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Advice for a young producer hopeful

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  • Advice for a young producer hopeful

    Okay, so let's pretend that an ambitious 18-year-old wanted nothing more than to become a successful music producer, and was being FORCED to go to college (this tooootally isn't about me or anything <.<) What would you say is his best bet as to choosing a degree?

  • #2
    I'd first ask what kind of production. Its an extremely diverse job role. If you're talking film, it going to have different objective then say a music producer.

    As far as education goes, Without a doubt, you'd want to take business courses. A producer uses others peoples money to produce a product that turns a profit for the investors. Musicians are especially ignorant to what's involved in producing a profitable show, movie, album etc. A producer gets involved in all kinds of business contracts and without a solid business background will not be able to gain the confidence of investors willing to gamble their money.

    As a secondary course, you can take something that will get you in the business and earn you a living during hard times. Something to fall back on and get you in the door working in the industry. It may be electronics, IT, Web design, Music, Legal, Photography, Theatre, any number of related fields that may earn you cash and rub elbows with those in the industry.

    I was a producer for two years making educational films for a major company. I had years of experience in the music business and since I knew electronics I knew their products and knew how to educate other techs on how they should be repaired. That company backed the production of that video and paid to have it mixed at one of the largest cutting edge studios at the time. The 30 second animated introduction with the company logo alone cost $20K. You got to be working with some talented people you can trust to make a good product and you have to pay for their time and talent if you want the best.

    Most of the people in the industry self contract. they are free lancers who hire their talent for pay. A producer is the guy with the budget putting all the other talents in motion. He may have script writers, Narrators, Film Crew, Publishers, Studios for Editing and Mastering, Art Studios, you name it. You have to coordinate all those groups of people and they all need to be paid. You have to drive the master plan and get the best quality work from all these individuals and keep the overall budget within check. If you know your stuff, you've been through the process and shown the ropes by others in the industry. You may have worked on such a product and see how the producers does his job or you may have been mentored in all the aspects needed to get the job done.

    Of course a producer cant micro manage all the smaller details but he should know enough about all the different crews he hires and be able to direct their talent to getting the job on time. He may deal with then indirectly through a director who micro manages the fine details. That director provides the producer with regular samples of the work so the product meets the producers requirements. The producer sees the big picture, from a farther distance and guides the individual groups to produce the piece he needs to construct the jig saw puzzle and have all the pieces fit.

    Again, its rare where you would just walk into a job like that. I got lucky in my case. I had another employee who had been producing that companies videos for several years and he was wanting to move up in the company. He mentored me through the entire process making the first film. I was given the reins to the job after that and had to do the entire thing myself. During the mentoring, I saw many things I could improve on and do much better. I had an edge over him because I worked in the trade for years and knew what I wanted to get rid of a bunch of stuff that didn't belong in those productions and add many things they never thought of.

    I was given the trust to produce something better then what they were getting in the past. The crews I worked with on the first production when training learned that I was very knowledgeable in the field. They also knew they would have to meet my quality expectations when working with me. The good thing about working with professionals is they seek to give you what you're looking for. They do this to get paid and have steady work being hired again. If what you're looking for is quality stuff and you set that standard high, then the groups will try and meet those standards.

    You get tested on a regular basis too. For example, you may be given a sample of some artwork for the production. Maybe something from a previous production with some mods added. You have to decide is its good enough to meet your vision. In my case these people didn't know my Mother was a commercial artist and I spend my entire life around fine artwork and knew what was rough, fluff and good stuff. If the work didn't meet the standards I needed, I'd ask for better. if the quality is good but I need something different then I have to communicate what I need until I gat what I need. On the flip side, you have to save money too. If there is stock footage you can access that will fit the bill, then that's time, effort and money saved you can use some place else. Main thing is you come in on budget or better.

    That's a small portion of what movie producer does from someone who has done it first hand and that was on a budget that wound up being around $100K for an hour of finished product. I didn't even use actors. it was a documentary style production that focused on a product. The most you'd see were hands in the picture. You can forget about all the Hollywood poop you've been fed on the topic too. Chances are most of what you think the job involves is propaganda. When you see the credits on a film or on an album as producer you see a man who has to tie all the different areas together into a profitable package.

    Not a whole lot of glory in that. If the production makes money then you can pat yourself on that back and if you're real lucky, the guy you're making money for, gives you a bonus for making him allot of money. The people who work for you will respect you if you know what you're doing, but for the most part, they are just hired help who do it for the money. Today they are working for you. Tomorrow they are working for the highest bid for their talent. If you're real lucky and your work is of high quality and interests others, you may be remembered as the business manager with a vision. That's about all you're left with too. Everyone else does the detailed work to ask them to.


    • #3
      First of all, WRGKMC, thank you for an honest and informative answer.

      So it looks like I've been using the terms "music producer" and "audio engineer" synonymously for longer than I care to admit. Whoopsiees...

      Let me rephrase myself for clarification's sake: The ambitious 18-year-old wants nothing more than to be the guy taking on clients, working the mixing board, watching the music being made, and hiring the interns (audio engineering [I'm pretty sure now]), except he wants to make a comfortable living doing so.

      I read this article ( ) at it gave me a pretty good idea as to what to expect out of this undertaking, but I feel like it left me a few holes as to what to formally educate myself in. I mean, if your answer in that regard is still to do a business/backup option type thing, then that's cool, and you've been very helpful. But if it has changed, I would appreciate hearing about it.

      P.S. Maybe the word "FORCED" was a bit harsh. My current personal life would be much, much better if I went to a four-year university, but it's not like I hate the idea of being there myself or anything, so don't worry
      Last edited by TheSteez; 03-29-2015, 07:43 PM.


      • #4
        The guy sums it up towards the end.

        Be prepared to live long stretches with no health insurance. Life as an engineer is life lived without a net.

        You can't even legally do that now so that article must be dated.

        The old phase, it takes money to make money is the truth. Depending on where you live you need clients. To get those clients you need to canvas the clubs where they play. You get to know them and hopefully talk them into recording in your studio.

        The question would of course be, why would they want to use your studio over someone else's whose been in the game a long time and has a good track record. How many hit records have your produced for successful bands who couldn't have seen that success without your studio?

        Woops, You haven't got a studio yet right? See what I'd driving at. You haven't worked in a studio and have no track record to sell. If you had maybe $50K for gear and a nice piece of real estate to convert into a studio. You might have the beginning. You'd also have to pay for that real estate. Taxes, electric, Gas, mortgage, all the overhead it costs to run a home. If you want to be a producer, you have to have people you can hire to do the technical work for you. Do you have a steady income or steady stream of well paying clients? Are those clients willing to wait 5~25 years while you learn the ropes and actually learn how to make a quality product that's better then the competition?

        You see being in recording is no different then any other business. You can go to college for 10 years and you still aren't going to walk into that job as a producer. If you have money to throw around, sure people will take your money and make you think you're a big deal until that money runs out. Then what? You still have to learn the trade from the ground up and know it better then your competition. Never more so then in the audio business.

        Back in the days when they had manufacturing jobs, Someone with clout, would begin their career with the family business, beginning on the assembly line and work their way through all the different jobs that comprise the company. Japanese in fact still do that. When I worked for big manufacturers, engineers who just got their degrees would be sent to the US and work at various jobs along side US workers. Within a few years they'd return with a first hand knowledge of those jobs. As an engineer their job is to design products that need less service support because service cuts into profitability. They have to manage everyone all the way down to the front line too and having done those jobs themselves is a must. Ho can they manage people doing jobs they know nothing about.

        In a small business like a studio, you have to know those jobs well. You wouldn't be able to train someone to work those jobs nor be able to spot a veteran to manage if you didn't know their jobs as well as you do your own. Even guys who work for the biggest studios have their own business going on the side. if not a basement or bedroom studio, their own setup so they can improve their skills and stay at the top of the game. Even the guys I worked with at major studios are living on a shoe string and would much rather be running their own studios. They may work for a major studio if they are real lucky or maybe washing dishes so they have an income stream which supports their studio.

        Again, you can see the implications here. If you haven't got a steady income, its going to be highly unlikely you'll get a profitable studio off the ground from the get go. Allot of it depends on what kind of bands willing to pay for your service. Musicians are far from being stupid. Many can buy and interface and DAW program and record their own demo's for the price your studio would have to charge for an hours work.

        In reality anyone who's thinking of being an owner of a studio or a musician should really have their heads examined. They are two of the worst businesses to try and get into today and make any money at all, and without money to make money you can guarantee failure.

        If you still have to do it at that point because there is nothing else in the world that can substitute for what you like about it, then there are things I do suggest.

        First, Get an education is something that will make you money, but not take all your time. When you have an income, even if its not in the trade you want, you have the ability to build up your own business on the side until it profitable enough to support you. You can ask just about anyone whose ever posted on this site and you'll find most got their start this way.

        Second. Don't get married or have kids. You cant support a side business and a family at the same time. There's not enough hours in a day to do what it takes as a father and pursue a side business at the same time. The exception would be to marry into money of course and then all your troubles scratching for a living would be over, (and the drive to be a success)

        Third. Start small and don't go into debt. Whatever you borrow you have to pay back so stay within your budget. You can take $50 and buy and interface and DAW program. Lexicon sells an inexpensive one that comes with Cubase. Spend the next two years learning how to use it. If you're not a musician, then ask bands to allow you to record them. Take the tracks and learn to mix them. That's 3 job positions you'll be learning something about. Tracking engineer, Mixing engineer and producer who goes and finds bands that want to be recorded.

        From there its all first hand experience and investment in quality gear. You want to be the guy standing behind that glass, well, you better earn enough to pay for that glass plus everything on either side of it.

        The other option is to rent studios. You go out, find bands, put the money up front so they can record and have them sign a contact to pay you back. If the bands any good, they might get bookings and then you can take your cut from their profits. Good luck on that method. Most bands are held together with duct tape. They are likely to fall apart at any time for any reason. The days of getting a big check from a studio are dead and have been dead for a good 30 years now. Even back in the 70's when I was doing my first recordings, a studio contract was no more then a high interest bank loan. If your album failed, you declared bankruptcy. If you didn't do it above board and borrowed from individuals in the industry, then failed to pay the money back, you were likely to have your thumbs broken, all your possessions taken and a time limit given to pay the mafia back.

        I been there on all levels and know enough about the business to tell the truth about it. Right now you have millions of kids making their own recordings. Many of them are very good too. Why would they want to pay some fat cat middle man like a producer who does absolutely nothing but take their money? You see, the role of Producer is nearly extinct in 2015. Bands are recording and producing themselves now. They have no need of middlemen. If they can track themselves well enough, they can have it mixed and mastered at the best studios in the world. They simply upload it to their site and in a few days they get back a finished product for duplication.

        If their work makes money they can work their own deals, and when they do, they will likely have a lawyer to fight for their rights.

        So again. Gat your education and take an extra course that is close to the field you want. Keep your main course as your money maker. The sub courses can help direct your path into related industries. I took this advice from my family when I was a kid in high school and earlier. I took all the music courses available but I also took electronics. Best thing I could have ever done because I had a stead income to support anything and everything I wanted to do musically related. I have my own studio and play out with bands regularly and don't have to kiss anyone's butt to do whatever I want in music.


        • #5
          Consider Electrical Engineering. Great for a live/recording engineer along with other jobs outside music that pay money.