How to Build Your Career as a Music Producer
This one is probably the golden goose. I am writing this on a plane to Miami, FL. This is my second trip to Miami in the last two weeks. I’m not going because there are opportunities in front of me in Florida. Rather, I am going because there are potential opportunities, and I need to make the right things happen.
Ruminating on that, I am going to tell you my recipe for success in the fields of music and audio. These are the things I’ve learned in my decade and a half journey, and may or may not be the best course for you. But hopefully this article gives you some insights into the process.
1. Define what success is for you
You need clear goals in order to achieve them. The broader goals are usually easier. “Make a living creating music.” Sure, fine. But maybe get a little more specific. Who do you want to make music for? What do you want to be known for? Who are the people you’d like to work with? Break your goals down into big picture goals and short term goals.
My big picture goals are to escalate the caliber of new clients I work with, enhance the careers of the clients I currently work with, and perpetuate my business. My current short term goals are to connect with a number of specific artists, and to help a couple of my current clients achieve their specific goals (which involve getting record placements, and one who is negotiating a couple of recording contracts).
2. Swallow your pride and get a budget
Any business requires startup capital, and will continue to generate expenses. My business model necessitates a high quality home studio. I needed to gather the funds to do that. My business model also requires me to budget for travel expenses, maintenance, and social expenses. Music is a tough field to generate revenue. So get a steady income stream. I worked out of kitchens for years while interning and assisting.
After I got my first in-house position, I was still doing little $50 mixes on the side to help build up revenue. I remember a month a few years back when I was tracking and mixing for a Rock-n-Roll Hall of Famer in the studio, and then going home every night to mix mixtape records for something to the tune of forty bucks a song.
And on that subject I’ll say this: I deeply appreciate my clients and myself in that I can make a decent living doing what I love to do. But if the income stream ever went dry, I’d hop right back in that kitchen and keep on pushing. We all have to do what we have to do.
3. Form a team
Music is a team sport. If you are a talented and aspiring mixing engineer, join up with some talented and aspiring producers and artists. They will test your skills — you will test theirs. You learn, grow, and succeed together. Make sure to seek out people you vibe right with, because you’ll (hopefully) be working with them for a while. If you can’t hang out and get along, it won’t work. At the same time, align yourself with people who have a solid work ethic. If all you’re doing is hanging out and getting along, you are completely missing the main goal: getting things done.
I can easily and honestly say: if it wasn’t for the people I’ve worked with for free, I wouldn’t be making money now.
4. Get out there
They say “you can never be famous in your home town.” Well, you sure as hell can’t be famous in your home! If you are producing records you have three priorities:
- Making the actual records
- Keeping the income stream up
- Getting your face seen and your records heard
Of course, the question everybody asks is: “ok, so where do I go?”
Well, if you are looking to mix records you need to go where people are looking to get records mixed. You have to get yourself into a studio. If you are looking to produce music, you need to be meeting artists and A&Rs. Those people are all over the place — look up publishing companies, addresses of record labels, record release parties, etc. Getting this information can take a little digging, but it’s out there and accessible. You will probably hear the words “no” or “I’m busy” quite a bit, but that’s ok. That’s why you just need to get out there a lot. There’s also companies like iStandard that specialize in developing and connecting music producers.
The bottom line is: find potential opportunities and turn that potential into a real opportunity. Even if it means forking out $600 to fly to Miami last minute…
5. Be persistent
We hear a lot about super young people becoming very successful, or the sensationalized overnight success stories. The reason we hear about them is because when it happens, it’s newsworthy.
In reality, it’s very rare for people to have sudden success. Most people work their way up a long ladder, full of missing rungs and splinters. It takes about 5 years to get any good business going. I’d put music at an even further reach. Particularly if you are song-writing or producing.
There are things you can do to accelerate the process. Putting yourself in an area where your particular field has a lot of action is helpful. I had to get my grounding in New York before I could really make anything happen in Philadelphia, because the music production scene in Philly isn’t as expansive as NY.
6. Get really f’ing good at what you do!
This is the bottom line. Music is not an easy field. It takes countless hours of practicing and refining your technique — whether you’re a drummer, songwriter, engineer, or techno producer. Very few people are born good at it. Contrary to popular belief, connections and money are not going to secure your career unless you’ve got the goods to back it up. It also doesn’t hurt to diversify and pick up a few related skills along the way.
Keep yourself creating, practicing, challenging yourself, and learning (reading articles at the theproaudiofiles.com is a good start…. was that plug too shameless?). Be persistent, put yourself in the right place, have the necessary resources available to you, surround yourself with good people, and you will achieve the goals you’ve mapped out. It’s just a matter of time.
Cheers to your career!