If there’s one constant that we can count on when it comes to careers in the arts, it’s that salaries and pay ranges are going to be outrageously different, depending on who you ask. If you’re curious as to how much money a talented music producer can make, for example, it’s actually possible to give you a pretty straightforward answer…even if it isn’t entirely accurate. A great music producer can make millions of dollars per year. Take a look at RZA, Paul Epworth, and DJ Shadow–these producers are artists in their own right, and command just as much respect (and pay) as the people that they produce music with.
Did they all start out that way? The answer is, across the board, a whopping NO. Of course they didn’t! Just as with anyone else starting a career in the arts, the beginner’s pay is peanuts compared to the top end of the scale, dominated by the best in the business. And it is a business; it just happens to be a business that fits into the art niche at the same time. In the following guide, we’ll walk you through all kinds of useful information about the music production business, curated specifically to give you an idea of what to expect at different pay levels. After all, if you’re a prospective music producer, this is useful stuff to know! We all have lifestyles to fuel and mouths to feed, right?
The first thing we should probably get out of the way is that music production isn’t the same as many types of business ventures. Like most areas where the arts and business intersect, an individual’s success is going to be built on who they know and how much work they’re putting into growing their network and influence. That’s a sentence that will look great on an advertisement for music production training, so let’s unpack it a little bit.
In the U.S., any career in the arts typically starts out at the bottom of the barrel, in terms of pay. There’s a reason that the term “starving artist” is still popularly used. However, like any pursuit that a person feels passionate about, there’s room for new, skilled music producers all of the time. It’s simply a different climb than what you’d find in a typical business opportunity.
Keeping one’s eye on the prize is necessary, and that prize is twofold–a significant living doing what you love and a chance to meet other musicians in the field. It’s doubtful that two music producers are going to be able to lay out the same exact career path, too, which means that a big part of the industry involves ingenuity. You’ll need talent and a strong network, but also a drive to innovate in an exceptionally crowded field. You and your talent need to stand out!
Before we look more specifically at some of the rates that music producers are charging, we’ll look at some of the requirements necessary for success in a music production career. After all, it’s the rare circumstance that a living wage comes without significant talent. Let’s take a closer look at some of that talent.
Becoming a Music Producer
Unsurprisingly, a career in such an artistic field has quite a few places it can begin. What are your interests? Music? Musicians? Mixing? Hopefully, an intersection of all three.
If those interests aren’t alive and well before you start thinking about how much money you’re going to make, I’ll go ahead and say that you should seriously question your commitment to music production. While some of the tops can garner hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars per year, you can bet that they didn’t start out making that much. Most musicians, music producers and other artists begin their work by making peanuts compared to what other beginning positions in different career tracks can offer.
Where does that leave us, then? A few different places to begin. Let’s lay out examples of just a few.
- Music Education: Here, we’re talking anything from private lessons to apprenticeships. Post-secondary school is an option, too. You can learn a hell of a lot about music production and the industry with the appropriate college degree.
- Instruments: We’ll feature this in greater detail below, but it’s a good idea to gain some mastery of a particular instrument (or more than one!) You’ll learn a lot about producing good sound, and additionally, how that sound can interact with others to make a good track.
- Software: Costly but necessary. Music mixing software is notoriously expensive, just as it’s notoriously essential for producing quality tracks. You’ll need to learn the ropes, eventually!
- Sound Equipment: Many beginning musicians start out with used equipment, and a music producer doesn’t have to be any different. Top producers in the field are working with dynamic, interesting hardware, but if you’re just starting out, there’s no fortune available for such expenses. Yet.
- Network: Perhaps the most important thing on this list. Maybe you have a great ear for putting sounds together, but nobody’s going to know about it unless you can get out there and showcase it. This usually starts at the local level, with small-scale music scenes.
Of course, we could build upon this list several times over. There are no set-in-stone rules about what it takes to be a good music producer, just as there are no rules that one has to follow for any type of art. You find your groove, you refine it, and you work hard for a way to make it profitable. Internships are available through music production studios, and all of the skills that you learn when training in music production can be used in other careers.
Sound is important in just about every form of media, right? Think about all of the sound-based career opportunities that would value the skills above, and you’ll start to see how music production is simply one niche among many.
Where to Begin
Ironically, the best place for music producers to begin is often the best place for musicians in general to begin. Your favorite sound. An instrument.
Though it was mentioned above, let me repeat it for emphasis–if you want to make music, you’re going to have a much better time if you know how to play music. This could include anything from the piano to keyboard to saxophone to your own voice. Don’t aim for what’s profitable, because that’s just as great of a folly as entering music production for the sake of a salary. Aim for what interests you, and let it guide you.
A music producer eventually has to become something of a triple-threat, in terms of their expertise. Knowing an instrument or three is a great way to bring some mastery to the practice, but you’re also going to have to know how to use popular mixing software and equipment to put different sounds together. On top of that, you’re going to need to spend some significant time listening to music, usually in individual parts, so you have a strong grasp on how it should be put together. Finding the best sound begins with knowing the best way to put a track together in the first place.
You could jump right into a formal music education, too! Degree programs are certain to teach and test your mastery in the very things that you’ll need to know. This makes post-secondary school a fairly reliable choice for people who want an assured boost for their music production career.
Throughout all of this, however, you’ll need to network, network, network. Your job as a music producers is going to depend hugely on the brand that you build. If you want it to be successful, it needs to be known. If you want it to be known, then you need to meet people in music.
This can and should start at a local level. Not only will getting involved in a local music scene give you a taste of what’s to come, it can give you an introduction to different styles of both music and production. It’ll be valuable information and experience as you continue to learn!
How Much Does a Music Producer Make?
So, here’s what it boils down to. How much does a music producer make on a yearly basis?
A PayScale interview with music producer Meghan Gohil revealed that the yearly average salary is anywhere between $20,000 and over one million. This huge range is due to the varying roles that a music producer can perform. Is the producer mixing, recording, and selling their own tracks? Are they serving as the dedicated music producer for a well-known band? Are they helping solely with the release of an album? All of these roles fall under the wide umbrella of “music” producer, but they each come with hugely varying tasks and responsibilities.
You can take a look at job outlook statistics, too! Based on degrees earned and the subsequent wages that follow, you can see median salaries for music production ranging from $50,000 per year to $70,000. If anything, it’s a living wage to aim for!
Though it’s difficult to nail down a specific answer, our guide to finding out how much music producers make has hopefully contained some useful information! If you have any questions about our content (or questions you’d like answered) chime in through the comments, below!