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The role of a record producer in your career - by Bobby Borg

The most important thing to a musician is the music that you create. You spend years developing a distinctive sound and style before finally getting that big break when a record company is finally interested in investing thousands of dollars in recording and promoting your music or you find another way to record your music professionally. But as hard as you’ve worked to develop an original sound, that may not be enough to create a successful album. Producing a great record is an art form in itself, and it requires the assistance of an experienced professional producer—a producer can actually MAKE or BREAK your career. The right collaboration can take you to creative places you never imagined, while the wrong one can be a nightmare whose implications are far-reaching. So understanding what producers do, and what they can do for you, can be vital to your future!


The record producer not only guides the artist through the entire recording process, including selecting and arranging songs, but often co-writes and even composes complete compositions as well. The producer helps the artist get the “most” out of each studio performance, and works towards making that artist’s work sound current in the marketplace even several years after his or her record is released. [Stevie Wonders’s record, Songs In the Key of Life still sounds fresh and original 30 years after its release.] Additionally, the record producer makes sure that the money allotted for a record session, also known as the recording budget, is carefully spent. So, as you see, record producers are essentially the guardians of the recording process.

When a Producer’s Involvement May Begin

A record producer’s involvement in your career may begin in any number of situations. The most common are at the start of the development or demo deal, or the production deal, and the record label deal.

The Demo Deal. At the early stages of your career, a producer may help you to record a demo and then shop the tapes to record companies using his or her connections. The producer may ask for a written agreement stipulating that if you get signed, he or she will receive a fee and a percentage of record sales in return for services rendered, and may even stipulate production responsibility on the final product.

The Production Deal. The producer may also be part of an actual production company. The production company will sign and develop you and record your demo, and then enter into a recording contract with a record company on your behalf. In this instance, you would then be asked to sign a “side letter” (an acknowledgement to the record company that you agree to perform exclusively for the production company, which is itself signed to the record company). In other words, the project is producer-driven. The production company and the artist then both share in royalties from sales.

The Record Deal. The most common scenario, and one we’ll focus on since it’s what artists usually dream about, occurs when you enter directly into a recording agreement with a record company. In this instance, the project is artist-driven. You are obligated by contract to hire an experienced producer to help guide you through the recording process, and to deliver a product that has the commercial sales potential to meet the company’s expectations.

The record company pays you an advance, typically known as the “recording fund,” from which all recording costs must be paid. For instance, if you have a recording fund of $300,000, a recording budget must be established within these limits. Anything that’s leftover goes into your pockets as an advance. Here’s what may be covered in the recording budget and deducted from the recording fund:

- The producer’s fee
- The engineers fee
- Studio rental costs
- Tape costs
- Editing costs
- Mastering costs
- Equipment rentals
- Sticks/skins/strings/picks/ and amplifier tubes
- Union minimal scale wages for the band members
- Union scale wages for hired musicians
- Cartage
- Lodging
- Transportation

As previously mentioned, it’s the producer who puts together the budget and makes sure that each dollar is spent efficiently. This is not always an easy task! Events in the recording studio aren’t always predictable, mistakes are made, and things go in different directions. If it turns out that a recording project goes over budget or the label isn’t satisfied with the final product, they’ll usually approve additional funds in an effort to finish your album. However, the more money the record company spends beyond what they initially intended, the LESS EFFORT THEY’LL PUT FORTH IN PROMOTING THE RECORD IF IT’S NOT AN IMMEDIATE SUCCESS. What’s more, the recording fund is considered a “recoupable advance;” MEANING YOUR RESPONSIBLE FOR RE-PAYING EVERY DIME FROM FUTURE RECORD SALES BEFORE YOU EVER EARN A ROYALTY FROM SALES!

Whomever the producer ends up being on a recording project, it’s important that everyone involved; from the artist, to the label A & R person, to the producer himself, feels confident that the resulting product will be what they had initially envisioned. In the words of Mikal Reid, producer for Ben Harper, “It’s important to make the most honest record you can where hopefully art, business, and commerce all meet at the same intersection. " A great record is important to everyone’s career.”

Bobby Borg is the author of The Musician’s Handbook : A Practical Guide To Understanding The Music Business,” which is available Now by Billboard Books at or in a store near you.
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