Wow, the production life certainly comes in waves! As I'm writing this I'm closing out mixing and mastering for a commercial advertisement project, project managing a documentary project, volunteer judging a local Battle of the Bands competition, in pre-production on an EP project I’m producing, and getting prepped to leave for Los Angeles for a big 7-day production (that's about all I can say at the moment). I've managed to surround myself in the work I enjoy, but I've noticed there are quite a few around me whom are curious about, or uneducated when it comes to how to land these jobs. Whether its music, or sound for picture, the title of Producer takes on a wild spectrum of definitions. Essentially, a producer is someone with enough experience and insight in the industry to be able to make executive decisions that affect the outcome of a creative project. That means knowing a great deal about the music business beyond just making music. The same thing goes for video and film.
Today’s marketplace however, can be a daunting and confusing one especially for those coming in, or who may not have the experience or education trying to forge a career out of it. Labels like producer or director in the business world are meant to clarify someone’s position or skillset when searching to make connections or hire them for a project. Perhaps the most important aspect of being a producer means being able to budget, and knowing the avenues to generating income from your content.
In the music industry, there are several versions of producers, and the differences really revolve around who’s hiring who to do what. At the top level where the Labels play, a producer has to have a solid head on his or her shoulders with respect to managing others, they may have less of a musical capacity (not that they aren't creative) and have a solid understanding of supervision, managing others and bringing out the vision to the best the budget can appropriate. Below that scale, "Producer & songwriter" tends to go hand in hand especially in cases where people make instrumentals specifically with the intent to collaborate or become the driving force behind a performing act.
Hip-Hop and rap have become the most prominently saturated genres of the music marketplace where this practice is common - and it has driven down the scarcity of quality content. Thus, this competitive market has created a very wide-ranging and unpredictable pricing model for “beat makers” and rap artists alike. So much of it exists freely online that there simply isn’t enough demand for the music to generate sales from, but this is just one small microcosm of the larger picture.
As many a self-proclaimed electronic DJ can attest to, the E.D.M. world is poised to start suffering the same market saturation problems as well. Your dream doesn't have to end there, however; there are many other avenues towards creating a successful career in music. Here’s a look into some of the avenues you can try pursuing if you haven’t been exposed to them already.
As I have personally been involved with commercials and advertising, I can certainly testify to how great this field is to get work in. Think of all those annoyingly catchy jingles for some of your favorite brands and that's just one such avenue for producing music - while historically this was considered primarily a songwriter skill, but in today's modern world it's not uncommon to find the jingle writer also performs the instruments, records, and may also be the person mixing and mastering the music. Commercial advertisements, along with TV shows and documentaries and short films are all in need of music beds to help create impact in their stories and narratives. Music is as much the unsung hero to the commercial video world as sound is in general.
I've been involved at an even deeper level with the commercial projects I've worked on. Providing production sound on-set and doing sound mixing and design on top of music. The possibilities are endless; but this kind of work relies on a very strong network of connections to directors and often playing the part of a salesman for the directors or producers on the video side to bring them new leads for commercial projects. If you’re trying to break into this area or market, you’ll have a lot of work cut out to build yourself a portfolio.
Aside from LinkedIn, which is a very powerful business networking tool that you can use to build your portfolio, resume and presence amongst a vast network of employers, here are a couple of other alternatives.
Sites like Odesk.com have a dedicated section with labels like design & Multimedia where you can start searching for smaller or one-off jobs.
Mandy.com is another great site specifically oriented around multimedia production, and can range pretty greatly from low-budget to higher end jobs.
In the grand scheme of things however, getting to the position where you’re getting clients keeping your phone ringing to have music created directly for their ad campaign may be rare. The global media landscape is actually quite diverse and complex. Enter music licensing libraries.
Music Licensing Libraries are perhaps one of the most obscure and complex areas of the music business world that many individuals simply don’t know enough about. This avenue however, is actually perhaps the largest vehicle to get your music into the world. A really great article over on How Stuff Works sheds a good spotlight on the hidden world of music licensing for a myriad of purposes. I would definitely suggest reading the entire article if you’re new to the scene trying to make heads from tails navigating the professional world. With mention of two of the largest rights management services such as ASCAP and BMI, the article is well worth taking the time to gain a fair amount of insight from.
If you’re fairly familiar with the copyright process, are aware of rights management organizations like those above, and want to work to get your music into publishing channels, services like Taxi.com might be your next stop.
Another one worth knowing about is Tunecore.com though they focus more on a few key markets that might differ in scope from that of Taxi, ASCAP, or BMI. Learning how to traverse this area of the business can be a bit tricky, especially when you take the first steps. Be aware that registering with one rights management organization such as ASCAP or BMI may have restrictions from registering with the other.
Writing music specifically for the purpose of publishing to library companies that work to provide their catalogs to TV networks, film companies, and the spectrum of other music licensing needs their connections have can be the bread and butter of quite a few professional composers and producers, but it often may not end or even start here. This avenue might entail a large amount of anonymity which means you never get to meet or connect with the clients purchasing the rights to your music. Depending on where you stand in the industry, it may not be a sustainable way to make ends meet.
Producers who like to work behind the scenes and aren’t concerned with credit or spotlight have yet another avenue available to them as long as they’re willing to network and constantly grow connections. Bring in the Ghost-Writer.
I’ve actually met a few ghost-writers and/or producers (depending on what they’re creating) for some pretty prominent and well-known names in the music industry, these individuals are hiding in plain sight. Ghost-writing is perhaps the most obscure avenues but has been a very sustainable thread of work that has permeated the music industry since its inception. Some of the biggest acts in history have had ghost-written material under their banner. Ghost-writing can come from a simple collaboration effort with a fellow artist, or an artist wants to develop a new style that doesn't fit well with their musical style they've built a brand name with. Even modern DJ artist profiles have collaborations with ghost-writers and vice-versa working with singers and songwriters. Ghost-writing at its core is all about secrecy and respectful mutual agreement. These deals are usually made in private not to hide the talent of the individual working on it, but to help maintain the integrity and brand power the artist wants or has.
All of these are simply alternative avenues to generating a successful career in music beyond being an artist or performer. I’ve often found that some of the most successful individuals who forge down these paths work hard on not just honing their craft of songwriting and producing, but maintain a close network of support roles that they can turn to in order to help achieve a greater commercial quality product. A composer or group of composers might join forces with one or two engineers to help manage studio sessions that require live instruments, edit and mix the material so that it has the maximum impact in the listening experience. The same can go in the opposite direction, building on a close network of musicians skilled in various instruments who are all seasoned in playing not just live with bands but also in studio situations (a studio or session musician).
However, connections may not always be available, which is where online services can step in. If you missed the announcement for our new Online Services, please check out my previous article here and get the details on our mixing and mastering services, specials and launch date!