How many times have you heard a song and thought about how it could be improved with strings or a heavier beat? Do you walk around humming melodies? Are you practically a human beat box? Does your life revolve around music?
If you answered any of those questions with a resounding ‘yes’, you are a strong candidate to be a music producer. Today is an amazing time to be a music producer which gives you the opportunity to be a trendsetter, trailblazer and tastemaker. And it’s a dream that can come true! You can begin with a course in music production, marketing, and publicity to get started on this path immediately.
Let’s start with some inspiration. Ask Timothy Z. Mosley, aka Timbaland. Nowadays, he’s worth an estimated $60 million, but it wasn’t always easy for this Norfolk, VA. mega producer. When he was 15, he was temporarily partially-paralyzed as a result of a gunshot wound that he received from a coworker while working at a Red Lobster. During the time he was laid up, he took his love of music to the next level by honing his skills as a DJ. Check this: he worked on his own beats and tracks as well using… a Casio keyboard!
Fast forward to 2014, and he is one of the hottest producers of the last three decades. Artists he has produced hits with range from pop icons Justin Timberlake (Timbaland produced the whole 20/20 LP) and Nelly Furtado to urban legends Jay Z and Missy Elliott.
OK, now that you are inspired, let’s find out just how it can happen for you, too. Let’s start with the things you can do that don’t cost money or very little at best. But understand that you have to be willing to invest time and effort, and yes, money. You have to creative, innovative and a bit of a business person, too. You are the one that brings all the elements of a song together, and that could include writing, composing music, mixing and mastering, and securing publishing rights so no one can steal your work.
Sounds like a lot of work, right? It is, but the rewards are just as intense and immensely satisfying. Sure, the money can be incredible, but the feeling that comes from knowing millions of people are dancing or crying to your production… there’s nothing like it!
So it you are still on board, let’s get started!
2. Knowledge. Learn about music and learn an instrument. A lot of public schools still offer music classes, even if it’s just choir. There are music appreciation classes offered at colleges. And study the legends, especially in the genre you want to produce. You’ll never get a gig producing Miley Cyrus if you don’t know who Madonna is. The public library is chock full of books on music, music artists, etc. Learn. Soak up music wherever you can. If you are out of school, go to church. Approach the person who plays the piano or organ and let him/her know about your passion. Ask if he/she will teach you the keys or guitar. Offer to mow the lawn or do something in exchange for lessons. Or, pay for an experienced musician to give you lessons. For help on mastering an instrument, try this. The three most important instruments to learn or have a good knowledge of are:
• Piano and/or keyboard – indispensible for tinkering out melodies, phrasing and general knowledge of music chords. Here’s some help in mastering this key piece of equipment.
• Guitar – also invaluable for learning chords and adding flesh to a basic melody. For example, a simple guitar phrase can add a Spanish or rock flavor to a pop song.
• Bass – definitely the most underestimated to learn. It’s the foundation of uptempo and sexy tracks. Also the best element to establish a song’s underlying rhythm.
3. Borrow a keyboard or get one or get someone to buy one for you. Do what you can to get access to keys or a guitar at least. A keyboard can cost as little as $100. Check pawnshops or websites that sell used items for deals. Volunteer at a community center or church; these places tend to have instruments and people that should be willing to teach you.
4. A willingness to keep on learning. Read. Go to the library. It will have a vast section on music, including everything from how to learn how to play an instrument to the business of music. This is important for you to learn, too. You have to understand that the music business is about making money, too, so it’s imperative that you get acquainted with everything from publishing to how much to pay for studio time and how to hire a good manager or even manage yourself. Click here to learn more about music
5. You must learn to network. Go to talent shows, music festivals, anywhere there is music. Meet other aspiring producers and musicians. A lot of successful producers started out as musicians. Check your local radio station to see if you can volunteer for special events. You can meet people to collaborate with or who can help you. Your eagerness and willingness to work will attract the right people to grow your career.
6. Practice. Practice. Practice. And then practice some more. Start by copying songs that you like, and then add your own elements. Timba practiced so much that he learned how to DJ (spin records at clubs and parties) with just one hand.
7. Keep growing. Get more equipment. Add a microphone. Borrow mom and dad’s karaoke machine. Again, pawnshops and garage sales are great places to find equipment. Add an amp. There are also computer programs that you can buy that will help you make beats, add horns, strings and other musical elements to existing songs and create your own.
8. Work for free. Get your name out there by working parties for friends, school, whatever. Go to talent shows and look for artists to produce or sing on your demos. Do it for the experience and to build your repertoire and your reputation.
9. Invest in yourself. Forget the fancy car or the latest phone. Take a class. Add more equipment. Sign up to attend a music conference.
10. Multi-task. Being an award winning, moneymaking, star producer is more than just making beats and molding songs. You have to be a people person. It’s up to you to get the best out of that singer or musician for that song or album. You have to possess enough charm and personality to be able to woo record labels into listening to your production or allowing you to produce their artists. You have to have a business head to be able to handle publishing, understand contracts and best utilize studio time. To understand what it takes beyond the music itself, check out this course on music production, marketing and publicity.
11. Be creative. There’s no doubt Kanye West changed the game with his own brand of hip-hop. He is never afraid to experiment with artists from different worlds (from Jay Z to Syleena Johnson) and he isn’t afraid to go with his gut, and he never goes with the grain. Point is… be yourself, create your own brand and don’t be a copycat.
12. Write songs. Melodies, lyrics, hooks… the whole shebang. So many successful producers started out as songwriters. Tricky Stewart, a much sought-after producer (and Grammy winner) started out writing songs. In 1999, he wrote a song for J.T. Money called “Who Dat” which became a No. 1 song on the rap charts. He continued to write and began to produce artists as well. One of his biggest breath-through songs as a producer was B2K’s “Uh-Huh” in 2002. The song went through the roof, becoming the No. 1 selling single in the U.S. His discography as a producer reads like a Who’s Who of pop and urban music, including Rihanna, Michael Jackson, Justin Beiber, Katy Perry, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige and Justin Timberlake, to name a few. Here is some help with songwriting.
13. (Optional) Go to school. Every major city has a trade school that offers audio engineering or production courses and even degree programming. They are usually state-of-the-art and will also enable you to network with artists, successful producers, and other industry peers. The Art Institute has schools everywhere, but do take the time to think about your choice. For example, wouldn’t it be wise to go to Atlanta, where the music community is burgeoning? Other top-notch choices include Berklee, which is a renowned all-around music school, and yes, it does have studies in producing or audio production You can even check out courses online… wink, wink.
Other tips to help lead you to stardom as a producer:
• Equipment – Master the technology. Look into sequencer software such as Cakewalk Sonar, Reason, Pro Tools and FL Studio. You probably want to get a sampler if you have a tendency for hip-hop, such as an MPC60, SP1200 or S950, which are all popular pieces. Check out an MIDI keyboard or Korg for adding synths and the sounds of instruments. Again, pawnshops, garage sales and the Internet are great places to find bargains.
• Mixing – You have to get this down pat so that you can bring it all together and blend the variety of sounds. If you don’t understand mixing, you’ll have to pay someone to do it, and one thing you will learn about the music business, the more jobs that you can master yourself, the more money you will keep. There are great courses available online… how to mix acoustic guitar and vocals
• Computer programs – Even the Casio has some form of programming. It’s best to have a Mac, quite frankly, Most major producers use Apples because Apples have traditionally been most compatible with music programs. Some of the best include FL Studio, Propellerhead Reason, Apple Logic Pro, Cubase, Ableton Live, MOTU Digital Performer, Reason Essentials, n-Track and of course, Avid Pro Tools. Apple’s Garageband is simple, but it can get you going. To learn many of these software, look into these music program courses
• Internships – Recording studios, production companies, record labels and radio stations all provide internships. Maybe you won’t get paid, but the learning experience and the opportunity to network with real stars and successful producers could provide your big break.
• Conferences – Every part of the country has music conferences. Some have grown into national entities, such as SXSW in Austin. Texas. Here is a place to meet artists, other producers, managers, record label execs and radio personnel, both amateur and professional. It’s a tremendous opportunity to learn about the business and network. So is the Winter Music Conference in Miami, now in its 29th year. For more info on SXSW, go to www.sxsw.com and for the WMC, http://wintermusicconference.com/ or check this out for a state-by-state list of music conferences: http://www.indieonthemove.com/music-festivals-and-conferences
• Internet/Social Networking – make sure you have your own Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram. All these things build credibility if you use them to let people know what you have to offer and whom you have worked with for starters.
So there it is: My guideline to the incredible world of being a music producer. With the Internet and high-tech equipment, it’s only a matter of time before you could be working with the best in music on an international scale. Whether you are into country, hip-hop, pop or rock, you have to start somewhere, work smart, and follow your dreams!