What is a Record Producer?

by Kamal Moo, Esq.

I’m sure many of you have heard the term “record producer” before and  have probably wondered, what exactly does a record producer do?  Here’s the simple answer: a successful producer makes hit records.  And, by necessity, the role of the producer varies according to the style of music.  In the rock genre, for example, a producer’s role is generally to help a band choose songs and bring out the best performances possible.  In the hip hop and R&B genres, the producer is more of a songwriter/composer who actually writes music for the artists they’re collaborating with.

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However, make no mistake — producing is an art form unto itself.  The greatest record producers in history were able to develop signature production styles that forever left their marks on the world of music: Phil Spector (“The Beatles”), Quincy Jones (“Michael Jackson”), and Dr. Dre (“Eminem”) are just a few of the producers that have become stars in their own right.

Producer Compensation

The next logical question is: how does a record producer get paid?  Generally, a producer gets paid an up-front fee, plus backend royalties (usually anywhere from 1% to 5% of the artist’s royalties).  There was a time when superstar producers could charge up to $100,000 to produce a single track!  However, it’s a very small, elite group that has achieved this superstar status.  And, given the declining health of the music industry, these kinds of exorbitant producer fees have become extremely rare, if not extinct.

Development Deals

In addition to producing, many established producers will also sign artists to their production companies and develop them independently with the goal of trying to secure a distribution deal.  If a producer is particularly successful, many times a record company will give them a sub-label deal, thus granting that producer the freedom to choose what gets released to the public.  It should be noted that in the music industry it’s not uncommon for a single person to wear many different hats.  For example, a record producer could also be a label executive and an artist manager all at the same time.

When it comes down to it, great record producers are essential to the success of artists and labels.  Producers are tapped into current musical trends and somehow know what the public wants before anyone else does.  As mentioned at the beginning of this article, a successful record producer knows how to make hits, and that’s an extraordinarily rare skill.

Note: Kamal Moo is a California licensed attorney. The information contained in this article is not legal advice. Reading this article does not create an attorney-client privilege. You should consult with an attorney if you need legal advice.