Careers in Music, Film, and Digital Media: Producer

By Phill Powell

Among the various careers possible in the media business, one of the most difficult to fully understand is that of the producer. And that’s because a producer’s range of duties may be a lot broader than that of, say, a film director or a performing artist. A producer often wears many hats–some of them technical in nature and others that rely more on management expertise or “people” skills.

A “producer” does exactly what the term implies: he or she produces the final product, whether that is a completed film, a finished music track, or some other deliverable. It is the producer’s responsibility to make sure that a project gets done in a timely manner and that it is brought in on budget and within the original scope of the artist’s intentions.

A short list of legendary producers might include these guys:

Producer: Quincy Jones
Medium: Sound Recording
Masterpiece: Thriller (1982, Michael Jackson), “We Are the World” (1985)
Currently: About to release Soul Bossa Nostra, with tributes from Usher, Ludacris, Akon, Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, Jennifer Hudson and others.
Why He’s a Legendary Producer: Nobody’s been nominated for more Grammy Awards than veteran music producer Quincy Jones, who leads all other contenders with 79 total nods. And of those nominations, Jones took home Grammy gold 27 times. Over the years, he’s worked with a staggering list of talent: Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Eddie Van Halen, 2Pac Shakur, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Will Smith. Were that not enough, Jones was at the controls of Michael Jackson’s epic Thriller, reputed to be the best-selling album of all time, with estimated total sales of 110 million copies. He then went on to produce the star-studded “We Are the World,” which became the biggest-selling single of all time. He worked on two of Jackson’s other albums, too, not to mention a slew of other projects. In honor of his massive career, this year Quincy Jones will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame—which will come as a surprise to absolutely nobody.

Top-Producers-Clint-EastwoodStill tall in the saddle: Producer, director, actor, icon Clint Eastwood.

Producer: Clint Eastwood
Medium: Film
Masterpieces: Million Dollar Baby (2004), Play Misty for Me (1971), Unforgiven (1992), High Plains Drifter (1974)
Currently: Eastwood last graced the screen in 2012’s Trouble with the Curve. He is rumored to be in talks to direct singer Beyonce in a remake of the classic Hollywood oldie A Star is Born (which has already been filmed three times over the decades, once with Barbra Streisand).
Why He’s a Legendary Producer: Eastwood is still such a huge movie icon that it’s easy to overlook his many other accomplishments, which definitely include producing. Since movie star Eastwood started directing his own films with 1971’s shock-thriller masterpiece Play Misty for Me, he has acquired a reputation as a highly efficient film producer. Clint’s record of bringing films in on time and on budget (and often under budget, which is an ultimate rarity in Hollywood) is amazing, especially considering he’s also usually directing and acting in the same film he’s producing. There’s no limit to his energy, either; a pretty solid jazz pianist, Eastwood sometimes even composes the score for his films, as he did for the 2003 Oscar-winner Mystic River. He also flies his own helicopter, which he takes to the studio to avoid traffic jams.

Top-Producers-Phil-SpectorLegendary producer Phil Spector worked with some of Rock’s greatest, like John Lennon. These days, not so much.

Producer: Phil Spector
Medium: Hit Singles
Masterpieces: “Imagine” (John Lennon), “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (The Righteous Brothers), Let It Be (The Beatles), “River Deep – Mountain High” (Ike & Tina Turner)
Currently: Serving 19-to-life.
Why He’s a Legendary Producer: In a bizarre showbiz scandal, one of the greatest music producers of all time was found guilty in 2009 of second-degree murder and is now serving a 19 years-to-life term in prison. But at his brilliant peak during the ’60s and ’70s, Phil Spector was the ultimate music producer—recognized as a production genius, as validated through classic songs for groups like the Beatles, the Righteous Brothers and the Ramones. (One of his classics, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” has been credited as the song played most often on TV and radio in the U.S. during the entire 20th century.) Spector’s technique, nicknamed “The Wall of Sound,” was to cram the studio with as many musicians as possible. (His masterpiece, Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep – Mountain High,” featured 21 background vocalists, as well as 21 session musicians—including no less than four drummers.) Spector started when he was 17, scoring a Number One single as part of a singing trio. Soon he was producing. By the time he was 21, he was already a multimillionaire.

Producer: Woody Allen
Media: Film, Fiction, Stand-Up Comedy
Masterpieces: Annie Hall (1977), Midnight in Paris (2011)
Currently: Putting the final touches on his latest film, Blue Jasmine, which will star Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett and Louis C.K.
Why He’s a Legendary Producer: Like Eastwood, one-man dynamo Woody Allen shows no signs of slowing down as he approaches 80. He has been churning out one movie a year, nearly every year, since 1965. And although he’s not technically a producer, he runs his movies as if he were one. Also like Clint, Woody has great studio cred for his ability to bring in a great movie on time and within budget. In another Eastwood parallel, Allen is an excellent jazz musician, wailing on the clarinet each week in a New York jazz club as he has done for decades (like on the night in 1977 when his comedy masterpiece Annie Hall won the Best Picture Oscar, beating the hugely popular Star Wars). The late critic Roger Ebert described the filmmaker (who writes, directs and stars in his own productions) as a “treasure of the cinema.” He’s still funny, too: a 2004 Comedy Central ranking of stand-up comics placed Woody Allen as the fourth best of all time.

Top-Producers-Glimmer-TwinsStudio masters Mick Jagger and Keith Richards make up “The Glimmer Twins,” the Rolling Stones’ production team.

Producing Team: The Glimmer Twins
Medium: Sound Recording
Masterpiece: Some Girls (1978), Tattoo You (1981)
Currently: Packing the house while on another North American tour. Tickets for the Stones’ recent London show sold out within three minutes.
Why They’re Legendary Producers: Better known as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, “The Glimmer Twins” are the nucleus of the Rolling Stones’ production team. They started producing the band’s albums with 1974’s It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll and for seven years, they were the group’s only producers. Together, they’ve cranked out amazing hit singles (“Start Me Up,” “Shattered,” “Miss You,” etc.) and even now, they still co-produce, although it’s usually with the assistance of a studio ace like Don Was. (They also produced Pete Tosh’s ’78 reggae record Bush Doctor.) The nickname dates back to 1969, when the pair (along with their lady friends of that time) took a vacation cruise. Mick and Keith were spotted on deck by an older, English couple who weren’t exactly sure who the Stones were, leading the wife to ask them to give them a hint to their identity (“just give us a glimmer”). The boys liked the name and kept it.

Become a Legendary Producer
Are you interested in learning how to become a film or music producer? Digital Media Academy can show you how, when you attend one of DMA’s tech camp locations. If you’re interested in becoming a film producer, DMA has you covered with cool courses like its DMA Studios: Film Production camp, which shows you the entire film production process from scripting and planning a production to executing the shooting and wrapping the production. And if music’s your thing, DMA’s Digital Audio, Music & Beat Production camp can teach you everything you need to know to start planning your own master jams. Courses are geared according to age and experience level and are held on some of America’s greatest and most prestigious college campuses. Produce something from this summer vacation…at DMA.