This is a part of the business I've had little exposure to but have always imagined it to be extremely creative and rewarding.
Wanting to know more, I spent some time talking to Michael Brooks. Michael is currently head of production for Rafelson Media, but the majority of his career has been spent in music.
Michael has been a music producer and mixer for much of his career, and he equates this position to that of both a producer and director on a film. The music producer is responsible for absolutely everything, up through and including delivery of the master recording. He said a producer can be as hands-on or -off as he'd like, depending on how much he chooses to delegate; and he's generally the one who matches the right songs to the right talent, oversees recording sessions and sometimes even joins in by playing an instrument (or most of the instruments). Often the producer is also one of the songwriters on the project. He added that the process of recording can be much more intimate than making a movie, especially when it involves just the producer, talent and engineer.
Most producers work as independent contractors, although some are on staff at record and music companies. Some take the artists they've discovered (and/or produce for) to recording companies ("labels"), attaching themselves to the deal along the way. Others have their own label and get the recordings out on the market via record distributors.
Michael's advice for those who are interested in music producing is to be prepared to supplement your income for quite a long while. With the availability of songs on the Internet and the subsequent decline in CD sales, the recording industry has been steadily declining the past couple of years; and it's harder than ever to break in. He's hopeful, however, that this trend will eventually start moving in the opposite direction.
As for the path one would take, Michael suggests having as much musical experience and education as you can get. Being a musician (especially the ability to play the piano or keyboard) is helpful, because then you speak the right language. Also, know the technology. Take recording workshops and learn as much as possible. You could get your foot in the door the same way you would on a film or at a studio by taking an internship or entry-level position at a recording studio or a studio music department. The most important thing is to meet and network with as many people as you can.
I asked Michael what he loved most about this end of the industry, and his reply was "I just love the music and have appreciated all the opportunities I've had to work with great talent. And then there are those special magical moments in the studio I'll never forget [at this point, he starts speaking slower, and his voice lowers to an almost whisper] these moments are as close to a spiritual experience as I've ever had." The worst part? "Everything else but the music—the big egos, the politics, etc."
With reference once again to Susan and Barbara's book, Guide to Postproduction for TV and Film, the following are definitions of music and sound-related positions that are part of the post process on films and television shows:
• Composer: The person who writes the original music used in a film or television show. (The music is physically produced by either hiring a group of musicians and recording on a sound stage or by using electronic instrumentation [called "electronic scoring"], which can be done out of the composer's home or a small studio.)
• Sound Design Supervisor (or "Sound Designer"): Responsible for supervising the creation of the final sound elements that make the finished soundtrack.
• Music Supervisor: Coordinates the creation of the musical score, prepares the visual materials and cue timings for the composer, supervises the music mixdown for the dub, coordinates materials for the sound mix and recommends and purchases prerecorded music material.
• Music Editor: Prepares and cuts the musical score and purchased musical cues.
• Music Coordinator: Coordinates the purchase of prerecorded music cues and assists the composer with the duplication of sheet music and other administrative duties. The person who performs these duties may also be the Music Supervisor.
Careers in music can indeed be extremely creative and satisfying, but it appears to be a tougher arena to break into than some other facets of the entertainment industry. So if you're determined to give it a shot, you'll need an extra dose of passion and resolve to get you there.
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