Why We Wrote This Guide
Behind every good song and album, there was a team of people that came together to create something special. When you listen to a song you might not think of how complex the process was to get it to where you are listening to it at. Creating music is a rewarding challenge. Songwriters, recording artists, composers, producers, and audio engineers put their all into creating something for the listener to enjoy. Producers and audio engineers manage the creative elements of the technical process of recording the song or album.
This guide explains who is a producer, what a producer does, and why a producer is so important. The term producer often gets tied in with audio engineer; while they have many similarities, these two individuals have different roles within the music industry and the progress of creating music.
Who Is This Guide For
- Songwriters and composers who want to gain knowledge on how producers help them produce the best version of their music.
- Recording artists who want to understand the job requirements of a producer and how they will help them achieve the best song.
- Songwriters and composers who want to learn more about the history of music producing and your rights as a producer/audio engineer.
- Anyone who wants to learn more about audio engineering and/or producing music.
- What is a producer?
- What are the responsibilities of a producer?
- History of Producers
- What is an audio engineer, and how is their role different from producers?
- How Producers and Audio Engineers Make Money
- Organizations and Resources
What Is A Producer?
So, what is a producer? A producer can mean many different things, but in its simplest form, a producer is an individual that oversees all aspects of the production of a song or album. The producer is in charge of putting the final check on all creative elements within the production of a song or album. Producers are creative but are also really intuitive and technical individuals. They make many choices within the creative process of recording a song like what musicians will be playing, what instruments they will be using, what vocalists will be singing within the song, and how the song is recorded and mixed for the listener. A music or record producer is often compared to a film producer. They are responsible for all creative elements of a production. They make the hard choices with their creative genius that ultimately produces a hit song or album. A producer’s main goal is to help an artist achieve the sound they want for their song or album.
With all of that being said, there are many responsibilities that a producer is tasked with. Producers often have to do more than just oversee the creative process of songs or albums.
What Are The Responsibilities Of A Producer?
The responsibilities of a producer may include:
- Advising on album songs.
- Choosing the recording studio where the song will be recorded.
- Running the mixing board while an artist is in the studio.
- Editing audio, sound design, and ghost production.
- Communicating and working with organizations when planning live events and often booking those events.
- Scheduling the timings of performances and studio time.
- Making logistical arrangements for artists.
- Making sure there is catering, entertainment, toilets, and insurance included within the studio or live venue.
- Communicating with the marketing team to create material to promote the song, album, or event.
Producers have quite a wide range of responsibilities, which mostly depends on how involved they are with different elements of the creation of the song or album. Often producers will be involved with the recording process of the song, but sometimes they will be more hands-off and let an audio engineer handle the recording while they make suggestions about how to create the sound they want for the song.
History of Producers
As explained in our “What is Sound Recording?” guide, Sound was first recorded in 1857. However, the first time sound was recorded with playback abilities wasn’t until 1877 when Thomas Edison’s company created the phonograph. The phonograph uses a funnel-shaped horn to direct sound waves into a small, sensitive diaphragm at the base of the horn. The diaphragm moves as a reaction to the changes in air pressure created by soundwaves. A needle is connected to the diaphragm, which allows the needle to move in a pattern that mimics the pressure of the soundwaves. This is then etched into the cylinder wrapped in thin aluminum foil. A hand crank is used to spin the cylinder as the sound is being recorded. The phonograph is the foundation of analog recording.
The invention of the phonograph produced the concept of analog recording. The concept of recording audio and being able to listen back to it changed society in many ways. People could now listen to music or audiobooks for entertainment. Radio popularized this entertainment concept, and in 1923, the first radio advertisement was released. Radio stations made music more widely available, which increased popularity in music as an entertainment pass time. During World War II, individuals would listen to the radio for the news and often entertainment to distract them from the harsh realities around them. This increased popularity progressed into the commercialization of music.
Recording studios became more important with the popularization and commercialization of music, which in turn created the need for music producers. Often, in the beginning, music producers handled more technical aspects of recording the song, but as music grew in popularity, music producers soon became more involved with the creative process of a song.
Quincy Jones is one of the most influential record producers of American music. He began as a trumpet player in the 1940s and 50s, and through his trumpet playing, he was introduced to the music industry. He soon began arranging music for artists. Jones arranged music for Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, Oscar Pettiford, Cannonball Adderley, Count Basie, Dinah Washington, and many more. In the 1950s, Jones began composing and producing music for artists, and in 1961, Jones worked as an A&R for Mercury Records. Mercury Records was a popular record label that was influential in the Motown era. While working for Mercury Records, Jones began producing music and helping artists achieve the best sound for their songs. Most famously, Jones worked with Frank Sinatra. Over the years, Jones progressed from producing jazz music to pop music. One of the most famous albums he produced was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (1982). He has also been nominated for 75 Grammy Awards, and he has won 25 of them. Jones was also inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. Quincy Jones was one of the most influential record producers ever.
Today, most producers can be found within recording studios assisting recording artists, but they can also be found in their homes. With the invention of Digital Audio Workstations or DAWs, many individuals have created their studios in their homes. This opens the opportunity for producers to be more creative as they are in their own space and can purchase the equipment they want to work with to create an incredible song. Finneas O’Connell is an excellent example of an amazing producer that works from a home studio. O’Connell has produced and recorded all of Billie Eilish’s hits in his home studio.
Producers are often also audio engineers, but what is an audio engineer?
What Is An Audio Engineer, And How Is Their Role Different From A Producer’s?
An audio engineer is often a term that is used in conjunction with the term producer. Both producers and audio engineers help with the recording of music, but an audio engineer mainly focuses on the more technical aspects of the recording. An audio engineer is usually the individual that sets up audio equipment and runs the recording console during the recording of a song. Producers will often listen to the recording and make suggestions to the audio engineer for adjustments. However, producers can sometimes run the recording console as well to achieve whatever creative genius has struck them. Audio engineers are there to help the producer’s and artist’s vision of the song come to life with the use of audio equipment.
However, producers may also be audio engineers and most of them are, but producers are more likely to be more focused on creative aspects of the song and let another individual handle the technical aspects of the recording of the song. This allows a producer to be fully involved with the creative process of a song or album. They are not distracted by adjusting recording equipment which may hinder them from noticing something that needs to be changed to create the best version of the song.
How Producers and Audio Engineers Make Money
Often audio engineers and producers make money from a per-track fee. Requiring pay for their work per-track of an album or song. However, besides making money off of editing audio and providing recording equipment through per-track fees, producers and audio engineers can make money from masters or sound recording royalties.
Donald S. Passman describes in his book, “All You Need To Know About The Music Business”, that producers typically get a royalty rate of 3% to 4%. Producers like recording artists have to recoup advances with the royalties they receive from the masters. Producers are paid after the recoupment of recording costs with the net artist rate. A net artist rate means until the artist has recouped their advance from their royalties to pay back the recording costs the producer receives no royalties. However, after all recording costs are paid back the producer receives all monies they have earned. This is also referred to as retroactive to record one, which means once all recording costs have been recouped the producer will receive all monies from every album or song sold up to the first record sold.
As explained above, producers can make money from masters and sound recording royalties. This is typically seen from SoundExchange monies. However, Passman explains that “...unlike in other countries, producers aren’t entitled to SoundExchange monies unless the artist tells SoundExchange to pay them”. Meaning that if you are a producer it is extremely important within your deal you include that the artist must inform SoundExchange to pay you royalties for the masters. This seems rather unfair to producers and audio engineers when artists do not tell SoundExchange to collect royalties for producers and audio engineers, so the Music Modernization Act created the AMP or the Allocation for Music Producers to make sure producers and audio engineers are paid their royalties. Passman describes, “If you were a producer, mixer, or sound engineer on a sound recording made before November 1, 1995, and you don’t have a letter of direction from the artist, you can get 2% of the SoundExchange monies if you can’t find the artist”.
Another way producers can make money is by publishing royalties . Typically, it is more difficult for producers to receive monies from publishing royalties, but if a producer is working with the songwriter directly while in the studio, they may be entitled to publishing royalties. Usually, in hip hop and R&B genres, producers will create beats for artists to use within their songs. It is most often that producers will not receive royalties for these beats that they create, but if you are a more well-known producer you may be able to receive publishing royalties for the beat you created.
Overall, there are quite a few ways to earn money as a producer or audio engineer, but more often than not you will be working from a per-track fee. Once you have gained enough clout, you may be able to receive publishing royalties and sound recording royalties.
Organizations and Resources
Here is a list of different organizations and resources for producers and audio engineers:
- AES (Audio Engineering Society)
- AMP (Association of Music Producers)
- SPARS (Society of Professional Audio Recording Studios)
- WAM (Women Audio Mission)
Author: Isabella Weaver
Want to use this guide for something other than personal reading? Good news: you can, as long as your use isn’t commercial and you give Exploration credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.