HOW TO BECOME ONE
WHAT MAKES A GOOD PRODUCER
What defines a music producer and their involvement varies from producer to producer. Essentially, the music producer oversees all aspects of the creation of a song or album. These can include choice of song, choice of musicians, instruments and vocalist(s) and how those instruments are played and those notes sung as well as where the song or album is recorded. Like a director is to a film, the music producer is to a song.
Like a film director, the music producer has to be able to make split-second decisions and convey their vision of the final song to all those involved—the audio engineer, the musicians, the singer—in a manner that gets the best performance possible from each of them.
The music producer needs to be able to focus on what’s going on in real-time as each track is laid down, as well as plan in advance by booking necessary studio time and session players or backup singers for the additional recording sessions as needed. This requires great communication skills as well as an excellent understanding of logistics and budgets.
The music producer is in charge of either writing the material or if he didn’t write it, he’s in charge of organizing it and making it sound like a cohesive song. He calls all the shots on what’s played, and when it’s played, and how it’s played, and the sounds that are used, or the vocals that are recorded if they’re correct or not. The producer is in charge of everything.”
“Okay, This is a touchy subject because the term ‘Music Producer’ has become very distorted in the last few years by the advent of the digital music creation stations, Logic, Fruity Loops, Reason, Ablteon Live, Pro Tools, etc. A music producer is the guy that is in charge of making your song sound the way he thinks your song should sound to be competitive in the market that your song will be in. A guy who makes beats on his laptop with FL studio is a beat maker.
“The music producer should be the guy that picks the studio and the engineer to work on your song from his experience of having worked on similar songs with the same guys. The music producer is hired because of his ideas in your genre of music. Then there are also vocal producers.
Those guys can take your vocals and make you sing the way they know you can, and the way the song needs for you to sing. Then, they usually work with a mix guy that they trust to put the vocals together in the way the songs needs in order to be the best it can be. Beat makers take samples and put them together with other samples to make a ‘song’ They are not music producers. Sorry.”
Today’s music producer is handling every role that we had 5 different guys handling 10 years ago. They are engineering and mixing as they are writing the songs. They’re playing the instruments, choosing the co-writers, supplying the studios.
They even balance the finances of project. Many of today’s producers have even absorbed the A&R roles that historically fell on the shoulders of the record label. He’s finding the artists, spending the development time nurturing them, and then bringing them into the label on a silver platter.”
He is in charge, kind of like the film director, but he’s in charge of getting all of the musicians to play their best, the song to get . . . to come out the way it was intended, and to make sure that the sounds of the engineer in the studio are fitting the song style.”
The best way to become a music producer is to hang around a bonafide music producer…someone who makes their living being a music producer. Now you could beat your head against the wall trying to setup an externship with a music producer OR you could get in touch with us, the Recording Connection. We knock on doors for your so you are on the inside dealing directly with a bona fide music producer from day one.
Music Producers write, arrange, produce, and record songs, whether they’re shaping the sound of another artist’s album or creating beats or songs for their own projects. With the growth of home recording technology and boutique recording studios, many Producers find themselves pulling double or triple duty as Studio Owners and Sound Engineers, as does the Rattle Room’s Jaron Luksa.
He says, “I am responsible for every aspect of my business and it’s definitely not all rock ‘n’ roll glory. A typical day for me starts with checking my Producer notes, prepping the studio and checking gear functionality. If something is broken, I’d rather have a fix or workaround figured out before anyone is in the space. Once the client shows up, I want my attention 100% on the artist and the music creation process.
Nothing else comes first. I usually work for about 10-12 hours with lots of ear and mental breaks worked in throughout the day. While on a break, I am usually attending to phone calls, emails, texts, social media and even accounting. There is a lot of work that goes into being a Producer outside of the studio such as attending rehearsals, meetings, writing sessions, and going out to shows.
Social media has given me the ability to connect with more artists than ever, but in-person interaction will never be replaced. Half of producing is the music, the rest is sales…and I am the product I push.”
Production is an extremely competitive field, and advancement comes as a Producer builds and diversifies his or her skill set or works with more prestigious artists. Some begin their careers while working out of a home studio before generating a buzz and being invited to work on big budget projects. Luksa puts it this way. “Lots of little kids dream of being star athletes, but they’re more likely to win the lottery.
The music industry has a similar statistical likelihood for artists and all us production folks trying to reach the top. I think Producers need to be realistic about the current and evolving state of the music industry. The game has changed and you have to be more than just a Producer nowadays. So many of my peers not only produce but play on records, write, engineer, DJ, program tracks or function as artists themselves to pay the bills.
Experience & Skills,/h2>
When it comes to necessary experience and skills, Luksa says, “there is no right path or specific skill set that will make you a great Producer. Some folks will get into producing by way of helping a friend record while playing/writing on said record,
others will just be crushing tracks out of their bedroom and word gets around, while others might come to produce because they are engineering and start helping bands get through the tracking process. There is no one single magic solution to launching your career as a Producer. Play off your strengths and fake the rest!”
The two things that are essential are passion and a diverse skill set. He says, “As a Producer, I contribute with engineering, playing, writing, arranging and creative guru skills. I approach listening to songs, bands, and artists from a fan’s perspective. I aurally digest music CONSTANTLY. If a great track comes on, I get a rush of dopamine from my brain. I truly am a music junkie.
So what kind of person would be successful as a Producer? Luksa says the ideal candidate is “organized, assertive, artistic and a great communicator. Someone who can lead the pack and rule with love, even when getting evil with some Norwegian death metal band. In the studio or rehearsals, artists look to you for answers, so you need to be thick-skinned and even-keeled. Artists bring enough drama, insecurity, and emotion into the sessions; [there’s] no need to add your baggage, so keep your BS and ego at home.“
Working as a Producer can be time-consuming, with late hours, long days in the studio, and a constant scramble to get paid work—at least when getting started. Luksa advises, “When you first start, take any gig you can at the drop of a hat.
Date with the significant other planned? Guess what, canceled. Going snowboarding with friends…nope taking the call. It will suck at first, but the real people who support your dream will understand and love you regardless.
Let other Producers [be the ones] being flakes or screwing up, [this can] be a good opportunity to prove yourself. If you become dependable, clients will start calling you first. Half the battle is just being the individual to get the job done in a timely manner.
After a few years, you can start booking yourself some normal hours. I try to work from 10 am to 10 pm and take the weekends off, but it doesn’t always work out that way. The associated stress isn’t for the faint of heart, but it does have great perks.
Working in the music industry immerses you in an environment of art and culture, allows traveling or vacationing whenever and however much you want. I always have backstage access and attend lots of fun events by invite. Ultimately this environment will change and shape your future, and if you are any good, you will affect the musical environment around you.”
That being said, I think it comes down to my tastes and how I am able to listen to music like a multitrack machine, focusing in on each element at will. I can objectively give feedback to the artist, regardless of what I would do or my musical influences. I try and produce according to that project’s genre and most importantly who the artist is artistically and how I think fans might react.
You have to ask yourself the question, “what kind of records do I want to produce?” because you need to be in love with the work. There is no guaranteed financial success. Competition is crazier than ever and the current demand for free content doesn’t help. You need to pick this line of work because you refuse to do anything else. It’s a hustle, and you are constantly looking for the next gig, even while working on a current project.“
Education & Training,/h2>
“Yes, formal music education is a must (know the rules before you break ’em),” Luksa says. “This industry runs at lightning speed as far as technology goes, so learn the basics from trade schools, or music schools with recording arts/music engineering and production programs. As you learn to use new gear or software, you can use that formal education as a platform to grow on.
Next, apprentice with someone who is respected in the part of the industry you want to work in. You need to follow production trends and methods. Which, btw pretty much involves eating cereal and watching a stupid amount of YouTube videos on “how to” in pajamas.”
So how does an aspiring Producer land that first gig? Obviously, it isn’t as straightforward as submitting an application or a resume. It’s about taking advantage of networking and learning opportunities. Luksa says, “A few years back while I was still in school, Butch Vig was quietly standing backstage at Avalon in Boston (he had performed with Garbage). I was working production but snuck over and kindly asked this same question you posed here.
Butch told me that he and some friends got a place and gear to track some punk bands and make records. The rule was that bands supplied beer as payment. It worked because a lot of bands showed up.”
Luksa started gaining experience early on. He says, “I attended Berklee’s Music Production and Engineering program, interned with a bunch of Live Sound Engineers and was offered a job mixing monitors for a Live Nation venue in Boston (Axis). I think [for] my 10th show, I ended up mixing monitors for a Bon Jovi acoustic show/live radio broadcast. . .
.My interaction with the band and Jon was professional and I didn’t screw up. After the show, I realized ‘I know what I am doing…I can hang!’ For the next 6 years, I was mixing live and interacting with all these bands on a nightly basis. After the shows I mixed, I would approach the best local bands opening for the national headliners and ask them to take me into the studio to make records (I told you… it’s a hustle and I figured out my angle).
I became part of a scene and networked my ass off to find clients who would pay me to go into the studio with them. I guess that’s how I broke in…? That was a good 12 years ago….Fast forward, I have toured around the world as a Live Sound Engineer and Tour Manager for some amazing artists and built a studio,
The Rattle Room, where I produce and engineer all kinds of music. Oh, and I still cruise on a tour bus and do the Rock Star thing once in a while.”
Luksa says, “I’d say starting salary is hard to nail down….In bigger cities and music industry hotspots, the money is a little better for a per track rate…but the more you work and the more “at bats” you get, the more likely you are to have a record “make it” and end up with more business. When looking at ways you can earn money as a Producer, take my advice and get paid up front! Create a simple
“Producer’s Agreement” with a Lawyer that you can edit and use over and over. (It’ll be the best $500 you ever spent.) Don’t waste time with points and backend troubles, you won’t see that cash anyway. If you help write songs or hooks, figure out your writers and/or publishing split for that song and confirm it via email with other Writers until a formal split sheet is created and signed. That is the backend you should be concerned with.”
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations,/h2>
Producers aren’t unionized, but networking and community are vital for success. Luksa advises fledgling Producers to “register with a PRO [Publishing Rights Organization] so you are prepared for writing and publishing royalty collection.
Go out to shows and become part of your local scene, make friends and create contacts with Session Musicians, other Engineers, and Producers. Keep that part grassroots.”
Online, he says, “there are so many resources out there, it just depends on the music and scene you want to be a part of. Stick to where your clients might hang their interactive selves or follow other Record Producers or Engineers you respect.
Always follow trends within your project’s marketing demographic via Billboard or other reporting. You don’t have to buy those records, but give them a listen. I really dig Sound On Sound, Tape Op, Mix Magazine, and Gear Slutz forums (especially when I have software or hardware questions).”
“Find an artist and start, even if you have to do it for free. Trial by fire is the best way to get your hands dirty. You will learn more from your mistakes than your successes. This applies to not only creating the music but the business aspect as well.”
HOW TO BE A GOOD PRODUCER
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Be yourself and go with your gut. This is art. It should be fun, inspiring and just fly by the seat of your pants crazy. Go make real music!!! If it catches on like Amy Winehouse, Black Keys, Jack White, Adele, Liam Bailey, etc., then you actually served a purpose in producing real art and we need more of that.
Back in the day, we had music industry gurus that decided what was good music and what people should listen to on the radio. Unfortunately, those folks have all left this earth or stopped making records. Even worse, they have been replaced by marketing and accounting personnel.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“We don’t need more Producers making tracks for pop bands. The sounds have become so uniform, I can’t even hear a voice or any resemblance of artistry on the track. . . to be honest, I can’t even distinguish who it is sometimes. If your plan is to make “hits,” realize that you are making the Coca-Cola of music. It has to appeal to the largest audience possible and ends up pretty bland.
That’s not to say that there isn’t good pop music, but the pop market is so oversaturated. No one buys that music anyhow and the record companies have had to shift how they make money.
The big record companies serve the purpose of content creation for commercial applications, selling movies, soda, cars, and other products. It’s just not my bag because I care about the music more than the money. I’m not trying to put down the folks who do this work, I just want to inspire more people to produce out of love, not for the bling.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“’What is the biggest personal reward in producing?’ Seeing or hearing your name mentioned in association with a record you believed in and loved makes it all worthwhile. Everyone who works a “normal” job and receives a paycheck every week also craves recognition for a job well done. We are human and full of emotional needs, regardless of the situation.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“Who is my favorite Producer or who do I look up to? Rick Rubin. The dude is a big weirdo, but he launched a hip-hop scene, produced true gems like Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, created a record label that supported huge acts like Slayer and System Of A Down, revived careers of bands like
The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Johnny Cash, Black Sabbath and Metallica. I feel he is one of the last Producer/label/A&R people that can create with a sense of artistic integrity and still achieve commercial success.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Top 10 tips for being a music producer
Watch and learn
I started out as a tea boy, which was perfect because you just get to observe. You sit at the back of the room, look after people, get them what they need but at the same time, you get to share in the experience without being responsible for it.
It's one of those industries where you just have to try and absorb as much as you possibly can. Find a way to be in a recording studio and watch what happens. Experience the psychology of dealing with artists and the practicalities of getting a performance from someone.
You can't teach that stuff, you just have to absorb it. If you've got the right sort of attitude, you can watch and learn and then practise yourself when there's some studio down time.
Be good and kind and appreciate others
For someone to succeed in the music industry there's a long line of people that need to believe in that person. It's a bit like being a politician; no one gets there on their own and it certainly doesn't happen overnight.
If you're going to succeed in this business, you learn pretty quick that being appreciative of other people's time, skills and talent is the key to being successful. Being a good, kind, human being is paramount.
You're going to get the odd idiot along the way who is ego driven and awful, but those people tend not to last very long. Those that have succeeded have worked out that their success is largely down to other people and not just their own individual talent.
Try and get an honest performance
When artists behave badly, it is often just a defence mechanism, it's just someone feeling insecure. It's your job to get them to relax.
As a music producer, you don't just want someone to stand there and sing, you want them to transfer emotion, which means they have to be extremely honest with themselves and you.
Some people are initially uncomfortable with that, you have to break down all their barriers and so, as a result, bad behaviour comes out - we've all got our own little defence mechanisms when we're feeling uncomfortable.
It's amplified in a recording studio environment, because people aren't always willing to give you that level of honesty and go there straight away, so there's a lot of psychology involved.
Use your lyrics to tell a story
I was about 11 years-old when I started writing songs.
My dad was a singer so he would go out and perform and I think I learned my craft as a result of sitting in dressing rooms of working men's clubs in the North of England.
I'd sit there with a bag of crisps and a bottle of pop listening to my dad singing these songs and then have a go at writing my own.
The more you write songs, the more you broaden your vocabulary and the poet inside you.
Your ammunition and your arsenal broadens when you read a lot of different kinds of literature, so I recommend reading as much as possible.
Your lyrics have to tell a story, they have so much of a job to do.
The songs people resonate most with, are songs that are just full of honesty, sound simple and get the message across.
5.Create the right environment
Over the years I've learned that your most important job as a producer is creating an environment in which people want to create and express themselves and that isn't always easy.
Asking people to give an honest performance can be like asking someone to get undressed in front of you. If you're asking people to drop their barriers like that, they've got to be comfortable with you.
Try and be a good person, the best that you can be, then things will happen. Apply positivity to any situation you find yourself in, and don't linger on things that are negative, but use them as opportunities to grow.
Be prepared to work hard and sleep less
I think it comes from being a Northerner, my dad was Irish and extremely hard working and he instilled a solid work ethic in me.
If you want to be a professional music producer, you have to sacrifice the BMX years as a kid. Those few years when, as a teenager, you would be out on your bike with your friends, as a musician, you can forget about those years, because as a musician you're learning instruments or writing songs. can't remember having any more than four hours sleep a night for the last 15 years. You have to throw yourself in and learn how to swim.
Regardless of what I'm doing I need to feel like I've done a day's work, you know, like I've put in the hours, otherwise I can't celebrate any of the successes. I need to feel like I've done my bit.
Be prepared to make sacrifices
The truth is, a career in music isn't just your career, it's also your mistress, because you love it, you spend all your time wanting to do it, you'll spend all your weekends and nights thinking about it, you sacrifice a lot of conventional relationship time and that isn't always easy.
The reality is that if you want a career in music, it is all consuming and it isn't something you do, it's something you are.
I've always considered the songwriter and producer's role to be one of integrity rather than one in the limelight. Because I think the job of a songwriter and a record producer is to bring out the artist in the person performing the song.
Have ambition ,/h2>
Twenty years ago, I got a phone call asking me if I wanted to produce a record for Take That. Gary Barlow and I wrote Everything Changes together very early on.
I had always had an ambition to have a number one by the time I was 25, that was my life time ambition and believe it or not, Everything Changes went to number one on my 25th birthday.
We've been good mates ever since and I've just been working on my first Broadway musical called Finding Neverland with Gary. It's just fantabulous and it's looking like we might have a hit on our hands which is great!
It's been one the steepest learning curves I've had as a songwriter and the same applies for Gaz. But it is by far the most inspiring and creative thing I've done in my life. It's good to have ambitions and keep challenging yourself.
Learn to play an instrument and see the best in people
I think we have a responsibility to keep educating ourselves nowadays. I play a lot of different instruments including the drums, piano and guitar.
I'm a master of absolutely nothing, but what I do have is a working understanding of different instruments and that's important because it means you can get a better performance from the instrument and the person playing it.
I try to see everyone I meet as a good person. Sometimes when you trust people in any capacity you can get your heart broken, but I think it's important not to be cynical. Try to only expect good things and when they do happen, celebrate them. It isn't always easy, I had to learn to be that way.
Maintain a sense of wonder
Maintain a sense of wonder.
I've always understood that anything really amazing was usually born out of a lot of pain and a lot of sacrifice. Because that's how you earn it, that's how things become really great achievements.
I've managed to maintain a sense of wonder of music and it levels me how powerful it is. We wield it about like a child with a light sabre sometimes and we don't know what we're doing.
You have to remember that when your music goes out there and into the world, it doesn't belong to you any more as a songwriter, it belongs to whoever hears it and it becomes part of the soundtrack to their lives.
Music transcends race and age and everything else, it's a truly universal language.
I just happen to be lucky enough to be holding a pencil the day the universe wants to write a song, because I feel like I'm a part of something much bigger than myself and I'm truly grateful to be doing what I do. I can't wait to get in the studio each morning, I love it.