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Record Producer

Last updated: Aug 17, 2021
Reads: 206,859

Career Overview

Record Producers guide the production of a record by coaching the musicians, advising in pre-production sessions, and directing the in-studio recording and production process.

Alternate Titles

Producer, Music Producer, Recording Producer

Avg. Salary

$68,1681

Salary Range

$41K – $105K1

Career Description

Record Producers, sometimes also called Music Producers, bring the artistic, technical, logistical, and often financial aspects together to create recordings, usually in a recording studio, meant for commercial release or for use in visual media or advertising.

Record Producers work most often with musical artists, or sometimes artists themselves might also be Record Producers. Many successful musicians also go on to produce records for other artists, in the same way that a big-name Actor might become a Film Director. Some artists are self-produced or might serve as Producer for other artists’ recordings.

A Record Producer is involved in all the decisions about making a recording, from pre-production to post-production. They might choose the material to be recorded, arrange the music, write and play instrumental parts, engineer the recording or oversee the Engineer, mix the tracks, and approve the final masters. The Record Producer acts as a team leader for everyone involved with making a recording. A Record Producer may be affiliated with a record label, and have input into the artwork, marketing, and development of an artist’s career.

More commonly, Record Producers work independently. They are usually paid a flat fee and can also receive a share of the royalties from a song or an album. The term “Record Producer” is often used interchangeably with “Music Producer,” but it is a bit more old-fashioned since it comes from a past time when producing a physical record (vinyl or CD) was the goal. Some professionals choose to call themselves a “Recording Producer” instead.

There are many kinds of Record Producers; some, like an Executive Producer, might oversee the financial budgets and also be responsible for the marketing and distribution of the recording. There are also Assistant and Associate Producers, who work under an established Producer to support the success of the recordings. Producers often play or sing on the recordings they produce. They also choose the songs and the musicians in many instances or create all the musical tracks for the artist to sing over.

To learn how to become a Record Producer, we talked to several recording industry professionals to get their thoughts on building a career in music production. In this article, you’ll hear from Record Producer, Recording Engineer, and Mixer Adam Moseley, a Los Angeles-based Producer who teaches music production through UCLA Extension, Berklee Valencia, The Recording Connection, and Garnish. He has worked with artists like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, U2, and Lenny Kravitz.

You’ll also hear from 5-time Grammy Award winner Elaine Martone, Executive Vice President of Production at TelArc, Governor for the Chicago Chapter Board of the Recording Academy, and Ojai Music Festival Producer. Martone has worked with many jazz and classical luminaries, including the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Ray Brown, and Oscar Peterson.

Weighing in from the world of hip-hop are legendary production duo Arkatech Beatz. The Atlanta-based team came to prominence after Big Pun’s Capital Punishment was released and have gone on to work with Nas, Raekwon, Curren$y, and Freddie Gibbs.

Grammy-winning Producer, Engineer, and Mixer Matt Lawrence also contributes. Lawrence began his career working at Van Morrison’s studio before moving over to London’s Metropolis studios. Over the course of his career, he has produced and/or engineered for the likes of Bjork, The Clash, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, The White Stripes, and Lady Gaga.

Read on to get their takes on some of the most commonly-asked questions about how to become a Record Producer!

What does a Record Producer do?

Arkatech Beatz (Nas, Freddie Gibbs, Raekwon)

The role of a Record Producer (not to be confused with just a Beat Maker), is to put a record together from start to finish. A Producer may pick or create the track, find Writers or suggest song topics, oversee the recording, bring in featured artists, sequence and edit songs, oversee the mix, etc. The Producer is hands-on in the entire process of song creation.

Elaine Martone (Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Cleveland Orchestra)

A Record Producer is the person responsible for putting the project together with the artists, facilitating the logistics (studio or venue, times and durations of the recording sessions, break times, figuring out how many hours are needed to complete the project, making sure all of the instruments are there and tuned to the specification of the Artistic Director or Lead Musician in the project, and many more things), running the recording session, letting the musicians know if the particular piece or work is covered (that is, are all of the piece’s parts as well performed in that moment as can be?

The Producer is the liaison between the Recording Engineer who is responsible for capturing the sound to the satisfaction of the performers AND the Producer. The Producer can/does translates what the performers want in the recorded sound so that the Engineer understands what to change or improve in terms of microphone selection, mic placement, warmth in the sound, brightness in the sound, bass, and high frequencies, and so that all the things that make up a world-class recording are present.

The recording Producer works at the session to be sure all is captured and documented so that the takes recorded are able to be found later by the Editor and the Producer and artists. Then, the Producer puts an edit map in the score or gives the take choices to the Editor, and oversees, then signs off on the master (along with approvals from the artists).

Adam Moseley (Beck, John Cale, U2)

As a Producer it means getting involved right at the beginning with the songs, working on the song structure, working on the arrangement, working on every note of every part and putting that whole picture together, getting into rehearsals.

Pre-production can be done in my loft here with a guitar or piano, just sitting down and playing the song. That’s the best thing: getting the song right at its earliest stage. Once the basic parts are worked out, we’ll go to a rehearsal room and try every idea, try every drum fill the drummer wants to come up with, let every musician try what they want.

We’ll have the song structure written down, and if we want to make a quick change to the song structure it takes a few seconds in the rehearsal room and you can do that at $15-$20 an hour.

In pre-production I let the drummer try every fill, then we’ll choose the ones that work. We’ll decide, “This fill is great, it definitely should be in but it’s too busy too early, so let’s save it. Let’s build the tension. Let’s keep the fills simple and then maybe after the bridge, coming out of the bridge, that’s where you can do the busy crazy fill.”

It’s all about letting the musicians express themselves while all the time you’re just guiding and filtering. I see the role of the Producer as being the catalyst and being like the mirror image of the band. When they have an idea, to take their idea and throw the next idea back at them and see where I can take them.

At times I’ve worked with an artist where the artist has just come in and sung and I’ve put all the arrangements together, all the backing tracks, all the string arrangements, done the whole thing and the artist has just shown up to sing their song.

What I prefer to do when I work with the bands is to push them and show them the way to go to do something that they didn’t even know they’re capable of, or they didn’t have that idea, to throw the next idea at them and see what comes back. It’s about making music and making something unique and special.

If I’m going to be involved and to help the band, it’s about helping the band achieve something better than they would achieve on their own, without a Producer.

Once we’re in the studio it’s about capturing the moment and then after the basic tracks it’s down to doing the overdubs, additional instruments – maybe additional guitars, lead vocals, maybe some backing vocals or keyboards or extra touches here or there. But it’s always about keeping the vision or keeping the concept. The most important thing is having the concept very clear.

From the first time an artist sits down with me and plays the song on the guitar or piano I have a concept for the song. I have a shape, a mood and colors, and positions.


Is it hard to become a Record Producer?

Arkatech Beatz (Nas, Freddie Gibbs, Raekwon)

It’s not hard to become a Producer if you have a passion for it. Like any craft, one has to be consistent in developing.

So if you are making beats you have to be consistent with it, put yourself on a schedule, and always look for different creative methods that can improve the workflow. One also should be aware of the music that is currently out and make sure the music they are creating can compete with what is currently on the market.

Elaine Martone (Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Cleveland Orchestra)

It took me about 8 years from when I started producing recordings in 1988 to when the “light bulb” went on, and I understood that I now KNEW what I was doing. And every recording since then, I continue to expand my knowledge and add to my toolbox. I think that’s a pretty great life—-to continue to grow after doing this for 40 years!

Adam Moseley (Beck, John Cale, U2)

I think that’s the hardest challenge for aspiring Producers and Engineers. How do they get their break? It’s much harder for someone even if they go to audio recording school.

I was a driver for my uncle in the fashion business for six months, writing letters to studios, trying to get into a studio because back then there were so many studios. Now nearly all of those opportunities have disappeared.

Those studios don’t exist anymore because the business changed and there wasn’t the money being made and people couldn’t afford to spend that kind of money in studios just because the return on the record wasn’t going to give you enough profit.

I must have written to maybe sixty or eighty studios, maybe it was even a hundred letters. I got one response. And it was for an interview at Trident. I got hired as a Chef and a Builder because I’d worked at construction sites and they were enlarging the control room to bring in a new trident A-range series, a desk.

So that’s how I got into a studio. I worked eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, from 9 am to 3 am, for three months, not knowing if I’d get hired after the initial construction work.

I was promoted to what was known as a Tea-Boy. It’s like a Runner. I worked through that, then became a Tape Operator – like an Assistant, but you’re just running the multi-track all day. Then [I was] learning from these absolute legends that had come before me who made the Bowie albums or the Beatles albums, learning by osmosis and listening and watching, trying to figure out what was going on.

An Engineer [would] tell me, “Put this mic on this guitar cabinet” and then “put a different mic somewhere else” and I was listening to the different microphones and training my ear as to why this one worked and why that one worked, [learning] what happened with a different mic in a different position. It created a different sound and a different mood and captured a different emotion.

I went from being the Assistant to engineering with the Engineer, then becoming an Engineer and working with bands. If I had ideas they liked, they’d ask me to co-produce or produce, so it was a very natural kind of organic progression.

Salary

Most Producers get their start by interning at a recording studio or assisting established Producers and may be paid very little or nothing while they have the chance to learn the art and craft of producing recordings. The sky is the limit for what major Producers working with the big stars can earn. Flat fees for Producers can start in the several thousands of dollars and be as high as a million dollars or more when working for a major artist and label.

Producers also usually earn a percentage of the royalties for the master rights to their recordings, so the better the song does, the more they are paid. They might get paid an advance against future royalties.

It could take from several weeks to many months to finish a project, so Producers, like Film Directors, might only work on a few projects in a year. Others might work in a fast-paced environment for advertising or TV and work on many projects simultaneously. There are few salaried positions available for Record Producers, so most work is project-based, and each job’s payments are negotiated up-front and then a contract is signed.

Some Producers become household names and earn huge sums, while others toil in relative obscurity and are paid by artists or Songwriters to visualize and create recordings of their songs. The more accomplished and well-known Producers can make a lot of money, while many others work hard and are paid a decent living wage but perhaps not much more. Skills, reputation, and referrals are all very valuable in the world of record production.

Level of pay is linked to experience, accomplishments, reputation, and abilities.

How much does a Record Producer get paid?

Alison Stolpa (Careers in Music Staff)

On average, Record Producers earn approximately $68,200 per year. The salary range for Record Producers runs from $41,000 to $105,000.


How do Record Producers get paid?

Arkatech Beatz (Nas, Freddie Gibbs, Raekwon)

Producers primarily get Producer royalties, which are a negotiable percentage based on the sale of the record. Often Producers are paid an advance, (an upfront payment of royalties), which are to be repaid through future record sales.

Some Producers who become notable in their field are also able to collect a Producer fee, which is an upfront cost for their services. If the Producer did any songwriting (made the beat) then they are also entitled to publishing.

Elaine Martone (Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Cleveland Orchestra)

Producers get paid in various ways. Some Producers collect a royalty on each recording unit sold. I have charged a flat rate — all-inclusive, except for travel and accommodations -— of the same rate for the past many years.

An artist or organization and I agree on what they will pay me for my services. I am an independent contractor, so I  negotiate a flat fee (this does not include health insurance or any other benefits, of course).

My going rate for producing a standard 60-minute recording is generally $5,000-$7,500 depending on the scope of the project, which I have not increased in over ten years. Of course, all fees are negotiable based on the needs of the client and whether I want to do something or not!

If you want to know more about the work I do, my website is elainemartone.com.

Adam Moseley (Beck, John Cale, U2)

Generally, it’s per project. In my mind, I work out a budget of how long is this going to take. If I’m mixing a record and its very simple, a Singer-Songwriter [with an] acoustic guitar, very few tracks, and very little instrumentation, then I can charge less.

If I’m getting a band that has a hundred tracks of overdubs or a hundred piece orchestra or a thirty piece choir, I know those mixes are going to take me three or four days. Again, the whole structure has changed. It used to be a set rate. Now it’s much more fluid.

Career Outlook

There’s certainly a demand for Record Producers, as there’s always a need for new music to be produced, marketed, and sold to audiences worldwide. Music is a global industry, and the opportunities can come from literally anywhere. It’s important for the aspiring Record Producer to have great business instincts and to learn all the ins and outs of the music business.

A Producer must be a team leader and know how to get along with all kinds of people. Producers often liaise between the record companies, artists, Engineers, musicians, and Songwriters, and are a part of the artist’s A&R (Artist & Repertoire) team.

In spite of the global pandemic, and perhaps to some degree because of it, there seems to be a steadily increasing demand for recorded music. There has also been an increase in demand for music to accompany visual media which seems likely to continue. Some industry veterans are predicting a flowering of all the arts once the pandemic is finally behind us, like what happened a century ago during the “Roaring 20s” (after the end of the Spanish flu). If there is indeed a blossoming of the arts, it makes sense that there will be more and more opportunities for Record Producers to make a name for themselves.

A love of music, a passion for listening, and being confident in the vision for a recording and what’s right for the song and artist will go a long way towards moving a Producer to the A-list. Being true to the art and highly trained with skills in many areas allows a Record Producer to confidently charge a fair price for their services.

Building on their reputation, a Record Producer can prepare for outsize success in the music industry by constantly learning, increasing their familiarity with the popular music landscape, and increasing their understanding of the history of music and music production. It’s a very competitive industry to break into, but people will always recognize and reward talent and ability.

What is the most challenging part of being a Record Producer?

Matt Lawrence (Adele, Amy Winehouse, Mumford & Sons)

When working with a band, it’s trying to give everyone opinion on the record, there’s often someone who talks loudest or is most charismatic. Some of the best ideas come from the quiet one.


How many hours does a Record Producer work?

Adam Moseley (Beck, John Cale, U2)

If I’m doing a record and there’s an absolute set amount of time, that can be six days a week, fourteen hours a day and all that exists is that record and mixing it.

A lot of the way things have changed now is there is much more freedom. A band may say, “We’re making a record, but we can only afford to do a couple songs every three months. So then I’ll map that out and that’s why I’ll have three or four different projects on the go at one time.”

Whoever is paying for the record – whether it’s the band paying themselves because they raised the money on Kickstarter or it’s an indie label or a benefactor or someone who’s putting the money–up when I hear the songs initially I have to sit with the songs and think, “What does this song need? Does this song need extra instruments?”

Maybe it might want real strings, a quartet. That means going to a studio. How much is that going to cost? How much can I get my players for? How few hours can I get good results in without wasting the money? How long it takes depends on what’s required.


Is being a Record Producer a good career?

Matt Lawrence (Adele, Amy Winehouse, Mumford & Sons)

It’s amazing! You get to make records for a living and then go home anonymously at the end of the session.

Career Path

There isn’t one way to become a Record Producer, but the vast majority of Producers start out as musicians. Not all Producers sing or play an instrument, but it’s very helpful for a Producer to have a solid understanding of how music is put together and to have arranging skills, along with the ability to sing or play an instrument well.

Getting good at music can take some time, so future Record Producers will need some years to study and prepare for a career in music, learning about the business and the history of music and recording. Learning to use current music technology and software, learning to use different DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation), and learning to read and write music are all important steps for Producers starting out in their careers.

Working in a studio setting or making live concert recordings as an Assistant is a great way to learn the skills needed to become a successful Record Producer. Watching an accomplished Producer at work is one of the best ways to learn how to produce records. Always being prepared, paying close attention while learning from mistakes, and thinking ahead to anticipate the needs of the team are what ultimately leads to getting the call back and to future referrals.

Once a Record Producer has an established reputation, they should have plenty of clients seeking them out for their services.

How do you become a Record Producer?

Arkatech Beatz (Nas, Freddie Gibbs, Raekwon)

Becoming a Record Producer starts when you can identify the music you want to create. When you are able to facilitate putting that music together by either making the music yourself (using various instruments/electronics) or hiring musicians to make the music, you are then operating as a Record Producer.

Elaine Martone (Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Cleveland Orchestra)

There is no one course or path to becoming a Recording Producer. I became a Recording Producer after being a very good Editor and learning what made a performance great from the inside out. I was also a performing (classical) musician (oboe was my instrument).

Adam Moseley (Beck, John Cale, U2)

They can do a two-year certificate and come out knowing audio theory probably more than I do but they won’t have their ear trained in the way my ear is trained, to know exactly which mic and in which position and which compressor and how I’m going to set everything up.

They have to find people to work with a