Illustration: Franco Égalité
Being a great music producer isn’t just about having the creativity, skills, and technical know-how.
It’s also about navigating the music industry and finding your place in it—and at the core of this journey is collaboration. Very few renowned producers work entirely by themselves, so your success as a music producer can rely, in part, on how you work with others, how you add value to collaborative projects, and how you carry yourself in the studio.
If you’re ready to go beyond making music by yourself and elevate your creative process in ways that lie outside of the DAW, this article is for you—below are eight tips for how to succeed as a music producer when working with other people.
1. Build a network
Producing music is a collaborative effort. Even producers who have mastered every possible skill don’t tend to do it all by themselves. For one, their time is better spent doing what they’re best at and delegating other areas. More importantly, when musicians come together and contribute the one thing they’re best at, the end result ends up being much more innovative, rich, and polished than anything any one of them would have created on their own.
For this reason, a great music producer should have a network of people they can work with. This can include other producers, instrumentalists, singers, songwriters, sound engineers, and anyone else that can contribute their skills.
Building this network can take time, but it’s absolutely worth it. Whenever you need help or think of something that could take your song to the next level, you’ll have a circle of people you can turn to. Similarly, these people can reach out to you whenever they need your unique set of skills or know someone else who does, providing you with a steady stream of new opportunities and connections.
2. Be professional
Collaborating with fellow musicians can feel like spending time with good friends, and that’s not at all a bad thing. However, it doesn’t mean that you don’t still need to act and treat others with professionalism.
This can mean simple things like responding to emails in a timely manner, arriving at the studio on time, being reliable, and practicing good manners. More generally speaking, acting with professionalism means exhibiting emotional intelligence, respecting other people’s time and talent, and giving your best to the project for the benefit of everyone involved.
When you act with professionalism, you hold yourself and your work to the highest standards. This sets you up for positive, efficient, and productive relationships, which, in turn, allows you and your collaborators to create your best work.
3. Communicate clearly
When working with others, whether in-person or virtually, having good communication skills is the number one thing that will help you succeed as a producer.
You and your collaborator(s) may be coming into the relationship with vastly different experiences, ideas, expectations, and goals. You then have to work together to make sure everyone is on the same page. This means clearly conveying your own thoughts, actively listening to others, and coming up with solutions that will help you reach both your common and individual goals.
At every step in the production process, try to find opportunities to ‘sync up’ with your partner or team. You can do this by asking them how they feel about your progress so far, letting them know which milestones you’re hoping to hit next and when, and asking them if they have any feedback.
Being proactive in this way will help the project run smoothly and keep everyone happy, motivated, and inspired. If you’re ever working with someone whose personality clashes with yours, this can also help avoid any misunderstandings or hurt feelings.
4. Stay adaptable
As a producer, you likely have your favorite set of tools and your own process. This is great and can often save you a lot of time. However, when you’re working with other people, it’s also important to be adaptable.
You may come into a new studio and face software or equipment you don’t normally work with. You may come across an opportunity to work in a genre of music you’ve never produced before. Maybe you end up working with someone who has their own preferred way of doing things and refuses to do it any other way. Or maybe you get a text from your bass player, saying they’ve had an emergency and need to pull out of the project.
In all of these situations, it will serve you well to remain flexible and adapt to whatever situation you find yourself in. Stay true to what you know when you can, but also be prepared to throw it all out the window sometimes.
5. Be a team player
Another key aspect of working with other people is being a team player. When it comes to making music, this means prioritizing the finished song, rather than worrying about how much of it you can take credit for.
If someone else has a great idea, don’t ignore it just because it doesn’t fit the vision you originally had. Stay open-minded, flexible, and appreciative of other people’s efforts. In the same vein, stay open to feedback from others without taking it personally.
Sometimes, as a producer, you may also need to take the lead in bringing out the best in your teammates. If someone isn’t very confident in their ideas or skills, you can help by offering words of encouragement and pushing them to try new things.
Remember that you’re working together to create a song that you can all be proud of, so it will take a team effort.
6. Stay organized
Regardless of where you are in your career as a music producer, it’s important to treat it with the same level of responsibility as you would a full-time job or business.
This means having great project management skills and staying organized in order to finish each project successfully. You need to set goals, make plans for how you’ll reach them, keep track of deadlines, create contracts, maintain an effective filing system, and keep your finances in order.
All these administrative tasks may feel tedious and unnecessary, but making time for them will help you work more efficiently, leave you more focused on the creative aspects of the job, and make it easier to collaborate with others.
7. Stay disciplined
There are probably times when you feel incredibly inspired and excited to get into the studio. However, there are probably also times when you lose motivation, passion for a project, or focus when trying to meet a deadline. Successful producers are able to deliver the same quality of work under both of those conditions.
This means staying disciplined and putting in time in the studio even when you really don’t want to. It means staying focused and patient, giving each song the time and attention that it needs even if you’ve lost interest in it in the moment.
This discipline is absolutely critical to master, especially when you’re working with and producing songs for other artists. It’s no longer just about you—they’re also putting their success in your hands.
8. Don’t stop learning
Even the most experienced and skilled producers consider themselves life-long learners. In an industry that’s always changing and evolving, you can’t afford to remain stagnant.
With every new project, try to learn something from the people you’re working with. Listen to new music to keep up with trends, try genres you don’t normally listen to, take courses to fill gaps in your skillset, or see if you can shadow a more experienced producer.
Lastly, be sure to stay on top of news about new software, equipment, tools, and techniques. There’s always something new coming out that has the potential to transform your music to new heights. Continuing to learn and keeping your skills up to date will make you a much more desirable collaborator, and will help you create better music.
Did you find any of these tips surprising? Do you have any other advice on how to effectively collaborate with others in and outside of the studio? Let us know in the comments!
Dive deeper into these topics with Kenny Beats’ perspective on networking and collaboration:
October 20, 2021