ASPIRING ARTISTS, PRODUCERS, ENGINEERS
FOR GENERAL ADVICE ON BEING A
MUSICIAN, SINGER, ENGINEER, PRODUCER,
PLEASE READ ON-
By far, the most common type of e-mail
I get is from people reaching out for a
helping hand in their musical career.
The requests are so general and varied
that it would take volumes to explain it all.
Also, many are from young people and
contain personal information.
For the safety and well-being of all concerned,
I STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT
MINORS AND CHILDREN
As an alternative, I offer some basic tips
here that will allow most of you to find the
answers you need.
SO YOU WANT TO BE IN THE
How do you get in the music business? First,
why? Why do you want to be in the music
industry, and what do you want to do? Are you
willing to give it all you've got? Are you
willing to do the really hard stuff, like going
to the (shudder) library??
No matter what you want to do in music, from
writing songs and performing to engineering
and producing, you have to do 3 things.
1. You have to love it so much that you keep
trying with all your might.
2. You have to seek out everything you can
learn about it. Almost everything you need to
know is written down somewhere in a library,
magazine or on the internet. If you're in
school, they are even teaching you how to
learn all this stuff, only they're using history
reports instead of music. Use the same
methods, but look up music stuff instead.
3. Do as much as you can. Play your
instrument or record stuff or whatever it is
you do as often as you can without getting in
the way of your responsibilties or chores. No
one should ever have to tell you to practice,
read, or improve your music.
Once you have all this going for you, you need
to know the basic structure of the music industry.
If you write songs, then you must perform
them or have people play them. The more
folks hear your songs, the more songs they'll
want to hear. Getting as many musicians as
you can performing as many of your songs as
possible is your goal. As for the business, you
can learn much from the licensing companies
whose initials you see on all your albums-
BMI and ASCAP. They both offer information
on the whole song licensing process,
publishing and copyrighting. ( BMI.com &
If you are a performer, you simply want to
perform the best you can as much as you can,
everywhere you can. Choosing songs that
bring your personality to the audience is
your main tool. You start playing free at
parties, clubs- anywhere you can and you
work your way up to paying jobs, agents and
bigger audiences. An excellent book on the
subject is 'This Business of Music' and can be
found at many public libraries. Also, check
out the magazine racks- there are lots of new
publications aimed at younger musicians.
As an engineer, your job is to handle the gear.
That's really all. It can be maddening, I know,
but you must know all you can about the
music, yet say nothing unless asked. Your job
is to capture the music- essence and all- and
the more you know about music, the easier it
will be to anticipate the next move. You must
know the equipment cold, and you are
constantly in the middle of band personalities
and arguments, so you also need to be a
referee of sorts. A great engineer makes the
gear seem invisible, and makes the band feel
like they're performing for their biggest fan.
(And, of course, read, read, read!) Start by
offering to be a runner at a local studio or
broadcast station ( for free) and watch
everyone and learn what they all do, right and
wrong. From there, it's your talent and your
personality that takes you higher.
The biggest myth in the entertainment
industry is the role of the producer. The
common perception is that the producer is a
music wizard who discovers you, gives you a
recording contract, pays for everything,
makes your record and you're a star!
The hard part is, yes, this sometimes happens.
Once a producer has been involved in enough
hit records, the record labels sometimes
become very comfortable with their style and
begin trusting their taste regarding new
talent. When this happens, that producer can
bring new acts to the label without going
through all the normal red-tape. Some
successful artists like to produce new groups,
and often the artist's label will sign the group.
(For example, if 'Sting' wanted to produce
you, there's a good chance his label may want
to sign you, because they feel that he wouldn't
waste his time unless you were good enough
to sell, and his name will sell a bunch for
you.) This is where we get the myth'.
The truth is that the producer is, in factory
terms, a 'foreman for hire'. Like the foreman
in any factory, the producer must know how
everything works, why you use it, when to use
it, and exactly what the final product should
be like. This means that the producer must
know how the studio gear works, what it does
and what it does to the music and, most
importantly, when to use it (or not). This
means an intimate knowledge of the music as
well. Great producers hear the song finished
in their heads from the first moment. They
plan, craft and inspire the musicians to give
their best, filling out the final mix to the last
degree of the band's dreams.
Producers are usually hired by the artist to
make the demo that will be sent out to record
companies or by the record company to make
the record that will be sold. Some labels have
producers on staff, but most producers are
like myself, independant. We all charge a
variety of rates, mine being based on how
much time the project will take and how many
tasks I will perform ( as in, will I be
engineering or arranging as well?).
The type of producer that most people want is
the 'spec' producer- someone who will record
the band for free, maybe make a video, and
pitch it to the labels for a percentage of the
profits. This is a large grey area in the music
world. If a producer already has hits, as
described above, then the chance of being
signed for the recordings you make is very
good, and a deal like this would be worth it.
However, if the producer is not already
well-known, chances are quite slim that the
recordings will be released. The label will
usually want to sign the band, re-record
everything with a producer of their choosing,
and then they will own the new recordings.
That way, the label gets to pay for recording
out of the artist advance (your money) instead
of paying to use your master (your producer's
'spec' money!!) Most producers are unable to
do this without some money up front. We all
need groceries, you know.
Lastly, 'producer' is a hat often worn by
charlatains in the music business. I cannot
stress enough the importance of learning as
much about the industry and it's workings as
you can. The more you know, the easier you
will spot a crooked contract or a sleazy scam
To become a real producer, you must do all of
the music and engineering skills I mentioned
well enough to understand the music, the
musicians and the marketing of the songs.
There is NO short answer.
Now, with the internet, more information is at
your command than ever before, and all the
old rules of research and discovery still apply.
I still learn more each and everyday, and I
don't see it ever stopping. I'm just like you-
trying to climb to the top with my art, hoping
to stand side by side with the greats I admire.
all images, sounds and contents copyright 2000 Pegwood Arts all rights reserved