Music production is a broad term, covering everything from that initial spark of an idea, right through the entire writing, recording, and post-production process. Even if you've experimented with recording and mixing techniques before, music production for beginners can prove overwhelming. Thankfully, our music production guide is on hand to provide you with all the insights you need to get started.
We'll explore the production process, from composition and recording to the mixdown and mastering. You'll also find an introduction to the core elements of music production, including sound design and mixing and mastering techniques. Need help finding online resources or putting together a recording studio setup? Our guide breaks down everything you need to know.
The Music Production Process
The music production process kicks off with the composition. This is where general ideas are formulated and include things like creating rhythmic and melodic concepts. Once your ideas begin to take shape, you can think more seriously about defining genre and style.
At this point, you should focus on establishing elements like tempo and key. You can pick out key instruments to serve as placeholders but don't overthink it. You can get more involved in this during the sound design stage.
You'll need to create a basic beat to serve as the backbone for your harmonic and melodic ideas. You can also experiment with variations of things like melody, bassline, and chord progression.
Now's also the time to start thinking about lyrics. You need to consider the bigger picture, with an eye on structure. The most important aspects are the bridge and chorus, but intros, outros, and verses shouldn't be overlooked.
Music Production for Dummies: Recording
At the moment, your song still exists as little more than an idea. Now you can start focusing on actually recording your music. Some artists may decide to kick things off with a general recording session, capturing a live performance. However, for best results, tracking is the way to go.
In most cases, drums are recorded first. This is then followed by the bass. The lead instruments that make up the melody of a song are then recorded. However, it's worth remembering that there's no one-size-fits-all approach here.
The tracking stage can be incredibly time-consuming, but it's a worthwhile investment. Tracks are far easier to finesse during the editing stage if they've been individually recorded.
No music production beginners guide would be complete without a mention of mixing. Once you've got your recordings, you can start mixing them to bring shape to individual tracks. Mixing also brings balance to a composition.
You'll want to ensure your lead vocals can be heard clearly over key instruments. Meanwhile, equalizer tools can be used to accentuate certain elements and de-emphasize others.
You can also get creative during the mixing process. Practical effects like reverb can give the impression that individual sound elements were recorded in the same place. Panning can also prove effective. Positioning vocals and instruments across the stereo field will give your production a real sense of depth.
Now we move onto the final stage of production. This is when you create the final, polished piece. Sometimes, mixing and mastering overlap, but the key objective should be to amplify the volume of your track and make it suitable for a wide range of speakers.
Compression tools will come in handy here, making it easier to balance out volumes. A limiter, a specific type of compressor, also forms part of the mastering process. It increases the loudness of your final track, without creating any notable distortion. Once you've finished mastering your track, it's ready to be uploaded to streaming services and distribution platforms.
Essential Music Production Equipment
Understanding how to produce music for beginners is only half the battle. Without the right equipment at your disposal, you can't expect to produce superior-sounding recordings. Below, we've outlined some of the most crucial gear you'll need to invest in.
Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) serve as the beating heart of music production for beginners. This essential software lets you record tracks and play around with arrangements. Furthermore, you can use DAWs to experiment with mixing levels and apply effects.
There are plenty of affordable DAWs on the market, with some offering more advanced features than others. However, most of them follow the same workflow, with a grid window making it easy to arrange tracks and apply desired effects to specific channels.
Not all sounds are generated by recording the output of a live musical instrument. Sometimes, you'll want to generate artificial sounds with a synthesizer. A synthesizer creates sound electronically, but can also be used to modify existing sounds.
All synthesizers fall into one of two categories: analog or digital. Analog synths use modulators and circuitry to produce sounds, while the latter type produces sounds digitally and is generally more user-friendly. There's a good chance that your DAW of choice will feature digital synth functionality.
If you plan on adding vocals to your track, you'll need a microphone. Dynamic microphones are the best option if you want to capture focused sounds at high volume. This makes them ideal for live performances.
However, for recording purposes, a condenser microphone is a better fit. Condenser microphones are designed with studio use in mind, capturing softer sounds and hushed tones with exceptional levels of clarity.
Other Essential Equipment and Accessories
Quality headphones are a must-have for any recording session. You'll need them when you're playing around with tracks in your DAW or experimenting with mixing techniques. Although they offer less noise isolation, open-back headphones deliver superior sound quality, making them great for tracking. Choose closed-back headphones for better isolation when missing.
However, don't assume you can rely solely on headphones when producing music. The best recording studios also rely on speakers. It's always a good idea to play back a recording via speakers if you want a clearer idea of what your music actually sounds when it's played back in everyday environments.
Furthermore, don't forget about the basics. You'll need jacks for connecting things like synthesizers and guitars. Meanwhile, XLR connectors are called for when transmitting balanced signals during recording. You'll also need enough MIDI cables to connect drum machines, keyboards, and sequencers to your computer. Finally, there's no such thing as having too many USB cables to hand.
Key Elements of Music Production
If you want to create original tracks and compelling content, you need to think seriously about sound design. Creating a distinct sound can be challenging, especially if you're heavily influenced by other artists. However, it's crucial that you set yourself apart if you want to emerge as an instantly recognizable artist.
If you're a complete beginner in music production, you need to accept that finding your sound is a learning process. Get creative with presets and parameters and add automation. Constantly review your recordings to see what's working and what's falling flat. Sometimes, even the most lackluster of recordings will inspire you.
[Image - music equipment or live recording session - a man holding a mic, playing the drums, etc.]
Corrective EQ is a common mixing technique you'll want to get your head around. In short, corrective EQ gets rid of unwanted frequencies. However, be careful when reducing frequencies. If your track has a rich bass, you can be fairly liberal. That being said, you should avoid removing too much at this stage.
Additive EQ is sometimes used to add missing frequencies to a track. Use your best judgment here and consider the sound palette you're trying to build. Target the low midrange (250 to 500 Hz) if you want to add warmth to elements like vocals.
If your recording has a higher dynamic range, you'll probably need to implement compression during the mixdown. Compression basically smooths out a recording, making the shift between the loudest and quietest parts of your track less pronounced.
Working on an album or EP? Make sure you're reviewing all tracks. Although each song needs to have its own identity, there needs to be clear synergy between them. Listen to short snippets to identify which sounds are standing and which tracks have been mixed more expertly.
This way, you'll be able to prioritize those tracks which need more work to bring them in line with the rest of your release. A typical commercial track has a lot of individual elements. However, the vocal is often the most important. As such, you'll want to focus on this during the mastering stage.
Make sure you're asking the same core questions when reviewing each track. Are there any missing frequencies? Likewise, are any frequencies sticking out like a sore thumb? Is the track loud enough? Consider playing around with volume before you turn to equalizers during the mastering stage.
Finally, when mastering a collection of songs, ensure that levels are consistent across the entire tracklist. Making minor adjustments to levels takes time, but it's something you don't want to rush.
Music Production Techniques
MIDI sequencing is a staple of modern music production. Rather than recording actual musical sounds, MIDI recording allows artists to create tracks without physical instruments. It also reduces the amount of external audio that needs to be captured. Most electronic hardware and keyboards are compatible with MIDI recording.
Audio recording is the tried and tested way to produce music. To record sounds from electronic instruments like keyboards and synthesizers, you'll need an audio interface to connect them to your DAW. For recording vocals and acoustic instruments, you'll need to hook up microphones to your DAW.
Sampling is an increasingly popular music production technique. It involves taking snippets of pre-existing audio and repurposing them. You can use DAWs, sampler plugins, or hardware samplers to do this. Samples can include everything from an existing melody or vocals. These samples are generally heavily manipulated before being incorporated into a new track.
Tips and Tricks for Beginners
If you want to turn a hobby into a well-honed craft, you'll need to first get your house in order. Make sure you've got all the recording equipment you'll need ready to go. You'll also need to create a dedicated recording area. This can be as simple as building a recording studio in a spare room.
Next, you'll want to get to grips with basic music theory. At a minimum, you'll need to understand things like scales and chords. If you're an independent musician going it alone, you'll also need to educate yourself on the fundamentals of songwriting.
[Image illustrating someone learning on a computer, watching a YouTube video, etc.]
Where to Find Useful Resources
The online world has plenty of valuable resources for budding songwriters and music producers. Turn to YouTube for tutorials on how to get the most out of your DAW or in-depth guides on mixing and mastering.
Alternatively, you can turn to internet forums for advice from experts. Future Producers is home to a huge online community offering insights into everything from music theory to sampling and digging. Struggling with software? Turn to KVR Audio for answers about audio plugin hosts and software applications.
How to Improve Your Skills
One of the best ways to improve your skills is to listen to more music. Avoid firing up the same playlist every day and embrace new artists and unfamiliar genres. You might be encouraged to bring new flavors to your existing compositions.
Constructive criticism is also incredibly valuable. Never be afraid of listening to feedback. After all, you need a realistic idea of how audiences are going to respond to your music.
Feeling uninspired? Maybe you're struggling to nail down a melody. Perhaps you're having trouble with chord progression. Now's the time to think about collaborating with other artists.
Master Music Production and Start Distributing Your Tracks Today
The music production process can often seem inaccessible to the beginner, but it's easier than you think. Once you've wrapped your head around composition, recording, mixing, and mastering, it's relatively simple to turn a grain of an idea into a finished track.
However, you need to spend some time educating yourself. Being able to comprehend basic music theory will go a long way in shaping your songwriting and composition. Furthermore, a deep understanding of sound design will allow you to deploy advanced mixing and mastering techniques.
Of course, you'll also need quality equipment and software. A full-featured DAW, microphones, and headphones are the bare minimum. However, it's also worth investing in studio speakers for the best results.
Producing music independently is a learning curve. However, patience pays off. Once your tracks are polished and ready to go, you can start distributing them with an all-in-one music management platform like IndieFlow.