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Become A Music Producer

Music Producers write, arrange, produce, and record songs, whether they’re shaping the sound of another Artist’s album or creating bAfro Hip Hop Music Beats For Saleeats or songs for their own projects. With the growth of home recording technology and boutique recording studios, many Producers find themselves pulling double or triple duty as Studio Owners and Sound Engineers, as does the Rattle Room’s Jaron Luksa. He says, “I am responsible for every aspect of my business and it’s definitely not all rock ‘n’ roll glory. A typical day for me starts with checking my Producer notes, prepping the studio and checking gear functionality. If something is broken, I’d rather have a fix or workaround figured out before anyone is in the space. Once the client shows up, I want my attention 100% on the Artist and the music creation process. Nothing else comes first. I usually work for about 10-12 hours with lots of ear and mental breaks worked in throughout the day. While on a break, I am usually attending to phone calls, emails, texts, social media and even accounting. There is a lot of work that goes into being a Producer outside of the studio such as attending rehearsals, meetings, writing sessions, and going out to shows. Social media has given me the ability to connect with more Artists then ever, but in-person interaction will never be replaced. Half of producing is the music, the rest is sales…and I am the product I push.”

Music Producers work with Recording Artists, Recording Engineers, Session Singersand Session Musicians, among others.


Production is an extremely competitive field, and advancement comes as a Producer builds and diversifies his or her skill set or works with more prestigious Artists. Luksa puts it this way. “Lots of little kids dream of being star athletes, but they’re more likely to win the lottery. The music industry has a similar statistical likelihood for Artists and all us production folks trying to reach the top. I think Producers need to be realistic about the current and evolving state of the music industry. The game has changed and you have to be more than just a Producer nowadays. So many of my peers not only produce, but play on records, write, engineer, DJ, program tracks or function as Artists themselves to pay the bills. You have to ask yourself the question, “what kind of records do I want to produce?” because you need to be in love with the work. There is no guaranteed financial success. Competition is crazier then ever and the current demand for free content doesn’t help. You need to pick this line of work because you refuse to do anything else.  It’s a hustle, and you are constantly looking for the next gig, even while working on a current project.“

Education & Training

“Yes, formal music education is a must (know the rules before you break ’em),” Luksa says. “This industry runs at lightning speed as far as technology goes, so learn the basics from trade schools, or music schools with recording arts/music engineering and production programs.  As you learn to use new gear or software, you can use that formal education as a platform to grow on. Next, apprentice with someone who is respected in the part of the industry you want to work in. You need to follow production trends and methods. Which, btw pretty much involves eating cereal and watching a stupid amount of YouTube videos on “how to” in pajamas.”

Experience & Skills

When it comes to necessary experience and skills, Luksa says, “there is no right path or specific skill set that will make you a great Producer. Some folks will get into producing by way of helping a friend record while playing/writing on said record, others will just be crushing tracks out of their bedroom and word gets around, while others might come to produce because they are engineering and start helping bands get through the tracking process. There is no one single magic solution to launching your career as a Producer. Play off your strengths and fake the rest!”

The two things that are essential are passion and a diverse skill set. He says, “As a Producer, I contribute with engineering, playing, writing, arranging and creative guru skills. I approach listening to songs, bands and Artists from a fan’s perspective. I aurally digest music CONSTANTLY. If a great track comes on, I get a rush of dopamine from my brain. I truly am a music junkie. That being said, I think it comes down to my tastes and how I am able to listen to music like a multi track machine, focusing in on each element at will. I can objectively give feedback to the Artist, regardless of what I would do or my musical influences. I try and produce according to that project’s genre and most importantly who the Artist is artistically and how I think fans might react.


So what kind of person would be successful as a Producer? Luksa says the ideal candidate is “organized, assertive, artistic and a great communicator. Someone who can lead the pack and rule with love, even when getting evil with some Norwegian death metal band. In the studio or rehearsals, Artists look to you for answers, so you need to be thick skinned and even-keeled. Artists bring enough drama, insecurity and emotion into the sessions, no need to add your baggage, so keep your BS and ego at home.“


Working as a Producer can be time-consuming, with late hours, long days in the studio, and a constant scramble to get paid work—at least when getting started. Luksa advises, “When you first start, take any gig you can at the drop of a hat. Date with the significant other planned? Guess what, canceled. Going snowboarding with friends…nope taking the call. It will suck at first, but the real people who support your dream will understand and love you regardless. Let other Producers [be the ones] being flakes or screwing up, [this can] be a good opportunity to prove yourself. If you become dependable, clients will start calling you first. Half the battle is just being the individual to get the job done in a timely manner. After a few years, you can start booking yourself some normal hours. I try to work from 10am – 10pm and take the weekends off, but it doesn’t always work out that way. The associated stress isn’t for the faint of heart, but it does have great perks. Working in the music industry immerses you in an environment of art and culture, allows traveling or vacationing whenever and however much you want. I always have backstage access and attend lots of fun events by invite. Ultimately this environment will change and shape your future, and if you are any good, you will affect the musical environment around you.”


So how does an aspiring Producer land that first gig? Obviously it isn’t as straightforward as submitting an application or a resume. It’s about taking advantage of networking and learning opportunities. Luksa says, “A few years back while I was still in school, Butch Vig was quietly standing backstage at Avalon in Boston (he had performed with Garbage). I was working production but snuck over and kindly asked this same question you posed here. Butch told me that he and some friends got a place and gear to track some punk bands and make records. The rule was that bands supplied beer as payment. It worked because a lot of bands showed up.”

Luksa started gaining experience early on. He says, “I attended Berklee’s Music Production and Engineering program, interned with a bunch of Live Sound Engineersand was offered a job mixing monitors for a Live Nation venue in Boston (Axis). I think [for] my 10th show, I ended up mixing monitors for a Bon Jovi acoustic show/live radio broadcast. . . .My interaction with the band and Jon was professional and I didn’t screw up. After the show I realized, ‘I know what I am doing…I can hang!’ For the next 6 years, I was mixing live and interacting with all these bands on a nightly basis.  After the shows I mixed, I would approach the best local bands opening for the national headliners and ask them to take me into the studio to make records (I told you… it’s a hustle and I figured out my angle). I became part of a scene and networked my ass off to find clients who would pay me to go into the studio with them. I guess that’s how I broke in…? That was a good 12 years ago….Fast forward, I have toured around the world as a Live Sound Engineer and Tour Manager for some amazing Artists and built a studio, The Rattle Room, where I produce and engineer all kinds of music. Oh, and I still cruise on a tour bus and do the Rock Star thing once in a while.”


Luksa says, “I’d say starting salary is hard to nail down….In bigger cities and music industry hotspots, the money is a little better for a per track rate…but the more you work and the more “at bats” you get, the more likely you are to have a record “make it” and end up with more business. When looking at ways you can earn money as a Producer, take my advice and get paid up front! Create a simple “Producer’s Agreement” with a Lawyer that you can edit and use over and over. (It’ll be the best $500 you ever spent.) Don’t waste time with points and backend troubles, you won’t see that cash anyway. If you help write songs or hooks, figure out your writers and/or publishing split for that song and confirm it via email with other Writers until a formal split sheet is created and signed. That is the backend you should be concerned with.”

Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations

Producers aren’t unionized, but networking and community are vital for success. Luksa advices fledgling Producers to “register with a PRO [Publishing Rights Organization] so you are prepared for writing and publishing royalty collection. Go out to shows and become part of your local scene, make friends and create contacts with Session Musicians, other Engineers and Producers.  Keep that part grassroots.”

Online, he says, “there are so many resources out there, it just depends on the music and scene you want to be a part of. Stick to where your clients might hang their interactive selves or follow other Record Producers or Engineers you respect. Always follow trends within your project’s marketing demographic via Billboard or other reporting. You don’t have to buy those records, but give them a listen. I really digSound On Sound, Tape Op, Mix Magazine, and Gear Slutz forums (especially when I have software or hardware questions).”

Getting Started
  • “Find an Artist and start, even if you have to do it for free. Trial by fire is the best way to get your hands dirty. You will learn more from your mistakes than your successes. This applies to not only creating the music, but the business aspect as well.”
Gem Questions
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?

“Be yourself and go with your gut. This is art. It should be fun, inspiring and just fly by the seat of your pants crazy. Go make real music!!! If it catches on like Amy Winehouse, Black Keys, Jack White, Adele, Liam Bailey, etc., then you actually served a purpose in producing real art and we need more of that. Back in the day, we had music industry gurus that decided what was good music and what people should listen to on the radio. Unfortunately those folks have all left this earth or stopped making records. Even worse, they have been replaced by marketing and accounting personnel.”

What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?

“We don’t need more Producers making tracks for pop bands. The sounds have become so uniform, I can’t even hear a voice or any resemblance of artistry on the track. . . to be honest, I can’t even distinguish who it is sometimes. If your plan is to make “hits,” realize that you are making the Coca Cola of music. It has to appeal to the largest audience possible and ends up pretty bland. That’s not to say that there isn’t good pop music, but the pop market is so oversaturated. No one buys that music anyhow and the record companies have had to shift how they make money. The big record companies serve the purpose of content creation for commercial applications, selling movies, soda, cars, and other products. It’s just not my bag because I care about the music more than the money. I’m not trying to put down the folks who do this work, I just want to inspire more people to produce out of love, not for the bling.”

What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?

“’What is the biggest personal reward in producing?’ Seeing or hearing your name mentioned in association with a record you believed in and loved makes it all worthwhile. Everyone who works a “normal” job and receives a paycheck every week also craves recognition for a job well done. We are human and full of emotional needs, regardless of the situation.”

 What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?

“Who is my favorite Producer or who do I look up to? Rick Rubin. The dude is a big weirdo, but he launched a hip-hop scene, produced true gems like Tom Petty’sWildflowers, created a record label that supported huge acts like Slayer and System Of A Down, revived careers of bands like The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Johnny Cash, Black Sabbath and Metallica. I feel he is one of the last Producer/label/A&R people that can create with a sense of artistic integrity and still achieve commercial success.”

If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?


Nigerian Rap: The First Decade (1981 – 1991)

We look at Nigerian rap released on vinyl records between 1981 and 1991. The first hip-hop record to achieve widespread popularity in Nigeria was “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang, in 1979. Thirty years later, hip-hop is the premier pop music of Nigeria, dominating radio play as well as the sales charts, feted in megabudget videos, glossy magazines and glitzy award shows. When the average Nigerian kid decides to get into the music biz, the first impulse is not to grab a guitar or a talking drum, but to pick up a microphone.

It was a long way from there to here, though. For years, the earliest attempts at homegrown rap were ridiculed, resisted or downright reviled by the mainstream. And in some cases, perhaps, rightfully so: they were often awkward, overly imitative, fatuous. But they also laid the foundation for the 2Faces, the 9ices, the D’Banjes, Ruggedmans, Modenines and the rest of today’s Naija hip-hop superstars. So here’s our salute to some of the groundbreakers in the first decade of Nigerian hip-hop.

1. Ronnie – “The Way I Feel Rap” (1981)

“Ronnie” was Ron Ekundayo, a highly popular Lagos nightclub DJ, television presenter and on-air personality on the very hip 97.6 Radio Nigeria 2. Inspired by the success of music superstar Kris Okotie, Ekundayo decided to add “recording artist” to his burgeoning resume in 1981. The album The Way I Feel featured mostly Okotie-esque pop and dance tunes, but the title track was a bold and unprecedented stab at the new disco rappin’ trend. Ronnie never recorded a follow-up to The Way I Feel, but his place in history is secure as the man who made the first rap record in Nigeria (and, very possibly, in Africa).

Dizzy K Falola
2. Dizzy K. – “Saturday Night Raps” (1982)

Teenaged “Dizzy” Kunle Falola was regarded as little more than another Michael Jackson imitator when he first arrived on the scene in 1982, but over the course of the 80s he would release some of the most ingeniously funky records ever to come out of Nigeria. He was also an early adopter in the rap race, with this disco-ready offering from his debut LP Excuse Me Baby.

3. Dili I. Jukson – “Rapp and Checkout Music” (c. 1985)
Like most of the early Nigerian rappers, Dili I. Jukson’s rhyme style prioritizes cadence over content but his laidback flow is enough to set the party off on this Beat Street-influenced joint.

Mams & Hart
4. Mams & Hart – “Pump” (1982)

Gloria Hart was an American singer who lived and worked in Nigeria in the early 80s, touring with Nigerian pop star Onyeka Onwenu and coaching other artists on vocal techniques. Mambo Kristo was a session drummer who played on several Nigerian records during the same period. In 1982, they got together to record an album of glossy disco numbers, with Gloria kicking a few rapid-fire party rhymes on “Pump.” Not exactly a rap record, but a pointer of things to come…

Oby Onyioha
5. Oby Onyioha – “Break It” (1984)

In 1981, canary-voiced singer Oby Onyioha sent shockwaves through the Nigerian music industry with I Want To Feel Your Love—a glossy pop and disco LP helmed by producer Lemmy Jackson. When Onyioha and Jackson reteamed three years later for Break It, the album didn’t fare too well with the mainstream audience but the emerging hip-hop community embraced the title track and its music video, which tipped its hat to breakdancing and sneaker culture.

Lexy Mella
6. Rapmaster Lexy Mella – “On The Air Rap” (1985)

Lexy Mella confidently anointed himself “Rapmaster” on the cover of his debut LP even though he didn’t rap very much (or very well) on the record. He did, however, sport a pretty convincing “hip-hop” image, complete with jheri curl and JPS gear (as in “John Player Special”— the John Player cigarette brand became synonymous with hip-hop during the era due to the company’s sponsorship of an annual, national breakdance competition).

7. Super Doeths – “Super Doeths” (1985)

The duo Super Doeths described their sound as “Afro-funk,” but showed a keen interest in the burgeoning hip-hop scene, quoting Whodini’ “Five Minutes of Funk” and namechecking Run-DMC in the “Sucker MCs”-inspired eponymous theme song. Produced by legendary rock guitarist Felix “Feladey” Odey.

Kingsley Bucknor
8. Kingsley Bucknor – “You Gotta Keep On Luvin’ Me (Hot Extended Re-Mix Version)” (1985)

Bucknor’s forte was really slick boogie music rather than hip-hop. Still, there was still enough crossover between the two scenes in ‘85 to make this one a surefire floor rocker for the b-boys.

IC Rock
9. I.C. Rock – “Advice/Oge Chi Ka Nma” (1985)

Despite the popularity of social commentary records like Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s “The Message,” most Nigerians viewed rap mostly as mindless party chanting. The stern moral imperaitives of I.C. Rock’s “Advice,” segueing into the Igbo language “Oge Chi Ka Nma” (translating as “God’s time is the best time”) in a way represents a nod towards more “conscious” rap.

Mc Dormett
10. McDormett – “Let’s Hear the Funk” (1986)

This offering from singer Ernest McDormett Ofonedu indicates the mid-decade trend towards digital production sounds and the increasing association of “funk” with a more machine-like sonic qualities. The emphasis would drift further and further from live musicians and more towards the craft of the producer and the use of the studio as a musical instrument in itself.

Mike Umoh
11. Mike Umoh – “Do It” (c. 1985)

Mike Umoh was the drummer in popular soft rocker Bongos Ikwue’s Groovies band in the 1970s before embarking upon a solo career. His biggest hit was the 1981 discolypso smash “Early in the Morning” but he also tried his hand at reggae, funk, pop, gospel and here, rapping. Most of his rhymes seem to be plagiarized but he makes up for the lack of lyrical originality with an abundance of exuberance!

Timi Gawi
12. Timi Gawi “3” – “Boxing Rapping Show” (c. 1984)

Pop singer Timi Gawi “3”’s rhymes are straight outta nursery school, he doesn’t have much of anything one might describe as a “flow,” and it’s not easy to figure out the connection between boxing and rapping in this show. Perhaps Timi’s concept of rap here derives less from hip-hop than from Muhammed Ali’s rhymed toasts and boasts?

Rick Asikpo
13. Rick Asikpo – “Beat Jam” (1986)

Richard Asikpo started his career while a student in Houston, Texas, fronting the funk band Afro-Fusion (which featured guitarist Charlie Singleton, who would soon find fame with Cameo). Upon returning to Nigeria, he continued to ply his distinctive synth-infused funk. “Jam” was a groove-in-progress that he revisited over the course of three albums, giving it a hip-hop twist on this final installment.

14. Judy Nackix – “If I Have the Time” (c. 1986)
By the beginning of the second half of the 80s, boogie funk was out; electro-funk and freestyle were in. The mysterious singer known as Judy Nackix blended electro sounds with Igbo folk melodies on his sole LP Wants Some Body, and threw in a gruff rap “for the new generation… for the new generation… for the new generation and the youth of today!”

15. Gee Tagbas – “Rap Dazz” (1986)

The breakdance craze was fading too, but Gee Tagbas’s “Rap Dazz” throws up one last hurrah for the b-boys. Gee’s rapping isn’t particularly coherent but works as an effective rhythmic complement to the dark electro groove.

Mustapha Amego
16. Mustapha Amego – “Lagos” (1990)

Mustapha Amego was the host of Sunday Rendezvous, the Soul Train-esque TV show that was de rigueur viewing for the new generation of Nigerian hip-hop and R&B fans in the late 1980s. “Lagos” features backing vocals by Alex Ibeh a.k.a. “Mr. Kool” of Sound on Sound*.

MC Skiddo
17. MC Skidd-O – “Message” (1992)

“MC Skidd-O” appears to be an incarnation of Skid Ikemefuna, original host of Sunday Rendezvous and its more popular offshoot, The Kessingsheen Hit Show. In a previous life, Skid played guitar in the 1970s rock band Grotto; these days he is a successful businessman and gospel music artist.

18. Emphasis – “Which One You Dey” (1991)

In our mind, “Which One You Dey?” by Emphasis—a trio composed of rappers Terry and Mouth MC and singer Junior—represented homegrown Nigerian hip-hop finally finding its own voice. Unlike most of their predecessors, Emphasis didn’t rely on barely-rhymed doggerel aping the rhythms and cadences of American old-school rap records, but instead presented a lucid narrative complete with plot, characterization and humor, delivered with a relaxed flow in pidgin English—the true language of Nigeria’s streets.

Up-and-coming young producer Kingsley Ogoro’s laidback afrosynthfunk enhanced the indigenous vibe. The 1991 “maxi-single” Big Deal! would be Emphasis’s sole release, but it set the template for all the Nigerian rap that came after it. (Ogoro went on to become one of the most highly regarded filmmakers in the Nigerian movie industry.)

19. Sound on Sound – “I’m African” (1988)

Sound on Sound was a group composed of Nigerian vocalists Mr. Kool, Ebony Laoye and Monica Omorodion, and Americans Troy “Jedi” Williams and Ron “Scratch” McBean. Sound on Sound’s 1988 LP Africa From Scratch (featuring the single “I’m African”) was, without a doubt, the first full-fledged rap album produced in Nigeria. And while at the time of its release a lot of us thought frontman Scratch was a mediocre MC who probably moved to Nigeria because he was too corny to make it in the States, we later learned that he’s actually unimpeachably credible, having played a pivotal role in the history of hip-hop before he came to Africa.

McBean—then known as “Ron the Mad Master Mixer”—originally formed Sound on Sound as a New Jersey DJ crew in the late 1970s. When Sugarhill Records boss Sylvia Robinson became intrigued by the growing hip-hop phenomenon and decided to put together a rap group to make a record, it was McBean who recommended that the record be built on Chic’s “Good Times” and who helped assemble the group, supervising the auditions of Guy “Master Gee” O’Brien and Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson.

The third slot in the Gang was filled by McBean’s cousin Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright, who was previously an MC in Sound on Sound. Sound on Sound Productions released a couple of singles in 1980, the best-remembered being “The Incredible Hump,” on Salsoul Records, but when they never really took off, McBean took off for Nigeria and formed a new incarnation of Sound on Sound.

We’d like to think that had we known of McBean’s incredible pedigree at the time, we might have given him a little more respect. But in ‘88, his style just sounded too elementary, too quaint, too old school for ears that were currently devouring Rakim, Chuck D and Slick Rick. In retrospect, it’s ironic to think that one of the facilitators of hip-hop as a recorded genre in America would also end up being one of the pioneers of its entrenchment on the African continent, so much props due to DJ Ron!