Breaking into the production game is as tough as breaking into the artist game. New producers often have trouble attracting the attention of A&Rs and established artists who, many times, prefer to work with producers that have a track record of previous hits or that they already have a personal or working relationship with.
In dance music, there are opportunities for new producers to get remix specialty work or to put their work out independently. In terms of getting hip hop or R&B production work though, you can try writing A&R departments and asking to submit material but without a track record you’re probably not going to get much response. Contacting publishing companies may yield you slightly better results since they are in the business of looking for new songwriting and producing talent but in today’s increasingly-conservative music biz environment, even they are only looking to do deals with writers with some previous success.
Getting to the point where you will become one of those “go-to” producers will take talent, time, hard work and luck. There’s really no short cut way to get there unless you get really lucky. Producers like the Neptunes and Timbaland paid years of dues, being staff producers under more well-known mentors (Teddy Riley and Jodeci’s Devanté Swing in their respective cases) before they got their shine and that doesn’t even take into account the years of grinding they did before they got to that level.
The best way to start building your producer profile is to try and work on local artists, either unsigned or signed to indie labels in your local areas. Working with artists on this level is easier because you likely have more direct access to them through your local music/artist community (which if you are not a part of it you need to work on becoming.). Also, because these artists are usually working with more limited budgets or don’t have the contacts or leverage to use more-established producers, they are often more willing to work with new or unproven production talent. This might not earn you a lot of money but it will allow you to do a couple of things: get some valuable in-studio experience and build a discography of work people can check out to evaluate your skills.
If there are not existing artists in your area that suit the production you are doing consider finding some talent of your own to develop into artists or becoming the artist yourself. Obviously not all producers are cut out for the artistic side of the game but doing this may give you a double benefit: building your production discography and chops but also developing an artist that could be shopped for a deal or released independently by you.
There are also other ways to more directly get to work with established artists though:
You may also want to consider approaching well-known production companies and signing on as a staff producer. These companies are normally run by well-known producers or managers who specialize in managing producers. The advantage of this is, if they are feeling your work and want to sign you, you will get a lot of studio work with established acts as these companies are already plugged into the labels and have relationships there that get them a lot of work. The potential negatives are that you may do a lot of work for which you won’t get credit or the terms under which they may want to sign you may not be that lucrative financially. It can be frustrating to know you did a hit track that’s all over the radio and the charts but you aren’t seeing any points off of it. If you find yourself at the point where you can sign this kind of a deal with, have an experienced music attorney review the offer and negotiate the best possible terms for you in the contract.
Other ways of trying to get production gigs with major artists involve a lot of networking even if you start building a track record with local artists. Do some research and contact artist managers of artists you would like to work directly. It’s a long shot but it may get you some attention.
Employ guerilla tactics: this is more drastic and only for the very self-confident with a serious salesman streak in them but if you want to get directly at the artists to get them to hear your production work, bum rush them or their managers at music industry conferences or at shows if you live in a major city where tours come through. Always have a boombox or Discman with you and be ready to plays your tracks. Bear in mind though that if your stuff is not blazing, you will be only playing yourself going this route and you also risk harassment charges if you don’t know how to handle yourself in a cool way!
Many times you may not be able to get face-to-face meetings. Mailing your beats leaves you vulnerable to unscrupulous artists and labels taking beats they like and either recreating them or even just taking your CD and throwing it into pro-tools and building their song off your work. There really is no sure-fire way to protect yourself from this happening. Not that this will make you feel better, but I can tell you rumors that a well-known producer had a beat he submitted for one artist jacked and used for another artist on the same label and even he couldn’t do anything about it.
Until you get to the point where you’re a well-known producer, you’re going to have to submit beats if you want to get work and there’s a chance your work could be jacked. If a beat you submit ends up getting used without your permission, you may want to consider hiring an attorney and taking legal action but this can be a costly and drawn-out procedure which may not be worth your money and time if the infringing record isn’t a major seller or you don’t have proper documentation and proof that you are the original author of the music in question. The "poor man's copyright" is a myth. You better register your songs/beats properly with the Copyright Office to fully protect your work.