What on earth do music producers do all day? "They make music, right?" A seemingly obvious question, with an answer that might surprise you...
While Instagram might tell you a music producer sits in their spaceship-looking studio all day exploring sonic possibilities, there’s a lot that goes into being a modern-day music producer.
But before exploring what music producers do, let’s look at what goes into music production to answer this question a bit clearer.
Is music production a skill?
Yes, music production is a skill. Or rather, it’s a combination of multiple skills... A lot of expertise in a wide range of areas goes into producing professional music.
Firstly, you need great tech skills to manage your software, hardware, or a combination of both.
Luckily, this is the easy part for someone who is used to computers. And even if you don’t have a lot of tech experience, you can quickly learn.
The second is music theory, including arrangement – and how to apply it. Music theory is one of the most important and most overlooked parts of making music.
But to form hypnotizingly beautiful chords progressions and melodies, a solid understanding of foundational music theory is extremely beneficial.
Thirdly, a great music producer needs the ability to mix their music. Mixing means the process of combining all your sounds in a way that’s pleasurable to listen to.
It requires a lot of skill.
When you mix a track, there are many ways to go about it.
You use equalization to cut away harsh frequencies, make certain instruments stand out (or stay in the background), and improve volume dynamics to maximize impact.
You do this to highlight the story you want your music to tell.
What do music producers do on a daily basis?
You might think that music producers sit in their studio and make music, but today, that’s often far from the truth. Unless you have a manager to handle record deals, marketing, collaborations and negotiate gigs, professional music producers are busy people that have to do many things themselves.
And as with any brand, marketing is key. Music producers have to view their music profile as their brand to get ahead in today's incredibly digital world, get heard, and attract new fans.
A common way of marketing for music producers is through Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook, where their audiences are.
You might also have an email newsletter with your biggest fans to share news, merch, and unreleased tracks.
If you’re releasing music through a streaming service, that page needs to be kept fresh.
Great marketing and branding are hard and takes time. And to achieve and keep a high momentum, you have to find out what works through a lot of experimentation and double down on the right strategy.
Finally, music production is also about collaboration. It’s about working with other professionals, including producers, artists, sound engineers, and event managers.
A music producer’s day often consists of visiting other artists or having them come to your studio. Due to the pandemic, many of these collaborations now happen online.
The day of a music producer varies in many ways – which keeps things fresh and exciting.
Do music producers make beats?
The true definition of a beat in music is the basic unit of time and the pulse, meaning a regularly repeating event. It’s what makes you headbang or tap your foot to a piece of music and is essential in most genres of music.
So yes. In most cases, a music producer spends a great portion of their music-producing time making beats. They do it because great drums are the foundation and the driver of rhythm, taking their music forward.
Making beats is especially important for electronic music producers, except for very drone-y, ambient tracks.
If you’ve ever been to a music festival with house or techno music, you know how important the drums are for a powerful experience.
However, nowadays, many see ‘making beats’ as something hip-hop, trip-hop, or trap producers do. In that case, making beats refers to making the entire track without vocals.
Often, that includes drums, percussion, bass, and other supportive sounds and instruments. Beat-making producers then sell their beats to vocalists who sing or rap over the created beat.
What degree is good for music production?
Thankfully, you don’t need a degree to become a music producer. There are no official standards. If your music sounds good, it doesn’t matter if you went to university, attended expensive $50,000 private school classes, or learned everything for free at home.
However, music education is very helpful for music producers. Many realize this many years down the road, after winging it for a long time and going by feel rather than real musical knowledge.
But – you don’t have to attend university. Many great music production courses online can teach you everything you need to know, from music theory to arrangement, mixing and mastering, and everything in between.
If you want to attend university anyways, a bachelor’s degree in music production is a great option. And really, any education into music, whether it's classical or jazz music, can be fantastic – even if you produce music in a completely different genre (like techno.)
Here is an article on how to study music production.
The days of professional music producers are always changing, collaborative, and filled with creativity. But to become a truly successful music producer, you also have to manage your brand and do business tasks.
Marketing plays a huge role in growing your brand, but it’s all good fun. You can outsource marketing and get your branding and cool Instagram posts done for you if you have the resources.
But for most producers, they do a bigger part of this themselves – until they get a manager or label to do it for them.
Nonetheless – professional music producers are jack-of-all-trades and extremely skilled at what they do.
And everyone started at some point.
Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.