When I was an adolescent band-nerd kid, I used to wonder daily, “what does a music producer do?” I had asked every singer and player I knew – anybody remotely related to music, read every album liner I owned, plus anything else I could find on the subject (these were pre-internet times, back in the old days!), but I could never quite figure out the answer to that question until much later.
Fast-forwarding a few years, I was in my early 20s, working in a commercial recording studio as a peon/gopher/doer-of-all-the-stuff-nobody-else-wanted-to-do, and still trying to find the answer to ‘what does a music producer do.’ I was so intimidated by everybody & everything around me at that job that it took me a while to get the nerve to ask anybody, because I thought they would expect me to already know.
When I finally did start asking, the producer-types I was working with were very happy to tell me ALL about it, but the answer wasn’t quite as definitive as I thought it should be. There was no clear definition, no common job description, and no obvious path to get there; everybody had a different answer. I was determined, though – so I kept working at figuring it out, and now I’ve been doing it professionally for years! But since it’s so hard to get a handle on, I’m going to try and simplify it for you, whether you’re a singer who is wondering if you need a producer, or if you’re like I was, & would like to be one yourself.
There’s one simple answer I’d like to start with: A music producer is a producer of music! I know, that’s real helpful, right? But actually, that’s 100% true – it’s a very generalized term, which is why it’s so hard to nail down. Someone who produces music in some way for others to enjoy is a music producer. Someone who produces recordings for people to listen to & enjoy is a music producer. Someone who writes songs & shows a band what he wants them to sound like, then performs them is a music producer. Someone who programs music for a video game is a music producer. If you make music in any way, you’re a music producer.
However, the actual title usually refers to something a little more specific, even if we can’t come up with a succinct definition.
Technically, the title “Music Producer” came about to describe the person who calls the shots in a musical production of any type. With regards to a recording project, the producer helps with song choices, songwriting, arrangements, instrumentation, backing vocals; as well as engineer choices, studio choices, creative directions, etc. He’s kind of an overseer & keeper of the entire project. It’s all on his shoulders to make this recording turn out great, and pleasing to the artist or client.
Now pay attention – I’m about to tell you the answer to the age-old question of how to become a music producer! And you’re going to be so impressed. When I started my first peon job in the studio (a studio I ended up running, by default, after about 1 year), I finally got the nerve to ask my boss – a former major label president & producer himself – how to become a producer. And this was his answer, verbatim:
“Well, you click your heels together 3 times, and each time say ‘I am a producer.’ Then, you just have to convince somebody to give you their money to produce some music for them.”
I am not kidding – that was his answer! And he was right. Anybody can be a “music producer.” But you have to be good at it to convince someone to part with their hard-earned cash to let you produce their music.
I realize you may be a singer who’s trying to decide whether you need to hire a producer for your project or not. The answer is yes, you do; but whether or not you can afford it is another question! However, the real truth is that you probably can’t afford not to hire a producer, if you’re serious about your project. There are huge amounts of details involved in producing a record of any size (LP, EP, even a single), and often the biggest value a great producer brings to the table is connections – connections with great engineers, players, etc.; and the ability to juggle all these at the same time & keep everybody happy. Usually, good producers are also really good at relationships. And music. And details. And math. Well, maybe not math. But it might help!
If you’re a singer trying to figure out the role of a producer with regard to your upcoming project, here is a short list of things to consider:
That’s not an exhaustive list, of course – but it’s a start. If you’ve found yourself wondering “what does a music producer do” at any time in your life, maybe now you have a clue – even if it’s a small one!
Good luck, and stay musical!