What is a music producer? The technicians behind the art
A music producer can be many things, and the term is more of an umbrella than anything else. For example, someone that sits at their home computer and make music is a music producer.
But in this article, we’re tackling the question “what does a music producer do?” in the context of commercial music. You know, the kind of producer that popular artists like Ed Sheeran and Adele work with. Producers like Mark Ronson, Rick Ruben, and Quincy Jones.
Many music producers work freelance, but there are still many who work in-house for bigger labels. So let’s explore the role they play in bringing commercial music to life.
- What does a record producer do?
- A day in the life of a professional music producers
- The skills and professional qualities of a music producer
What does a record producer do?
Okay, so what is the job of a music producer? The job of a music producer is to support musicians and recording artists in a number of ways, with the goal of recording and preparing their music for release. So a music producer’s job is to assist an artist with their recording project and bring their music to fruition.
How a music producer support artists differ from project to project, but the role is generally a creative one. With that said, a music producer must balance important administration requirements alongside their creative ones to ensure the interests of the artist, the team involved, and the record label is protected.
Nonetheless, the ultimate responsibility of a music producer is to ensure that the songs of the artist are well recorded and produced. To do so, a music producer leads a team just like a movie director to turn a creative vision into an album.
Their daily routine may include advising the artist on their performance, working with recording, mixing, and mastering engineers; in addition to liaising with music managers and songwriters to create a cohesive environment where everyone can work together and bring the album to life.
A music producer understands the work
So a music producer is at the helm of a team creating a song that sounds as it should in order to be competitive within its genre/market. In other words, they’re the visionary tasked with managing the sound and feel of a track or entire album.
To do that, a music producer needs to have a clear idea of the end result, and so they need to listen, experiment and explore different avenues of creativity to turn a record into a hit. Their role may sometimes be as simple as listening and giving their approval, and other times they may be super hands-on and placing microphones, organizing equipment, and managing a mixing desk.
Music producers tend to have a diverse set of skills and a vast understanding of music technology. As a result, they can perform a number of roles, but there may be a member of the team who can perform either role.
A music producer leads a team of … and will perform one or two of the roles themselves.
- Recording Engineer
The recording engineer takes charge of the technicalities and equipment of recording and mixing each instrument.
Writes the original music. Some artists write their own music while others rely on songs written by professional songwriters.
- Music Arranger
A music arranger works with the artist to bring their recorded version of the song to fruition
- Mastering Engineer
Responsible for mastering the final audio to ensure the song is market ready.
A session musician is brought in to perform on the track unless the artist can play a particular instrument.
- Music Manager
Ensure the album gets produced and hires the production team, and ensure deadlines are met.
Takes parts from a recording to make a new version
Give the artist advice to help them make decisions on their record
A day in the life of a professional music producers
Though it’s got a lot of fun qualities, being a music producer is a busy job. There’s more to it than simply sitting at a computer with an artist and making music. A music producer must be a confident leader, keep everything moving, and ensure deadlines are met.
Let’s take a look at some of the responsibilities of a music producer.
Working with schedules and budgets
Music producers demonstrate their capability and professionalism when they submit a finished record on time without spending over a given budget. So a music producer’s goal is to ensure the recording artist’s project is a finished, market-ready song when a contractually agreed upon date rolls around.
Therefore, a producer schedules recording sessions, ensures the musicians work through the schedule in a timely and cost-effective manner, and ultimately ensures that anyone working on the project has the necessary resources – all within an appointed budget.
A professional producer can guarantee the successful completion of the project. They ensure both the technical and artistic aspects of the project are accounted for, all while keeping everyone on track and moving forward. In practice, a producer needs to be able to say “I like this, it’s finished” before the recording artist insists on additional remixing or “just one more take”. When this happens the project deadline starts to waver, so a music producer’s mantra must be “OTOB” (On Time and On Budget).
Big commercial label releases from the likes of Sony Records tend to make the completion date an integral part of a bigger schedule. From manufacturing, marketing, and even publicity schedules, the completion date of the project is just one cog in a bigger machine. This means the producer needs to coordinate everything to keep in line with the record’s release.
Bringing the music to life
So the number one responsibility is to turn an idea into a finished song or album. While the end goal is ultimately to create a commercial product, the creative process is, yes, creative – with some management and admin mixed in.
The finished record must retain the artist’s creative and emotional intent, but it must also be accessible to a broad audience. Therefore the producer needs to keep the interests of the artist and label in mind. To do so, a product is the one in charge of putting a frame around everything and creating a publicly presentable product.
A producer must trust their emotional response. If it sounds good to you, it’ll sound good to everyone else. So they need the confidence to say, “I like this one”! A producer must carry out this function at every stage in the creation process because everything needs their approval. Is the backing track right? Is the drum beat the right fit? Is the guitar solo creating the right energy? These are all questions that the producer must answer.
All work all play
In any scenario, a good leader knows how to get the most out of each team member, and a producer must know how to get the best performance of each performer on the record. While a producer needs to ensure a schedule is followed, they need to keep artists in a creative state of mind. To do so, a producer must disguise the work with play, and that’s done by making the recording process (the work) as invisible as possible.
A skilled producer creates the impression that everyone is there to play and simply record the results. In doing so, the producer is making the recording process fun and less like work whilst being fully aware of the work that needs doing. But keeping those work-related thoughts to themselves allows the musicians to do what they do best – play.
An optimal performance usually relies on how playful the recording session is, and a playful session comes with an optimistic and positive approach. Being the leader, the producer must bring these qualities to the session because such a state of mind is infectious. So if everyone agrees that the goal is to just have fun then the session will yield better results.
That being said, the producer needs to inspire the musicians to do a great job too – and they do that by creating the atmosphere and mindset where “everything will work out fine.” Experienced, well-prepared music producers can do this whilst being keenly aware of what needs to be done, and keep everything moving forward as a result.
A music producer who knows what they’re doing understands that consistently moving forward is a critical aspect of the creation process. Taking action and getting tasks done starts to build momentum, and soon the creation process starts to pick up steam.
Of course, making music is work – but work that is fun at its core. It has some nitty-gritty technical aspects that can throw frustration into the mix, but music production is an enjoyable job. So a music producer that can harass the fun aspect to get the work done will be more effective and sought after every time.
The skills and professional qualities of a music producer
Music producers can start their musical journeys out as musicians, technical specialists, or both! Their leadership role requires them to have an understanding of different studio technologies and how they impact a track, and they understand the tones that different instruments and voices produce. The result is a team leader who can determine what’s needed, where it’s needed, and when it’s needed.
That being said, their skill isn’t necessarily tied to their technical knowledge of music like playing an instrument or understanding how the technology works. Like learning an instrument, it takes time and practice to learn how to use different bits of gear effectively and professionally.
Therefore, different music producers may excel in different areas of music and audio production. Some may excel at mixing, others at mastering, and some even at sound design! No matter where they excel, there are a few common skills and behaviors that all music producers share.
For instance, they have expert knowledge in at least one genre of music, but they listen to an appreciate number of styles of music. They have a rich musical palette as a result, and they know what will sit best where and how to transform an ordinary song into a hit.