Maybe you’re a budding music producer at home and just started messing around in Ableton. Or maybe you booked a studio and somehow forgot what to do.
But before you can start creating and producing music, there are a few basic steps you need to know first.
While some of these may not seem worth repeating to a seasoned producer, the music world has changed in recent years, so any newbie will need to know the process.
Get the equipment you’ll need
The first step is to pick up the tools of the trade. You can’t just sit down and “start making music”, can you? If you’re producing music with a band, that’s a good start. I hope they already have their instruments. But you can’t stop at the instruments.
You can’t stop at a laptop, a micro USB, and your old headphones. You’ll need better gear if you want to create the best music.
An essential tool is the studio monitor. These professional speaker systems are designed to give you the most accurate representation of what your music sounds like without any outside interference.
But what makes a good studio monitor? There are some key studio monitor features that you should look out for that will ultimately make or break your production experience.
Now, while you need good equipment (or renting a good studio), you can’t spend all your money on music-making gear. Once you’ve decided on a studio monitor, audio interface, and microphone that you’re comfortable with, you might want to stop buying and start producing.
Compose and arrange
This next step is when you need to start looking for inspiration. It doesn’t have to be a complete piece to start with, but it should be a base for your music, at least a song.
You can play along with chord progressions, think up lyrics, or just tap your piano. Anything to start with.
Having a basic understanding of music theory will make this step easier. Composing won’t be too difficult if you already understand the fundamentals of rhythm, melody, and harmonies.
The arrangement is exactly what it sounds like: When and where does each instrument come into play? Typically, most songs will rely on drums or bass to set the tone, and then everything else will follow.
If you’re completely new to music production, it’s a good idea to have a clear idea of the genre you’re trying to emulate. Once you have the genre, look at the structure of your favorite songs of that genre.
This is where you enjoy multitrack recording. Instead of sitting down and recording everything in one take, you can do it part by part.
It’s common to use a metronome to set a tempo, but if you or your bandmates are having trouble keeping up with this, there are a few other methods available to you.
You can use a drum loop as the basis for your song. Samples are available online for free or for a subscription fee. Don’t think of using samples as cheating, as long as you don’t copy them completely!
If the song you have in mind does not have a constant tempo, you can also use a scratch track.
Scratch tracks serve as a practice recording, where you record one or a group of instruments playing just to slow down the tempo. Once you have the tempo, each instrument is re-recorded to match the song, and old tracks are removed until you have the actual recordings.
You can also think of this as “editing” your songs since you’re trying to balance the different tracks with each other.
With mixing, you need to make sure that everything you’ve recorded can be heard fully and clearly. This is where these studio monitors will come in handy.
At this stage, you will begin to hear the effect of your recording room or studio. A larger recording space can cause sounds to last longer, so all of the individual sounds can start clipping into each other.
Unless you want to hear the different parts blend together, you’ll want to keep those sounds tighter when mixing the song.
You may also find dead air at certain stages of your tracks. This is the point where you will need to remove them or add a loop to fill them.
This is the last step before your work is ready for publication. After listening to a track all the time, it’s time for the final touches.
In the previous step, you identified inconsistencies between separate tracks and tried to find more balance. In this step, you will have to listen to the entire mix as a new listener would.
So that means taking it all at once and seeing if your mix was effective. You should also re-record all tracks in the song so that they are a single stereo file.
You can use a few techniques here for the finishing touches, like focusing on volume. Maybe the vocals are cut off a bit during the chorus. If so, pump them!
Some people see mastering as an extra. You might want to skip this step if you’re making music just for yourself. This is not a problem.
But if you want your work to sound like the best it can be, or just sound more professional in general? Do not skip the mixture.