Finding and working with a producer

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As an independent hip-hop artist, you are probably regularly consulted with the fact that working with a producer is potentially more beneficial for your career than it might be to avoid one and not have a producer on your team. Below we outline the role a producer plays in your career as well as finding one, establishing a connection and arranging compensation as well as legal matters.

What do Producers Do?

Basically, a producer will work in the background and help you manage various aspects of your career. Producers can be far more than just someone who makes beats. They can help you forge relationships, network, even market and design features to help you sell your image and brand and get you noticed.

Producing Yourself VS Having a Producer

Producing for yourself has its benefits, which include the following;

  • Keeping a larger portion of income received
  • Take full credit
  • Keep full creative control
  • You only have to keep an eye on yourself and your own efforts

However, working with a producer will ensure that you;

  • Leverage your time so you can work on other aspects of your career such as writing, recording, performing, etc..
  • Can have someone handle the recording budget, bring in other musicians suitable for your project,
  • Have another set of creative lenses through which to view your work, etc
  • Can use their name to help market the project if they are a household name or have a large following.

Finding Producers

In this day and age there are a lot of ways to find someone who you think can really help move things along with your career. You can start with some of the following websites:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Soundclick
  • Soundcloud
  • Youtube
  • Freelance sites like Freelancer or eLance
  • Hip-hop specific forums
  • Google search

If you would prefer to meet your potential producer in person from the get go, you can do so through music conferences, college, concerts, beat battles, family or musical acquaintances (artists you’ve worked with before etc…). Pretty much anywhere you feel you can findaspiring musicians or well established professionalsof a similar or complimentary musical taste to yours.

Establishing a Relationship

Once you’ve approached someone you feel is compatible with your style and working patterns: then comes the process of establishing a healthy working relationship. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to outline what roles each person can play by outliningthe different tasks everyone will oversee throughout the projects working timeline. These can range from:

  • making or finding instrumentals,
  • deciding on arrangements
  • writing,
  • handling features or external musicians,
  • How and where to record

However,more often than not these can tend to get mixed up to suit a particular part of the working process which is fine as long as this is kept to a minimum. Try and establish each other’s individual strengths and weaknesses beforehand as learning these through experience alone can make for some expensive and painful lessons which in some ways can be avoided through prior acknowledgement and honest reflection.Now you simply need to get in the studio and start working.

Arranging Compensation

Compensation can take the form of the following: Upfront payments. This would simply mean paying a predetermined fee for a producer’s services or the rights to use their instrumentals. This fee can be final, meaning nothing more is owed to the producer in the form of back end money. This is typical of ‘work for hire’ situations or when licensing royalty free instrumentals. Establish what you can afford for instrumentals from the get go. A full mixtape or album worth of production (about 8 to 12 tracks) can range anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars.

In contrast, if upfront payments are currently not an option you can exchange equity on a project for one’s services. Equity can often be split right down the middle if only two people were involved in the creation process. This basically means you own half the song and the producer owns the other half. Equity has the draw of a potential lifelong income or just a much bigger paycheck once the project has been released and is in distribution. This is possible through publishing, and monies collected from publishing are paid out as royalties to all parties who own equity in the song. To establish who owns what portion of a song, split sheets should always be kept handy and filled out either prior to writing and recording a track or right after. Both forms of compensation would be ideal but it is ultimately up to you as the artist (especially if you control the purse strings) to decide depending on your budget, the size of your fan base which and the earning potential of the project/song.


Dealing with agreements

At the very least, before any work is done an agreement regarding the nature of the working relationship and potential earnings should be put into writing and signed by all parties involved to avoid future misunderstandings or to help resolve/mitigate any quarrels that may arise once the ball gets rolling.

The legalities of being a musician can appear to be extremely muddied (often on purpose) but a bit of research will go a long way and is certainly worth the effort.In no particular order, some of the things to look out for are distribution rights, ownership rights (copyright, publishing percentages, etc), sample clearance, and compensation. Unless you have a sizeable and up to date knowledge on the different sections and the terminology that make up such an agreement, asking someone you feel is more experienced in that particular field or a music lawyer can work to your advantage. Ultimately, coming up with an agreement comes down to what the parties involved would like stipulated in writing in as clear a format as possible. A few resources to better understand how this all works are, All you need to know about the music business by Donal S Passman, portions of How music works by David Byrne, (music & music business website).

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