A female music producer sits in front a keyboard and computer

What is Music Production?

1 September 2022
Posted in: Performing Arts

A Brief History of Music Production & What it Means Now.

What is Music Production?

The definition of what people refer to as “Music Production” has evolved somewhat over the decades.

A way to sum up what the term “Music Production” has encompassed over the last 6 decades could fairly be described as: Someone who delivers a musical project in technical and artistic terms to a deadline.

Related: Overview of City Lit Music Production courses

What has been a Music Producer's role up to the present?

The 50’s

In the 50’s- 60’s being a Music Producer would often involve someone who was mainly a financier with no musical background but who nevertheless possessed a canny instinct of what current consumer tastes were and knew who to hire to translate the producers’ vision of what they thought a successful record should sound like to sell in large numbers.

If their instincts were right often enough to get them enough hits, (and bank balance), to beat the competition, they were a “Producer”. If they got it wrong and lost enough money, bailiffs would carry their sofa out the front door!


Music Production Courses at City Lit

Black and image. The silhouette of a music producer sitting in facing away from the camera. A computer with studio equipment in the background.Black and image. The silhouette of a music producer sitting in facing away from the camera. A computer with studio equipment in the background.

The 60’s

The charts of the 50’s and early 60’s were generally more melody and lyric led — the echoes of music hall and musicals that had come before it. But as the post war generation matured into their teens, rhythm and blues seeped into the charts of the mid-late 60’s and early 70’s. With that the demand shifted from musicians who could sight read to keep production costs low, to musicians who could also play with the elusive “feel” that made records the youth wanted to dance to.

The definition of a successful producer now encompassed having the telephone numbers of those few players who could reliably deliver “Feel”, (rhythmically hypnotic /great background recordings drums/bass/etc.) and deliver hits to the lead “star” singers signed to the label and beat the competition.

They also needed to work with the Artist Relations (A&R) agent of the record company to decide what songs to record that would make a hit more likely. Barry White started off in this job before he became a multi-million selling singer and “Producer”. Quincy Jones, an ex-big band horn player, then arranger, then producer who produced Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” and “Thriller” is also an example of this pedigree.

This era of production, while still responsive to the latest technology, was generally still more weighted towards curating performances as opposed to leading with the latest equipment.

Quincy Jones, engineer/mixer Bob Swedien, Michael Jackson, Steve Lukather and George Martin in the studio 1982Quincy Jones, engineer/mixer Bob Swedien, Michael Jackson, Steve Lukather and George Martin in the studio 1982
Quincy Jones, engineer/mixer Bob Swedien, Michael Jackson, Steve Lukather and George Martin in the studio 1982

The 70’s & 80’s

With the advent of the 70’s and 80’s, there were huge technological advances of the instruments and recording equipment, as well as an evolution to a more modern sound. A successful producer was now expected to have a hands-on working knowledge of this fast-changing equipment and know how to deliver these modern sounds that evolved every couple of months, or have the phone number of, and afford to pay someone, who did.

(Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, creators of “Video Killed the Radio Star”. These artists had very hands-on knowledge of the groundbreaking new technology newly available in music production at that time and it featured heavily in engaging new audiences with captivating new sounds. It was Trevor Horn and Steve Lipton who produced Grace Jones’ “Slave to the Rhythm”, which incorporated cut and paste looping techniques for the rhythm section and new synthesisers such as the Roland JX8P for the pads).

Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, creators of “Video Killed the Radio Star”.Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, creators of “Video Killed the Radio Star”.
Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, creators of “Video Killed the Radio Star”.

The 90’s

From the 90’s to the present, technology has profoundly influenced the role and what a Music Producer’s does. With technology playing much more of a leading role.

With DJ culture, a single person would choose from a selection of weekly releases, what records they played to large audiences. This was a fast-changing culture which the slow-moving record industry would take a year to catch up to. By the time Radio and the Record Industry figured out what was “happening”, it was already over, and the scene had moved on. 

The rise of sampling

Being a Music Producer had changed from a role which primarily curated live musical performers and performances on a recording, to a role which meant capturing the latest beats with a sampler — a recorder which captured short musical phrases, i.e., your favorite drumbeat from the intro of a song you liked and making a catchy dance propelled beat for someone to rap or sing to.

With the advent of “Public Enemy’s 1987 release “Yo! Bum Rush the Show”, this form of Music Production. was now moving into the mainstream It was no longer about recording groups of musical performers performing songs, ( though this was still going on in other genres), but the spearpoint of innovation in Music Production was now about keeping up with ever evolving fast paced modern sounds that, thanks to technology, were now in a race to out-do itself every fortnight and was becoming ever more affordable to the masses, which brings us to…. Now.

Music production today

The way “Music Production” is defined now can encompass all the facets of the last six decades, and often involves a bit of all of them. But due to dwindling revenues in the music industry generally, it is most commonly perceived as a small number, often 1-3 people, generating/capturing music on their computer to realize a musical artistic vision.

There are great advantages to this technology, (i.e., much quicker, and cheaper to experiment with and edit ideas, to self-publish without being edited, promote, etc.) The downsides can be a reduced emphasis on more performance-oriented recordings honed by touring and the hard deadlines that can sometimes be a friend to finishing projects in a timely manner.

In our current time, digital technology has afforded us the opportunity to create music out of pre-recorded musical phrases, or “Loops”, that afford musically non-trained individuals the opportunity to experiment with creating original musical compositions/soundscapes by conjoining/colliding pre-recorded “Loops” in ways that create an original piece of music that can sound unrecognizable from the pieces it was made from, (in exactly the same way someone can make a visual collage by cutting photographs into fragments with scissors and gluing them together to make a completely original image from various unrelated fragments of pre-existing photographs).

In summary, every facet of music creation is now at the fingertips of anyone with a computer. From those who are classically trained to those who don’t play an instrument but want to combine existing recordings to invent new sounds drawn from their imagination, music creation is now more available to the public than ever before.

Related: Music production: equipment advice

Who will enjoy Music Production?

Anyone who wants to explore how music is put together, composed, and realised in any genre can learn Music Production. Thanks to the new affordable technology, music creation is now accessible to everyone. 

An understanding of how music is produced gives a bird’s eye perspective on how music is made, from compositional arrangements, recording sound with a microphone, making the drumbeats to sound collage backgrounds.

Our “Introduction to Music Production” courses are designed introduce students to the most basic techniques of Music Production.

Do I need any qualifications or prioir knowledge?

You don't need to be a musician in the traditional sense of playing an instrument to learn Music Production. That's because these topics can be taught using libraries of pre-recorded sounds.

A course can accommodate anyone many different interests like:

  • recording a voice over pre-recorded backing tracks and edit them together for podcasts, (for YouTube broadcasts for example)
  • creating original sound collages out of pre-existing recordings, or
  • producing recordings made from a combination of sounds you record with a microphone and the use of VST instruments (software emulations of synthesizers real world instruments).

Recording Industry secrets: make professional sounding recordings

Production and recording techniques may at first seem beyond reach and intimidating. A Music Production course makes these vital production techniques accessible to you, with clear and easy to understand language and demonstrations, giving you the ability to vastly improve your recordings and realize your artistic vision.

If you want to learn how to make your recordings sound more professional, you can join our music production courses that explore all the production and recording techniques used in the Recording Industry. Our courses are designed to break down vital production techniques that may at first seem beyond reach and intimidating making them accessible to you, with clear and easy to understand language and demonstrations, giving you the ability to vastly improve your recordings and realize your artistic vision. 


Music Production Classes, From Beginner to Advanced

Our Music Production courses have something for everyone. Whether you want to learn advanced techniques to achieve professional sounding recordings or you want to enjoy and explore music recreationally and gain an understanding and appreciation of how your favorite music was made.

Browse our courses and book your place now.

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