How to Produce Music — Beginner to Pro

Music production is hard but rewarding occupation. Let us find out what it is like to become a music producer in modern realities and how to fight moral and financial challenges.

Classical and Modern Definition of Producer

By classical definition music producer is the person responsible of making the process of creating music as smooth as possible. The producer guides the mixing and recording, solves the problems and looks for co-operation possibilities.

However, the development of internet has changed the definition of the word “producer” completely. Creating of music has become much more accessible. There is no more need in looking for studios, purchasing a lot of equipment and arranging tons of unnecessary things.

The professions of DJ and producer have pretty much become the one whole structure. So the modern producer is the person making music, controlling the process and establishing connections all by himself. Here are three words describing this work:

  • Hard. This occupation, even if it starts as a hobby, takes much time and effort. It also requires simultaneous development of different skills. It is not possible to make a complete track, having only great ideas, or only ability to compose melodies. All the aspects must be learned on the equally good level.
  • Diversified. Producer might work with rap artists, make EDM, create sounds for entertainment studios or be occupied with sound engineering. There is a lot of opportunities.
  • Satisfying. Finishing work and having it appreciated by people feels really great. The money situation is not stable in the beginning, but as your skill level grows, it becomes better.

So, the music producer nowadays isn’t the guy doing all the dirty job instead of celebrities. It is fully self-employed person (in the beginning at least), responsible for finding ideas, realizing them, writing ad mixing the tracks, meeting new people and finding the audience. It is difficult, but really rewarding.

The Modern Producer’s Work Process

Starting this business isn’t easy. The thing is, that when some famous musician is making music, he has the whole army of people supporting him in the back. They are looking for ideas, control the stability of the process, make music, write lyrics, inspire, etc. The freshly-made producer does it all by himself. Here is how the full process of creating one track looks like:

  1. Looking for ideas. This becomes a huge problem one day. Looking for things that you can devote music to, is the first and very basic step.
  2. Arranging ideas. The idea by itself is not enough. Producer has to find a way to make the thoughts sound. It is like translating idea into music.
  3. Mixing and mastering. This process consists of creating rhythm, making a bit, composing a melody, bringing all the elements together and making them sound balanced.
  4. Promotion. The more people listen to your music, the more feedback and popularity you gain. The most popular services for beginners are SoundCloud and YouTube.

Needless to say, that activities of this kind take a lot of time. The full process of creating and developing one track may last around 60 hours of pure working time.

Michael, 29, Sound Producer

  • It all started as a hobby. I thought that creating music is funny and you know, started composing some melodies. In two or three months I noticed, that the process became really time consuming. I got back from work, worked with music and then slept. The moral challenge was really hard. There was no time for meeting friends or having other hobbies. Probably it’s just my attitude (I was really passionate about music), but nevertheless. Though I am glad I went through it, I don’t think that I could’ve gone through the full way once more.

The Perspective

Musical career is worth considering as a life choice. Opportunities are diversified and there is always job for a professional. Here are the ways to go:

  • Career of a musician. Probably the one that 90 per cent of beginners are dreaming about. Tours, concerts and fame are attractive, but the job itself is exhausting.
  • Commercial production. It means making music for advertising, films or games. Rewarding in terms of money, but no one will ever recognize you on the street.
  • Audio engineering. Basically it is looking for uncut brilliants and shaping them. This one is suitable if you have a lot of knowledge and practice, but can’t come up with the ideas.
  • Teaching. If you feel like sharing your knowledge and working with people, teaching is the way to go.

Just like any other job, producing music requires a lot of skill and time. It is not the magical lottery, that makes person rich and famous at once. Even the biggest talent needs to be developed into mastery.

Steve, 32, sound engineer

  • I entered the industry a long time ago, maybe 10 years or even more. My dream was to become a world-famous DJ. Almost since the very beginning, I’ve been noticing, that doing technical part of process was what I enjoyed more. I devoted more time to equalizing and compressing tracks, than to creating rhythms or writing melodies. My music sounded in a really clean manner, but it was not catchy at all. That’s when I started collaborating with more talented guys, who had issues with mixing. The experience was totally successful. Our united tracks did both sound balanced and were easy to memorise.

The World of music is full of opportunities. Skill can be applied in different directions, and the success can be reached in different ways.

Getting started

Getting started does not honestly require much. There is no necessity in having musical education, tons of gear or even musical instruments. It is enough to have passion to become music producer, PC, internet and enough free time. Here is what some successful producers say about beginning own career:

Joe, 26, DJ

  • I was always interested in making music. In fact, I tried recording mu first track when I was 14 years old only. I got my first serious job when I was 17. There was nothing special in it. I simply downloaded music and played it at a local club. One day the idea had come, that I could remix tracks a little, to make my performances more individualized. I downloaded my first DAW and made the first attempts. They were rather successful, people enjoyed the way my remixes sound. In just two years I recorded my first track and it was warmly accepted.

Brian, 34, Commercial musician

  • My appearance in sound industry was so to say occasional. I was never interested in music very much. It’s just that one day my neighbor had noticed that sound effects I make while playing with my son sound really interesting. By a happy coincidence some movie was filmed in my town and they were looking for some voiceover artists. My talent was appreciated highly, but another requirement was to be able to compose some basic music. By that moment I has already been really interested in this activity, so there was no other choice, than learning some simple music theory.

There are lots of ways to get started in this sphere. However, it is always important to remember, that the whole path of musician is full of challenges. Here is a list of stages, that musicians usually go through, and some advice on what to do while being at one of these stages.

Excitement

When you finally find out that creating and producing music is possible in home conditions, you feel excited. A wish to start creating your own tracks is overwhelming. Despite being morally prepared to challenge the difficulties, you still lack the knowledge and have a lot of questions:

What software is required?

A lot of soft is needed. Let us start with the most essential things and go down to the least important stuff.

DAW

Digital audio workstation is alpha and omega of creating tracks. It is the program where you combine the sounds and mix the tracks. It is also needed for editing tracks and properly saving the result. You might already be familiar with names as Ableton Live, Cubase, FL Studio, ProTools and others. Here are some tips on choosing the most suitable one:

  • Ask your friends. I mean real life friends. Some of them may already be recording music with one of these programs. In this case it will be much easier to make the first steps and gain the experience.
  • Check your account. All good digital audio workstations cost money. If you have a little money try some cheap programs (like Reaper, or Fruity Loops Start Version), if your pocket is full of dollars feel free to purchase Premium versions of Ableton Live and Fruity Loops.
  • Try free DEMOs. No advice is better than your own experience. Almost every program has a free trial version for a month or so. It is really important to test at least 5-6 DAWs in order to find the one that fits your preferences the best.
  • Look for discounts. Such companies as FL Studio, Ableton, BitWig and other suggest discounts for some groups of people (students for example). Check their websites, as you might be the lucky one.

You should probably start trying the soft out from Ableton Live and FL Studio. Though these two programs are in the top price range, they also suggest the best opportunities for mixing and creating tracks.

VST

Electronic instrument emulators are the tools for creating melodies and bits. Some workstations have built-in VSTs, but the best option is to look for some extended versions. Check the internet, as it contains tons of free VST.

Sample Packs

Samples are pre-recorded sounds and sound combinations used for creating tracks. They are not super essential, as it is possible to record everything by yourself, using VST. However, they are so convenient and cheap (or even free), that I highly recommend downloading lots of them.

Tip: Properly organize your sample collection since the very beginning, as it is really easy to get lost in folders.

After your computer is prepared to work, it is time to get ready yourself. Look for tutorials to your DAW, learn the program by yourself. When you start feeling confident, the time comes to make experiments. Create some basic drum’n’bass bits. Listen to famous songs and try to remember and recreate them from your head.

After several weeks of practicing create your first track. The most important thing here is not to make it great, but to finish completely. It might be awfully mixed and have bad sounding, short and with non-rhythmic melody, but it has to be complete. This is something essential, because if you do not learn how to finish tracks in the beginning, you might have some serious troubles with it later on.

Though it may feel like the time has come to upload your work on SoundCloud, it hasn’t yet. Let several close friends listen to your music, accept what they say, try correcting the mistakes and continue work on improving your skill level. It is still important to look for as many tutorials as you can and go through them. There is no bad knowledge, simply learn whatever you can and everything will come in handy one day.

Fast Developing Progress

After several months of working (sometimes it takes more time), you’ll start feeling that every next track sounds better than the previous one. It means that the stage of the most intense learning of your career has started. This is where your experience meets the level of the theory base you gained and result starts being obvious.

On one hand, you feel like your tracks are worth sharing (on this stage they indeed already are), on the other, you may easily get into the cycle of incorrect moves. For example, you’ll work out two or three successful structures and start creating hundreds of similar tracks. It is important to be disciplined to avoid it. Do the following things:

Continue learning

You already know the way to create a great track, but probably still have no idea of how the equalizer works or what two-third of the options mean. Start learning more serious literature.

  • The theory of music. Electronic music still remains music, despite all the differences with other genres. It is really important to learn the deep aspects of functioning of music.
  • Structure. Though electronic music has really simple structural components, it is still worth to know the ways of developing a single idea into powerful piece of work.
  • Mixing. Mixing that you’ll have known by this period, will most probably be the long process of trial and error. It is hard, time and nerve consuming thing, that does not even do its’ job properly. Look for serious mixing literature.

However, do not forget, that theory will never replace the practice. Try combining these two elements in a balanced way.

Make a lot of music

It might sound strange, but making more music is more important than making it better. I don’t mean that you should completely skip mixing or use the same bit in every track. What you should rather do is learn to complete your tracks fully, not trying to polish their sound.

The perfectionist attitude will ruin your motivation. Attempts to make one song perfect will most often fail. Even if you manage to make something that will sound great to you, it will probably still be a mediocre track. So, the best decision is to learn little by little, finishing 20-25 projects per month. It is much more useful than finishing 2-3 but perfectly done.

Continue Experimenting

By this stage it might feel like you’ve already found your only sub-genre and are ready to work with it only. This might be the choice, but there is an alternative to try working in different genres as well.

The more genres you go through, the more skill you gain. Drum’n’bass will teach you to create bass-parties, techno will show how interesting groove can be, and so on. It is a little bit early to do a final choice. Do not limit yourself to specific genre yet, rather keep trying new things.

Start Building Reputation

The previous statements might be arguable, but this one is definitely not. The time has not yet come to start creating own brand and spamming your soundcloud link on all the forums. You are still developing, so better do the following things:

  • Gather feedbacks. Share your music in the places where people are eager to here it. Listen to what they say and make conclusions. The more people listen to your music, the clearer the overall picture will be.
  • Meet new people. Help the beginners, cooperate with developing musicians, look for more experiences producers. Establishing links in the music world is important even it has no direct consequences.

Well, the progress will be raising fast. It is important to keep all things under control though, or you may just be busted or get into a crisis.

The Crisis

Sadly, the crisis has to come. Creating music becomes feeling like useless and time-consuming occupation. Most often you’ll find yourself procrastinating instead of working. The motivation is low. It is easy to reach stage three, but is really hard to go through it.

But, as wise people used to say in ancient times, everything has an end. So does the crisis. Here are some tips that will help to fight it.

Handle Tasks Correctly

Once you’ll find yourself in a spot, where you realize that you stopped making as much music as you used to. Mixing feels harder, writing melodies makes you sick and inspiration blows away. This feeling of being overwhelmed is a common and eternal problem.

There is an old technique to fight it. Its’ sense is in dividing big task into small projects. Creating the whole track sounds like a massive sing to do. Making a bit, writing a melody and mixing in separate days sounds easier. Writing a drum party, adjusting bass and mixing the bit sounds like something everybody could handle. Continue making parts smaller, until you feel like you are ready to sit down and compete one of them. Feeling of completion is really rewarding.

It’s important to continue working despite all the problems.

Find out why you Make Music

Another thing worth doing is looking for inner reasons to keep doing what you are doing. There are two questions two ask yourself:

  • What is the purpose of my work. Remember that there are no bad purposes. It’s OK to wish to become a game sound creator or to make a lot of money. Releasing an EP or the most powerful single of your life is great as well.
  • Why I keep Doing It. Again, all reasons are good for as long as they keep you in business. You may want to teach another people make music, earn money or simply produce tracks because you love the process.

These simple things will keep the motivation alive even during the hardest periods of the crisis.

Look for Help

Thousands of musicians from all over the World had had similar problems. Hundreds of them share their ways to success on forums, in books and of course in real life. There is a lot of literature and online tutorials on how to overcome problems with creativity.

Remain Patient

No matter how many attempts you make trying to overcome the dip, it will stay there for a while. That is the natural period of developing of any talent into business of your life. It has to be uncomfortable and inconvenient and there is no way to make it be easier or pass faster.

Simply being patient is not enough however. Stage 3 will not just pass by itself, while you do absolutely nothing. It is important to develop some small habits, concerning your occupation. For example:

  • Set a rule to work on music for 20 minutes twice a day no matter what. This might be little compared to what you used to do several months ago, but it is still something. Consistence here is more important than quantity. Simply continue working, despite the mood, issues or other reasons.
  • Continue believing. Take a look back at what you’ve already done. A way of two years and more than a hundred of tracks is behind. Giving up is senseless. So continue doing what you do and one day you’ll understand that inspiration and motivation are back.

The main trick here is to set yourself to doing some job automatically. Stop thinking of whether you want or need to produce a new track. Imagine yourself a robot, that has a built-in program. Mechanical view on problem may not solve creativity issues, but it will definitely help with moving on towards the goal.

The Brightside

The border between stage 3 and stage 4 is not as clearly understandable as the borders between other stages. One day you just start feeling, that you want to devote two hours to mixing a track instead of fourty minutes. This will be something like stage, but without any beginner’s excitement. You know what you do, you love what you do and you know how do it better than 80 per cent of other producers. When it happens, a lot of opportunities appears:

  • Going the artist’s part. Till this time (it’s already been like 5-7 years since the beginning) the pink glasses will have already been broken. You’ll be able to see different perspectives of professional musician’s life, other than money and fame. Still, with all the experience gained, it is quite possible to make this type of a career.
  • Get involved into sound industry. There are tons of sound recording commercial activities, other than creating music. Voice acting, producing special sounds for games and films, audio engineering, etc, etc.
  • Become a teacher. Fresh generations will always be trying to walk your path. It is quite possible to help them with it. This especially useful, because, in a paradox way, teaching is the best learning. Explaining some material to other people you’ll be able to understand it better yourself.

Of course, getting a job of high level in sound industry is extremely hard. You’ll need to devote a lot of time to reach the top.

Start united Projects

There is not much theoretical material left to study. The best way to learn something new is from working together with other producers. Each person has own unique experience that is worth learning.

The WorldWideWeb development has made collaboration opportunities endless. Even if there is no other music producer in hundreds of miles from you, there is nothing wrong with getting to know other professionals online. All the projects can easily be shared and protected with electronic services.

Extended Learning

Though all the big and small details are already placed where they have to be, the opportunities of getting educated are still there. By this period you’ll be able to understand yourself what material you still lack and find sources for learning it. Here is the list of activities:

  • Remixing. This might be something similar to what had been done in stage 1, but on a deeper level. You pick music, created by other authors and remake it. Having the full understanding of how exactly parts of track should sound, you can recreate some works in a completely new manner. This helps to learn a lot as well.
  • Learning the branches. If you enjoy sound engineering, you should study the physics of the waveforms. Find out why some waves sound the way they do and what the impact can be. If you still keep creating the fresh tracks, look for a studio to work with. Study the psychology of people, learn to manipulate the crowd through the music and so on.

The fourth stage is sort of fork. You can either stay where you are, already having a decent job or continue developing to reach the perfection. Either way, being on top of stage four you’ll realize how big the way you’ve already walked through is. This is also where all the efforts start paying back, making the occupation of your life profitable (it might as well happen much earlier, but we are talking about reaching the success using hard work only).

The Mastery

As defined by classics, mastery is the state of mind, at which creating new content starts happening on sub-conscious level. The artists like “FatBoy Slim”, “Mat Zo”, “Koan Sound” can be called the masters of electronic music. Masters still have space for development, but it is the action of completely different kind.

Extended experiments

Masters doing the experiments fully realize what they do. Unlike the developing producers, who use method of trial and error, masters have a goal and try to reach it in specific new way.

Actually, many genres and sub-genres of EDM have appeared only due to professionals, who were trying to apply new vectors of influence to the old sounds. For example, King Tubby (Jamaican EDM Pioneer) tried adding drums and basses to national motifs. What he got was the entire new genre of music, known today as ambient dub.

Another good example is George McCree, who was amongst the first artists to use drumming machine as a musical instrument. He can arguably be called the father of all EDM, as his works are classified as the first disco tracks.

The thing is that each musician’s style is individual. Developing own style up to the perfect condition usually means creating a new sub-genre.

Changing priorities

Being a master in something might get boring as well. This is where the true professionals use their skill to co-operate with different branches of music. The origin of some famous disco-rock bands lays in the place, where EDM producers tried applying their knowledge to different sort of music.

In fact, the true master of electronic music has enough knowledge to become even a classical music composer. One of the best examples of such persons is Alex Silva, the man making both the electronic and the classic music. There are no limits in art.

Developing own brand

Those, who saved enough money, often start their own producing brands, which help young talents to get started, record music and help producers find one another. This is also one of the most profitable choices in terms of financial income.

There is a lot of opportunities for masters to continue developing.

Conclusion

Let us sum the most important information up in order to memorize it:

  • Producer is a person that controls the process of creating a song and takes part in it.
  • The 21st century producers have changed a lot, as they usually work for themselves, by themselves from home.
  • Becoming a masterful producer is hard and requires a lot of time, effort and talent.
  • Possibilities for developing are almost endless.

With that being sad, I can only wish you good luck in what you are starting to do and remind to always be patient and follow the goals.

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