While music producers posses similar skills and attributes, the career path to becoming a producer differs for everyone. Job and personal goals, past experience, individual ability and creative talent will dictate whether an education-based, career-based or combined learning approach is right for you. Most music producers work as self-employed contractors -- hired on a project basis by record companies, music artists or recording studios -- so your reputation, work samples and past production success trump resumes based on education or career alone.
A career path based on education offers a well-rounded and varied body of knowledge. Because every studio is designed, outfitted and operated differently, experience gleaned from a studio job may not apply when it's time to move on to another facility. Furthermore, your particular job may not provide all necessary tools needed in the production world. Formal music production programs from specialty schools and colleges typically consist of musicianship, music composition and theory, software, hardware, mixing, acoustics, critical listening and music business management courses.
Many producers begin their careers as musicians and become interested in the recording and production aspects of the business. While musical talent is not a prerequisite, a keen understanding of musical composition as well as the sonic and physical capabilities of various musical instruments is. Endeavor to become an active working musician if possible to gain other valuable production skills and insight into the music business: time, money and logistical management, marketing, interpersonal skills, exposure to musical instruments and music styles unlike your own.
Because producers must be familiar with studio recording equipment and recording techniques, becoming a recording engineer or assistant is a logical career step. Engineers are formally educated or have learned their craft through internships, as an employed assistant or through self-study. Producers and engineers serve different roles in commercial music productions -- the producer as creative director and project manager overseeing an engineer handling the technical aspects -- but producers must have a working knowledge of studio gear, acoustics and processes to effectively manage a production.
Artist & Repertoire Representative
Record companies and booking agencies employ artist and repertoire representatives -- abbreviated as "A&R" -- to seek and develop new talent. A&R reps are privy to many of the same music business practices and dynamics required of experienced producers such as branding, finance, marketing, business politics. In addition, A&R reps are trained or have developed refined listening skills for analyzing music and cultural acuity for identifying or creating marketable trends.
Successful music producers sometimes employ production assistants on a hire or internship basis. As a new assistant, your tasks may initially consist of errands for musicians and studio staff, but will gradually be exposed to the inner workings of the actual production process -- assisting in more meaningful ways as you gain experience and the producer's confidence.
Careers After Music Production
While successful music producers are considered on the top rung of the music career ladder, a producer may consider other careers upon retirement or if a sharp decline in work occurs. With the many specialized skills and industry knowledge you will gain as a producer, you can consider professional or executive jobs in artist management, booking, and record company management as well as other areas of music and entertainment.
Matt McKay began his writing career in 1999, writing training programs and articles for a national corporation. His work has appeared in various online publications and materials for private companies. McKay has experience in entrepreneurship, corporate training, human resources, technology and the music business.