“I’m a Music Producer” is literally the coolest thing to say to someone who asks you what you do for a living. It’s an impressive job and it comes with a lot of kudos. If you do well at it, the possibilities are endless.
You could say that being a Music Producer is one of the best jobs in the world….but maybe I’m biased. Yet take a look at just some of the reasons why Music Producer’s love what they do:
- Most of us do it because we are music addicts, so producing feels more like pleasure than any kind of work. It never feels like we do a day’s work and that is something pretty rare;
- Once you’ve really cracked it, the money can be really good;
- You get to work with many talented artists, some of whom might be world-wide superstars; and
- You get to enjoy the perks of being self-employed by choosing your own working schedule and picking who you want to work with, and when
But….it is for this exact reason why music producing is so competitive. There are thousands upon thousands of producers out there who are talented and who are desperate to get clients and break through as a producer. ‘Breaking through’ (i.e.becoming a mainstream success) is tough, and only a small percentage will achieve it. And as with any small business, getting yourself enough work to do producing as a full time career takes a relentless amount of work, skill and experience. But it’s not impossible.
I want to help. As you will see from my instagram, I like to share advice and tips to help develop aspiring producers. I’ve been where you are and if somebody had have offered me advice early on, then it would have made life much easier for me.
So for the first time ever, I’m going to tell you my story of how I got into music producing and what it was that has led me to being successful. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a super-producer (yet) by any means, but I earn a lot of money on a full time basis from producing, I’ve got some international hits under my belt and I have produced over 300 artists, with over 200+ five star reviews online. So I know what I’m talking about.
THE STORY OF ME, AUBREY
I’m a 38 year old British woman living in London. For the majority of my adult life I was working for the UK Government’s Home Office (interior ministry). I had a really good career there and took on many roles, from designing the country’s alcohol policies, travelling the world as a Private Secretary to a Government Minister (Jeremy Browne MP and Norman Baker MP) and advising the British Prime Minister on international threats to the UK. Needless to say, it was a well paid job and a good career choice. And I enjoyed it.
But it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I started writing and performing music when I was just 11 years old. My dad taught me to play the keyboard and guitar and before long I was using his Tascam four-track recorder to build demo productions for my songs. I was a prolific songwriter as a teenager, writing 500 songs by the age of 18. I was music obsessed. And whilst everyone else was hanging out at their mate’s house, I was in my bedroom learning how to bounce tracks, how to EQ and how to build productions.
I was very sure from a young age that I wanted to be a famous songwriter and singer. That’s all I wanted to do – be famous for songwriting and performing. So I joined a band and we got a manager and recorded a couple of EPs which I produced. It was during this time I learnt how to play as a band and how to produce songs. I thought my band would be the next biggest female fronted band, but sadly that didn’t happen.
So instead I set up a record label called Chromium Records (later E3 Records). I worked from my home promoting local bands and putting on showcase gigs. After local success, I went wider and promoted national and international artists. I got a lot of money and was able to leave my job to run the label. But I was only 22 years old. I was inexperienced and had bitten off more than I could chew. So I started to struggle with the magnitude of the business I have created (one of the highest profile labels outside of London at the time) and I couldn’t handle the pressure. So I foolishly made the decision to close down my label at the height of its success.
That decision was one of the worst, and yet the best, decision of my life. This somewhat knee-jerk and naive decision to close down a huge business led to me falling into financial distress. I couldn’t afford to pay for anything anymore and I so I lost my home, my car and everything that was in my house. But what was much worse was that I had to sell all of the contents of my recording studio so I could get some money to live. The only thing that I didn’t sell was my old Takamine guitar so I could continue to at least write songs. But, simply put, I lost everything. And after that point I could see no way back, no music career, and no desire to ever work in music again.
Fast forward 12 years or so and I had returned to work for the UK Government. I had got myself back on my feet by moving to London in 2008 and working hard at my job so I could get promoted and earn more money. And I got promoted 4 or so times during my time in London. Every month for 3 years I would save my salary and buy a new piece of studio equipment each month. I started with the crucial stuff – an imac, then a midi controller, then Logic Pro 9, then a drum machine and finally a budget condenser microphone. I crammed it all into my small bedroom in Croydon and started to teach myself all about digital working and Logic Pro. After all, I grew up working on 4-16 track analog recorders and recording in analogue based studios. I knew nothing about Logic or midi or any kind of digital engineering.
Image 1: The ‘original’ bedroom studio in 2009. All I had was this basic equipment to get me re-started.
So I spent endless hours in my little bedroom reading tutorials and playing around with my equipment and software. I then ended up writing and producing a new solo EP called ‘Code Red’. I stuck to what I knew best: pop-rock. It was great to be back in ‘the saddle’ again. The EP did reasonably well and a remix of my song ‘Every Cloud’ by upcoming producer ‘J.G.F (now Floria) generated a surge of interest in me, and the track got playlisted on nearly all of the major EDM radio stations and TV networks. It certainly got my blood pumping again.
I also signed a deal with Broken Music Publishing/Ripe Recordings. Even though dance/EDM was not my genre of expertise, they asked me to start remixing some tracks by other artists they had on their label. Now, I urge you to check out my remix ‘Change Direction’ by Electron Love Theory which I did for Broken Music Publishing. It’s a good example of how much I have developed over the past 7 years or so. I didn’t know how to mix back then and my knowledge of mastering was zero, so all I did was produce the track rather than know how to mix it…..and I feel the track suffered – even though the label and the artist loved the remixes. You can hear how the hats and cymbals are shrill and how the overall mix is small sounding and lifeless – but the musical ideas themselves are pretty good, but my lack of mixing skills let the track down.
So I realised that I needed to get better at mixing. My ‘Change Direction’ remixes used just Logic Pro’s stock plugins. I didn’t use a single 3rd party plugin or VST. So I bought ‘Sound on Sound’ magazine and started researching what high-level record producers were using in their studios.
After a couple of months, I bought myself some Waves plugins, Modartt Pianoteq 4 and Spectrasonics Omnisphere. It was enough to improve my sound and massively expand my sound and instrument palate.
THE TRANSITION INTO PRODUCING FOR OTHERS
But things got really serious in 2015 when I realised I was no longer enjoying being an artist. Whilst I loved the studio environment, I suffered with my nerves when performing live and I was dreading gigs rather than loving it. So I made a decision to go into producing other artists as that would still ensure I could write music and be in the studio – both of which I absolutely loved. At the time, I just couldn’t believe how I didn’t think of doing it sooner. I was 33 at the time and I wished I’d have gone into producing much younger.
It was clear to me that I needed to up my game. So I got a bank loan and I invested in new studio equipment, including a Universal Audio Apollo Quad pre-amp, a Neumann U87 mic, some KRK Rokit monitors and more waves plugins, and UAD plugins. I felt this was enough to show artists that I am a professional. My only worry was that my studio was still based in my bedroom. I had a flatmate in my spare room and there was nowhere else to put my studio. I was worried that artists wouldn’t take me seriously.
Image 2: The upgraded bedroom studio with increased software and hardware from 2015
So there I was – a home studio full of brilliant studio equipment, over 20 years songwriting and producing experience under my belt, and a good range of business and communication skills following my 10 years in the UK Government. Now what?? How do I get clients to produce? Will they pay me? What should I charge? Can I even do this?
WHAT I DID TO LAUNCH MY PRODUCING CAREER
I knew of this site called ‘StarNow’ from when I was looking to form a new band. It’s a music, acting, media etc online marketplace, which is quite well known. So I created a profile and started to look for any artists who might be looking for a producer. I found a couple of artists, but one of them really appealed to me – a young London-based Irish singer-songwriter called Mairead Furlong who had put out an ad looking for a producer to produce her award winning song ‘Love Obsession’. I listened to her music and just loved her voice and songs – plus it was the kind of music I knew I could produce.
I dropped her a message and offered to produce this particular track for free so I could build up a decent portfolio. Many of you will wince at the fact I offered to do this for free, but I wasn’t even sure if I was good enough at this stage, and I saw it as a free trial for both of us. Turns out this approach ended up working really well for me (keep reading!)
Mairead picked me to produce her song out of several or so other producers who had contacted her. It wasn’t because I was offering a free production as such- she picked me because I seemed passionate about her music and she liked the quality of the production on my solo EP. As a bonus, Mairead wasn’t phased by recording vocals in my bedroom.
She loved what I did to her song and, to this day, Mairead remains a loyal client of mine. She may have got that first production for free, but she went on to hire me to produce an album and a number of free standing singles. Sometimes it is worth the investment to keep such a valued client.
Things rocketed from this point on. At what seemed like fate, my flatmate decided to move out and my spare bedroom became free again. So I decided to use it as a studio room and do this producing thing seriously (the same studio you see on my Instagram posts).
If you are dozing off, now is the time to wake up. Because this is where I will list all the things I did from this point to market myself as a producer. This worked for me, and it worked fast. I would advise ANY aspiring producer to consider following the steps I did below. It won’t work for everyone, and you will need to be a brilliant producer and mix engineer to even get a look in, but with enough talent and hard work, it could work for you.
STEP 1// CREATE A SUPER HOT SHOWREEL
You are a business. You need to showcase what your business can offer. After I worked with Mairead, I had a good song under my belt. I also had my own solo EP and a track I wrote and produced for James Demetris back in 2012. I put them all together into an mp3 showreel and used it to showcase the quality and standard of the productions and mixes I could offer. This is really important and I urge all aspiring producers to spend some time building a decent showreel and then using it to market yourself.
STEP 2// BUILD AN ONLINE BRAND AND PRESENCE – BE VISIBLE AND CREDIBLE
Credibility. Producers are nothing without it. If an artist likes your showreel but they google you, or search for you on social media and don’t find anything, or just see you sitting around smoking weed with all your mates, the chances of them hiring you will be crushed. You need to be credible, and you need to be visible. It’s as simple and as powerful as that.
In the last year or so my Instagram following has gone up by about 15,000 followers. At the time of writing my following is around 29k followers. This is a decent number which adds credibility to me as a producer. It hasn’t been easy building this following and I haven’t sat on my backside doing nothing and been lucky.
Every day I spend a couple of hours on Instagram doing the following:
- Creating engaging content such as production and mixing tutorials, inspirational quotes and studio shots
- Searching for like-minded accounts (search for the followers of your competitors and engage with them by liking and commenting on their posts and following their page – this will gain you more followers)
- Hiring a social media engager to help grow my account organically
- Using the best hashtags on each post to ensure my posts appear in the search rankings
As a result of having a decent following on Instagram, companies are starting to approach me and are giving me free plugins or VSTs, endorsing me, interviewing me for their blogs or magazines and asking me to test their new software. Here’s an example of what successes I’ve generated through building my Instagram following:
- An endorsement from Warm Audio, including a feature on their website and able to get a hefty discount on Warm Audio products;
- An endorsement from Ollo Audio where I received a free pair of their amazing headphones;
- An influencer for LPC which allows you to customise the colour schemes in Logic Pro. My role is to advertise the software on my instagram and I get 15% of each sale received through my own ‘Aubrey’ link;
- Free plugins from Cableguys;
- Free software from Propellerhead and testing out their new app;
- Reposts from the likes of Soundtoys, Tascam, Beatstars, Neumann thereby adding credibility to me and increasing my follower and engagement count;
- An interview with Sample Magic
- Writing articles for the likes of Music Gateway
Without Instagram, none of this would have happened. Every single bit of this has contributed to my credibility as a producer. And being a producer is all about talent, communication and credibility. So spend the time growing your social media accounts.
STEP 3// GET LISTED ON MARKETPLACE WEBSITES
This was really the turning point for me. I set up profiles on a number of producer marketplace sites in the hope people that would hire me through those sites….and they did just that. As a result of the following sites, I ended up co-engineering a session with Little Mix and Kelly Clarkson, meeting Gaston Dalmau and forming The Utopia and gaining a hit record in 3 countries, and getting media attention through the likes of Women in Trade magazine. This is a brilliant starting place for any producer….
But remember….get that showreel sorted and build an online presence first.
A few years ago, I applied to be a ‘premium provider’ on Soundbetter.com which is a curated marketplace of the world’s best producers, mix engineers, singers and session musicians. Artists go on their and scout for producers to produce their project.
Whilst it’s free to create a profile and ‘apply’ for jobs posted, the real advantage comes from being a premium provider….which isn’t easy. You have to have a good profile as a producer with a decent number of credits under your belt. I applied and paid a £300 annual fee for the privilege. But Soundbetter doesn’t accept everyone, and they have a huge backlog of applications to get through with a strict acceptance rate ( I remember seeing somewhere that they only accept 2% of applications for premium providers).
It was 3 months before I got a notification saying I’d been accepted as a premium provider. I know a few other producers and session musicians who have been repeatedly rejected by Soundbetter because they don’t have enough online reviews, producing credits or an online presence. So take the time to grow your credits and online presence before applying. I got accepted probably because I had released my solo EP with some success, I had over 2m streams on Soundcloud, I had produced a few artists and had a good showreel to offer, and my website was up and running with everything looking good. If you searched my name in google, lots would come up. So get your act together before applying.
Being a premium producer on Soundbetter means that I appear quite high in the search rankings, and with Soundbetter being one of the top sites under the google search term ‘music producer’ it can generate a lot of traffic! On average I get about 5-10 new job invites from artists each week through this site. To date I have earned over $66,000 through this site alone.
Airgigs works similar to Soundbetter except that it’s much easier to get onto. I don’t recall there being any application process per se. You simply create your profile and off you go. It’s not as high profile as Soundbetter but I still get work through it, and now I’ve got a few 5 star reviews under my belt on the site, there is more work being generated each week.
I love Kollab. They are a UK version of Soundbetter and Airgigs. They are a fairly new company but the quality of their clients is really good and they take on a lot of the communication work for you so you just do the work and get paid. They have recently stripped back the number of producers etc to focus on a small number of quality providers, but they might still consider new producers if you are top notch and have a good track record.
There are other sites which offer a similar thing which I’m not on – they are http://www.fiverr.com and Freelancer and Upwork. Well worth a look in.
STEP 4// GENERATE MULTIPLE INCOME STREAMS
Don’t just offer a production and/or mixing service, think about other things you can do to generate an income.
I do the following things which all generate some income for me:
- Sell pre-made productions (AKA beats) online (I currently use Beatstars);
- Create and sell your own soundkits (I currently have 3 drum sample packs available);
- Produce some tracks on a royalty basis to generate regular income. For example, I produced a version of ‘Let it Go’ by J.FLA for YouTube which has got over 17 million streams. I produced this for no upfront fee but for a 10% chunk of any royalties. I get a royalty payment every month. It started off with a couple of hundred pounds and now about £50 a month. If you have multiple deals like this you can see how quickly the money could add up
STEP 5// NETWORK AND COLLABORATE
It goes without saying that working with other producers and networking with industry folk will only help your career. If there’s an opportunity to write and/or produce with a producer who is more successful that you – then go for it! You will gain access to their fans, their clients as well as learning about their strategy to success.
Networking can be tough when you’re so busy in the studio, but I try and get myself out to monthly networking events through royalty collection societies and musician meet-ups. Success in music is much easier if you know more people.
WANT TO BE A SUPER PRODUCER?
I want to be a super-producer, as do you I assume! A super-producer is usually one of the music industry’s most respected and in-demand producers. They have tonnes of hit records under their belt and they are shaping current music trends.
I know a few labels and management companies and they all say the same thing to me – if you want regular work from the major labels, and major artists, you need to already have hit records under your belt. But how can you achieve this without working with a major label artist?
Well, the way that most producer’s break through is by producing artists that are unknown and producing them. If they start to generate a following and that artist takes off, and you wrote and produced the song, then the doors with the labels will fly open and that’s your path to super-producerism.
Choose your artists wisely. Select a couple that you really believe in. Develop them, nurture them and let them take you with them.
I hope this has been a useful insight into the world of music producing. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I am a (rare) female producer. I could say that part of my success has been down to the fact that I am rare and stand out from the crowd – plus many people, the ladies especially, want to work with a female producer. But I like to think that I am successful because of my skills and the crazy amount of work I’ve put in over the years.
I am currently writing an ebook on being a successful producer and I hope that you will read that too when it comes out.
Remember to subscribe to my mailing list at http://www.aubreywhitfield.com to be kept up to date
Image 3: Me doing my thing in Los Angeles in 2017