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What Is Music Production? Part 1 – Roles & Goals

Updated: Jun 26, 2019

How Many Music Professionals Does It Take To Screw In a Lightbulb?

In today's musical world, there are more options open to musicians than ever before. We have access to DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) where we are able to create our own small-scale project to full fledged professional music creation, recording, and mixing studios in our own homes. A DAW often offers MIDI capabilities, with other synthesis, and audio capabilities as well. (See my MIDI article for more on MIDI. An article on DAWs is coming soon.) We can even take our music creation, recording, and editing tools on the road with a laptop, a MIDI controller, and a USB microphone or to the stage with software such as Ableton Live. We can even use a smartphone or tablet with apps such as GarageBand for iOS. With all this freedom comes a lot of choices and decisions to make.

Every music composition, from a three-minute pop song to an 45-minute multiple movement symphony to a three-hour long film score, is made up of a lot of components. Sometimes there are many people working on a single piece; sometimes it is down entirely DIY by one dedicated musician. According to a 2017 article by, the average pop song in the 2010s has had four songwriters and six publishers. That's not even including the instrumentalists, singers, engineers, and other professionals to work together to bring that three-minute song to life! And, your favorite film score, there may be only one composer listed, but there are many, many people involved to assuring that the composer's musical ideas provide the appropriate mood for the scene. Check out Hans Zimmer's team of past and present and you will see many professionals, including 71 arrangers!

The following is a list (by no means exhaustive) of many of the roles that it takes to produce a piece of music for sheet music, recording, distribution, and/or live performance. Whether you are an inspiring or professional music, no doubt you have had some experience with more of these roles than you might think. I have divided the roles into four categories: the Creatives, the Engineers, Other Music Industry Professionals, and Even More Supporting Professionals. For our purposes, we will focus on the first three.

With today's technology, it is very possible to fulfill many of these roles yourself, however, a word of caution (to you as well as myself), it's important that we remember to step back and let our peers step in when needed. Know your strengths and use them to help fellow musicians as well. We are in this together.

A Note on Music and Computers

In music departments at many universities and colleges, there are often two departments that fall into the category of "music and computers." At my alma mater, we divided them into Computer Music (which I was in) and Audio Engineering. People from outside these departments would often ask what the difference was. After all, they would see us all clicking away on our Macs and creating amazing music. We even took many of the same classes, such as Acoustics or Synthesis Theory. We would explain the difference by saying that Computer Music is focused on the Creative side of music. (We worked in Logic Studio and other music creation softwares, while Audio engineers worked in ProTools/Avid. More on this when we discuss DAWs.) We were composers, performers, and researchers who were primarily interested in using the computer as a tool for generating musical content or understanding how computers and technology can be used to help others learn, understand music, or quantify the benefits of music in some way. While my classmates in Audio Engineering were focused on using computers and technology to capture the live, real-time experience of music.

I mention this because I think it illustrates how many of these roles do overlap, but there are unique roles that each of these professionals fulfills. It also shows that not every DJ is a producer, and not every producer is an engineer, and not every singer is a songwriter; although many musicians are a combination of those things. Again, it is important to note that all of these roles are important and all work together to create a finished product whether that be for commercial release, the concert hall, or simply to share with our family and friends.