The Leadership Skills of a Music Producer


Essential Question

How do successful music producers practice positive leadership skills?


Have you ever wondered what goes into creating a successful album? Or, how an artist writes a song on acoustic guitar that somehow becomes a fully orchestrated pop hit? Almost always, a successful recording is the result of a team effort.

There are dozens of ways a songwriter can funnel a song from her brain to the airwaves. She might work with other composers, lyricists, and arrangers to craft and finely tune the song. Then, when recording, she may employ any number of extra musicians to add instruments or vocals. Engineers are required to record all those instruments, and later to “mix” them into a final product. Artists, photographers and designers must create a “look” for the recording package that complements the artist and music. And, perhaps most importantly, someone will need to manage the entire process, guiding all team members toward a unified aesthetic and timely completion. That someone, most often, is the “producer.”

A successful music producer will see the potential of the artists with whom they work, have a vision for how to best reach the public with the artists’ music, and, more importantly, a plan regarding the steps required to do it. The producer may take on many roles, such as choosing a recording studio, gathering ideas, helping to compose and arrange the music, selecting musicians to play on a track, coaching the artist, and leading the recording session. The producer can function as a boss, a coach, a teacher, a colleague, or any combination of the above. But being a music producer rarely just means telling people what to do. A successful producer is aware of each team member’s strengths and weaknesses, and works with each to inspire their best work. In other words, a successful music producer is a successful leader.

In this lesson, students are introduced to two of the most well-known producers in music history: Quincy Jones and George Martin. By examining Jone’s relationship with Michael Jackson, and Martin’s relationship with The Beatles, students discover how interpersonal leadership skills are essential for a music producer who aspires to help artists achieve their full potential. By watching clips from the PBS Soundbreaking series and conducting a class brainstorming activity, students then further define what types of particular leadership skills are necessary to be a music producer, and how developing such skills are useful in other avenues of life.

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Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • Positive leadership skills
    • How a producer contributes to recorded music
    • The relationship between a producer and an artist
    • The ways a producer can influence an artist’s sound
    • About music producer Quincy Jones’ work with Michael Jackson and producer George Martin’s work with The Beatles
  2. Mastery Objective:
    • Students will be able to contrast and compare positive and negative leadership skills by learning what a music producer does.


Motivational Activity

  1. Use a whiparound activity to ask students in the room to name a song they like or have listened to recently. Pick a song from the students’ selections and ask:
    • How do you think that song was written? Do you think it was written by the performer? If not, who else do you think might have been involved? (Encourage students to consider how different parts of a song, such as the melody, the chords, the beat, or the lyrics, might be developed by different people.)
    • What does it take to turn a written song into a recording heard on the radio or internet, or even a music video? What kind of skilled work might be needed to accomplish this? (Encourage students to think about all the visual and sonic elements that go into a recording, and what might be needed to create them.)


  1. Ask students if they’ve heard of Michael Jackson, and then use another whiparound activity to ask what Michael Jackson songs they know. (Chances are, some students will name songs on the album Thriller, which include “Billie Jean,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Thriller,” and “Beat it.”)
  2. Tell students that some of Michael Jackson’s most famous songs were from the 1984 album Thriller, which is one of the top-selling albums of all time. Display Image 1, Robin Eggar Quote. Select a student to read the quote out loud, and then ask:
    • Who might Quincy Jones be?
    • What might have he done with Michael Jackson that had such an impact on Thriller, Bad, and Off the Wall?
  3. Tell your students that Quincy Jones was the producer of the three albums mentioned in the above quote. If you choose, play some of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” for students (Note: This links to the official Michael Jackson YouTube page and may begin with an advertisement, we suggest loading the video before class.) Ask students:
    • What do you think it means to be a producer for a record?
    • What sort of skills might Quincy Jones need in order to be a record producer?
    • If you played “Billie Jean,” encourage students to think of the different elements they hear in the music and what role Quincy Jones may have had?
  4. Play Clip 1, Soundbreaking – What Does a Producer Do? and tell students to take notes on a piece of paper to keep track of the various statements they hear about producers. Then ask:
    • According to some of the people interviewed in this clip, what does a producer do?
    •  What are some of the personality traits suggested as important for producers to have? Why might these traits be important?
    •  Why do you think an artist or a band might choose to work with a producer? (If helpful, ask students to compare an artist’s relationship with a producer to an athlete’s relationship to a coach.)
    •  In what ways do you think a song might “get lost in bad production”? (Again, a sports analogy may be useful: why might a team of excellent athletes still lose?)
  5. Tell students they will now be watching a clip about successful producer George Martin. Play Clip 2, Soundbreaking – The Early Beatles and George Martin. Ask your students:
    • How did George Martin contribute to the music of The Beatles? How might one describe his style of interaction with the band?
    • How were The Beatles and George Martin able to work together despite the great age difference between them?
    • George Martin is often referred to as “The 5th Beatle.” Why might have people given him this title?
  6. Display Image 2, Leadership Quote in the class, and read the quote out loud. Then ask students:
    • What are the differences between a boss and leader? Can you think of any experiences with either in your life?
    • Based on what you learned about Quincy Jones and George Martin, do you think these music producers were more “leaders” or “bosses.” Why?
  7. Tell students that to further understand the difference between bosses and leaders, they will play a matching game. Print, cut out, and shuffle the the cards in Handout 1 – “Leader or Boss?” Activity. Print enough so that all students can get a card.
  8. Pass out one card to each student and then display Image 3,  Instructions to “Leader or Boss?” Activity. Invite students to walk around the room searching for the classmate who has the opposite card they have. For instance, a student with a card displaying “places blame” should partner with the student with a card reading “takes responsibility.” While students are looking for their matching card, create a T-chart on the board, with one side reading “Leader” and the other reading “Boss.”
  9. Have each student pair to come to the board and explain why they think their two cards were opposites. Then place tape on the back of their cards, and ask the student pair to whether their respective cards belong in the “boss” or “leader” side of the chart.

Summary Activity:

  1. As a class, examine the chart students created with their cards. Ask the class:
    • What kind of qualities listed here do you think successful music producers display? Are they more “bosses” or “leaders?”
    • How might the the skills listed in the “leader” side of the chart be more helpful in your life than those in the “boss” side?
    • How might people respond to you if you often act like a boss? How about if you often act like a leader?
    • Can you think of a situation in your life where it is better to be a leader than a boss?
    • What are some situations where you feel like it would be easier to act like a boss than act like a leader?
    • How can you develop leadership skills?

Extension Activity:

  1. Role Play Activity: Break students up into pairs. Tell each pair to come up with a scenario between two people where positive leadership skills are needed. Possible scenarios could be between a music producer and an artist, a coach and an athlete, or a boss and an employee. Tell students that they will be performing their scenario in two skits. For the first skit, the student in the “leader” roll will show positive leadership skills. In the second skit, the student will show poor leadership skills. The student in the “non-leadership” role should react realistically in both skits to the leader’s actions. After each group performs, ask the class:
    • In which skit did the leader show good leadership qualities? What were those qualities, and what effect did they have upon the other person?
    • In which skit did the leader show poor leadership qualities? What were those qualities, and what effect did they have upon the other person?


Common Core State Standards

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading (K-12)

Reading 1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Reading 7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing (K-12)

Writing 4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening (K-12)

Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language (K-12)

Language 4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

Language 6: Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Social Emotional Learning Competencies


  • Impulse control
  • Stress management
  • Self-discipline
  • Goal-setting
  • Organization skills

Social Awareness

  • Perspective-taking
  • Empathy
  • Appreciating Diversity
  • Respect for Others

Relationship Skills

  • Communication
  • Social engagement
  • Relationship-building
  • Teamwork

Responsible Decision Making

  • Identifying problems
  • Analyzing situations
  • Solving problems
  • Evaluating
  • Reflecting
  • Ethical responsibility