If you have a keen ear for music and a knack for business, you might consider pursuing a career path as a music producer. Behind every song you have ever loved, from the latest songs to receive radio airtime to the legends of musical history, is a music producer of some kind who has brought their creative and technical expertise to the recording process. To become a music producer, you will most likely need some formal education that equips you with technical skills for sound and audio engineering and music editing in a recording studio.
The Importance of a Music Producer’s Work
Although the job description may not be as glamorous as the careers of superstar singer-songwriters and chart-topping bands, music producers are proof that you don’t need to be a household name to help shape both the sound and the success of songs and albums.
Music producers play critical roles in the music business. They are the ones whose hands-on work brings to life the creative vision of musical artists, and they draw upon their own artistic expertise to influence that vision in the finished product. Music producers bring together skills in three areas: creative, technical and executive, the aspect of the music business concerned with funding and business decisions.
Producing a full-length recording isn’t a quick task. The lengthy multi-step process of producing music begins with an idea or a vision for the song or album and encompasses a great deal of work from everyone involved, from the recording artists themselves to the music producer involved in every stage of getting the track ready for release.
The work of a music producer may encompass the entire production process, from the initial conceptualization of the idea for a song or album to post-production editing and the marketing of completed tracks and albums. However, an individual music producer may not perform all of those duties on every project. Depending on your areas of interest and expertise and on your job description in any given project, you might focus on a broad range of different aspects, like sound design, microphone placement, sound editing and managing contract negotiations and budgets.
The Creative Process of Music Production
What does it actually mean to produce music? In different circumstances, music producers may play different roles in the development of a song or album. Some music producers are involved in the conceptualization, composing and arrangement of the song or album. Others select the instruments that will play each part and the musicians who will play those instruments.
Supervising musical rehearsal and recording sessions and coaching the artists are also part of producing the music. Editing, remixing and adding sound effects are all aspects of music recording that can fall under the job description and duties of industry professionals in the music production business.
Technical Responsibilities of Music Producers
Because the actual recording of music is an important part of the music production process, technical skills in audio engineering and recording arts matter just as much as creative knowledge of and flair for music. It’s common for music lovers to focus on the creative process of music production, but a music producer has to do more than dream up the ideal sound for a song or album.
The technical aspects of the music production process are what make these creative endeavors possible. Music producers use a variety of technological tools in their work, so they need to develop the technical skills for operating audio production equipment.
For example, music producers rely on a digital audio workstation (DAW) to record and edit music and produce the audio file containing the recorded sound. Examples of DAW software and equipment commonly used by music producers include GarageBand, Pro Tools and Logic Pro, according to Berklee College of Music. Microphones and headphones are also essential for holding a recording session. Most music producers also use audio monitors, an audio interface, and a musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) controller, Berklee College of Music reported.
Types of Music Producers
There are different job titles within the music production industry, and which role you hold determines the focus of your work.
A general job title of producer, or record producer, will typically encompass creative job duties like composing the music and selecting and coaching the musicians. Producers also manage and oversee the recording session. Between their leadership duties and their direct contribution to the creative product – the song or album – record producers fill a role that is comparable to that of a film director in the medium of musical arts. Still, record producers shouldn’t think of themselves as being above the technical work of recording arts procedures. A music producer may be called on to assist audio engineers with tasks like mixing and mastering recordings to achieve the desired sound.
Music producers whose work is more closely connected to the business aspects of the music industry are called executive producers. An executive producer in music may be in charge of making the business decisions, including managing the budget and timeline of producing the song or album.
Music production work that pertains more strictly to the operation of recording technology falls under the job role of audio engineering. Audio engineers are concerned with the technical and physical aspects of recording musical performances. Work in audio engineering requires knowing where to set up microphones and how to utilize audio effects.
There are different types of audio engineering job roles. Recording engineers’ role in audio engineering is to focus on recording artists’ performances. A mixing engineer (also called a mix engineer) uses audio engineering technology to combine – or “mix” – recorded tracks into one balanced song. Mastering engineer is the audio engineering music producer who is responsible for cleaning up the final version of the song into a finished and release-ready recording.
What It’s Really Like Working in Music Production
Music producer roles aren’t always distinct. Some music producers wear multiple hats, overseeing everything from the placement of equipment to the high-level financing and business decisions. An audio engineer may serve as the recording engineer, mixing engineer and mastering engineer for a song, or this work may be split between multiple people. Some musical artists act as their own sound engineers, while some music producers have been known to add their own musical performance talents to the recordings they are managing for other artists.
Like music itself, the job description for roles in the music industry, and in music production specifically, tend to be flexible, changing organically to what fits the needs of a project. An artist may work with different music producers throughout their careers – or even when they want a different sound or feel for individual songs on the same album.
Earning potential for the music producer career varies considerably. While the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not record information on this occupation specifically, Berklee College reported that a music producer may earn anywhere between $25,000 and $1,000,000 annually, and some of the most successful professionals with this job description may earn even more. Producing music is a highly competitive field, so there is a major discrepancy between how much the top earners make and how much the lowest earners make.
Career Opportunities in the Music Industry
Most music producers work for record labels, recording studios, or their own music production companies. Regardless of who employs you, much of your time working in this occupation will be spent in a music studio.
What is the job outlook like for the music producer career? That’s a somewhat difficult question to answer. For one thing, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies music producers and related roles as part of the music directors and composers occupation. As such, the 6% job growth rate that the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted between 2020 and 2030 – on par with the average rate of job growth across all occupations – isn’t specific to music producers.
Further, music production is a part-time gig rather than a full-time career for many producers. Music producers may practice their work part-time as a hobby or a side job alongside other work they do in or outside of the music business.
Finally, what constitutes success as a music producer is open to interpretation. For some, what makes a music producer successful is being employed by major record labels and credited on the songs and albums at the top of the charts, made by artists so famous that they have become household names. However, there are other ways you can be a music producer.
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You can lend your skills to the production of excellent, though not chart-topping, music throughout your career, working in a local recording studio or out of your own home. If you’re pursuing a music career in your own right, you can utilize your skills to produce your own music, allowing you to achieve exactly the vision you had in mind for the song or the album.
Whether you pursue your work as a music producer as your full-time livelihood, a hobby or somewhere in between will determine where the demand for your skills most exists. Just as most musical acts don’t become ultra-famous, most music producers don’t reach the upper ranks of the most well-known record producers – but there may still be plenty of demand for your expertise as a music producer even if you never become one of the big names in the business.
Levels of Music Producer Degrees
Music production isn’t a heavily regulated career path that requires licensure or state certifications, and there is no standard level of education needed to become a music producer. Technically speaking, you don’t need a college education to be allowed to produce and record music, either as a hobby or professionally. However, a minimum threshold of technical expertise, as well as knowledge of music-making, is needed to become a music producer.
You can develop the skills you need through education programs at various levels, ranging from non-degree programs to graduate-level programs. Music schools, music departments within community colleges and colleges of music within universities and other four-year institutions all offer undergraduate degree programs that can help you become a music producer.
Generally, a relevant undergraduate education – like an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree or a non-degree undergraduate certificate – is sufficient preparation for this career. However, if your desire for professional development leads you to look beyond the bachelor’s degree, you have other options to advance your education. Graduate music programs, including graduate certificates and master’s degrees, exist for those who want to develop the skills to work as a music producer or to advance the skills they currently possess in producing, arranging, composing, tracking, mixing and mastering musical recordings.
Certificate and Diploma Programs in Music Production
The fastest way to complete a formal education in music production is through a non-degree certificate or diploma program. Certificate programs can often be completed in as little as one year. At many colleges, non-degree certificate programs focus primarily on developing the technical and creative expertise used in recording and producing songs or albums.
Coursework may also include music history and the underlying theory of music and music production. In these programs, students won’t complete the general education coursework commonly required to earn a full degree at the associate’s or bachelor’s level.
Music Production Associate Degrees
If you want to walk away from college with an actual degree in music production rather than a certificate or diploma, associate degrees are the fastest options. Some of the degree programs that might interest aspiring music producers at the associate’s level include music production, sound recording and music technology, audio production and even music production and audio for media.
A typical associate’s degree program takes two years of study to complete, although some programs take longer. Community colleges and junior colleges often offer an associate degree in music production, but some four-year colleges and universities with an emphasis on the arts may also offer music production associate degrees. Generally, associate’s degrees in music production are able to cover more in the curriculum than a certificate program.
Music Production Bachelor’s Degree Programs
A bachelor’s degree in music production is the education most likely to put you on the path to success in this career and related occupations. Bachelor’s degree in music programs can go into more depth pertaining to the creative, technical and business sides of producing music while also equipping you with the comprehensive foundations of undergraduate general education coursework. Often, an internship is part of the bachelor’s degree curriculum.
In a Bachelor of Science in music production, Bachelor of Music in music production, Bachelor of Arts in music and sound recording or Bachelor of Fine Arts in music production program, program requirements may include courses in areas like music history and theory, ear training, the creative and technical techniques used in music production, studio recording and music and commerce.
One benefit of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music production is the opportunity to take elective courses in areas that interest you. For example, undergraduate degree programs in music production at top schools offer electives in songwriting, film scoring, sound synthesis and the production of various genres of music.
Earning a Music Production Master’s Degree
You might choose to earn a master’s degree in music production if you’re seeking to change careers or if you want to advance your knowledge of the field. A master’s degree is the highest level of education you will typically find in the music industry, since doctorates are more commonly reserved for researchers and academics. Earning a Master of Science in music degree can help a music producer develop advanced skills or prepare to work in a research role.
What Should You Know About Earning a Music Producer Degree?
If you’re thinking about going to school to be a music producer, you should know that you have options.
A fine arts degree isn’t necessary for this career that requires technical skill and business knowledge as well as creative talent. You can pursue several types of music production degrees. A bachelor’s degree in this field may be a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Fine Arts, while an associate’s degree may be an Associate of Arts, Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science.
There are significant benefits to studying music production in person and on campus. When you attend class on a physical campus location, music production school offers valuable experience, especially on campuses where students have access to facilities like Temple University’s Rock Hall. Rehearsal and audition rooms, piano labs, on-campus recording studios, computer music labs and loaner instruments are some of the resources students may find when they attend music production courses on campus.
However, online courses are also an option if factors like distance to campus, a day job or family obligations make it difficult to commit to being present for in-person courses. Many undergraduate programs in music production and recording arts offer online courses, as do music schools that don’t confer a formal degree.
If you’re going for a traditional or online music degree, whether a bachelor’s degree in music production or a master’s degree, be aware that the cost of an education can be considerable. Fortunately, financial aid from the school, the government and external scholarships can help reduce the cost of a college education. If the price of your degree is a factor in moving forward with your education, it’s important to compare not only the listed cost of tuition and fees but also what costs will be your responsibility once financial aid packages are factored into the equation.
A Music Production Curriculum
Many colleges offer programs of study that may be of interest to an aspiring music producer.
Some producers major in music, devoting much of their curriculum to the art of musical performance. Others are longtime musicians who pursue an educational path in business or a similar subject. However, the most relevant major for those hoping to become a music producer is in an area like music production, recording arts technology or audio engineering.
These majors are preferable for an aspiring music producer because they equip students with the right combination of skills to find success in this field, including skills in music performance, the business activities of the music industry and the music technology used in recording studios. A music production degree encompasses more creative aspects of music production as well as technical elements of achieving the desired musical sound, while music engineering, sound engineering and audio engineering degree programs tend to focus more narrowly on the technology used in creating, recording and editing musical performance.
While in music production school, students will take courses that cover a variety of topics that bring together artistic talent, technical skill, and knowledge of the music business, including subjects like the following.
In an introductory-level course in music theory, students will study the foundational concepts and elements of making music, including elements like rhythm, harmony, chords, scales and pitch. Learning these foundations can help students develop an understanding of different elements of musical composition and performance, so they know how to create music with elements that work well together and can explore novel ways to create new and unique musical sounds.
In some music production programs, students may also take a class in sound theory. Sound theory is a distinct subject of study that explores the science of how sound is made and perceived and the physics of acoustics.
Electronic Music Production Courses and Studies in the Use of Music Production Equipment
Developing skills in the use of music technology software is an important part of preparing to become a music producer. Music production programs commonly include coursework dedicated to learning the most widely used recording technology tools in the music industry. For example, the curriculum of a music production degree program may call for one or more classes dedicated to using the Pro Tools digital audio workstation program, which is commonly used in the tracking, or recording, of music.
Other types of music production tools students may learn to use while going to music production school include Logic Pro, Cubase, TRACKTOR. Technology-focused coursework in a music production program may also include the use of iPad devices for writing and producing, the use of final cut pro to edit music videos and the development of procedural music software using the graphical programming language Max.
In addition to introductory coursework in the use of the software program, students may take more advanced courses in which they focus on gaining expertise in the mixing and mastering stages of recording music. Mixing is the aspect of recording arts technology in which the separate tracks composed of individual instrument recordings are combined and balanced. Mastering is the polishing and finishing of the track in preparation for final distribution. Students may also complete coursework in sound design, critical listening and the art of audio mixing, intended to help them learn the creative elements of mixing and manipulating music recording tracks.
It isn’t only computer music software programs that constitute the technology involved in music production. The equipment involved in the recording arts includes everything from microphones and stands to audio interfaces and studio monitors. You need to know how to use this equipment correctly to achieve optimal results in producing clear, high-quality sound. You might learn to use this equipment through courses in areas like microphone techniques and vocal production.
Some of the coursework you might take as an aspiring music producer is similar to a music degree. This makes sense, because to direct the production of music – the composition and arrangement of a song, the instruments used, the performances of the artists and more – you need to fully understand the techniques of music performance.
Ear training courses help students learn how to recognize and identify musical sounds and elements and to read and create musical notation. Students should also be prepared to complete a hands-on keyboard course, which may range from classes in basic keyboard methods or piano scales to techniques for specific types of musical performance, such as jazz piano or keyboard techniques used in rock or pop music. Elective coursework may include classes in rhythm and in musical arrangement.
Courses in Music Production Skills and Analysis
Being successful as a music producer means having knowledge and skills in a wide array of topics that range from the technical to the creative. There are classes in music production school that focus on the craft of producing musical sounds, whether as a recorded song or album or live sound design played at musical events. This coursework may involve learning to listen to music in the way a music producer would – not just to appreciate it but also to understand both how it fits into popular genres as well as what makes it unique, and to identify ways to make it more successful.
A music producer works at the intersection between the art of making music, the technical components of music recording and the music industry as a business. As such, business administration skills can be just as important as creative and technical skills, especially for music producers who are new to the career. Don’t be surprised if some of your coursework emphasizes professional skills like scheduling, budgeting and managing the work and time of creative teams.
Some music producer degree programs provide students with knowledge of areas such as recording industry law, music marketing and the computer science behind digital and electronic production tools.
Final Thoughts on Making It in the Music Business
Through an in-person or online music production degree program, students can develop the technical skills for producing music and cultivate a knowledge of music history and music theory that helps inform their creative expertise. However, a Bachelor of Science or even a Master of Science degree alone can only take you so far in this field.
To succeed in the music industry, you’re going to need to build a reputation for yourself and forge connections and relationships with others in the music business. Ideally, you want to be the first name that comes up when artists, record labels, recording studios, sound engineers and anyone else involved in the creation of a song or album is looking for a music producer with your skills. This outcome only occurs when you have made a strong (and positive) impression through your work in the industry and garnered a reputation for producing an extraordinary finished product.
Of course, successful music producers have to start gaining experience somewhere. Typically, new music producers start their careers as music production assistants. In these roles, they may work as interns, apprentices or entry-level employees under the guidance of an established producer in the music industry.
Music production assistants start out handling more administrative tasks, like scheduling recording studio sessions and setting up recording equipment, but they also have the opportunity to make more direct contributions to music production and recording sessions as they learn the ropes of the music business.
Building relationships with established music producers, artists, and other industry professionals at this stage of an aspiring music producer’s career is essential. These connections and the word-of-mouth recommendations they generate are how you end up producing hit songs and albums for successful artists later on in your career as a music producer.
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