Beginner Tips for New Music Producers

Posted by James Cullen on

So you want to get into music production? Maybe you've had no formal music education whatsoever, or maybe you've been a guitarist for years but decided to pick up a DAW and get making some beats. There's no right or wrong path into music production, the origins of individual music producers are as varied as the genres of music they make. But when it comes to starting, there can be so much overwhelming information that it can be difficult to know where to begin. 

No matter what your story, you've come to the right place!

In this article I am going to give you some of my best tips to help you get into music production quickly, to help you get to grips with what can be a daunting and overwhelming subject. I'm going to try and focus on the things that should help you develop your mindset as well as your skillset, because in my experience, both of these are equally important.

So let's get down to it!

The past few years have been a strange time, we've had a global pandemic, followed by conflict and economic uncertainty. For these reasons and more, people have been spending much more time at home, and there's been a dramatic uptick in the amount of people turning to creative hobbies.

Whether it's drawing or film making, embroidery or music production, more time at home has given people the time to start exploring a hobby or a passion.

So if this is you, and music production is what you've decided to explore, let me give you the first tip.

 

The question of Gear

There is a whole host of gear when it comes to Music Production, and it can be an overwhelming situation to be a beginner and have no idea of what you need, and what you don't. There was a time when music production without a whole studio full of gear was impossible. But luckily, music production has become more and more accessible over the past couple of decades, meaning you can get into it with less gear than ever before.

Having said that, there is still an overwhelming amount of equipment available, and many guides will often be trying to sell you something, telling you you absolutely need it, or that your music making will be so much easier if you only buy their product.

But the truth is, there are only a few things you actually need.

So let's look at the absolute basics that you need to get started.

A computer

Whether it's a laptop or a desktop, it doesn't really matter. But you're going to need a computer. A desktop would be most powerful in terms of processing power and screen space, but a laptop may be a better option if you're planning on being a producer or DJ on the go.

You can get DAW style programs on iPads and tablets, and some of these are really good options. But I think personally that the best experience comes from working on a computer. Because despite there being some really good apps out there for iPads and tablets, these are invariably stripped down versions of the full programs, not capable of quite as much as their PC or Mac counterparts and so I wouldn't recommend them for getting started.

Sure, they're good for playing around, and if you don't have access to a computer, then you should for sure check out the options for tablet!

But you'll reach a point where you'll need a computer, so bear that in mind if you're in a position to invest money in your long term production goals. I'd always recommend a laptop over a tablet; both are equally portable, you can just do so much more with a laptop!

 

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

So, if you didn't know up until this point, a DAW is the program you'll be using to create your music. You can record, arrange, edit, mix and master your music all within your DAW.

You've probably heard of several of these. There are paid options, such as Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Cubase, Pro Tools or FL Studio, and then there are free versions like GarageBand or BandLab. Don't worry if you're too overwhelmed by these, because we have a guide on the best options for a free DAW. 

The choices out there are so varied, that it's good to have the option to try these out without having to pay any money.

It's important to point out that all DAWs, though very different, essentially do the same thing. They're all programs that allow you to create music, it's just that some of them put more focus on certain aspects of music production.

Some of them work best for making electronic beat or loop focused music, others are more suited to audio recording and editing. But they can all do a version of everything, just in different ways.

So, bearing in mind your operating system (because some such as Logic Pro are restricted to one OS), do a bit of research into the DAW that you think might suit you the most. Consider what style of music you want to create, and see which DAW is most suited to this.

You can also try the trial versions, or check out some free DAWs to get yourself started.

 

Monitoring Gear - Headphones or Speakers.

These are super important when you're wanting to make music. There's a reason you'll see professionals using branded monitors and headphones that aren't necessarily consumer facing.

This is because a lot of consumer facing audio products have specific Equalisation (EQ) built in. Just think of 'bass boosted' headphones for example. They aren't giving you a true representation of the audio, they're adding some processing in the headphones. So if you're using bass boosted headphones, your bass will sound louder to you than it actually is, and therefore you may end up mixing a track with really quiet bass.

So as you can imagine, this is a nightmare for a music producer; you want your monitoring solution to be as neutral as possible (or flat), so the music you're hearing is a direct representation of the music inside your DAW, and doesn't have a weird bass boost on it that you aren't actually intending.

While monitors are going to be your best solution, these aren't always budget or space friendly, so getting a good pair of monitoring headphones is a really good idea. Do some research into the best headphones for music production to get you started.

 

While you want to be mixing your music on a good pair of monitors or dedicated monitoring headphones, it's also a good idea to have a pair of consumer headphones or speakers available too. That way, once you've mixed it properly on your monitors, you can see how it's going to sound to a consumer.

After all, the majority of people will be listening to music on less-than-professional quality standard speakers, so being able to test how your music sounds on as many speakers as possible is a great tool. I remember the days of bouncing tracks to CDs to check them in my car stereo!

 

Additional Gear

So the gear listed above is the basic collection you'll need to get started. If you have a computer, a DAW and some headphones or monitors, you're set.

But there are a few other things that you may need.

  • Audio Interface - This is normally a USB interface which allows you to connect external audio instruments or microphones to your computer. The audio processing on computers isn't cut out for this level of professional handling, so an interface is good if you want to record. They range from two track budget interfaces, to 18 track or more powerhouses.
  • Microphones - If you're planning on recording instruments or vocals, you'll need at least one microphone. These come in all different shapes and sizes. There are dynamic and condenser microphones, to name just a few. Different microphones are suited to different tasks, so if you're looking to get one, do some research on what's going to be fit for your purpose.
  • Controllers or MIDI keyboards- So while you'll need a computer to make music electronically, it's important to remember that they aren't designed to be musical instruments. So getting yourself a MIDI controller can help bridge the gap. Controllers have pads and knobs and faders to allow you to control functions within your DAW from a physical piece of hardware on your desk. MIDI keyboards allow you to play musical ideas on synths or piano sounds on an actual mini piano. They're definitely not essential, but they help.

 

So these are the pieces of gear for music production. As we mentioned, some of them are the essential pieces of kit, others are optional depending on your purposes. But if you get yourself set up with the basics, it's time to start thinking about making music.

So let's explore that with the next tip.

 

Find your why. 

As a music producers, it's really important to have a sense of who you are as a musician. So spend some time thinking about your why. 

This is the reason you're doing it, and it will inform a lot about how your music making process will develop. While it can be fun to just jump right into something headfirst, there's often benefit in spending a bit of time thinking it through and making a mental plan.

The best bit about this is that there's no right or wrong answer!

You might be doing it out of curiosity; you want to open up a DAW and learn the basics and see what happens.

You might be doing it because you have big ambitions; you're eager to be the next big hit producer and you've got a lot of enthusiasm.

Or maybe you're somewhere in the middle of the two. 

Whatever your situation, it's a good idea to spend a bit of time thinking about why you're interested in music production. This will help guide your journey and also help you manage your expectations. Which leads me on to the next tip...

Be honest about your expectations.

If you're brand new at something, don't expect to be a master instantly. Our social-media-induced short attention spans have tricked us into thinking we can get good at things quickly, but that's not the case.

I even suffer from this myself; if I've had a break from producing for a couple of weeks, or even if I've finished one track and it's time to open up a new project and try out some new ideas, it can be frustrating when things don't happen quickly. 

This is something I see on music production forums all the time; people wondering why they aren't making really good sounding music when they've been doing it for a whole two weeks. The truth is, things take time. And I'm sorry to break it to you, but you aren't going to be making hits any time soon!

So this is where being able to be honest with yourself about your expectations is key to keeping you motivated. 

If you're expecting to make hits within a week, you're probably going to be disappointed. And when this doesn't happen, it might kill your enthusiasm and stop you from continuing with your music production journey. 

The importance of this cannot be overstated. You are going to make bad music when you're starting out, that's just a fact. What's more, the vast majority of the music you do make will only be heard by you. So think of it as a learning experience, a chance to grow and hone your skills. Each track you make is an arena of practice, a place where you can try things out and see what works.

Do not let yourself get demoralised because you aren't making super complex, professional sounding music instantly.

Choose what you want to learn.

Music Production is a catch all term, and can describe anyone who works with a DAW or even in a recording studio.

Two examples; someone who composes and produces their own electronic music, and someone who works in a studio recording, or mixing and mastering for bands. Both of these people are music producers. 

I've often found it easy to break it down into a spectrum, which you can see below in a very professional looking graphic that I've created for you all! It shows the two ends, and some of the things that might be associated with that type of production style.

On one end, there are creative music producers. These people can play instruments, they write music, they create tracks from scratch.

On the other end, there are technical music producers. These folks are more interested in the logistical side of things; knowing exactly where frequencies clash in a mix, how to get the best results out of a compressor, or even how to properly mic up a drum kit.

Most producers will find that they lean to one end or the other, or perhaps are slap bang in the middle. Again, there's no right or wrong place to situate yourself within this spectrum, it will just be based on your natural tendencies and interests. Knowing a bit about your personality type might help in this!

I myself am more of a creative music producer, in that my main approach comes from a creative place, and I care more about that than I do the technical side of things.

So, what does this mean for you as a new music producer?

Think about what style of music production you want to get into. It will help if you've already spent some time finding your why. You should have a reason you've decided to start making music, maybe it's a specific musician has influenced you, or maybe you've just always been interested. Either way, finding an entry point is key.

Once you have an idea of what you want to learn, then you can move on to the next step.

Tutorials are your best friend.

As I mentioned above, there are an entire myriad of subjects within music production. But the best thing to do is choose an aspect you want to learn, and then go and look for tutorials. There really is a whole host of content out there to help you learn.

Luckily, YouTube is absolutely full of video tutorials on all aspects of music production. 

Here are some ideas of things to search to get you started:

  • The basics of Compression
  • An intro to music theory.
  • How to Mix in a DAW.
  • Drum Programming for beginners.

These are just four examples of specific things within music production that you can learn. There's an entire world of music making possibilities out there, so don't be put off by how intimidating it can be initially.

Luckily, there are exists a core set of principles within music production that pretty much everyone uses in the same way. These are things like Compression, EQ, Mixing, Panning. These are the basics, the essential techniques you learn before you can move on to more experimental things.

Tutorials are a really great way to see how someone else does something, step by step. That way, you can learn and see it in practice, and then begin applying that technique to your own production style.

 

You don't need lots of gear.

I know we've already spoken about gear, but this is just a friendly reminder. You absolutely do not need a ton of gear to get started. Just a laptop and headphones is enough. 

Do not be fooled into thinking that you need to buy things. This is usually just companies marketing to you, to get you to buy their gear.

As we mentioned at the beginning, there are only a few pieces of gear you actually need in order to get making music. But, that being said, it's definitely a common trap to fall into; thinking that if you buy a super expensive piece of music hardware, you'll be making tunes in no time. But this just isn't the case. 

It's entirely possible to make music completely 'in the box', which means using only a computer and a DAW. You don't actually need any external gear to make great music. That isn't to say that it doesn't help, because many piece of hardware do things that DAWs can't do, or they do things in specific ways that give off a signature sound. 

But in the beginning, all you need is a laptop or computer, a DAW and some determination and patience. 

Realise that you'll be learning in stages.

Your DAW of choice will have a learning curve, that's just the way it is. You'll begin learning the basic features, and then more and more of these will be revealed to you over time. You'll discover new things when you're ready to move on to them.

The first stage might be just learning how to throw together a drum loop, a bass line and a melody. That's absolutely fine. It isn't going to be an amazing sounding track, but it's getting you used to using your DAW, and figuring out the logistics.

Next, you might want to practice the art of mixing. This is balancing the sonic elements of your track so everything sits comfortably together and nothing is too loud or too quiet. You can download stems of some existing songs to practice this, so there's no pressure to make a track and then mix it.

As you progress and get comfortable with certain aspects of your DAW and your production process, you'll move onto new things within your DAW. And your music will start to reflect this.

Each track you make will be an improvement on the previous one. So don't get bogged down that you're only doing the basics, as they are the foundation you need before you can move onto the next level.

Feedback is essential

The great thing about the internet is not only are there a whole host of music tutorials on YouTube, but there are a whole host of music production communities too!

Reddit, in particular, has a great community of music producers on subreddits such as:

r/WeAretheMusicMakers

r/MusicProduction

But it's not just limited to these two. There are many more genre-specific subreddits where you can find people of all ages and abilities who are trying to learn music production.

And these are great places to build working relationships and get constructive feedback on your music. And eventually, you'll find that you're able to give feedback as well as ask for it. 

There's also BandLab, the dedicated online DAW that is made as a collaboration platform. On there you can share projects, invite people in to add their ideas, and chat. It's a platform built around collaboration, so this can be a great place to get some feedback and some outside ideas.

We can often get so tuned in to the music we are making, that we can become deaf to some of the potential issues that are present in the track.  Getting some feedback from someone else can help you get a fresh perspective on what's going on.

These communities are really helpful places, with lots of like minded people wanting to share ideas and work together.

Don't force it.

Even the pros have off days. Inspiration isn't a 24/7 thing.

Don't think that a stint of not being able to make anything good, or not feeling like you're learning or progressing fast enough, means that you're destined to fail.

Sometimes you're just not going to be feeling that creative energy, and that's okay. 

The key here is to know that you're not going to be making music all the time, some days you just won't be feeling it. And successful musicians aren't people who can create magic every time they touch a DAW, they're people who know how to get through the patches where they aren't feeling so inspired.

But what should you do then?

What does that button do?

When you settle on a DAW, and you open it up for the first time, it can be intimidating how many things there are to play with. Each different DAW comes bundled with its own set of effects and instruments.

As an example, let's just take a look at how much stuff there is in each edition of Ableton Live:

Intro Edition

  • 4 Software Instruments
  • 1500+ sounds (that's over 5GB of samples)
  • 21 Audio effects
  • 11 MIDI effects

Standard Edition

  • 6 Software Instruments
  • 1800+ sounds (that's over 10GB of samples)
  • 37 Audio effects
  • 14 MIDI effects

Suite Edition

  • 17 Software Instruments
  • 5000+ sounds (that's over 70GB of samples)
  • 60 Audio effects
  • 16 MIDI effects

 

And that's just Ableton Live! Logic Pro, FL Studio and other DAWs each have their own collections of instruments, samples and effects to try out. 

So my point is, even if you're not actively creating music, there is so much to do in a DAW.

Be like a child in a toy shop, open everything, touch everything, see what every little thing does. Load up a synth, start playing some sounds and see what all the different controls do. 

Or load in an audio sample and see what Reverb, Delay or a Compressor does. See if you can figure things out for yourself, because this is a great way to learn.

There's a certain amount of intuition you can apply to music production: if you can throw on an effect and listen to how it affects the sound you're working with, or if it is a parameter control within a synthesiser, you can use your ears to figure out what is happening to the sound.

Sure, learning the proper application of effects and controls is a good idea, and I'm not saying don't do that. I'm just saying, don't underestimate the power of your own curiosity!

 

Audio & MIDI

Music Production mainly deals with two things within your DAW. 

There's Audio, and MIDI. 

Audio is pretty self explanatory; this is anything you record in using a microphone, as well as audio samples and loops.

MIDI stands for Music Instrument Digital Interface.

Essentially, it's the language of digital music workstations. So you know the synths we discussed earlier? They all use MIDI to control what is playing.

You'll be using your DAW's Piano Roll to input MIDI notes (or if you're using a MIDI keyboard to play them in, this is where they'll show up). You can see the Piano Roll within Ableton Live in the image below, but all DAWs have some variation of this.

In a column on the left hand side, is a Piano. Then moving across is the Piano 'Roll'. This is a grid that describes the real time within your track. The numbers running along the top are beat in the two bars. SO the rows correspond to notes on the piano, and the columns correspond to beats in the bar.

But MIDI doesn't just mean notes, you can also use MIDI to dictate automation on the notes you've put into your DAW. This means that things like velocity (how loud or quiet a note is) can be adjusted using MIDI data.

Learning the basics on MIDI and Audio Editing will help you get to grips with the basics of creating music in a DAW.

Music Theory: Do you need it?

I've seen this debate many times on Music Production forums. Some people come into music production in a similar way that I did; after a lengthy time of being a musician in bands, and learning to play instruments. So straight away, they have a head start in their music theory knowledge.

Others, on the other hand, jump straight into music production with no prior experience.

So what is Music Theory, and do you need it?

Essentially, Music Theory describes the relationships between notes, the harmony and melody you can create, as well as rhythms. It's a language for understanding music.

You'll learn the different key signatures, the Major and their Relative Minors, you'll learn about time signatures and rhythm. There's also the study of arrangement and song structure. It gives you a solid understanding of the building blocks that go into making music, and as I mentioned, it's also a universal language through which musicians can communicate.

It is an entirely separate discipline from Music Production, so they are two different things to learn. But it will undoubtedly come in super useful. There's only ever going to be so much you can do without it.

So, you don't need it right away, but you should absolutely learn the basics as you go. You'll definitely benefit from it.

 

Just do it!

The biggest tip I can give you for learning and improving your production skills - after considering the ones above, of course - is to just keep going with it. 

Consistency is key, as with any discipline. The more time you spend working and learning, the more results you'll see. It's definitely a case of getting out what you put in.

If you're the type of person who works best to a schedule, then set aside a specific time every day to work on your music.

If you're not a schedule type, then just make sure you're getting regular time in. It doesn't have to be the same amount of time at the same time every day, but it has to be regular.

Just opening up your DAW is a step in the right direction, and is definitely better in the long run than doing nothing at all. 

This last point is something I can't emphasise enough. It's easy to think if you're not able to actually make music then there's no point opening your DAW. But this just isn't true. Even if you just open it and get yourself familiar with the layout, or the workflow. The way things work in different DAWs can be a bit of a learning curve, after all. 

Spending time familiarising yourself with the digital environment in which you'll be creating music is much akin to familiarising yourself with a real life environment. Think of how much easier your daily tasks are when you know where all the bits and pieces you need live, compare the first week of a job with a week when you've been there for a year. Familiarity is a hugely useful part of making music.

So, even if you don't make any music today, open up your DAW, and navigate through the menus. Look for the controls and options for creating new tracks, for loading in VSTs, or using samples.

There's a whole part of a DAW which is just learning to use the actual software, so getting yourself familiar with this will make music making quicker and more straightforward in the long run!

 

 

Hopefully you found these tips useful, and it helped you get to grips with some of the basics of getting into music production. While you're here, be sure to check out our project templates. These are a great way to learn and deconstruct a track for yourself. Our production team is working constantly to get you professional grade recreations of top tracks, so you can see all of the tricks that go into making pro sounding music.


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