RECORD PRODUCERAlternate Career Titles:
Producer, Music Producer
Career Overview: The record producer creates albums and tracks to be recorded by artists. They also manage and directs the albums’ development, including overseeing recording sessions.
Career Salary Range: $27,000 to $1,000,000+
Become a Record Producer
The Record Producer has one of the most sought-after music careers in the business, and works to get an album produced. Of course, they are always striving (and hoping!) to have each album turn out to be a chart-topping success. With that goal in mind, the Record Producer has a lot on his plate in terms of responsibility. For one thing, they help Recording Artists choose which songs they’ll record for a given album. Then they’ll select a studio and book the proper amount of recording time. From there, the record producer will work with a Music Arranger and an Audio Engineer, and will also need to find Background Vocalists to assist with the songs.
Once the studio recording starts, the record producer works closely with an Engineer, who helps him or her find or achieve certain specific sounds or feelings to portray through the music. This process will usually continue throughout each entire studio session, as the Record Producer will inject their personal opinions on just how each song would sound best. It’s important to note, though, that the Record Producer has to keep an eye on the budget. Recording time is not cheap, and if he or she ends up spending more than the allotted amount, the record label or Artist could be on the hook for thousands of extra dollars.
After each song is recorded, the Record Producer is usually the person who then mixes it into its final version. This isn’t always the case, though, as sometimes special Engineers or Mixers are hired to perform this job. When that happens, the Record Producer still supervises the mixing process, as it’s such an important aspect of creating an album. Even at this point, the Record Producer still has plenty of work to do. Many times, an entire album is recorded in the studio, complete with songs that don’t end up making the final cut. In other words, they are not included in the album when it’s finally released. Part of the Record Producer’s job is to help choose which songs make the final album and which don’t. They’ll also help decide what order the songs will play in throughout the album (i.e. the songs’ track numbers). The Record Producer will also be a part of selecting which songs will be promoted and sold as singles.
As you can see, the Record Producer is heavily involved with every single step and detail of creating an album. Even when the creative process comes to an end, the Record Producer’s responsibilities certainly do not. There is still licensing to be worked on, as well as copyright issues, and consent forms and releases from Artists, Engineers, Photographers, and pretty much anyone else who receives credit for their work on a given album. Once all of that is complete, the Record Producer submits receipts and pays bills to the record label.
Certain Record Producers work as employees for record labels, reporting to the A&R department head (get your A&R contacts list). Others work independently as freelancers, and and may be contractors for either an Artist or a record label.
When working on staff at a record company, Record Producers generally earn a base salary, along with royalties from records they produce. If they are freelancing for the record company, they will still usually earn royalties, but they’ll command a fee instead of a salary. Record Producers that have a proven track record of success can negotiate larger royalty payments, usually in advance.
Staff Record Producers can earn anywhere from $27,000 to $75,000 or more per year, while very successful independent Producers may earn up to $1,000,000 or more annually.
Every single album that is sold has a Record Producer attached to it, though sometimes that Producer can be a member of the band, or even the Staff Engineer. Some albums will even require more than one Producer to complete the job. For these reasons, there are quite a few possibilities for employment within the record production specialty, but due to the nature of the position, it’s important to start with at least one foot in the door.
Once a Record Producer proves his or her ability to produce hit records, they can eventually move on to working with more prestigious Artists. This can lead to a position at a larger record label, where they can command an even larger salary. Of course this creates a nice cycle of success, as they can now work with even better well-known Artists, and become even more in demand as a Record Producer.
Education and Training
Many Record Producers do have college or music school degrees. However, obtaining a degree is not a prerequisite. Some instead opt to attend sound recording schools in order to learn about the entire recording process. For an aspiring Record Producer, any knowledge of the music business is useful and important, whether obtained through experience or formal education.
Experience, Skills, and Personality
The most important skill for a Record Producer to have is the ability to select hit records to produce. As they begin to get a reputation as someone who can do this, they’ll find themselves in high demand with more and more prestigious Artists and bands. But in order to make that happen, Record Producers need to have an intense interest in music, as well as an “ear” for something special in an Artist or an idea. This is tougher than it sounds, as they are usually listening to raw talent, and is left to imagine what it might later sound like after professional production.
Unions and Associations
Record Producers can become members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), which is the association that gives out Grammy awards each year. The Country Music Association (CMA) and the Gospel Music Association (GMA) are other music associations Record Producers might also belong to.
Suggestions for Getting Started
- Search for any job that will give you experience working in the recording studio, like floor manager, Assistant Audio Engineer, Receptionist, or Audio Recording Engineer.
- Find a Group or Artist who has a song they want to record and put some of your own money into producing it. Then try to sell the record and the Artist to a record label.
- Check for apprenticeships with recording studios or record companies in order to learn new skills.