What education do you need to be a music producer?

Recording Connection mentor, producer/engineer Adam Moseley (Lenny Kravitz, U2)

The degree you need to be a music producer is one from the University of Hard Knocks. In other words, experience gained by learning from your previous mistakes, street smarts, and an understanding of how songs are structured and created are all things you can learn on your own.

Most of the makeup of successful music producers has little to do with formal education. People skills and the ability to lead and have others follow is not a skill set that’s typically taught in schools. Neither is a relentless work ethic. Nevertheless, you have to have both the leadership ability and the proper work ethic to succeed.

In terms of traditional education, a music producer may want to consider business courses, music production courses, and music theory courses. These courses can prove helpful and will most likely help the up-and-coming music producer avoid a few common mistakes they might otherwise make.

Music theory and an understanding of how songs are constructed and created is definitely a major component of the music producers’ duties and responsibilities. These facets of knowledge can be self-taught to an extent. Many of today’s successful producers and songwriters have taught themselves by listening to they could and breaking it down into sections and tracks. Learning how recording studios and DAWs work are also essential things to understand. They can also be self-taught through the plethora of tutorials that are online.

However, both music theory and an understanding of how songs are made can also be taught by more traditional means. The advantage to learning this way is twofold: there’s usually someone (i.e. the instructor) who can answer questions you have and you learn in a linear fashion. Left to your own, you could jump all over the place in order to get to where you’re trying to go. With a formalized, structured curriculum course, your path to where you want to go is clearly defined and laid out in a way that makes sense. The best of all worlds would be to learn music theory and song construction in a mentor/apprentice situation that grants you access to the recording equipment, environment, and an experienced professional to teach you how things are done in personal lessons.

When it comes to business courses, again you can go the self-taught route by reading everything you can on music rights, royalties and contracts, as well as everything music distribution related. Again, the pitfall of learning through self-teaching is that you have no idea how valid the information you are learning is. Without the ability to compare notes with someone actively working in the field much of the the time that could be spent actively learning gets spent searching and sifting through information which might, or might not be relevant. In such circumstances, the self-taught music producer’s path to knowledge will not necessarily be in a straight line, nor all-inclusive. Formal education is available. One could go for a college degree in business or enroll in shorter-term programs and courses designed to specifically teach the music business. Any such course that you are actively considering should include lessons on royalties, licensing and royalty rights, contracts, distribution agreements and record label deals.

While there is no one “right way” or “wrong way” to gain the education needed to become a music producer. Consider the paths of a dozen music producers, and you’ll find out that they each of them got there by following their own path but every single one of them have worked very hard to build their careers and right this very moment, they’re probably grinding away working on yet another project.

Two pieces of advice that you may not find in any lesson you take are the following. Number 1: Don’t be afraid to try. Most of us learn more from our mistakes than when things go perfectly. The worse it is, the better we learn our lesson. Just don’t be one of those people who make the same mistake over and over again (duh) as this only shows you haven’t learned from your mistakes and signals that you’re “checked out” or just not capable of learning. And Number 2: The other true thing is to understand your education as a music producer never stops. Music is an evolving business—what works today becomes old school and irrelevant before you know it. Tomorrow, and every day that follows, will present opportunities to learn new things. Make sure you do so.

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