What Does a Music Producer Do?
The title "Music Producer" initially lost some of its prestige and perceived authority once digital recording, marketing music, and creating compositions and mixes via online platforms became accessible to the average person.
The term "Music Producer" has become very distorted in the last few years because of digital music creation stations, and applications such as Logic, Fruity Loops, Reason, Ableton Live, [or] Pro Tools. Donny Baker, a successful producer (Beyoncé, Brandy, Candace Glover, The Klassics, and others), touches on that perception. He compares the idea of the professional music producer to "...a guy who makes beats on his laptop at a FL studio is a beatmaker."
In this post, we're talking about professional music production rather than independent or freelance beat-making. That said, all of you beatmakers out there should continue your production path forward by deepening your musicianship, broadening networks, and gaining the experiences necessary to branch into the big-league production scene.
Music Producer Defined
Berklee School of Music defines music production as both "creative and technical. It requires well-developed listening skills, a good handle on recording technology, a deep musical knowledge, and effective project management and leadership skills by a music producer, also known as a record producer."
Berklee continues with a more vague definition of music production, "If you zoom all the way out, what a music producer does for a living is this: vibrate air molecules in such a way that when the air molecules bump up against a human life form, that life form feels something."
With that information, let's break down both the tangible and intangible aspects of what a music producer does by the talents and qualities inherent in their role.
1. Musicianship and a talent for sound
Musicianship can be quantified on paper. Most music producers have years of music education or musicianship behind them, and many are poly-instrumental. They may even lay some of their original tracks down to complete a specific recording.
Beyond the ability to read, play, and create music, music producers have an intuitive penchant for sound and the ability to predict or sense what the market wants. The latter is impossible to prove in black-and-white, but successful productions elicit that "bumping up of air molecules" that makes life forms feel something, as quoted above. The best producers are sound innovators who know how to work within current sound trends while also pushing artists and musicians into the sound trends of the future.
2. Technical know-how
The iconic image of a music producer is a person wearing headphones, gaze intent on a computer screen or the artists playing/performing in front of them, and hands at work on the soundboard. While successful music producers benefit from sound engineers working on their behalf, they must be equally proficient with the sound equipment. Music producers are confident music recorders, editors, and mixers.
3. Creativity and inspiration
Singer-songwriters may have a solid vision for their music, but many current musicians sing or play songs written for them by professional songwriters and composers. A musician's job is to dive into the story and emotion as much as possible. But it is the creativity and inspiration of the music producer that drives the ultimate storytelling and emotional journey.
Ultimately, the music producer shapes the music to honor the original artist's intent while simultaneously guiding that shape into reaching as broad an audience as possible. They may even write music or lyrics to round out the final production.
4. Superior communication skills
Producing music on demand is stressful, especially if conflicting egos, ideas, or personalities are at play. Music producers also provide conflict resolution within the studio team and band members. They're not just a creative muse for them. Producers also liaise with sound engineers, record labels, other industry bigwigs, investors, and marketing teams to keep the vision moving forward, which requires adept communication skills and diplomacy.
5. Financial and business know-how
Depending on the size of the label, as a producer, you may also be responsible for the production budget and some of the business side of things such as booking studio time, hiring backup musicians, choosing the right sound engineer for the project, and keeping the recording schedule on track. Familiarity with financial and business practices, such as a degree in the music business from a respected music school or university, is a significant plus for you.
You May Be More Like a One-Person Production Band
Today's music producers require a tireless work ethic because they operate as one-person production bands compared with previous decades' production processes.
As music producer Cameell Hanna (Justin Timberlake, Adele, Florence & the Machine, Eva Simons, Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dogg) points out, "Today's music producer is handling every role that we had five different guys handling ten years ago...Many of today's producers have even absorbed the A&R [artists and repertoire] roles that historically fell on the shoulders of the record label."
Are you interested in learning more about music production and what it takes to get your feet wet as a professional music producer? Watch for our upcoming post, How Do I Become a Music Producer?