What Does a Music Producer Do?

by ReverbLxnd in Mixing

What does a music producer do, actually? In the last few decades a lot has changed in the studio, this article looks at the role of a music/record producer in music today

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In the last few decades, a lot has changed in the studio.

In this guide, we are going to have a look at the role of music producers right now.

(In 2020)

Let’s get started!

Who is a Music Producer?

The role of a music producer is somewhat of a complicated topic today.

It’s a constantly evolving thing which makes it hard to pin a definition and it is something a lot of people debate back and forth more and more these days.

This can make the role a little bit murky for people just coming into the music industry, especially if you are interested in recording studios and understanding music production.

What is a music producer?

A music producer is a role with a lot of definitions, but generally, it helps to think of it as the studio professional who oversees the whole music production process from concept (or vision, as is often referred to as) to reality.

Think of a music producer as a director of a film or movie.

We looked at the music production process in what is music production. Think of the producer as the “director” of the music production process.

Regardless of whatever definition you’re accustomed to—

From the creative end— the producer is the person that helps the artist visualize and realize their full musical potential.

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In this sense, a good producer is someone who can look at an artist and say “wow, they have a ton of potential… with a little help they’ll be able to take it from the garage… and bring onto a bigger stage”.

And from the business end— the producer, at the end of the day, is responsible for delivering a completed product to the artist or label that hired them.

But nowadays producers don’t even have to work with artists.

If you look around, there many people with a laptop, a pair of headphones or speakers, and a beat pad that they make drum grooves or synths parts, put that together in a track and sell that to artists or upload it online for free.

That is what the term producer is becoming.

I do a ton of that myself.

If you are looking to get into the scene and you want to be a music producer or a record producer, it’s a lot more complex than that. There are so many pieces and facets to becoming a producer than simply making beats.

As a role, as a career, as a job it goes so much further just “cooking” beats on a machine or virtual software.

What Does a Music Producer Do? What is the Producer’s Role in Music?

There are two ways of looking at the role of a producer in today’s music production scene from a time perspective—

  1. The old school record producer
  2. The home studio (or, small project) producer

There is the old school version… which is what most people think of when they think of a music producer…

…and then there is a lot of guys nowadays, maybe don’t have a lot of equipment, and/or experience, but they can make a few hip hop beats, and then they go around calling themselves producers.

Not that they really shouldn’t…

None question arises from this:

Is the old school version completely different from what a music producer does today?

There are also two ways of looking at the role from a participation perspective—

  1. Producers that participate heavily and leave a heavy footprint on the record
  2. Producers who are simplistic and hand-offs in their approach

Some producers take an artist and try to make them what they think their vision is.

These are the producers where when you are hearing the artist, then you’re actually really hearing the producer because of how heavy the footprint is…

For instance, you’ll find that they basically wrote the song (with or without the artist), or they took the artist’s song and rewrote it to the point where you wouldn’t even recognize it.

And then some producers take an artist and just see them through the music production process, only changing the little things.

Those are the two camps that inform the debate around the role.

Personally, I don’t believe there is a right or wrong — I think it will depend on who the artist is.

Here’s why—

  • Some artists really have a great vision for themselves knowing what they want. They just need a second pair of ears that they trust.
  • Some guys are basically already there, they just need that last little bit of polish.

The role ranges.

It is not as simple as saying what is a producer.

Some producers are not only great at producing but engineering, and are great musicians themselves. They can play one several instruments themselves.

They might be really great bass players themselves, for instance, and they can find themselves going out and redoing the bass track if the bass player isn’t really cutting it, or simply telling the bass player what they are doing bad or can do better, and so on.

From this bigger picture perspective, it’s the producer who helps the artist to realize their full potential.

They are the ones who can for instance say “that wasn’t good enough…” or “that was a great take”.

A good producer knows a little bit about everything, at least.

But that’s not the full story because the landscape has changed a lot.

A great producer’s role is being able to identify the talent in an artist, and help them create and realize their sound.

This is what we’re striving to be when we work with artists.

The role of the producer when taking the artist in the music production process is to be able to communicate each of those parts that come together to create a great record.

This means the producer has to know the arrangement, and how songwriting really works, including the different modes, music theory, chord theory, scales, and so on, and they should be able to hear and communicate if there’s this sort of problems.

The same things go for rhythm.

A great producer should rhythmic theory, be able to express different types of drum grooves to a drummer, know rhythmic cadencing, and these kinds of things…

…all the way through to knowing audio engineering and the technical bits of sound, knowing various pieces of studio equipment, knowing how to plan studio sessions.

A great producer also has to know the business side of things such as keeping the budget in line at all times, especially if you are renting out studio space, not letting the bills run over.

The role of the producer is also to bring a very strong sense, of what is satisfactory or what’s good enough — what sells, what the current sound is — whether that’s 50 years ago or today.

This is why most artists on a record label almost always have a producer.

Usually, a record label would have a lot of producers. They would sign an artist and allocate producer A to a certain band depending on what type of band it was.

Eventually, you’d find producers working with bands in the areas they were most skilled in.

The reason for this was simple. With the help of the producer, the chances were much better than the record label would get a record they could be able to sell.

When a label or artist has to choose who they prefer to work with, it will almost always be a producer or team that not only can get the job done but saves them money as well.

The flip side of this is an artist who is only interested in creating.

The producer has to have a very strong sense of what sells, and which of the current sounds fit with the artist.

Beyond the music itself, the role of a producer is to bring the right kind of vibe, or energy, to a session.

You’ll often hear that a music producer “controls the energy of the session.*

This means a music producer needs to communicate with people with different personalities well.

The vibe that the producer brings to the studio shapes the session.

Are you pleasant to work with?

Everyone working in a studio probably knows a musician who lights up the room the minute they come through the door.

The buck stops with the producer. There is a line drawn. The producer is the captain of the music production ship who controls and steers the ship.

Again, let me return you to the movie director analogy.

The producer should control and have the technical expertise to not only master a hot track but have the experience to work with the studio engineer and have the technical expertise to engineer a project yourself if need be.

A good producer often must have the musical understanding to help the artist with everything from song choice, structure, arrangement, vocal performance, and so on.

The role of a producer is providing the experience to create a polished work of art the artist is looking for.

The 4 Skills Every Music Producer Must Have

There are four most common experience areas in the music industry. A great producer should have at least one of them.

Skill #1 — Song Writing

Songwriting is a true asset to the producer allowing them to know what does and doesn’t work when it comes to pre-existing music, or what will work when producing.

Often, this skill allows the producer to help co-write songs with the artist for a given project.

If you want to become a great producer, this is not an option.

Find a team of songwriting editors or learn songwriting if you want to become a great producer,

Skill #2 — Play an Instrument

Even with the advent of electronic music, being a musician is always going to be a valuable tool for a producer.

Having first-hand knowledge or even mastering an instrument is always a winner for producers.

I’ve seen producers than come in the studio and blow a musician away because of how a riff was played live using a real instrument versus some chords or computer patterns placed on a screen.

This skill of knowing how to make an instrument work in a given situation is gold.

There are tons of other elements I can give for learning the instrument, such as a better understanding of music theory, and so on. But I won’t go into that here.

Skill #3 — Learn Audio / Sound Engineering

By becoming a technical expert in the nuts and bolts of the recording process, an engineer/producer can make the music production process a smooth and happy one for everybody involved.

Understanding the audio engineering process keep the producer in the mixing and mastering loop.

If you want to be a great producer, start learning audio engineering.

Skill #4 — Learn Vocal Coaching

Because the typical music listener responds first to the voice of the singer, one of the most important roles of the music producer is working with the vocalist to help him get the best material.

It is extremely difficult, even for the most experienced vocalist to have a perspective on the performance while it’s happening.

A producer is the voice of reason and experience who knows how to encourage the best performance out of a vocalist.

Even something as simple as helping the vocalist realize when to take a break or come back to some material some other day.

A seasoned producer will even highlight to an artist why or where to do what.

In Conclusion

The moral of the story here is that what a producer does is not just making beats.

It’s not just making a few tracks, and getting a buddy who is a rapper to jump on the beat, and then, you’re a producer.

It’s a great place to start, don’t get me wrong…

…but to really go the full mile and become a true producer as you see in the documentaries, the guys you read about in RollingStone, it’s a lot more complex.

I hope you get the idea by now.

Producers are successful because they are not just producers. They are the one-stop shops in the music industry.

Delivering a complete package will always be a better option than forcing the artist or label to look elsewhere to build a team to get a song done.

That’s it for this article.

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I've been a musician and brought in my stuff for mixing and mastering, I've been my own producer where I wrote, recorded, mixed and sold my own stuff. Now, I'm *mostly* an audio engineer, where I only record and mix for clients. I'm currently based in Berlin, Germany, where I operate ReverbLand out of. Got a question? DM me on Instagram or Twitter @reverblxnd everywhere, or shoot me an email [email protected]. I'd love to hear from you.

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