Record Producer

The Job and What's Involved

Record producers are hired by A&R (Artist and Repertoire) departments of recording companies, often via managers, to manage the production of single music tracks or an album. Sometimes they are hired by unsigned artists to create a demo. The producer's job is to help artists create a recording that will hopefully become a big success.

The first thing a producer will usually do is talk through ideas with artists. They might listen to existing demos and help artists to identify parts that need to be worked on. At this stage the producer will:

  • Book pre-production rehearsals, giving the musicians and production team the chance to thoroughly practice and make any adjustments needed.
  • Select the final tracks to record.
  • Choose a sound engineer/engineers to work with.
  • Select the studio to use, based upon cost, equipment and music type.
  • Work out budgets and studio time schedule.
  • Decide, with the engineer, on the equipment that's needed.
  • Finalise the recording and mixing schedule.

During the recording stage, producers generally sit alongside the sound engineer at the mixing desk. Each band member will usually record his or her part separately. The producer will:

  • Direct the artists and musicians.
  • Decide what order to record tracks.
  • Sometimes (usually in pop and dance music) create 'sequenced' instrumental tracks or 'beats'.
  • Suggest changes to lyrics.
  • Direct the engineer's approach to how the sound is recorded, if necessary.
  • Keep everyone motivated and focused.

When the recording has finished the different sounds are mixed. This is when volume levels and sounds are adjusted and extra material is added in. When the sound everyone wants has been achieved, the final master is sent to the recording A&R department for their verdict.

The collaborative nature of music production means that producers work with a wide variety of people, including performers, writers, arrangers, lawyers, accountants and distributors.

Producers work long, irregular hours, often including evenings and weekends. However, the work isn't always constant. Self-employed producers may find other work, renting time in a commercial studio, hiring out equipment or carrying out recordings at home.

Although some recording studios can be spacious and airy, they can equally be small, windowless and artificially lit. Some live performances are recorded in venues such as concert halls for added acoustics.

Travel within the UK and abroad may be required. There is a danger that prolonged exposure to loud music can damage hearing.

Salaries for record producers starting out may be around £15,000 a year. Experienced producers, with relatively consistent work throughout the year, earn anything from £30,000 upwards.

Occasionally record producers will work 'on spec' with an unsigned band, in the expectation of reaping the rewards of any future success. Most producers are paid a flat fee for completed tracks, usually with additional agreed percentage of the income from sales (often between three and four per cent). As such, income from an individual recording can vary from next to nothing to tens of thousands of pounds.

For additional income, some producers rent out their facilities on a commercial basis.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Approximately one thousand people work in the UK as record producers. Employers include record companies (or labels) and music production companies. Most of the work is based in London. The majority of producers are self-employed.

Most producers work their way up from other posts within the industry. Many start off learning the skills as studio assistants or assistant engineers, progressing to recording/mixing, whilst building up contacts. Some producers start out as musicians themselves or DJs with experience in mixing tracks.

Job vacancies are rarely advertised, as work often comes via agents or managers. Networking and making lots of speculative approaches to artists and recording companies is common practice. Look at trade magazines and industry website's to identify potential projects, where there may be opportunities for work.

Education and Training

There is no one route into this type of work and no specific qualifications are needed. Formal music training is advisable and producers usually have practical work experience, sometimes supported by qualifications in music and/or sound engineering.

Relevant (but not essential) qualifications relating to the music industry include:

  • Level 3 BTEC National Diploma in music technology.
  • Level 5 BTEC Higher National Certificate/Higher National Diploma (HNC/HND) in music production.
  • Foundation degree in music production, music technology, music practice and music industry management.
  • Degree in music industry management, music practice and music production.

For entry to a degree course, applicants need at least two A levels plus five GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications. The entry requirements for an HNC/HND are usually one A level or a BTEC National Diploma/Certificate. The British Recorded Music Industry (BPI) Music Education Directory provides a list of courses. Check entry requirements with individual course providers.

The Diploma in creative and media may also be relevant for this area of work.

Regardless of qualifications, most people enter music production at the bottom. Voluntary work with studios and record companies is a common way of gaining experience and making contacts within the industry.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is mostly on the job and involves building on knowledge, experience and industry contacts, all important factors for succeeding in the music industry.

BPI runs a series of one-day seminars called 'Music, it's the Business'. The seminars explore the structure of the recording industry, distribution issues, and marketing and promotion techniques.

There is also a wide selection of short music production courses. The Music Producers' Guild (MPG) operates a knowledge bank, where industry people can share experience and advice.

The Association of Professional Recording Services (APRS) and the MPG have also combined their industry and educational expertise to create JAMES (Joint Audio Media Education Services), which focuses on supporting future talent by supporting education and training and providing services, including course accreditation, careers advice, and seminars.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A record producer needs:

  • An excellent ear for music.
  • Awareness of current and emerging music trends.
  • The ability to recognise a 'hit'.
  • Excellent interpersonal skills.
  • To be assertive and persuasive.
  • Networking skills.
  • The ability to work under pressure and to deadlines.
  • Stamina and patience for long sessions in the studio.
  • Self-discipline and tenacity.
  • Knowledge of copyright law.
  • Budgeting skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

In the early stage of their career, producers will spend a lot of time touting their services to A&R recording departments. As they become more established, with possibly a few hits under their belt, producers may be approached by top-selling artists to produce their next single release or album. Success is very dependent on reputation.

There's very little chance, unless working independently, to leap straight into music production. The majority begin their career as assistant sound engineers, before moving up the ladder to engineer and then into production.

Top record producers may eventually get to travel worldwide, working with international artists. At this level, some establish their own recording studios, hiring facilities, equipment and sound production teams out to other producers.

Get Further Information

Association of Professional Recording Services (APRS),
PO Box 22, Totnes, Devon TQ9 7YZ
Tel: 01803 868600
Website: www.aprs.co.uk

The British Recorded Music Industry (BPI),
Riverside Building, County Hall,
Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7JA
Tel: 020 7803 1300
Website: www.bpi.co.uk

Creative & Cultural Skills, Lafone House,
The Leathermarket, Weston Street,
London SE1 3HN
Tel: 020 7015 1800
Website: www.creative-choices.co.uk/music

JAMES (Joint Audio Media Education Services),
1 Printing House Yard, London E2 7PR
Website: www.jamesonline.org.uk

The Music Producers' Guild UK Ltd (MPG),
4 Wheelwrights Corner, Cossack Square,
Nailsworth, Gloucestershire GL6 0DB
Website: www.mpg.org.uk

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Tel: 020 7713 9800
Website: www.skillset.org

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