The term “producer” is thrown around a lot in the world of music. About 30 years ago, the position of a music producer included responsibilities like directing and managing the recording process- Making sure that the artist was performing to the best of their abilities, and overseeing every aspect of production.
But today, you might think differently of the role. From the mid-1990s onward, the word “producer” shifted to describe someone who makes beats but still potentially handling managerial responsibilities.
If you’re wondering what a producer really does these days, the answer is both simple and complex. A producer does, well, everything!
Making beats, overseeing recording and mixing sessions, working with artists and vocalists to get the best result possible. They have to be flexible in their style and fast on their feet.
But the role is exciting and enticing to many; you get to work with all sorts of creatives and produce music. So how do you become a music producer? Here’s the ultimate guide.
Table of Contents
What is a Music Producer?
As we discussed, the role of a music producer can be a little tricky to define. It’s up to you to decide everything that you would do as a producer.
A producer can be expected to handle plenty of responsibilities, and the more that you can master, the better you’ll be.
Today, a producer might be seen as mostly a beat creator. While this is certainly not their only function, it is a pretty essential one.
You need to be able to crank out tracks and lots of them. Top-tier producers have a catalog of beats they can pull out of a hat. Or, you should be able to quickly create something specifically tailored to the artist you’re working on, using VST plugins and a plethora of high-quality samples.
Kenny Beats does a great job showing this on his show The Cave by inviting guest artists over and creating something based on what they want.
This style can lead to highly personal records that both the artist and fans will enjoy.
However you go about it, make sure your beat production skills are sharp at all times.
While it’s less thought of than beat production, mixing is just as critical. Since technology has advanced the production field, more and more songs are done off of one computer these days. Because of this, you can’t just be slapping drums and synths together willy-nilly.
The beats you make won’t be nearly as impressive if you don’t know how to mix them properly. Spend the time to learn how to use plugins like compressors, EQ, and reverbs so that you get the most bounce out of your tracks.
Same vein as mixing, recording skills have become more and more necessary to the producer’s toolkit over the years. Luckily, you don’t need an entire recording studio to lay down vocal tracks with the widespread equipment availability of today.
With a reasonable microphone and the right mixing skills, you can make a smash hit right in your apartment- You wouldn’t be the first.
Direction refers to your relationship and input while working with an artist. If you’ve produced a wicked track, and the artist has written some killer lyrics, you want their vocal performance to match the dimensions of everything else.
You definitely don’t want someone just lazily throwing a hook over a huge banger- Maybe the artist is trying something out that isn’t working, or they genuinely just don’t hear what’s wrong with what they’re doing.
It’s the producer’s job to have the final product already in their head and help the vocalist achieve a performance that reaches those expectations. Granted, you should always be flexible and open to new ideas because you never know what something will sound like until you try it.
What do you Need?
Alright, now that we’ve talked about what a producer does, let’s talk about what a producer needs to get all that done.
There are some obvious things in this list, but it’s important to read through and make sure you’re prepared. While some of this stuff can get pretty spendy, especially if you’re buying all at once, try not to reach for the cheapest option because you get what you pay for.
A Decent Computer
Everybody always asks: PC or Apple? The truth is they can both be great machines, but it depends on what type of DAW you want to use (don’t worry, we’ll get there next.)
You want to make sure whatever machine you have can run the software you want. All VST plugins will run on either.
The other thing to look out for is RAM and CPU- You want at least eight gigs of RAM on your machine, or you will be struggling. If you end up using many plugins and automation, you’ll want to look at 16 gigs or higher.
There are a lot of DAW’s out on the market these days, and everyone has an opinion on which is the best.
The truth is that they’re all just production tools, and they all basically do the same thing. Some might have minor pros and cons over others, but the main aspect to focus on is how well you understand and navigate the interface.
We have a great article here going over the most popular ones to help you decide.
Samples and VST
To make beats, you’re going to need some sounds. A combination of wicked samples like the Jaydon Lewis pack and VST instruments is best to help you create something fully original and sick.
Samples are a great place to start. Percussion samples can help lay your groove down, and synth samples are perfect for setting up melodies. Sometimes a great sample can be the perfect inspiration for your next major hit.
You don’t really need a lot of hardware when you’re first starting, but when you want to scale up your production, you’ll start to see things that could make your music even better.
What you definitely want to start with is a microphone and probably an interface. There are plenty of excellent dynamic and condenser mics that fit bedroom producers’ budgets and needs, and while some dynamic mics can plug right into your computer, the condensers will definitely need the interface.
Eventually, you might add a keyboard or a drum machine (or a combination). These tools can really help bring a little human spark to your songs when you’re tracking parts. They do take practice, though, so set aside some time to fiddle with them whenever you pick one up.
Practice, Practice, Practice
One of the biggest pieces of advice that you’ll hear from just about every major producer is to practice and keep working.
Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve got a line of vocalists wanting to work with you, make it a habit to just keep creating something every day.
Being a producer isn’t something that happens overnight, so you’ll have plenty of time to build up a catalog. And even if things take a while, keep pushing forward.
Massive pop producer and songwriter Benny Blanco talks about his experience of people telling him he wasn’t a good songwriter, but he carried through because he liked what he was doing. Be like Benny Blanco.
Being a music producer is a lot of fun, but it can also be a lot of work. Set realistic expectations for yourself and understand you probably won’t be the next Murda Beats tomorrow.
But with the proper amount of work and dedication, you might find yourself turning your hobby into something bigger.