What skills do you need to master to become a Music Producer?
Music producer means a million different things today. But at the heart of it are a few vital skills for landing music producer jobs – and while you won’t need them all, you’ll definitely need to know how it all works if you want to work in the music making business.
So, here are some of the top skills you can use to find work as a music producer:
- Write and compose music
- Sound design
- Engineering and capture
Read on to learn more about each one, and how to find music producer jobs with these skills.
Top music producer skills that land music producer jobs
Anyone can install music production software and make a noise. But to land work, you need the skills to pay the bills! You won’t need to be the best at all of these music production skills at once – in fact, most of the best music producers in the world specialise in just a handful of these – but knowing what it takes is an important step to finding music producer jobs.
Write and compose music
If you’re musical and can pen a good tune, you stand to at least find some work doing that. You don’t necessarily have to be able to read and write music, either.
The need for original music is everywhere; in theme parks, shops, advertising, YouTube videos, computer games, movies and TV… the list goes on. Getting your foot in the door can be tough, but keep reading to find out how to get published (and receive royalty payments) through music libraries.
Sound design is highly creative, and a lot of fun. It can be found in film and TV, video games, airports and a million other places. It’s even being used to give electric cars signature sounds, to help people hear their otherwise silent approach.
Sound designers create unique sounds with hardware and software synthesisers, effects, weird instruments and unusual recording techniques, to make the sonic quality of entertainment and experiences instantly recognisable.
Think of the chimes and beeps of your favourite arcade games, and ramp it up to 11 – that’s where sound design is today.
Let’s say you’ve got a client who sings and plays guitar – but they need to make a dance track with a huge beat that still captures the vibe of their vocal and guitar performance.
An arranger makes that happen – choosing the instrumentation and mapping out its parts, deciding how best to turn that acoustic song into an absolute banger.
Engineering and capture
The goal of engineers is to reach a target sound, like a huge kick drum, or a ghostly vocal – figuring out how to make it happen in the real world, and capturing it beautifully.
This is hard, and requires technical knowledge, even if you’re just getting vocal takes. It’s one of the pillars of music production and a skill that we’d say is very important, if not the most important. Capturing good source sounds makes every other part of music production better, faster, easier – so don’t skimp. Expose yourself to different instruments, singers, and styles, to build a portfolio of skills.
Acoustic drums are one of the hardest instruments to record, sometimes requiring multiple microphones on each kit piece. Making that huge kick drum sound might mean bolting two shells together, like a cannon, or using a massive speaker as a microphone to get all that bass.
Get this right and you’ll have amazing raw tracks to work with. Get it wrong, and you’ll have to start again or replace everything with samples – and hope the client doesn’t notice.
Even seemingly simple things like vocals need the right microphone for the voice, the right space and distance, pop shields, gaining – there’s so much to consider.
Everything matters with audio engineering; the room, the performer, the microphones, the distance between microphones… It’s complex, but don’t be put off. The only real way to learn is by doing, failing, and doing again.
Humans are… human. Performances can be sloppy. Sometimes it’s great for the character of the tack, other times, not so much.
Editing audio in a DAW is a major skill, but also kind of boring, and a thankless job. It’s sometimes outsourced to seasoned pros who know how to fix poor timing or bad pitch, and will edit the breaths out of vocal takes, or any unwanted background noise in silent parts.
In short, they turn a mediocre performance into a perfect one, and ensure that all raw tracks are free of clicks, pops, noises or other artefacts. The best editors work so well, that the listener would have absolutely no idea they’d done anything – and give all credit to the performers.
Mixing is art, science, and magic. It’s creative, but analytical. It’s what turns a great song into an amazing listening experience. Mixing a song takes all the perfectly engineered and captured, edited tracks, and sets the volumes and levels for each.
Okay, that’s a gross oversimplification, but that’s basically it. The idea is to get a good balance of all the elements, letting each part shine in its own space within the song. To do this, frequencies are boosted or cut out, effects are applied, and elements are panned around the stereo field.
We are only just scratching the surface, though. Mixing is a lifelong journey that music producers take. The fundamentals are always the same, but the tools are always changing. It takes years of dedicated practice to develop your “taste” for a good balance that translates from headphones, to car stereos, to laptop speakers.
Most music producers never take the leap to mastering, often seeing it as a dark art best left to well-equipped mastering studios.
But, you can do it if you learn how!
Just like mixing, mastering music is a lifelong journey. Mastering engineers take a mixed song and add the final polish; making sure it’s loud enough to compete with other songs, has a good balance over many different sound systems, and that it will work on vinyl, CD, streaming and any other platform you can think of. Generally, it’s a final layer of sparkle and problem-solving process, not a creative one (although solving problems can require a ton of creativity!).
Mastering is a gated profession, because it requires a lot of expensive equipment and a really good mastering room. But if you can learn the fundamentals and get good at it in your own environment, you’ll have one of the most sought-after skills in music production.
Finding music producer jobs
There are quite a few good opportunities for music producers now, and finding music producer jobs is easier than ever thanks to the internet. Finding good jobs, though… that’s always tough.
Just like any other creative industry, music producer jobs are bafflingly devalued. Many are expected to work for free, or for that classic compensation – “exposure”. If you make the right connections, your career could take you into employment at a studio or label, as an in-house engineer, mixer, and producer. But for most, the journey will start in the freelance and gig economy.
Composing and writing music for libraries can be lucrative, if you’re willing to stick it out. You might have to do it as a side gig while it builds up.
Library music is created mainly for TV, film trailers and ads. It’s not written for anything in particular – instead, it’s based on album concepts. Musicians make an album based on “tense villains” or “relaxing music” or some other theme, usually with multiple versions of each track.
Library music can be dead simple, or super complex. A single, well-designed sound can find its way into millions of pieces of music and generate a major income, or land a spot in a theme tune played many times per day (like local TV news or on a game show).
You won’t be a household name, but you can make some good scratch. Be prepared to spend years working on it, though. If you write around 50 or more great tracks per year, for good labels, you could make more than £100,000 per year.
But in your first year or even two years, you’re likely to make zero money – and that puts so many people off. It’s a real long game, and you’ve just got to stick it out. It’s easier when you really love what you’re doing, and harder when there are bills to pay.
Freelance and the gig economy
Websites like SoundBetter and Fiverr are full to the brim with gigs for music producers. They won’t always pay well, but they could be an excellent way to prove your skills, hone them, and eventually establish your own self-employment.
Whatever you do, keep making music. Keep sharing it with the world. Even if you get no money for it. In fact, once you remove all expectations of the equation, and just do it for love and fun, you’ll probably start making your best work yet – and ironically, that’s the stuff that sells!
Ready to spread the word? Join a dedicated PR Agency for Music Producers
We are Urban Rebel PR, specialists in PR for music producers. Our music-only PR agency delivers creative, high-impact PR for music producers, DJs and EDM artists. If you want to get your music heard, contact us: call +44 (0) 161 298 6650 or send your message to [email protected].