The Word “Music Producer” has Lost all Meaning
Yes this is dark title but bare with me as it gets lighter and more interesting. Unfortunately the word Music Producer has lost all meaning. Which is sad, since it is my job title. Not a day goes by where I don’t have to explain in great detail what I do.
As a Music Producer who has been a full-time Music Producer for 17 years, I do not remember another time in history where the job title has been devalued so much. I can’t even think of any other occupations where people have forgotten what the person does. If you’re reading the title and wondering what it is about, that is the problem! The average person no longer knows what a Music Producer does. You might think you know but if you’re under 20, you’re probably wrong.
Update: This is my least popular article on the website lol. Angry kids often rage at it on social media and forums claiming their are a ‘music producer’ because they downloaded a few loops off the internet. I don’t care because it’s the job of the older generation to educate the youth on the meaning and original tasks of the profession, whether they like it or not. If you want to complain, feel free to leave a comment below.
So What is Happening Exactly?
Since the home studio boom that started in the earlier 2000s and is at it’s peak in 2020, the average kid with a Macbook and GarageBand thinks that he is a music producer.
Universities are offering so called ‘Music Production’ courses because it’s the new buzz word. The problem is, they’re not actually teaching any Music Production
Students are then leaving these courses, thinking that they ‘are a Music Producer’ now.
Students then tell everyone they are a music producer and start advertising themselves that way.
To quote Beat-Maker and Music Producer Timbaland
“I don’t think we have ‘music producers’ anymore, I think we have great ‘programmers’. Beats are not made the way we used to do them [hits the table like hes playing drum pads and/or the keyboard]. I think they come as a package [referring to sample packs] as a loop and it’s for you to figure out which program to run it through, to trick it out, and to make something, that once was, be something totally different. Well, that’s how I look at it now.” – Timbaland
Is he Right?
I both agree and disagree with Timbaland. Well I exist, Tom Watson, but are there others? I’m in my 30s so I’m not super young. I haven’t met another one that isn’t over 40 so maybe he is on to something.
I’ve met a lot of beat-makers but finding what I would call a real Music Producer that works with the artist in person, directs their performance, has a deep understanding of music theory, piano skills and helps direct and create the song and entire instrumental from scratch without using any loops or samples with the market in mind as well as recording, mixing and mastering the song.
Compared to ‘making a beat/instrumental’ from some loops that someone else made/played on the piano and then selling it online and never working with the artist or caring what happens to the song afterword hardly seems like the same thing anymore.
It Seems Even Timbaland Doesn’t Want Them to Use the Name Music Producer Anymore.
He doesn’t even want to call them a ‘beat-maker’ but refers to them as ‘programmers’. A term before my time that was apparently popular in the 70s and 80s which referred to people who chose and programmed synth patches and presets, drum sounds and electronic instruments to be used in the song/instrumental for the music producer.
Over time, music producers started to take over the programming role as well as playing and creating the instrumental, especially in hip-hop. Originally playing the piano/synth and creating all of the sounds and melodies. This was the case for most Dr Dre West Coast hip-hop.
Beat-Making in the 90s
Prior to the west coast scene, was the boom-bap New York hip-hop scene in the 90s, people would often sample vinyl and cut it up and play the cuts in a different order on SPC-1200 or MPC which is similar to what Timbaland is referring to by sampling a loop and cutting it up except back then you had to have a good ear to match various records together instead of them “coming in a sample pack – more on this later”. Even this skill is largely lost now. The interesting thing back then is, even though it was harder that slicing a loop with a mouse, they never called themselves Music Producers though. They would use the term beat-maker.
To quote Music Producer Swizz Beats
“There’s a big difference between a beat-maker and a producer… I feel that we need more producers than beat-makers… [Beat-makers] are not equipped enough to get in front of an artist and construct a song, challenge that artist in the studio. Let them know your presence is important.” – Swizz Beats at the Revolt Summit by Revolt TV
So let’s take look at how we got here over the last 20 years…
Why Has the Word ‘Music Producer’ Lost It’s Meaning? I Will Tell You the Evolution of Why …
1. Money & ‘Famous’ Artist Music Producers
Ever since ‘famous music producers’ like David Guetta, Calvin Harris, Diplo, Skrillex came along recently they drew a lot of attention to the profession. There were always famous music producers but the difference was, they weren’t artists and they weren’t famous to everyone. They were just known to those that were really big fans of music.
Quincy Jones was known by musicians in the industry for being the Music Producer behind Michael Jackson. However, there were never any song titles that read Quincy Jones feat. Michael Jackson – Thriller.
Just looking at that looks ridiculous. There was also no Michael Jackson – Thriller Prod. by Quincy Jones
That also looks ridiculous.
Skip forward to 2019. Look at any Hip-Hop, R&B or Dance song and this is the ridiculous-ness you see.
2. Kids Want Money & Fame
Ask a kid if he wants to be famous and he will in most cases say “yes.” Every kid wants to be famous. When they look at famous people they start to think, “maybe I can do this?” Now that every kid has access to the internet they can look into it. That’s a good thing sort of but the problem is that their motivation is wrong. Rather than wanting to work on the creation of music because you love music, they now want to do it to become famous.
3. Selling Hopes & Dreams is Big Business
Fake Music Schools
We’ve always had fake talent agencies. Fake modelling agencies. Now though, there is a new fake agency. Fake Music Production Schools! More on that a little later.
Music Recording Software Re-Branded to the New Buzz Word “Music Production Software”
Cashing in on the buzz word in order to sell more recording software, the big recording companies started using the word “Music Production Software” instead of the previous word D.A.W “Digital Audio Workstation”
4. The Tools that Music Producers Use, Have Become Affordable
Previously, in order to be a Music Producer you had to either intern or land a job at a commercial recording studio and work your way up the ranks or invest 30k-100k or more to startup your own studio. Now, people can download Logic for $200 which was previously $2000 before Apple bought it from Emagic to try to sell more Macs. Or they can download a DAW like Reaper for free or pirate software of the internet for free. The software is now called Music Production software, so having it must make you a Music Producer right?
5. Selling the Illusion of Creating Music is Big Business – Sample Packs
Music sales started to go down. Large recording studios started shutting down. Music Producers started loosing work but… Sample Pack (previous Sample CD) Company sales started going up.
Want to sound like David Guetta? Want to be the next famous DJ/Producer? All you need are these loops?
So Sample Pack Companies Started approaching established and struggling Musicians and Music Producers to create loops. Royalty Free loops and Samples were always around and they usually sucked but now, there was a big demand for it. They had a way to market it.
Example, this the description of “Swedish House Hits by Sonic Mechanics“: “With 5 construction kits inspired by megastars such as, Sebastian Ingrosso, Axwell , Avicii, David Guetta, Steve Angello, and Nicky Romero, the loops inside this pack will give you the signature sounds of the Swedish house elite. So if you want the sound of the Swedish House chart leaders grab Swedish House hits and get ready to rock the dancefloor!”
When previously, they would make loops only for musicians and producers who had skills, they started making them so that anyone could use them.
They labelled the key. They labelled the tempo and instead of making a bunch of random loops that you’d have to fit into or create a song around by playing in all the instruments, they created full songs to fit the loops and then chopped those elements up into loops. So what you were left with, was an actual song, in parts that you could re-arrange in a folder of ‘loops’, which they call a ‘construction kit’. Now they had a new market. Any idiot.
Why None of Them Are Music Producers & What Does a Music Producer Actually Do?
I like to use the term Fake Music Producer lol. I have a super long article on what does a music producer do but I’m going to double up a little here and give you a shorter version.
Definition of a Music Producer
The definition of a music producer is the director of a song. The producer has the vision for the song. He/she pictures the song in their head, knows what is needed to get the outcome they are picturing and help direct the artist/singer/rapper’s performance as well as any other musicians.
They are usually a musician themself and have a deep understanding of music (otherwise they can’t picture the song and direct the other musicians). They can usually record and operate recording studio equipment.
In terms of electronic music, they can often create all of the music/instrumental by playing in all the instruments on the keyboard/piano. However, this is not a requirement. Most rock music producers just do the directing part but they might occasionally play something for the recording.
Here is a funny skit for SNL which is surprisingly accurate of what a Music Producer would do in the rock era lol.
What People Think a Music Producer Does
- Make an instrumental from loops that someone else created by re-arranging them and make the beat/instrumental
- Sit at the computer
- Live at home in their parents basement
Does This Fit the Definition We Just Learnt?
Making a beat/instrumental from Loops
Making a instrumental (or “the beat” as they say in Hip-Hop and R&B) randomly from loops that you didn’t create is barely being a musician let alone a music producer. How can you picture something beforehand in your head if you are just randomly putting pre-made musical pieces together. How can you direct the performance of a pre-recorded loop when it’s going to play back the exact same way every time?
So that one is scrapped
Sit at the Computer
In the video above, the producer is walking around and talking to the artists. The only way you can be a producer by siting at a computer is by talking to the artists at the same time or playing in a full composition yourself with the artist in mind or in person with them while picturing the final song in your head
Live in Your Parents Basement
Lol. Most actual music producers work from a commercial recording studio or their own personal home studio. As long as you’re working with artists though, I suppose you could do it from anywhere including yo momma’s basement. However, it’s very uncommon.
What a Music Producer Actually Does & the Intent
This is where people get confused. It is not so much what a music producer actually does but the intent in which they do it. Which comes back to having the vision for the song. For example…
Directing the Artist
This one is pretty straight forward. By picturing the final finished song in their head, the Music Producer can direct the artist to perform a certain way to fit the end product that they are picturing.
Making “a Beat” / Instrumental
By first picturing the final song, a music producer, having skills of a musician, could play in all the melodies that they are picturing on the keyboard and/or other instruments and create all full instrumental to fit the artist, the song and what they have pictured for the song.
When recording the artist, the Music Producer can stop and start recording while giving direction to the artist. The producer might ask the artist to perform a certain way, sing a certain melody by first singing the melody to them. Rap a certain lyric by first rapping it to them. Change the timing of a line by showing them the different timing change suggestion. Suggest a change to the lyric. Ask them to build up with more energy in a certain section. Ask them to hold back a little or play a certain section quieter. All of this with the end product/song in mind that they are picturing.
Most Music Producers can mix a song but it’s not a requirement. If they can’t mix they can bring in a mixing engineer or send it of to a mixing engineer to mix the song. If they’re not doing themselves they will give directions of the type of sound and style of mix they are after. For those that are doing themselves, they will do what they are picturing and what they think will work best for the genre and marketplace.
Very few music producers have the skills to master but if they can’t master they will send it off to someone who they think would do what they are picturing. If they do have the skills, they will do what they are picturing while often referencing to a reference track that is close to what they have in mind.
Do They Work from Their Parent’s Basement?
It is probably obvious but no, they don’t lol. Well not unless they suck. Professional music producers either work from a commercial studio or their own home studio.
The Secret is the Intent
The Difference to a Recording & Mixing Engineer
A recording and mixing engineer does all of the above also, except without the directing part and without the intent. The intent is the key and the difference to when the the word music producer should be used. The tasks are the same, recording, mixing, sometimes mastering. They usually also don’t make beats/instrumentals though. But a normal recording and mixing engineer is missing the directing part. They don’t have the vision for the final song so they are not directing the artist towards that vision.
The Difference to a Beat-Maker
A beat-maker often creates instrumentals randomly from loops without picturing any melodies or final song in mind. They usually sell the instrumental to an artist online who goes into a studio without them to do whatever on the track. The beat-maker rarely hears the end song nor cares. They are just making an instrumental and selling it.
So they are closer to a musician or possibly songwriter. Without picturing the final song, working with the artist and directing their performance to create the final song that they are picturing, they are not a music producer. Often they use the title. They should really be calling themselves a Beat-Maker but many incorrectly use the title music producer.
Here is the big part…. The problem.
Beat-Makers are Incorrectly using the name / word Music Producer.
The word Music Producer has all the buzz. They want to be famous. They want to use the word Music Producer. Lots of them start forcing all of the people they are selling their beats/instrumentals to, to write Prod. by ‘their crappy beat-maker name’
The General Public Sees This and Thinks…
“The Music Producer is someone who makes beats.”
Kids See This and Think…
“Maybe I could be a famous Music Producer who makes beats?”
Kid Searches Online
“How to be a famous music producer”….
Sample Pack Companies Start Selling Fake Dreams
Become a Music Producer. Just buy these loops for $29.99
Software Companies Start Selling Fake Dreams
Instead of download a D.A.W/Digital Audio Workstation is is now… Download our “Music Production Software”. This is the dumbest name ever .
It’s like renaming all Ovens to Famous Chef Maker Device.
Using an oven won’t make you a chef. Using the tools a Music Producer uses won’t make you a music producer if you’re not using them in the same way.
Schools Start Selling Fake Classes
Music Production Classes. Learn to be a Music Producer. Ok so far this is fine. Until you see what they actually teach in the class…
Learn to Use a DAW
Learn to use a DAW / now called Music Production Software. You are now a Music Producer they say. They call this a Music Production Course? That is like going to a Cooking Class where they only teach you how to Operate an Oven but not cook anything. If anything that would be a class in Oven Operation. They’re not teaching Music Production if they are just teaching you how to use a DAW.
Learn the Principals of Recording
Sit in a classroom while we explain you theory on how to record something without you actually doing it. We will give you a studio to use in your free time along with our other 8,000 students all fighting for the same studio. Yes that is a stab at the Musician’s Institute here in LA (to be fair they have 5 studios for their 8000 students lol) but this is about the same in the Los Angeles Recording School and other big schools around the world such as the SAE. These are all for profit schools by the way. Congrats, you know how to record stuff badly, you are magically a Music Producer now, apparently.
Why This is a Problem
Aside from the fact that there are very few actual positions available in recording studios as a Music Producer and the fact that the courses charge 10k-28k per year and put graduates in student debt for a very long time…
They are just selling fake dreams!
Just call it what is is. DAW operation lesson. Pro Tools Course or Logic Course. Calling it Music Production Lessons is just factually wrong.
You don’t go to a cooking class and have the entire lessons about ‘how to operate an oven’. That’s not a cooking class. That’s a class in oven operation.
They’re not teaching music production. They are teaching DAW operation. At minimum, they might even touch a little on beat-making.
Without teaching them:
- How to picture a hit song in your head?
- How to direct musicians to play what you are picturing?
- Or how to play the melodies in your head and create an instrumental for an entire song you are picturing?
- How to direct an artist fit the vision for the final song that you’re listening to in advance in your mind?
- Make artists perform better by directing them in the way that you are picturing the final song?
- Learn to play all the instruments and do the sound design for what you have pictured in your mind?
- How to understand the market and what is popular?
- How to picture a way to transform a song to make it more popular?
See How that Looks Ridiculous and Crazy? Because it Can’t Be Taught In a Classroom Setting
Some professions just shouldn’t and can’t be taught in a class room setting. Being a Music Producer is just a skill learnt on the job over a long period of time by being a musician yourself, working with musicians and artists and helping get the best performance out of them while understanding the market, trends what is selling and what people like.
People ‘Graduate’ from a so Called ‘Music Production Course’ Then Find Out There is no Job Waiting for Them
So what do they do? By some cheap recording equipment and start making beats from loops they found online and and start going around telling everyone they are a music producer now. Then the cycle of Fake Music Producers continues.
Companies Start Selling Cheap Recording Equipment
This has been happening before everyone decided they are now a music producer but now even more people want to start recording at home. I don’t really have a problem with this. It’s actually a better way to learn recording than in a classroom.
The only issue is, in the past, setting up a recording studio would cost at minimum 30k or more even up to 1 million, people can now by a $200 mic and plug into their laptop and say ‘I have a recording studio and I’m a Music Producer’. Where previously, you had to work as a musician for years, maybe work a side job, save everything you earn’t, take out loans and start a studio.
That meant, anyone who had a studio was very serious and if they were that serious about investing that kind of money in themselves, usually they were equally serious about learning their craft as a Music Producer, Engineer, Musician, in most cases, Pianist & Keyboardist and had a vast and deep understanding of music which helped them direct artists and picture songs and melodies.
Or they swept floors an interned for years without pay to learn of those in the industry who were the best in their field.
People can just buy a $200 mic, download a few loops and say, “I’m a Music Producer Now.” This is the part I disagree with. To quote Quincy Jones from this article.
“As a music producer you have got to be extremely proficient with music. If you expect to have the kind of confidence you’ll need as a producer in the studio, you must be proficient in your core musical skills in addition to being able to handle all of the organizational and relational demands placed on the producer.”– Quincy Jones
“You need to put your time in on the core skills – there’s no way around it.”– Quincy Jones
Being a Music Producer Was Never About Having Certain Tools. It Was About Having and Using Certain Skills
It’s not the studio or the tools that real Music Producers use that make them a Music Producer. It never was. It was their skills and their ability to picture what the end product could be and knowing what was needed to be done to get there by directing the talented and controlling the music creation process.
In the old days, they just recorded to tape and often created instrumentals by either directing the musicians and/or by playing the Keyboard and synths. A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is just a modern tape machine and virtual keyboard. The tools have changed and even been re-branded to Music Production Software but being a music producer was never about simply using the tools.
Even Some LA Studios are to Blame
Recently over the decade, even a lot of the large and medium recording studios in LA claim they can provide you with a ‘music producer’ but instead they give you a beat-maker who will often just make an instrumental from pre-made loops/sample packs.
Often singers have to adjust their vocal melodies and rappers have to adjust their flow to fit with the beat/instrumental for to this so called ‘Music Producer’ whereas, if he/she was what I would call a ‘real music producer’ such as myself, they would be able to accompany their actual vocal melody and/or flow without them having to alter it. Similar to playing in a band with real musicians.
The musicianship of young people calling themselves a ‘music producer’ has drastically fallen on average. This is then reflected in the workflow when most people go to work with a supposed ‘music producer’ for the first time, often thinking this lack of music theory and piano skills is normal.
In summary, the desire of kids wanting to be rich and famous. Greed of business praying on this desire with fake get rich quick and become a Music Producer schemes. Loops, Courses, Software. The tools that Music Producer use being re-branded as Music Production Tools. Kids having access to cheap equipment.
All this means that, any one can put in very little effort and pretend they are a music producer. All these factors have contributed to the general public not knowing what a music producer does. Look at all the confused people on Quora here when asked the question.
Some argue that the meaning of the word is just changing. I would argue that none of the professional music producers have got that memo. I believe it is simply being watered down and misused by people who are not actual music producers.
How Does This Affect Independent Singers and Rappers?
When the musicianship and skill set of the average person using the name/job title ‘music producer’ is vastly lower than it was 20 years ago, that makes it hard for artists to hire and find a real music producer like myself. Even simply going to a large recording studio or searching on Google often isn’t even going to work.
If you search ‘Music Producer’ online, you’ll get a bunch of courses, software, beat-makers, home studio guides and every kid and beat-maker in the world using the title. So unfortunately, it seems that the word music producer has lost all meaning at least to Google if not also to the general public.
Even explaining what a real Music Producer does is now difficult. For that I have this article. As well as this shorter, less ranty one here lol. If only all the real music producers in the world could get together and come up with a new job title/name for our profession. For now, “real music producer” will have to do. At least Wikipedia has the correct definition of a music producer even if it is written is a more confusing way.
Are We Running Out of Music Producers?
Is Timbaland right? Are there no actual young music producers anymore? I’m in my 30s, what about guys in their 20s? I agree with Swizz Beats, “we need more producers than beat-makers”. What do you think? Leave a comment below.
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