(Photo Credit: Alessandro Bonvini/Flickr)
Music Producer Job Description:
The first step is to listen to the band's material and pick the best songs. During this phase, you're looking for both commercial tracks (the elusive "hit song") as well as album tracks. The band and producer (me) will run through the songs over the course of a few rehearsals – they'll hammer out arrangement ideas, look for areas where instrument parts are clashing, and ways to make the song more memorable or catchy. After the arrangements are fleshed out, then the band is ready to record. I will pick time at a recording studio to track the basic tracks.
Each track is an instrument – for example, you'll have a track for a vocal, another one for guitar, bass, cymbals, snare drum, kick drum, etc.... Then they'll go through and add the overdubs – usually vocal tracks, guitars, etc, as well as "ear candy." The next step in the process is mixing – adjusting volumes and effects on each individual track and producing a stereo mix. This stereo mix is then taken to the mastering house, where the final "sweetening" is put on – specific tones are eq'd out to make the mix less harsh, and compression is added to "glue" the mix together.
How did you become a music producer?
I recorded my own bands back in high school. When I was in college, a friend of mine asked me to mix his band at a local gig. I told him I had no idea what I was doing, but he said, "You already know more than our sound guy" – that got me started doing front-of-house mixing at different clubs around St. Louis. During this time I continued recording bands, ones that I was playing in and people from other bands that would approach me to record them. I used whatever equipment we had – I recorded one band straight to cassette – and it ended up selling somewhere over 1,000 copies.
After I graduated from college, I decided that I wanted to study recording a bit more, so I enrolled in the Masters of Media Communication at Webster University in St. Louis. They have a really good audio department headed by Barry Hufker, who is a wizard at classical remote recording. My thesis advisor was Bill Porter, who was Elvis Presley's engineer on all of his work at the RCA label. Barry gave me great advice in terms of recording techniques, and Bill impressed upon me the importance of doing everything I could to make a session sound great.
Who are some of the musical artists that you have produced?
My music producer credits include Chloe Day, Apryl Lauren and Brad Booker (drummer for Gravity Kills). My mixing credits include Lol Tolhurst (co-founder of The Cure). I have engineered Trey Anastasio (Phish), Robert Randolph, Warren Haynes (The Dead, The Allman Bros, Govt Mule), Joan Osborne and Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead), Robert Randolph and Blake Shelton.
Can you recall any memorable moments from your music producer career?
Back in college, I figured out how to hide when they locked the studio so I could squeeze in a few more hours of studio time after the security guards had made their rounds. One day I made the mistake of not waking up in time before they opened it first thing in the morning – the assistant studio manager caught me and flipped her lid. Luckily, the head of the department was a bit more understanding – he said: "Don't ever do that again ... but when you do, just make sure you don't get caught."
What advice would you give someone who is interested in becoming a music producer?
For people that are interested in this career, the first thing is to be a music fan – develop your record collection. Listen to all the songs; listen to the songs that were No. 1 and figure out why they went there. Listen to all types of music – country, rock, pop, jazz, hip-hop, etc., and figure out what the made the great songs great. Listen to the not-so-great songs and figure out what could have made them stronger.
Play in a band – this will help with the arrangement part, and will also educate you in terms of dealing with the pressures that the artist faces from fans, the road, etc.... Go to clubs and listen to lots of bands; record every chance you get. Offer to help bands with their recordings. Don't worry about putting your own stamp on the recordings – help the artist to achieve their vision and capture their sound accurately.
What is the average music producer salary?
The job salary for a music producer is peanuts to caviar. You start off recording stuff for free. Once you get good enough, people will start paying you for your time. On the low end, $20,000 per year; on the high end – over $1 million a year.
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