How to Produce Music

Decades ago, music producers used to be the ones running the show in recording studios. They managed just about everything, from booking the session down to particulars like adding an extra layer of vocals during the chorus.

Today, technology allows for everyone to be their own music producer and avoid ever having to set foot in a studio. You can learn everything you need to know and even set up a state-of-the-art recording studio at home, and still sound on par with professional recordings. Simply download the digital audio workstation of your choice onto your home computer, or basic beat making software onto your iPad, and get to work.

So if producing your own music is something you’ve always wanted to do, read on to see what skills and tools you’ll need to get started, and how to go about it the right way.

What Is a Music Producer?

Simply put, a music producer is someone who creates music and makes it sound good on a recording. Producers organize the music, create extra layers, change the instrumentation, and add vocals as needed. Essentially, he’s the guy who plays a role somewhere between the band members themselves and the audio engineer in the recording studio booth. Of course, this answer is fairly general, and if you asked every music producer to define what they do, you’d likely get a slightly different answer from every one of them.

Producers have long been the unseen backbone of many popular bands – think Nigel Goodrich of Radiohead or George Henry Martin of The Beatles. But they can also be musicians themselves, although this is more common in hip-hop and EDM than in rock or other genres, because in EDM, the music is electronically produced by one or two people rather than by an entire band and their instruments. Popular EDM producers include Diplo, Deadmau5, Tiesto, and Skrillex. Within the hip-hop world, you likely will recognize Kanye, Dr. Dre, J Dilla, and The Beastie Boys, amongst others. All of these artists have produced and performed their own music for years.

The 3 Things You Must Have to Become a Music Producer

Whether you want to become a producer yourself or dream of performing your own music to sold out venues around the world, a lot goes into the music production. Lucky for you, our guide breaks down what you need to learn or do to begin this process into three categories:

  • Knowledge
  • Gear
  • Time

You’ll spend months, if not years, learning general knowledge, how to use various production software applications, and even the basics of music theory. Then, you’ll need to shop for the different hardware and software options, purchase them, and learn how to use those. And lastly, you’ll need to apply what you’ve learned as you compose your own music.

What Do You Need to Know to Be a Music Producer?

So, what exactly must you know if you want to be a music producer? For starters, you should learn how to use audio interfaces, digital audio workstations, plugins, MIDI equipment, social media, and anything else within this realm. You’ve got a head start if already know how to use these, but if not, don’t fret. There are many resources available online that you can access whenever you need, many of which are free.

Music Theory

If you’ve done any research on becoming a music producer, you’ve probably heard the term music theory. This field of study focuses on the “practices and possibilities of music.” Though that may seem like a vague definition, it’s worth noting that the field is as wide as it is deep and covers nearly all the inner workings of composing music, including scale notes and rhythm.

In the beginning of your music theory studies, you’ll learn about the notes used to make music, and the different ways they complement each other. Music theory teaches you the rules you need to properly construct a well-written, interesting, and catchy song. After all: you have to know the rules before you can break them.

Exposure to Other Producers’ Styles

Even if you do already have a distinct style and know the type of music you want to make, it never hurts to listen to what other musicians have created. You never know what you can learn from your fellow artists. Study the artists and producers within your favorite music genres, and pay attention to all the little details. Note what you like and don’t like, and figure out how they did it, and how you can work those techniques into your own music. Thanks to the internet, there are lots of tutorials out there for learning cool tips and tricks, and even behind the scenes videos for popular albums.

This is also a great reason to work with other artists and producers. Even if your goal is to become a solo superstar, you can learn a lot from collaborating with others. These experiences not only teach you how to work within the music world and with other musicians, they also give you the opportunity to use other applications or take a different approach to making music. Working with other musicians is also a great way to get feedback from people who know what they are talking about.

What Gear Is Needed for Music Production?

DAW

The right digital audio workstation, or DAW, is arguably the most important piece of equipment to a producer. You’ll use music production software to record, edit, and produce your audio. Mastering DAW may have a steep learning curve, but if you put in the time to learn how it works, you will reap the rewards.

While there isn’t a DAW that is objectively better than all the rest, there are definitely some that are more powerful and capable than others. Keep in mind that it may ultimately come down to your budget, as many DAWs can be extremely pricey, costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The most popular and common options are Ableton, FL Studio, Cubase, PreSonus, and Pro Tools, among others.

If you’re on a budget, don’t panic. There are several less expensive options out there, like FL Studio or Logic Pro X for Apple users, and many programs offer free trials or versions with limited functionality, along with educational discounts for students.

Headphones

You should also invest in a high-quality pair of studio headphones, preferably a pair that has a closed-back design for maximum isolation, and cushioned ear cups for long sessions. Aim for headphones with a large frequency response range, so you can better hear super high and super low notes.

Additional Equipment

Though just a DAW and an excellent pair of headphones qualify as the bare minimum you need for audio production, the process can be made easier and more robust with additional software and gear, if your budget can handle it. If it can, we recommend picking up a dedicated microphone if you’re going to be recording vocals, MIDI keyboards and pad controllers, and audio plugins. All of these enhance your ability to record a wider variety of music with more effects and options.

How To Get Good At Producing?

Ask any big producer how they did it. Know what they’ll say? They’ll tell you to keep at it: to keep making beats and songs, to keep studying music theory and learning more about your production software, and to keep trying new things. Once you know the basics, it simply becomes a matter of time and dedication.

Practice

Just as practice makes perfect for a concert pianist, the same goes for practicing and honing your music production skills and growing your knowledge. There is always a new skill you can be learning or a concept you can be trying to understand on a deeper level. Experiment with your options, and start tinkering towards the creation of your first song. Then practice mixing your composition, and seeing how you can alter and improve its structure and arrangement.

You can take a track you previously created and try new things with it, applying new ideas you read about in a textbook or heard other musicians use. You can also take this time to dive in deeper with music theory, or upgrade to a more robust DAW and learn what it can do for you that your previous one was unable to.

Build Your Portfolio

One of the most important steps to accomplishing a goal is simply to just get something – anything – done. In music production, this means creating a full beat or song. It doesn’t have to be awe-inspiring or complex, it just needs to be done. And the next step after that? Do it again.

Keep creating songs or beats or albums, and make a genuine effort to make your next creation better than the one before it. Soon, you’ll have an arsenal of completed projects, along with more experience. With time, the whole music making process will be second nature to you.

After a while, you’ll have a legitimate portfolio, also known as an electronic press kit, of your work. This should make you feel accomplished and give you enough material to create a demo with, if you’re interested in taking that path. Demos can be sent to music promoters and labels, and can also be uploaded and shared with others who enjoy listening to your music, growing your audience.

Experience

As you continue to invest time learning music theory, composing, and working within your DAW, you gain experience and knowledge. You can also gain experience as you collaborate with others, perform your music, or use a wider variety of applications. This is the most time-consuming part of the process, and while it may seem like the easiest parts, it’s actually one of the hardest, and the part that the fewest aspiring producers make it through.

At this phase, you should keep learning new concepts, explore the ones with which you are already familiar more thoroughly, and refine your overall skills. Try remaking songs, making different versions of them with differing lengths, styles, instrumentation or some other variant.

Push yourself, and push the limits of what you know about producing songs and see what you come up with. Use all the new skills, terminology, and proficiencies and listen again to the music that originally inspired you; see if you can hear more techniques that you didn’t originally hear, then apply them to your new compositions.

Gain a Following

If you want to be center stage (rather than take a behind the scenes producer role), you must maintain a healthy presence on social media. Share your music with others. Upload your tracks to a media platform like SoundCloud. Set up social media profiles through Twitter or Instagram so you can gain followers, interact with them, and share news or upcoming performance information. You can even build your own website to show off your music, and set up an email list for future correspondence.

How GigFaster Can Help

We understand — making great music is your passion. Once you’ve mastered music production, it becomes all about getting your music out there and sharing it with the world. However, trying to promote your music, find a label, or even just finding  a place to play a gig can be daunting.

With GigFaster, you can get help booking gigs and promoting your music. GigFaster’s database has thousands of contacts across over one hundred music genres, making it easy for you to get connected with a venue or promoter. We have low monthly rates and even offer a free trial. Start yours today.

Learning how to be a music producer may feel intimidating. And while there certainly is quite a bit to learn, it’s an extremely fun and rewarding process that can lead to fantastic opportunities and career options. Don’t be scared by the limitless possibilities in music production. Instead, embrace them and learn how to make your musical dreams come true.

Craig Kelley

About Craig Kelley

Craig helps upcoming artists book more gigs @ GigFaster. He recently released his 7th album, Not So Blue. His band has supported Grammy artists including Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Rick Derringer, Gary Hoey, Joan Jett, Fuel and many more. http://craigkelley.com He is also the host of The 5 Minute Podcast For Musicians.

2 Comments

  • Hey Craig i been listening to you for quite some time now everybody seems to know about music these days a college grad fresh out of school an got a job at a record label his first details is saying to me that i should hook up wit one if his producer my answer to that is i been making music for years an had that all ready figured out i been producing an writing music for years i got ideas you see somebody new to this is only going to mess things up its cool you gotta be carefull who you sign cause you dont wanna lose your job but most or any real artist got the creative side if things already i make top ten and billboard hits you see most producers these days going with anything. i mean its cool to work with someone and they get credit for it thats cool cause thats just how the music world is and some of us has to pay our dews i be honest with u in this world of production record labels want you to pay for everything and then dont want you to sampling most artists dont want nobody using their music
    thats the reason i try to stay original people always said that hip hop music borrowed i cant lay claim to that i dont own any universal and colombia studios i just go in their with the beat maker and studio time money an walk out with my masters i would luv to work wit other artist writing an producing or collaboration long as yr company foots the bill we all piggy back banking until yr project drops and goes platinum good an the label is satisfied u was a sucess cool cause im not here just to make music for the sake of havin fun ask any hip hop producer IE. ( dr dre. timbaland premier swiss beats ) if their artist they work with dont pop they are not going to risk another project i will rather just try something new they know putting on my cousin or anybody in the family is not going to make my company sell records im about business some folks talk it but cant wear the shoes these days everybody rap but im more interested. in a real act no pop corn stick to the formula it worked for years now im rich im not returning to the ghetto

  • Hey Craig u call me all the time what aspects of the game u got to offer what is u bringing to the table u know record labels dont want nobody they have to show how to get things done if this was the case i would hook Usher Raymond up wit Jermaine Dupri cause i dont have time but if u are dealing with me then its different its just you and i eye to eye thats the kind of talent i want in the studio i dont want to be with the under age under priviledge is okay cause i wasnt born rich i had to work for mines everybody should dont look at the ballbark of work just get the job done when i return i wanna see production and not some mess
    Im done for the day i got somebody at home who needs my attention

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