The demand for knowledgeable music producers is on the rise. Though new jobs in music production are expanding, competition is expected to be strong. This makes aspiring music producers stay on their game. Those with breadth and depth of skill are much more likely to land top-grossing gigs or long-term positions in production. However, the road to a career as a music producer has become significantly easier in the twenty-first century.
The Age of Digital Distribution
Digital distribution via platforms like SoundCloud, Bandcamp, LANDR, and ReverbNation have made it extraordinarily easy for music producers and performing artists to get their sounds heard quickly and easily. Most platforms also allow artists to upload material for free, even those that have limits on the number of tracks or bytes for the platform’s free version.
Because of digital distribution, the cost of production is significantly reduced. Because the vast majority of people stream or purchase digital copies of albums, the incredibly high cost of formatting and printing CDs are largely a thing of the past. What’s more, the music producer or performing artist will rarely pay upfront for the digital release of an album; instead, they part with a percentage of the album’s purchase price when a fan actually buys their work. Music producers can also earn income by producing sound packs and selling them to other producers or artists, and some find their collections in demand.
Digital distribution has helped equalize the playing field for dedicated music producers and artists who may not have as much money to spend as others for distribution, and more music is being produced and released than ever before for this reason.
The downside is heightened competition among music producers, especially among those just starting out. However, it also makes it significantly easier for music producers to submit and/or distribute their work.
Genres and Blending
Music production is not only a technical discipline but one of aesthetic understanding. Twenty-first-century musicianship features heavy experimentation with multiple genres by the same artist or producer; rarely can contemporary music be classified within a singular genre.
Aspiring music producers need to listen to a great deal of music, both to drive their own musical goals and to be in touch with performing artists whose work they will produce. Reading about the history of popular music genres can help the music producer develop their understanding of both the aesthetic of those genres and the technical expertise applied to bring out the essence of that aesthetic. All manner of music genres will demand their expertise, and by being as well informed musically as possible, they can meet that demand.
While most music producers will choose specializations in one genre of music, it’s still advantageous to think about how their technical expertise can be applied to genres outside of their area of focus. What is the best way to capture a sonorous vocalist or the heavy essence of the metal guitar without dimming the sound when compression is applied? What’s the best bus grouping for a dubstep track? These are the kinds of questions music producers must ask themselves, and also the kind of questions that will be asked of them by performing artists and other producers.
Getting Started – Equipment
Building a home studio can seem a daunting task, but there’s a short list of hard requirements, the rest is optional, and while some extras may make the work of the music producer easier and more polished, they are not absolutely necessary.
The first and most important piece of equipment is the studio computer. When purchasing a studio computer, the music producer should ensure that it has a good processor, a good audio card, and appropriate jacks and USB ports to plug in recording headphones, splitters, external drives, and other equipment. A USB hub is also a great investment for music producers that find a great machine that only has a couple of USB ports.
Recommended computer brands are Apple, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer, although other brands can certainly be considered. Ultimately, the music producer should purchase the best quality machine they can afford, or simply use the one they currently own until they can afford an upgrade.
Digital Audio Workstation
The second piece of equipment is a digital audio workstation. Loads of DAWs are on the market with a broad range of prices, including freeware. For music producers able to invest in an industry standard DAW, Cubase, Logic, Reaper, Ableton, and especially Pro Tools are worth attention. However, there are ample choices for freeware DAWs of excellent quality, including Pro Tools First, Giada, Rosegarden, Garageband (exclusively for Apple users), and Magix Acid Pro Express.
Next up is at least one microphone, preferably more, with accompanying upright and boom stands. A good condenser microphone is a nearly indispensable tool for the music producer, and more than one is an excellent idea, particularly from industry standard brands like Sennheiser, Shure, Rode, Audio Technica, or Neumann. However, Shure’s classic SM58 microphone can be used for almost any purpose, including recording and performance. So, if the music producer has a small budget for microphones, the SM58 is an excellent investment. Boom stands are more versatile, so if the music producer must choose between stands, they should opt for the boom.
A decent mixing board is also an important investment for the music producer. While many DAWs have built-in mixing boards, a physical unit is required for multi-instrument and vocal recording. It can also grant the music producer greater control over the mix when recording and during post-production. Mixing boards can be expensive, so music producers, especially those on a budget, should carefully choose and price boards that fit their basic needs.
Music producers will need a quality set of mixing headphones, often more than one set. Closed-back headphones are the best budget option, and many affordable and good quality brands produce them, including SONY, Yamaha, and Audio Technica. Studio speakers are expensive and while they’re worth the investment, they are not a strict priority for beginning music producers. Any speakers are better than none, even if they are small computer speakers or stereo speakers.
Music producers who are a little further developed in their career may want to invest in a few studio instruments, such as guitar, bass, and keyboard. While these are not strictly necessary, having some good quality instruments on hand can make a music producer more attractive to clients who want options for recording their material.
Getting Started – Skills Foundation
The learning work of an audio producer, much like a musician’s, is never finished. But for aspiring or beginning music producers, a basic foundation of skill is vital to become established.
To start with, the use of the studio equipment must be learned and mastered. Learning the limitations and strong points of purchased gear, will lend itself to good quality recordings and end-stage production quality. Knowing what microphones to use for different instruments, how best to utilize a mixing board, and developing strong listening and communication skills are first on the list.
No matter what DAW a music producer chooses, it must likewise be appropriately mastered. Every DAW has its pros and cons, and an experienced audio producer can make their DAW do backflips on a kickstand, because they have learned, with practice and heavy experimentation, what it can do, what it does best, and what its limitations are. Choosing a DAW that seems intuitive can make this process much easier, as will reading its documentation and manuals on its most effective usage.
Much of the music producer’s challenge lies not in raw creativity, but in the challenge of teasing out problems and remedying them. Listening carefully to a recording and taking notes on what needs to be fixed should be one of the earliest developed skills. Knowing how to use different effects on the recorded product is critical, especially for vocals. When does a producer use compression? EQ? De-essing? Distortion? Learning the vernacular, what the base technical processes are, and learning to properly apply those processes, with aesthetic and style, is critical. Technical mastery and thinking on one’s feet are essential.
Last but not least, learning solid communication skills is essential for music producers. Throughout a career in this incredibly dynamic field, music producers will work with an extremely broad array of people and personality types. Working on and mastering interpersonal skills is just as vital to the long-term success of a music producer as technical proficiency.
Teaching the New Generation
Experienced music producers may find themselves much in demand for instruction from aspiring music producers. This is an excellent second income for music producers, teaching the next generation.
Music producers may want to provide one-on-one production lessons or group classes in-studio. They can also opt to design and record classes for learning platforms like Udemy and Skillshare.
Music production is a fascinating and expansive field. With time, training, and a bit of investment, aspiring music producers can launch a successful career, and enjoy material and personal success not only producing their own creative endeavors but by helping other artists to achieve their musical goals for years to come.
Audio Production Program
The Audio Production and Engineering Program at the Institute of Production and Recording (IPR) is an occupational degree program designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Throughout the program, students are involved in hands-on exercises and real-world studio projects that enable them to apply their knowledge and refine their skills.
At the end of the Audio Production and Engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients — an audio resume with professional content that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.
Contact us today to learn more about the audio production programs and starting a rewarding career.