Music Production 101: Getting started
Every music producer you know, no matter how talented or famous, had to start their career somewhere.
by DITTO MUSIC
Whether you’ve decided to go down the beat making, full production, or mixing and mastering route, you first need to take the proper steps to ensure you’re prepared for the journey into music production. Let’s dive in.
10 Tips for Music Production Beginners
The younger you start your career, the more steps you’ll likely take that aren’t too well planned. You might miss something really important or wish that you could go back and change something, but now it’s too late.
This might have been the case in the past, but it’s never too late if you’re just starting out in the digital era and you have reliable resources to set you on the right path. Within this article, we’re going to narrow down some important points to help set you up as a decent music producer and/or technician – with the potential to craft a long-term career and generate regular income streams from music production!
We’ve compiled 10 important music production tips for beginners that will give you a head start and a rough idea as to where you need to start your career in the music business.
1. Basic but important gear
It’s widely known that you’ll likely need to have some gear to get started in music and producing. Everybody will tell you that the more expensive the gear, the better it is – but when you are starting out, it really isn’t that crucial.
More expensive gear requires more expensive gadgets that will accompany them in order to get the best quality out of things – increasing your costs further down the line. You’re also still new to this game and deciding where exactly you want to head with your musical passion might still be up in the air. Don’t splash out on the best gear available if you’re still weighing up your options.
At this early stage, it’s probably best to start out with some beginner gear. Get a decent computer first.Focus on CPU power, RAM memory and the hard drive where you will store your work. If you have the opportunity to go with dual monitor screens, do it – that will improve your workflow and you would not need to upgrade it for sometime soon.
A decent two ins/outs audio interface will do and a 25 keys MIDI keyboard. A set of headphones and a pair of studio monitors are the core of your home recording studio as well. With these, you can go a bit higher quality if you have the funds, but if you don’t – go for a budget version. It is important to shuffle between these two monitoring systems to learn to hear the difference in your music.
If you record vocals, getting a good vocal microphone is also of big importance. You will be able to find a cheap large-diaphragm microphone that will be great for starting out and capturing great-sounding vocals for the beginning stage of your career.
Now that you are set with your basic equipment, let’s see the next most important thing.
2. Room acoustic treatment
Many new producers ignore this step, but this is one of the most important stages of setting yourself on the right path. If your room isn’t treated, even if you have the most expensive gear, you will have a hard time producing and mixing properly.
You also don’t need to go wild with the cash on this. Even with little funds, you’ll be able to set up basic acoustic treatment in the room you work in and create a great sound.
It’s most important to get rid of the reverberation in the room, treat the room modes and tame the bass in the corners. So you will need some acoustic panels, cloud panels that will be above your head (important not to forget that surface as well), and the back wall can have some sound diffusers to disperse the sound waves.
Sway away from the ordinary acoustic foam and get some real panels with Rockwool or fiberglasswool in it.
Another point is to do not “overtreat” your room and kill the high frequencies in the room. If your room sounds too dry and too quiet, you are overdoing it.
Focus on this point, because the final sound will depend on the room treatment. I’ve read in a guide written by a professional acoustician that the room is 60% of the sound. Even if the numbers are not that precise, this shows the importance of room treatment.
3. Pick your DAW
In this modern era, you are saved from all analog working. Now you’re doing the whole process digitally, you’re able to go back and fix things that you do not like. Not to mention the huge time and money savings.
To do this, you need to pick a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). This software will help you compose, produce, record, mix and master your music from one single platform. There’s loads of free softwares to start with and get yourself familiar with digital music production.
In this guide, we are not going to suggest going with a certain DAW as you will need to pick that on your own. Some of them are more powerful for production, some for beat-making, and some for mixing.
Check out our full list of the best free DAWs in 2022 for a guide to picking right DAW for your music making.
But one important thing – it is not the weapon, but the warrior who handles it! If you’re good at what you are doing, you’ll be able to conquer every DAW and produce great music no matter the platform.
4. Use your ears – then your eyes
Now that we’re done with the physical part of the music production, we’re going to share some advice that’ll help you prepare for action.
We notice that with most new-coming engineers, once they discover the visual aids from their DAWs and the VST plugins they’ve installed, they rely too much on what they are seeing in the interface. For instance, a spectrum analyzer is a great tool. No project should be started or finished without checking the analyser.
But we cannot only focus on what we are seeing because that’s where you lose the essence of music-making. Music is a process that is based mostly on our ears – the visual helpers are only that – helpers. They can guide us to make certain right moves, but we cannot blindly follow them.
Because of that, try to close your eyes from time to time and listen to your music with 100% of the focus on the hearing. This is a step where your brain gives higher attention to the only sense active – the hearing, and you will be able to make refined right decisions.
5. Reference industry-standard music
When you enter the music world, you should already have a favorite genre that dragged you into the business. Well, no matter the genre, if you wish to work in the same style of music (which is the case 99% of the time), you need to know how that music sounds in-depth.
So if you are tired of working on music for the day, but still have a couple of hours left to spend, play some of your favorite songs and analyse them. This is the step where you just listen and take notes of what you are listening to.
Write down what you hear and what makes that style distinctive from the others. Note down the elements that are basic for that genre, the range of BPM that this genre works in, technical and creative points from mixing perspectives, the balance of the elements, etc.
This will help you to be on track with the genre you love and make music that is comparable to the songs that are already out and climbing the hit lists. A simple technique from which you will learn more about your genre – hands on.
6. Be original
Following on from referencing tracks that you hear, we want to warn you about staying original whilst doing so. Referenced tracks can trick you into rewriting the same notes from some elements which will appear really similar to the original track.
Try to avoid this and find your own way into the genre you love. Use the reference notes as ideas and basic guidelines for the genre, but try to inject your own feel into it and create a signature sound of your own. This is also the case when using AI tools for inspiration. It’s great to take ideas and add your own twist to them, but make sure you’re not just copying someone else’s sound.
By combining the genre standards and your own touch, you will be able to create something really unique that might turn into your long-term style and distinguish you from the other artists in your genre. This is actually one of the core aims that you need to have when entering the music-making world and in one particular style of music.
No one got hurt from being original, but all of them were praised for what they were trying to do. This works for every music worker – from beatmakers, producers, arrangers, and mix/master engineers. Originality will take you a long way.
7. Less is more
This is a saying that you will hear many times in your career in music production. By less is more, we are thinking of many things, but the basic one is to not overdo a certain process. When this term is useful:
Music Production – Adding too many tracks with elements just to fill out the “empty spots” in the song.
Excessive layering – Adding more than needed tracks of the same hit (kicks and snares for example).
Arrangements – Creating too many transitions, fills, variations, and more. Add just enough, not more.
Recording – Recording takes even when you have enough. 20 tracks of ad libs are not needed. A maximum of 2-3 will play at the same time.
Mixing and Mastering – Adding too many plugins on a single track or bus channel. If your signal needs this amount of processing, then something is wrong with it and you will need to go back in the production process and fix it from there.
It is better to sound a tad empty but clear, than to be cluttered with elements and everything to sound messy and muddy. That’s what we learned with the long years of experience on our own skin and we swear by this saying, so we thought it was worth sharing with you all.
8. Watch others do their magic
If you have the opportunity to work as an intern and learn from already established producers – grab it. Unfortunately, we hadn’t had that option, so we were pushed to learn from various sources we found.
No stress though, it’s still way easier to learn nowadays. From YouTube tutorials to paid masterclassesto written material and books, everything is a good learning source. But what we think will work best for every beginner is to watch the great ones do their work.
No matter if it is a video tutorial of your favorite producer or you are able to visit a local studio and learn from your local producer, this process will improve you the most.
The best way is to be present in a local studio as we mentioned, so if you have any questions on the process, you will be able to ask the producer for their opinion. If you are lucky enough and if you end up working with a producer that doesn’t have any ego issues, they will be able to transfer all the knowledge they’ve gathered over the years and shape you into their loyal assistant and future independent producer.
9. Get feedback on your music
Music is a team sport. And you will need to check your progress with the other people and ask for their opinion. No matter if they are an ordinary listener or an experienced music critic, every honest opinion can help you out.
From the ordinary listener, you will be able to learn how your music affects them. Most of the time they will be able to provide you with insights into how the bigger mass of people will react to your music.So if you are having a banger, you will react to the song. Also if you are having a song that is not that good, even if they do not say anything, you will be able to draw conclusions from their expression while listening to it.
When it comes to experienced listeners or producers, you will be able to get an opinion that will be constructive in many terms and help you improve as a music producer or mixer. You will learn very much from them if they are honest in their comments.
In both cases, take the advice with reserve. If you think that the opinion you received will improve your music, go for it. Sometimes you will receive a piece of advice that will not be that helpful, but harmful to you – so be strategic with the feedback you get and draw only the best ones for you.
10. Take frequent breaks
We can’t stress this tip enough. Breaks are no joke and should be considered seriously. You can’t go into the studio and sit for 7-8 hours straight without a break and produce or mix. Your ears – and mind- are getting tired even if you aren’t noticing it.
One other thing to avoid is getting home late at night after a party and starting to produce or mix. You won’t be able to make the right decisions and with the ring in your ears, you might also damage your ears.
Our suggestion is to take breaks for at least 10 minutes every hour and try not to work more than 3 hours in a sitting. If you need to stay 3 hours, take one longer break after that and come back later on.Ear fatigue is a serious thing.
In a mixing session with tired ears, you will only make decisions that you will regret in the morning, so it’s best to rest your ears and come back when you are well-rested. Take frequent breaks and you’ll be able to see the benefits yourself.
There are of course many other tips that can serve every new engineer or producer well, but these 10 will help set you up well for a successful career in music production.
At least, these are the tips that I wished someone told me when I was entering into the mixing world. So don’t overlook any of them. It’s really important to bring the right decisions early on in order to benefit you later in your career.
If you think there are some other crucial tips that we missed mentioning in this article, feel free to shoot them in the comment section and share them with our readers!
Toshe from Mixing Tips is the admin and content creator for The Mixing Tips and account manager of the Instagram page. With over 15 years working in the audio engineering world, he decided to help production newcomers with some great tips and guides on how to improve their music production and especially mixing.