What Does a Music Producer Do?
Producing music involves taking a song from its idea stage, which could be a melody you hum, a chord progression you create, or some lyrics that you write, and turning it into a recording that someone can listen to and consume either through a streaming service like Spotify, on a CD, or on a vinyl record.
The Music Production Process
There are fundamentally four steps to the production process, which include songwriting, recording, mixing, and mastering.
During the songwriting phase, you write melodies, chord progressions, and lyrics. Songwriting also involves sculpting the overall structure of a song into different sections, often consisting of an intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, and bridge—some songs use different arrangements, but these are the basic sections you’ll find in a lot of pop songs.
It’s important to think about sound selection at this point too. Does your song contain silky acoustic guitar, or heavily distorted guitar? For music that relies on synthesized sounds, like EDM, the songwriting stage is when you’d focus on sound design, which can result in crazy dubstep growls or the supersaws you hear in a lot of future bass tracks.
The next step involves recording your song. Many artists will come up with a song on guitar or piano, and then record their performance. You need to use microphones to capture vocal and instrumental performances. Back in the day, audio was recorded to tape using tape machines, but now, pretty much everything can be recorded onto a computer, which is great, because this has made music production extremely accessible to people.
If you don’t know how to play an instrument, you can still write music. You’re able to program notes into your computer and play back arrangements using software instruments—this is what a lot of electronic music artists and hip-hop producers do. They often work primarily with software synths and audio samples they’ve downloaded from the internet.
Once you’ve captured the material that you want to record within your computer, you need to mix your recordings together. During this phase, you clean up your recordings by removing noise, applying pitch and time correction, as well as blending sounds together by adjusting their volume levels so that they sound balanced and cohesive.
Finally, when your mix is complete and you’re happy with how it sounds, you need to prepare it for distribution through a process called mastering. Mastering involves creating a master copy of a song from which all other duplicates of the recording are made. For vinyl distribution, this means creating a vinyl lacquer master, and back in the day of CDs, this meant making a glass CD master. With streaming services now dominating the music industry, the digital file that you upload to said services is referred to as the "master file."
Altogether, songwriting, recording, mixing, and mastering make up the production process from a technical standpoint.
The Role of a Music Producer
A music producer used to act more like the producer of film, providing artists with all the resources they needed to put an album together. This included finding and hiring instrumentalists, recording engineers, mixing engineers, mastering engineers, graphic designers, videographers, as well as managing the budget of projects. They oversaw projects from start to finish, doing what had to be done to push a project to completion.
The modern day producer tends to get their hands a bit dirtier, acting like a jack of all trades. Instead of hiring all these different people onto a project, which they sometimes might still do, they’ll often write, record, mix, and master a track entirely on their own. Thanks to where technology is at, it’s possible to do all of this, at a professional level, in your bedroom.
Music Producer Jobs
Producers help artists record studio albums, they write soundtracks for films, create background music for television shows, develop the sound for video games, and much more. Learning how to produce music can open up some really cool work opportunities down the road, but most people start producing music because it’s fun!
How to Start Producing Music
However, lots of beginners think that music production is either too expensive to get into, or that because they didn’t grow up playing an instrument, and because they know nothing about music theory, they won’t be able to write music.
Luckily, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to start producing really great music. In fact, you don’t need to spend any money at all. Music theory is also something you can learn over time. What’s important is that you make the decision to invest some time into learning how to produce music and remain optimistic throughout the process.
All you need to get started is a computer—it can be a PC or MAC—and a piece of software called a digital audio workstation.
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