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How Music Producers Work

Working Your Way up to Becoming a Music Producer
Rapper Kerry "Krucial" Brothers produces stars like Alicia Keys.
Rapper Kerry "Krucial" Brothers produces stars like Alicia Keys.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

As with many industries, becoming a music producer often means starting at the bottom, gaining the experience and making the contacts to move up. But there are many different roads to becoming a music producer.

Consider these examples of how some producers moved into music production:

  • Albhy Galuten began his music career playing guitar and keyboards. He then moved to string arranging and songwriting. From there, he became an assistant producer and then a staff producer at Atlantic Records. As a Grammy-winning producer, he worked on hits with the Bee Gees, Barbra Streisand, Kenny Rogers and Dianna Ross.
  • Jack Douglas played in bands before becoming an engineer at A&R Studios in New York. He switched to The Record Plant because of its cutting-edge reputation and started shelving tapes. He worked his way up from tape librarian to assistant engineer to engineer before becoming a producer who worked with Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, John Lennon and Alice Cooper.
  • Jerry Harrison started out as an architecture student in a college band at Harvard before joining the Talking Heads. Producer Brian Eno helped Harrison move from musician to co-producer to producer. He went on to produce albums by bands such as the Violent Femmes, Foo Fighters, The Von Bondies and Crash Test Dummies.
  • Kerry "Krucial" Brothers was an aspiring rapper who went to other people for sound production until he bought a beat machine and other equipment and began doing his own production. That grew into producing for other musicians and a shift to hip-hop when Alicia Keyes asked him to produce albums for her that became Grammy winners.

[sources: The Art of Music Production,]

Moving up to music producer takes work and some breaks along the way. Making contacts, learning from talented professionals, building a resume and catching the eye of music industry executives who can help you are all part of the process. Look for chances to stand out from the crowd and to step in and show your stuff.

If you're looking to succeed, here are five suggested essentials to making a music career:

  1. Hone your talent. Position yourself as the "go-to" person for your particular skill.
  2. Connect with as many people as you can because relationships drive music careers more than anything else, even talent. Your progress will depend on the quality and quantity of your relationships. Develop creative projects with fellow musicians.
  3. Take advantage of the power of the Internet and desktop technologies to create your own success. Instead of relying on record companies and agents, use technology to gain the look, reach and efficiency of larger companies.
  4. Recognize that every business is becoming a music business, so musical opportunities are multiplying. For music producers, this may mean considering a career producing for movies, television shows, music videos, advertising or video games or recognizing commercial sponsors for creative ventures.
  5. Be versatile and willing to wear several hats until you've established yourself in a music career.

[source: Berklee College of Music]

Let's look next at what it takes to find clients as an independent music producer.