Almost as soon as assistant sound engineers learn enough about studio recording to spell “EQ”, their ambitions begin to drift towards the possibility of working as a producer. They see dollars, or power, or the seductive pull of being totally in charge of the artistic direction of a recorded work, and sooner or later, I get the inevitable question: “How do I go about becoming a producer? Is there a course I can take?”
It all depends on how you define “producer”. In its simplest sense it can mean anyone involved in sound production – so if you are a songwriter, musician or sound engineer, you could be regarded as a “producer of sound…”
If that’s what you want (and you have the talent), then experience, skills in recording (i.e. “music production”) can be gained through on-the-job training, sound engineering courses or a combination of both. There are many courses from which to choose.
However the term “producer” in its more accepted sense describes the person responsible for the total sound and feel of the finished track. Responsibilities generally include choosing and arranging songs, selecting and rehearsing the band and any additional musos, working with the engineers during tracking and mixdown, and guiding the mastering engineer during final post-production.
The producer may employ others to help realize their vision, or may take a hands-on approach to some of the duties such as recording or mixdown. In any event, a producer generally leaves the imprint of their own style on the finished product while still allowing the style and talent of the performers to shine through.
Becoming a recognized producer therefore involves developing a professional skill-set through a number of different avenues. Essential areas include music knowledge, theoretical, technical and practical knowledge of sound engineering, mixing and post-production. A very good set of ears and ability to work effectively with people is a must. A knowledge of the capabilities of a wide variety of studios and other audio facilities helps too.
Audio courses may help, but they need to be extremely comprehensive. The Germans have a word for the technical side of a producer’s job: “Tonmeister” – Master of Sound. There are some “Tonmeister” courses around, but check first that they are respected by the industry, because there are some that are “Tonmeister” in name only. One of several courses with a good reputation is the degree course at Surrey University in the UK. Any short, part-time courses claiming to make you a “Master of Sound” may be stretching the truth just a little!
Whether you do a course or not, without a track record in the real world it is unlikely that you will ever get a producer’s gig – unless you are very persuasive.
Many successful producers have not completed any formal training at all, except perhaps for music. They have paid their dues through the experience of being musicians and engineers and show such a fine grasp of the sensibilities of putting together recorded works that others ask them for help with their music.
When that happens, and continues to happen, you are a producer.
Vyt is the Managing Director of Audio Training Consultants, who operate the audioEd Pro Audio Resources Site, www.audioed.com.au. Before ATC, Vyt owned and operated several professional recording studios and an accredited audio school for more years than he cares to remember.