well. Create some beats, and don’t only write for one genre. Try doing punk, ska, rock, rap, r&b, country, funk, jazz, etc. The more genres you work on, greater your experience and versatility which is attractive to potential clients.
  
Learn audio engineering
Beyond the software, there is a lot of equipment and technical know how involved with recording. It is important to learn how it all works, and the best way to do this is by experimenting with the hardware yourself.
    • There are a lot of components involved with the audio signal flow when recording. Some of these may include: mixing boards, microphones, monitor speakers, Loudspeakers Amplifiers, Headphones, DAW Controllers, Microphones, Mic preamps, Mic stands, Cables and rack equipment such as Compressors, Preamps, Mutieffects Processors, EQ’s, Studio Signal Processors, Dynamics Processors and other effects .
    • Many hardware components are also available as software units, but controls are basically the same.

Go to live music gigs, concerts and open mic sessions
Pay close attention to audio and engineering equipment used in concerts and gigs. Also be on the lookout for any up and coming artists/bands/buskers and meet them wherever they might be. Have your business cards ready.
In terms of online, the one major strength Myspace retains is it’s music portal which is still seen as the place for new artists to showcase their work. Use it to find the next big thing.

 

Start networking and marketing yourself
Once you’ve got some recordings under your belt, you need to network. Today, being good doesn’t cut it.  Think about how you will present yourself. Create business cards. If a company is near you, send a personalized letter that shows thought, e.g. send it in an envelope painted with wacky colours or include an item that has a ‘gimmick’ factor  – just get yourself noticed and show creativity.
Also tell your family and friends you’re producing music and start marketing yourself in your local area. As someone starting out, be reasonable with your prices in order to get your foot in the door. Charge cheaply per hour, or per song. Do you have a family member who is an aspiring and great singer or other talented musicians in the family? Produce for them, but with the aim of creating from that, a demo CD for listeners can get a sense of your ability. Think about recording a wider number of genres is a good idea because it will bring in more business. Don’t be a snob about certain types of music. Work will add to your experience.
Be aggressive with using social media to push your message home. This is an article in itself but now there are so many places to upload your music from Last fm to good old Youtube and even (dare I add) Myspace that there’s no reason for not getting noticed online. Integrate this with places to host your podcasts, other social media pages and free press release sites and you might soon make a name for yourself like Aaron B of Aaronbeats.com

Finally, be prepared to work immensely hard especially if you get your first job. You will start at the bottom so whether that’s an internship, an engineer or simply setting up microphones around a drum kit you will be able to go from underling to a top-flight producer IF you take whatever role you’re  in seriously.

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