I'm NEW to Music Production. What should I do?
Updated: Jul 6, 2019
Sometimes, life can be hard for those you have just made the decision to be a music producer, so I will try to give some piece of advice for those who are absolutely green in Music Production. PS: I’m not a Music Production Guru or anything like that, but I will try my best to explain some stuff, hoping it helps some of you.
Back in 2002, we didn’t have YouTube or access to such a vast amount of online tutorials, as the only information you could get online for free would come from bloggers. Unless the info came from Top Notch guys, most part of it was provided from fellows (sometimes greener than the one who seeks information), and who wouldn’t accept a different point of view, a.k.a. Old School Trolls. You can imagine how hard it would be for a kid who didn’t have any musical formation like me, who didn’t have access to any music production mentorship, or any other source of Music Production knowledge… I must say that, this was one of the main reasons why I took a small 18 hours Music Production course later in 2004.
Thankfully, times have changed, and internet is globalizing our world, making access to information a lot easier. Those Dark Age days are gone, and pros are actually sharing their secrets. For example, top guys like Deadmau5 are doing long sessions where you could watch his work flow live (!), Dave Pensado or Tony Maseratti showing their mixing methods, etc. All of that Music production information is GOLD, it is online, you got a lot for free, and this is an amazing thing, as we live in an exciting era!
First step, I would say “get some basic Music theory basics”. Get to know what Scales are, Scale Keys, Chords, Circle of Fifths, Chord Progression, Modes, etc… In first hand, just do some Youtube research to get these concepts. Have in mind that, if you do not have any of this stuff in your head, unless you are a natural, it will be very hard for you to find a logic while making a track.
“know the instruments”! Yeah seems pretty basic, but make sure you do your research and know what stuff like for example, the bassline, the kick, hats, the main lead, are… or elements like pads, arpeggios, plucks, etc... You probably have already spent a few hours messing with synths presets, so make some research in order to understand what most of those presets mean, and also, to understand tutorial language properly. Make sure about you know what to expect when you see “ACME Arpeggio” written in a preset… Baby steps, so things can make sense in your mind.
You should learn what a WAVE is and what is the difference between waveforms. That will be handy in the future, whether you are working with a synthesizer, pushing some plugin’s knob, or seeing some audio samples representation.
Get the demos of some DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstation). Take a quick look and use the one you feel that it feels better while you are following all the initial 6 steps. For first timers I would recommend FL studio, as you will find a lot of YouTube FL studio tutorials, even to get the basics…Also, FL studio grew from (what was considerered in the past as) a basic DAW to a powerful music making tool that a lot of big guys are using these days. At this point, your the DAW you will demo will work as a platform that will allow you to load your Virtual Synthesizers/Plugins and Audio Samples. As I’m talking about steps, I will talk a little bit more about DAWs later in the 7th step.
Make sure you explore a synthesizer (like for example Sylenth1 or Serum) and know what each knob means and does. Stuff like phase, detune, cutoff, resonance, attack-decay-sustain-release, oscillator…or… what is a synth voice, legato, etc.? By the way, it is better to learn just a few Synthesizers than trying to learn aaaaaall of them, because some you will like most, and some seems better than others (depending on your taste and the genre you are trying to make). However, on this phase, a lot is done with Try + Error, so there is nothing wrong in having a library of 999 demo synthesizers, if you have plenty of curiosity and time to try them all…but, at least in the beginning, it is better to excel at one or two, than going “meh..” in 50 synths. In my opinion, you could try a lot of them and after a while you can decide the ones to stick with.
Same logic applies to plugins. It is crucial that you treat every type of plugin with the love and respect each one deserves, i.e., learn what is a Compressor, (Multiband, Bus and Classic compressors as well), a Limiter, an EQ, a Reverb, a Delay, a Filter, a Transient designer (people tend to forget to talk about this one, but this one is as important as any other plugin), a Phaser, a Flanger, stereo image plugins, a Glitch, a Vocoder, a Gate, Saturation/Distortion/Harmonic Enhancement plugins, De-esser (normally used on vocals), Tape recording, etc…There is a sea of plugins out there, with tones of possibilities, just try the ones you could, and see which ones you like most, or find most intuitive. Also, get to know plugins functionalities, like threshold, Sidechain, Ratio, Hz, mid/site, drive, etc… Again, that will make it easier and fluid to learn tutorials in the future.
This is the right time to put your hands on the DAWs you have got previously and learn their potential to the most. You can try Cubase, Logic (info you are Mac OS), Ableton Live, Presonus Studio One, FL Studio or any other DAW really…as long as you choose the one you feel most comfortable with. So, how to choose my DAW? - Ok, at this point you probably know some producer’s vocabulary right? So, you can make some research and try to check a few YouTube tutorials, or dive into some paid tutorial websites like Lynda or Groove3 (which have a great amount of valuable information) and learn each DAW from scratch. At this stage, you should feel a bit confortable in front of a DAW and understand some technical details in order to understand the DAW tutorials.
Getting samples... Make some research and check some samples libraries out there. A good library with a nice audio quality is essential to make quality music. It is best to have something that is already well recorded, then spend ages polish something that is mediocre.
Make some tracks! This is the fun part, which is making music! You can start by trying to mimik other tracks, as initial stuff "normally" isn't "ready-to-release" quality material. Once you start feeling confortable, it is time to push yourself a bit further and trying to get better every day. Anyway, I gave you the basics, and now it is time for you to start making your own research, as I believe you have some curiosity about the music development process. Questions have arisen during whole the introductory process, and now it is time to follow the guys that you feel that you will learn the most. I can name you a few that I can quickly remember atm, like for example Marteen Vorwerk facebook page; Pensado’s Place at youtube; MakePopMusic at Youtube; Sample Tools by CR2 fb page; Future Music Magazine; Rick Beato's Youtube channel, tutorials from Lynda / Askvideo / Groove3; etc …You will find a lot of good stuff out there, just make sure you spend a good amount of time doing your research properly.
In the first times (maybe for the first year), spend most of the time you designate for Music Production on Learning/Trying different DAWS, Plugins, Synthesizers, Music Theory, Music Production tutorials from various artists, companies, educators, etc... Doing things this way will make you cut the learning curve very fast, and you will have faster results than if you just spend your time messing with software and trying to produce tracks without any knowledge base. It is ok if you get to the 9th step and you haven’t finished a single track yet, with patience and hard work you will get there. It is ok if it passed a year and you haven’t finished a track yet as well. Be aware that you are training your ears during the whole process, so while your ears are adapting to a new reality, make sure you learn the most of it.… After the 9th step, you can start trying to develop your own tracks, and you can designate half of your time for Music Production and the other half for tutorial scouting. It is ok if you are taking months to develop a track, as the most important thing in this stage is just cutting the learning curve which will translate into a better results in the long way. After you feel comfortable with your software, it is cool to make your own tracks while learning new technics and following the pace of new software. I would designate at least a few hours of one day of the week just for learning (minimum), as it is a ritual I’m still doing now-a-days. Anyway, learning as more as you can! This will provide you with the best results as soon as possible.
Hope you enjoyed this read, and there is ofcourse a lot of stuff that could be added, but this was the ones that pop to my mind right away.