Within the realm of pop music, record producers have become just as illustrious as the musicians they work with. Producing a hit record can not only launch an artist from obscurity to legendary status, but catapult a producer’s career as well. Artists rely on producers’ creative expertise to craft the signature sound of an album or single; labels rely on their business savvy to ensure the record is completed on time, on budget, and with all samples cleared.
The first task of a record producer is to collaborate with the band to select songs for the album, whether written by the band or by another songwriter. The producer may participate in the rehearsal process and may hire an arranger to add parts to some songs, or begin amassing beats and picking possible samples. He or she selects a studio, negotiates recording time, chooses an engineer, and enlists the services of session musicians and background vocalists where needed. During the recording session, the record producer works closely with the recording engineer to perfect each track, decides when to do retakes, and adds his or her own trademark to the song. The final mix of the album is under the supervision of the producer, and he or she makes decisions (in collaboration with the band and label) on the order of songs on the album and selection of singles.
The job’s not over once the record is complete; the producer is still responsible for business matters like paying the studio and contract talent, providing receipts and expense reports to the label, securing release forms, and clearing samples. Record producers may work as independent freelancers or on staff at a record label, under the supervision of the A&R director.
Skills & Education
There is no specific college requirement to work as a record producer, but most have extensive training in music theory, musicianship, and audio production. A degree in recording arts is useful in gaining hands-on experience with mixing consoles, digital mastering, and outboard hardware. Courses in music business are useful in understanding the processes of copyright, music publishing, and entertainment law. Most producers have had experience as a recording engineer and/or musician. A trained ear for music is crucial, as is the ability to aptly communicate your vision to your creative partners.
What to Expect
A record producer must be creative, tech-savvy, and have a knack for business—a jack-of-all-trades. Your career is based propelled or stunted by your last successful track and your reputation among musicians: Are you the kind of person who can engender a creative atmosphere in the studio; can you pull the best out of the artists and make them believe it was in them all along? It goes without saying that you should expect long hours and mounting stress as deadlines loom and the band can’t seem to hit the mark. By turns the producer must be best friend, teacher, and whip-cracker. Be prepared to fight battles with the label, and know when to compromise. The end result of the sessions will be on your shoulders, but no one wants to hire a producer who is difficult to work with. When you make the jump to working as a producer your first gigs may be with unknown bands or small labels, but it only takes one hit to move up to the big leagues.
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