I’ve heard people who work with music, whether their own or someone else’s, referred to as a music producer. But I wondered how a producer within the music industry was any different than say, a beat-maker or any number of engineers found there. So, I researched it.
What is a music producer? A music producer oversees all aspects of the creation of a song, an album, or an event. They are both the technical and creative leader of any music project they are hired for.
Although the details vary from project to project, essentially, a producer is for music what a director is to a movie. Music Producers wear so many career caps that it can be difficult to understand exactly what they do. Let’s just dive into this and find out what all a producer does.
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What Does a Music Producer Do?
Music producers are responsible for making decisions about the sound of a song or an album (or a production, as the case may be). This includes deciding on the appropriate studios, operating the technical equipment or advising on audio engineers, choosing instrumentalists, vocalists, and sound engineers. Producers are also working the logistics for a project within the budget they have.
A music producer can often be found in a recording studio working alongside the musicians and the sound engineers to get a perfect result for their project. However, they may also be found working with artists to get the genre sound required by a label or booking and handling logistics (or taking on the role of the A&R representative). Being a music producer is demanding to say the least.
An A&R (artists and repertoire) representative is responsible for finding promising new artists for a record label or music publisher to sign. They may also represent the talent that is to be nurtured for future jobs or labels in the industry they work within.
Caneell Hanna, a famous producer who has worked with Justin Timberlake and Adele once told Recording Connection that today’s producers are handling the roles of five different people, from writing songs to engineering, mixing, playing instruments, to even providing a studio.
Music producers keep the music industry going through their relationships and networking between artists, management, labels, and the more technical members of the industry. They take the art made by a musician and help develop it into the best it can be for the genre needed while combining it with the financial interests of a label.
Some producers wind up getting as recognizable as the talent that surrounds them. They often get associated with a particular genre and even further, a particular style of music and creation. Artists rely on their expertise in these chosen styles to help catapult their own work. After all, the music industry, and especially the niche genres are quite competitive and it helps to have this edge. There are actually awards within the music industry that recognize excellence in the producing category.
Why is a Producer so Important to a Music Project?
The producer handles everything that takes a music project from an idea or concept to the finished product – and does so with the goal of striking a perfect balance between creative design and financial design. Once the style, genre, and vision are known and the music is ready to actually be produced, the most important decision to be made by a producer is choosing the engineers that will be working on the project. Good producers know that engineers can make a mediocre sound into a hit and can also offer advice on other technical issues.
Producers plan ahead and make sure everything that a music project needs are available to it. Whether a rental is needed or the location is fully equipped, the producer is on the hook to deliver. And just like equipment, they also need to make sure other musicians are hired, should they be needed.
Producers get into the technical side of the business as well. They should know the ins and outs of tools such as DAWs – digital audio workstations. They should be able to tell the engineer or if they are handling this themselves, know what format and sample rates the music should be recorded at. One of the most strategic decisions a producer makes is the order of the recording. This helps his artists make the most of expensive studio time and can help shape live performances.
And speaking of studios, the producer is usually the person deciding on which studio to use. It’s important to choose wisely, based on how many musicians need to be present, what equipment, and sometimes the style of music. In one project, a producer might use a larger studio for recording music using drum sets, while moving to a less expensive studio for mixing and mastering.
A producer also selects the good takes during a recording session. They have to manage the time taken in a recording studio, after all, that’s expensive. So they need to have a good ear and be ready to make decisions for recording multiple takes until they get the perfect one. Some producers are actually engineers themselves and a lot of them even own studios. They focus on the technical aspects of the job. There are also musicians that become producers – they’ve proven they know how the system works, and so move into the ranks of other producers.
This type of producer is usually more concerned with the artistry of production and is free with advice for their musicians, including things about lyrics, harmonies, and arrangement. Back to what was mentioned above, a producer might also come into the role through being a beat-maker in the EDM, Trap, or Hip-Hop world. They make beats – song bites used in the creation of a song track – and sometimes work with the artist to create a full song or album. So, they combine a bit of both technical expertise and musical.
There are also the audiophile producers that got involved simply due to their love of music and have made a name for themselves after becoming involved in the industry. They may not be as specialized as the types of music producers I’ve mentioned until now, but their worth is in their connections, coaching, and decision-making.
In the end, one contribution of the music producer that is often overlooked is keeping his clients on-task and encouraging the best from them. They need the optimum product to present to the record label and furthermore to the music-loving public.
There are also music producers who have specialized toward other endeavors.
Radio Station Producers
There are over 15,000 radio stations within the United States. That allows for a lot of entertainment to flourish. But someone has to be in charge of the shows being produced and broadcast all over the nation. Some radio producers work within a radio station, while others work in the studio with specific talent and then this gets syndicated – or published and sold to multiple markets.
These producers often also handle the A&R component for their station and or the hosts and DJ talent they work with. In some cases, such as with NPR, each show may have executive producers as well as assistant producers. This is a craft, and as you might well know from listening to radio shows, they take in volunteers and interns that help but are also there to train in the industry. Experience talks in this world.
Producers that work within the specific setting of a radio station are obviously going to be in charge of everything that goes into the making of a particular show. Sometimes these are broken into two types of producer – the audio producer who is in charge of the sound and equipment, and the content producer who is in charge of the talent, the entertainment presented. Combined or separate, overall the radio producers plan, rehearse and make sure all of the equipment and employees needed for a radio show are working to bring it together, whether live or recorded.
They are in charge of handling the schedules of their hosts and DJs, scheduling interviews, and providing and sometimes improvising on programming. They can be found wrangling all outside events that their shows promote. That means ensuring that the equipment is kept in working order, that it gets to remote locations as needed, that the radio talent represented is taken care of and handles the work presented by the station correctly.
Syndication has become very important for producers in this line of work, especially in the digital age. Podcasts have been born from radio shows and DJs are becoming radio personalities more often than not who then cross over into the digital world. And they all use producers.
Producers that are hired for concerts, festivals, or any other live events have another set of responsibilities before them. Event producers must supervise and coordinate all aspects of an event. They’re usually in charge of not only retaining the talent needed for such projects but also making sure the facilities are prepared. Everything needs to be fully staffed, safety taken care of, equipment made available, and all of these working parts need to be maintained throughout an event.
Throughout the process of contracting vendors and hiring staff and/or talent, they must be responsible for the event budget. They may also be responsible for securing funding. They have to be sure the performers are taken care of and the stakeholders are handled, whether an event is publicly or commercially funded.
During the initial planning of the event, an event producer participates in ideation, collaborating with art and technical directors in order to generate concepts – lending a practical voice who can give limitations and budgetary guidelines. They will also review and edit project and event proposals from multiple team members, answering questions and directing people.
They direct production staff, they make sure equipment is tested, they must be sure all technical hires are made and are working together for the success of the event – including managing the control room. They ensure the set-up and working order of all audio-visual equipment and work closely with technical directors to implement their vision.
Some of these types of producers become specialized. For instance, tour producers work for a specific entertainment tour. Theatre production, of course, is based around specific theatre or live performances.
Why Do Producers Get Mistaken for Other Roles in the Music Industry?
More music is made using digital audio workstations and is distributed on social media platforms and streaming services than ever before. Artists work with synthesized or sampled instrumentation and vocals. Or they make their own sounds but record and manipulate them as they please. Therefore, some artists do their own production, being the vocalist, the sound engineer, the musician, and promoter all in one.
These types of producers often called not only beatmakers but bedroom producers – became popular with the boom of EDM (electronic dance music). These small-time producers are getting BIG TIME with the advent of social media growth and often get picked up by the industry if they have success on their own. They got the name “bedroom producers” because most started making music in their own home studio with the basics. Sometimes, right in their own bedrooms. These producers usually begin by taking a tutorial, having a good computer with production applications they like, and just – making music.
Finneas O’Connell for instance (known professionally as FINNEAS) fits this profile. He produced his own music as well as his sister’s music to great success. Both of their careers began with his digital workstation in their family home. He and his sister, Billie Eilish actually recorded some of their earlier work in his bedroom!
Most industry music producers are of the opinion that beatmakers and musicians might be considered a producer on a specific project but are only true music producers if they are handling many more things outside of creating the music. Once you are working with big budgets and larger labels, there are a lot more moving parts involved.
Who Has What It Takes to be a Music Producer?
A music producer’s responsibilities vary, but the overall duty is to help musicians achieve the sound that they’re striving for. A producer needs to be good with decision-making and communication. They need to have a flexible attitude toward work and be prepared to not just help produce a product but also market it. Knowledge and experience with music on both the creative and technical sides of the industry are helpful.
Retaining connections in the industry that can help bring together a project within a budget is optimal. However, as proven by newcomers, sometimes it’s about talent and the tenacity to keep striving for the best possible production and the best outcome for your music or the music you want to help make.
Music Producer Examples
Rick Camp – Hip-Hop/Pop Credits: Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Kelly Clarkson, Usher, Dr. Dre, Earth, Winds & Fire
Timbaland – Hip-Hop/Pop Credits: Justin Timberlake, FloRida, Ludacris, Chris Cornell, Mariah Carey, Demi Lovato
Rick Rubin – Guru Producer/Rock/Pop Credits: AC/DC, Adele, Aerosmith, Audioslave, Eminem, Danzig, Ed Sheer5an, Dixie Chicks, Ed Sheeran, Frank Ocean, Damien Rice
Quincy Jones – All-Around Producer Credits: Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Simone, Ican Lins, and many others. He produced the music scores for 33 films, including The Italian Job, E.T., The Wiz, The Color Purple, Fantasia 2000, and many others. This man has 55 years in the business and 79 Grammy Nominations, has earned the Grammy Legend Award and the National Medal of Arts.
Linda Perry – Pop Credits: Christina Aguilera, Pink, Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani, Celine Dion, James Blunt…and more. Was nominated for Producer of the Year by the Grammys.
Erica Sullivan – Radio Syndicate Producer Credits: iHeartMedia, On-Air with Ryan Seacrest, KIIS FM, Country Music Association (CMA)
Jason Kaplan – Radio Syndicate Producer Credits: The Howard Stern Show, SiriusXM, CBS Infinity