What is Music Production?
Music production is an extensive role that usually involves managing sound recording and the creation of music. There are intricate duties within the production that comprise substantial technicalities. Almost as if the job title is the firm trunk of a tree, and attached are numerous branches, which when fully grown, forms a stable structure. The same idea applies to the production of a song.
A track can require up to 5-6 producers working together to build the framework of an arrangement, some of the main tasks at hand involve mixing, recording, mastering, engineering, playing, and arranging elements.
Beyoncé’s 2016 hit ‘Hold Up’ for example, took a whopping eight producers, and 15 songwriters!
In some cases, each producer mixes the same song individually, creating multiple versions of the same song. Elements from each version can then be mixed into one final version. It is then usually up to the artist’s team and A & R manager to pick the final version to release.
Being a producer in a primitive industry
Since music platform Napster shut down in 2001, music consumption in a general form has reached new heights and has revolutionized the way consumers listen to and buy music. Getting to grips with new music platforms and the issues that came with it, such as copyright and piracy, the music industry found itself a big problem that had to quickly be resolved. New rules and regulations had to be created and are constantly evolving from primitive consumption habits.
Music production is a great career to pursue if the passion is there. Besides making music and possibly creating massive hits, the music industry has its ups and its downs. The process requires a lot of hard work and strenuous hours. A patient mind is required as the production elements can be very mentally and psychologically challenging.
Like any other form of art, music production can be a test of the mental and psychological aspects of a producer’s character after many denials, deadlines, and constant criticism. Being able to grasp each technical element used to create a sound can be perplexing, the role of a producer is quite an elusive skill that could take years to master.
Wanting to become a producer and being involved in the industry at such an intimate level has its pros and cons.
The recording industry is seeing a global growth in more than a decade after a massive decline, seeing more opportunities for the music industry. There is increasingly high demand for producers and new sounds just as there are many new upcoming artists who want to find their original sound.
The job itself has multiple small tasks at hand, which can branch off creating new opportunities. Taking Asian and Latin music as an example, their music and its artists are gaining international appeal, therefore opportunities to work in different markets with global attention can be a great career boost.
Producing music usually requires travelling to studios and meeting up with artists to coherently complete a project, there are plenty of opportunities to travel around the world, depending on the artist’s location.
There are tight deadlines to meet, and while artists can become very demanding, it can also influence a producer’s mindset and quality of sound they finally produce.
Production requires a consistent amount of high energy and passion. Sometimes, facing mental blocks and meeting deadlines can put a strain on the process and can become disheartening.
Music is everchanging, music styles die, and new trends take over. It is important to constantly keep on trend and be inventive with sound. This means producers are likely to have to change their style of sound to keep up, which can sometimes become frustrating when aiming to stay authentic.
Getting into the business requires a thick skin. Last year, rapper and producer Russ blamed producers for the ‘state of hip-hop’, candidly claiming that artists are not the ones to blame as they have to pick the ‘best of the worst’ of a producer’s work. Producers Frank Dukes, Cardo Got Wings, TM88, London on da Track, and various others rightfully challenged this statement, however, this gives a clear example of how much scrutiny producers themselves can face even by artists.
There are many elements involved in the technical process, which can take a long time to master and can seem a tedious process.
There is an ongoing battle with record labels and producers, compared to the artist who may sing a song, the producers and songwriters may not receive a fair amount of revenue from a project.
A constant struggle for record companies is to straighten out the kinks by which songs are distributed illegally with no revenue reaching the actual artists, producers, songwriters etc. ChaiTai President Jiang Tao predicts that over the next five to ten years, we will see more new music with fewer boundaries because there are now improved laws in place regarding producer’s rights, whereas previously ‘laws weren’t perfect enough to protect them’.
The state of the industry
Artists and their teams are facing a struggle. Statistically, we know that video and audio streaming is the most popular music consumption. It creates a gap in the revenue market, where record labels now need to make up for as compared to physical revenue, streaming doesn’t quite cut it.
Record labels are creating a stronger push on live music experiences to make up that revenue gap. It means that artists need to be able to connect on a new and deeper level with their audience, to be able to profit from concert ticket sales and merchandise. Not to say this is the only reason artists connect with their fans, but it is a huge revenue boost.
A successful worldwide stadium tour, for example, Taylor Swift’s Reputation tour, is likely to rake in revenue undoubtedly. Her 1989 tour received over $250 million and her most recent tour is likely to follow in those footsteps. As nice as these figures may sound, all revenue does not go directly to the artist. Once the venue, stage crew, the artist’s crew, venue staff, tax, insurance, booking and processing fee’s etc. have been paid, artists are in most cases left with around 50-60% of the gross revenue.
Problems for the likes of producers and songwriters are receiving their fair share of the net profit. Public performance royalties are almost last in the whirlwind of transactions that must be made by an artist after receiving performance revenue. Shares can be as low as 0.1% for the people who in fact made the songs, which is a factor that the music industry is looking deeper into amongst many other things.
Below outlines revenue figures the music industry took from 2016-2017.
Introduced this year was YouTube Music, a continuous video streaming service which users would pay for after a month of free use. Its arrival in the streaming hemisphere is a threat to audio streamers such as Spotify and Apple Music. As this may be a great addition to the music industry, where credit is due, it is nowhere to be seen for producers and songwriters etc. Only last year, Spotify introduced song credits, and sometimes even that doesn’t suffice each fair contributor to a song.
Producer Sonny Truelove says ‘Movies to this day still credit every person involved in the making of said movie’ and makes the point that music should follow in the same footsteps.
Comparing today’s digital age of music to the ‘good old days’ when physical CD’s were fairly distributed and purchased, Sonny wants the industry to go back to when each song contributor was clearly stated on paper to read with ease.
Although the music industry is making baby steps to give more accreditation to song makers with the progress of digital distribution, social media seems to be of great help for producers making their mark in the industry and communicating with fans. If not already being listed as an artist on one of their own songs, producers are raking in social media interactions, making their work more visible.
TM88 was responsible for Lil Uzi Vert’s XO Tour Llif3, which became increasingly popular because of Twitter, as did he. Similarly, Murda Beatz has generated over 800 thousand Instagram followers, his fan base is increasing creating more awareness of his productions.
Universal Music’s EVP Adam Granie says that social media is part of an ongoing focus on an ‘expanding the reach in the monetisation of artist content beyond just music distribution platforms.’ Social media is therefore essential not only for recording artists but behind the scenes artists to create personal yet valuable content.
The Billboard Hot 100 Chart Devalues Video Streams
In more recent months, one of the biggest music charts Billboard is switching up the way the charts are calculated. Oddly deciding to devalue on-demand video streams when tallying up audio and video streams that contribute to a song’s overall chart performance. The decision seems as odd as Simon Cowell declaring online votes for X-Factor contestants count as less of a vote than telephone votes.
The Billboard Hot 100 is one of America’s highly anticipated music charts, and undoubtedly influences UK music and others around the world. The chart initially counts on-demand video streams e.g. YouTube and Vevo, alongside on-demand audio streams e.g. Spotify and Apple Music, as equal points when tallying chart positions.
As Billboard is now – after five years – choosing to devalue the count of video streams by 0.33 points, this will completely change the direction of one of the most popular music charts.
Some of the biggest viral hits and number one Billboard spots were made up of video streams, but that’s all about to change as audio streams will count as the most points. It also means that new producers could emerge from audio only platforms that would not have had a chance before. Billboard could be measuring audio content as a more valuable listen as opposed to a video view because people may only stream on YouTube etc. because of the video rather than the song.
Obtaining the music market
Each artist most likely has a market that they cater to, their fans come first when dealing with business and marketing decisions. The likes of DJ Khaled, Calvin Harris, David Guetta etc. have created their market segments staying loyal to the style that they first emerged with, but also keeping up with new music trends at the same time. With music artists openly collaborating at a more frequent level with other artists and producers, market segments are now tending to fragment and merge over the course of time creating great opportunities for smaller producers to collaborate with well-known artists and other producers.
As much as music production is very much a passion that people for fill, there is about to be tense competition riding amongst the big producers, as well as small-scale ones. There has been a rise in producers making their own mark in music by coming out of the woodworks on platforms such as SoundCloud and Spotify etc.
In the next article, I discuss with Rihanna’s and Shawn Mendes’ producers about how the industry is treating them as they share some of their own experiences.