In this second part one of a three-part series, multitalented musician Michael Emenau a.k.a. MNO explores various music career options for music producers and discusses how to optimize your search for work opportunities.
Here’s the situation: you’ve developed your skills, acquired some great gear, created a few tracks, and built an online presence. What’s next? In this article, we’ll look at some ways to approach a career in becoming a music professional whether independently, through an internship or a paying gig. Here we go!
Independent Music Professional
An independent professional producer is someone who produces tracks for themselves or others with the intention of monetizing the final product. Essentially make music and get paid. So, how do you find clients who will pay you to make music for them? First, you need to be able to show off your abilities. Building an active online presence where people can hear your original music or mixes, as well as see how active you are in the music industry is a great way to showcase your talents. No matter how much you talk about what you can do, you still need to show you can deliver. However, even once you’re online, you will also need to generate enough interest in what you do that people actually listen to the music you’ve shared.
DJ Your Own Music and Showcase Your Work
One excellent way to promote your original productions is to play them in a DJ mix. First, you’ll need to find some places to perform, a subject I discussed in “How to Make Money in the Electronic Music Business – Without Being a Famous Dj/Producer.” However, I don’t recommend playing full sets with 100% original music. Instead, mix your originals with a selection of other similar music. Spread the word that you are spinning your tracks, promote the sets, and get your music heard on the dancefloor. This approach will create interest in your production skills and attract like-minded people. These are your potential clients, treat them with respect, put in the time, and soon people will be asking you to work with them.
Advertise Your Talents
Another way to find clients is to promote yourself on various online advertising and marketplace websites such Craigslist. It’s a grim approach, but a viable road to take. A typical ad headline might read:
- Free recording session – I will mix your band’s music
- I will write/produce songs for your lyrics – $200 song
- Hip hop beats and samples for sale
This approach may seem monotonous, but it’s an option that works. There are many people out there who dream of becoming the “Next Big Thing,” and you may be able to help them. Look at this as an opportunity to meet people, get experience, find out if you can deliver, and hopefully get paid. Just bear in mind that getting paid may not be an option at the beginning. There’s a lot of competition, and even if you end up working for free, you’ll be gaining experience.
Persistence is what pays off in this game. Weigh the pros and cons of working with a certain artist, and if you think this person could go somewhere, or that you will learn and grow as a producer, then go for it! If your heart tells you that you are wasting time, then get out. Remember, if you are providing your services for free (or cheaply), you are paying for your own time. Consider whether an artist will help your career move forward. Don’t spend valuable time spinning your wheels with an artist on a project you’re not happy with, you may miss out on another potentially successful project.
Network and Make Connections
Another, more personal way to find clients is to get out there and network with like-minded people within your local music scene. Any producer should consider this approach to be part of the job description. Go out as much as possible to see local artists and get a feel for the talent that’s out there. While watching bands or DJs, try to envision how you would approach them and offer your musical talents for future projects. You’ll need to be able to articulate this vision to any artist you approach for potential production work – part of the job of a producer is to be a salesman as well.
Once you find an artist that you feel you could help, approach them. Tell them who you are and what you do. If they like you, they will give you a chance. Maybe this means producing/remixing a track of theirs for free. Take the opportunity and prove to them that with your help, they will become great. Once you start working with an artist, you can follow them up the ladder, and concurrently the artist may even follow you. For example, a producer friend of mine originally did live mixing for a band, which led to doing a remix that radically changed the sound of the band. This led to his inclusion as a sound designer/touring band member. It’s up to you to make opportunities happen. Connecting with artists in person is incredibly valuable – online connections only go so far. When you’re face to face, the action happens faster and greater confidence is built.
Below are a few ideas to offer artists:
- Offer to remix a track for free. If they are impressed the door will open. One of my current production gigs came after I gave an artist my honest (and not-so-kind) opinion of their tracks, and then I offered to make a new version of another track.
- Be up front and honest. Suggest what you would do and how you would do it. If there are things you can’t deliver, say so. Not every situation calls for on-the-job training – it’s often better to get someone who’s great at shooting video or recording drums instead of doing it yourself, poorly.
- Find ways to add value to your services. For example, find a way to get a cheap or free studio, or know places where the artist can perform. Connections are key – another reason why it is important to know your local scene. If you don’t have all the answers, always be willing to find solutions.
Internships and Job Opportunities
Another way producers gain experience on their way to becoming professional artists is spending time at record labels and production/music houses.
Record labels still exist, and the classic coffee serving and reply to email internship jobs still exist as well. Some pay a stipend, while others pay nothing at all besides the experience of being immersed in the record industry. This approach is still worth something to consider – having access to people who make and sell music can give you an edge. Having a foot in the door can lead to very unexpected places. Becoming associated with a label will also give you a serious reality check about how the business actually runs. This experience can be an invaluable education. Today, labels are so squeezed for profits that any label still in business (except those funded by rich people as hobbies) is lean and efficient. My old label, Six Degrees Records, is run by seasoned professionals who have an enormous amount of experience to share. Contrary to much that is said, most indie and small labels are run by music lovers whose primary goal is to get great music out into the world. However, like most things in life, money is a corrupting influence, and sadly music is no different.
As an intern, you can see what works, gain valuable hands-on experience, and meet like-minded people. A friend of mine started as an intern at an indie label, which led to a job organizing audio files into genres, which then lead to being a music director at a branding firm. He now lives in Europe and works for Spotify, while writing, producing, and DJing.
Video Game Companies
Working for a video game company as a composer, musician, sound designer or an audio engineer to create audio that drives the game and enhances the player experience is another great music career option. Some of the bigger video game companies have their own audio department. The video game industry is rapidly expanding, and there is an increasing demand for unique sound effects, soundtracks, and dialog for video games. Another great advantage that comes with working at a video game company is the access to new and innovative technologies.
There are music houses that do nothing but crank out music for TV and other types of advertisement. These full-time jobs are rare to come by and are mostly staffed by word-of-mouth. The budgets for ad music have also been squeezed; many companies now outsource to independent composers. If this work interests you, go pound the pavement and try to meet the boss. I am sometimes contacted by music houses to submit a demo for a bid they are making to a client. Composers used to get paid for submitting demos, but not so much anymore. Nowadays, the money only comes if the client buys your music. I made contacts for this type of work by sending out demo reels to every music house I could find.
Film And Television
Getting work in film and television is often about relationships. Ultimately, it is the director who chooses the composer – so get out there and meet some directors! There are hundreds of music licensing houses that service film and television. This is a whole subject in itself. Here’s an article to get you started.
About Michael Emenau
Michael Emenau (McGill 1989, BAC Music, classical percussion, composition) has worked professionally as a vibraphonist/percussionist, composer, producer, remixer, and arranger for 25 years. He plays diverse genres such as Jazz, Rock, Drum & Bass, Salsa, Techno, Country, Hindustani, Gospel, Baroque, Jewish, Film, and Orchestral music. During this time he has recorded on over 180 CD’s, composed music for eight films, toured internationally, and lived on three continents. His newest project SUSSEX is a mélange of Roots, Ragtime, and American reaching #4 on the Euro-American charts as well as charting in the top 30’s on the US Roots Radio Report (tracking all independent albums).
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