How to Become a Music Producer — A Complete and Honest Guide
Thanks to digital music and the technological advancements that made home studios accessible to anyone, becoming a music producer is now a career path more accessible than ever. But the fact the barrier to entry is low introduces other issues: there are so many people who improvise themselves as artists and producers. This means sometimes, even the most talented people have a hard time cutting through all the noise.
This perspective brings goood news and bad news. The good news is, you don’t need to invest tons of money in gear or education to become a qualified music producer. Hard work goes a long way. The bad news is, there’s a lot of competition out there and it can take a long time before building a name for yourself.
While talent isn’t everything that it takes to succeed, passion is certainly crucial to have for surviving through the ups and downs a career in music can bring. With that in mind, here’s an honest and extensive perspective of the steps you’ll need to take to become a music producer.
Step 1: Train your ears like an athlete
The way you listen is your most precious asset if you’re serious about having a career in music. You need to develop your listening abilities and train your ears as rigoursly as an athlete trains in their sport. Also, you'll need to make sure your ears stay healthy and take good care of them! They are your most important tool.
Listen to plenty of music from all kinds of styles. Identify the things you like and the things you don’t like. Figure out the why behind your tastes. This is important because it'll help you pinpoint patterns in music. See if you can figure out patterns behind the things you like or dislike.
Patterns are important to notice because they act as formulas. Every genre, style, or even artist, has their own set of formulas they repeat again and again, only slightly differently each time. We can find these patterns in the melody, the harmony, the rhythms, but also in more subtle elements like sound design, song structure, or any other music parameter you can think of.
To be a good producer, you’ll need to develop the ability to identify all those subtleties, and this ability is what will help you create the foundations of your unique sound and style.
Step 2: Learn some basic music theory
While training your ears should be your utmost priority, completing your ear training by learning some basic music theory will help you connect the dots. It's one thing to ear something, it's another to understand what we're hearing.
Ear training is learning to identify the what, knowledge of music theory helps us understand the why. Together, they work hand in hand in creating a well-rounded understanding of music.
Learning some music theory helps to understand more quickly what our ears are detecting. This can help you make the creative process of producing music more efficient.
Step 3: Learn how to play an instrument
Regardless of the music genres you’re interested in producing, being able to play at least one instrument is definitely helpful. Even if your goal is to produce EDM, having the ability to record ideas by playing them on a keyboard or by using something like a drum machine will save you a lot of time.
Often, the role of the music producer is to record general ideas on an instrument so that another, perhaps more skilled musician, can then come and record the final track. That’s why it’s important to be comfortable enough to record basic ideas so that you can better communicate them to the musicians and artists you’re working with.
If you don’t have any prior experience in playing an instrument, learning how to play the keyboard is definitely an excellent starting point.
Step 4: Identify your why
This is an important step in the process. There’s a big difference between being an artist who produces their own music and being a music producer working for others.
Who do you want to produce music for? Do you dream of releasing your own music or do you want to produce other artists? If you choose the latter, in what genres? That’s important for you to figure out because it'll influence the way you network and the tools you’ll choose to produce music.
What does success look like to you? Do you want to be hired by a big studio or do you want to work with talented artists and help them get their music out?
If your goal is to be hired as an engineer by a reputable studio, then consider getting a degree in sound engineering. If you dream of helping talented artists develop themselves and break into the music industry, having your own record label might be an interesting option. This gives you a lot more creative freedom but is also much more unstable financially, especially at the beginning. Which leads us to the next question…
How much money are you hoping to make? Depending on your risk tolerance, and if making a reasonably high income is very important for you, consider producing music for brands. Other industries can be very lucrative too, such as the video game industry. These kinds of jobs can be very fulfilling, but they usually have a lot less creative freedom since you need to be much more aware of trends and follow strict guidelines imposed by different clients and projects.
Step 5: Gather your tools
To seriously start producing music, there are some tools you’ll absolutely need:
1. A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
There are many great DAWs to choose from, in all kinds of price points. If you’re on Mac, start simply with GarageBand (GB) until you’re sure about wanting to pursue music production seriously, since GarageBand is free. If you’re already familiar with GB, an easy progression could be using Logic Pro.
If your goal is to work with other artists or to be hired by a recording studio, the industry standard for DAWs are Cubase and Pro Tools. If you are interested in producing EDM, Ableton could be your DAW of choice. It really depends on you, your workflow, and the type of music you’re hoping to create.
Most DAWs have trial downloads, so it’s best if you take your time to research and try as many as you can before you decide on your final choice.
2. Plugins and sample packs
If you intend to create electronic music, you'll need good samples as part of your toolbox. There’s a ton of free sample packs out there that can get you started, but make sure you check the distribution licenses carefully if you intend to release your music in the future. Otherwise, paid sample packs will usually come with a commercial license.
Plugins are what will help you manipulate your recordings and samples to give them a unique flavor. Even though many samples will sound good as is and it might seem like they need little manipulating, it’s important to remember that manipulating samples in your own unique way using tools you choose are an important part of what will develop your identity as a producer.
Because of that, it’s important to choose plugins that inspire you and manipulate sounds according to your very own musical tastes. If you’re into Lo-Fi music, for example, check out some of the plugins in the LoFi series from Yum Audio. These plugins are specially designed to recreate very specific analogue lo-fi effects.
Once you’ve gathered your sounds and plugins, take the time to learn your tools inside out. The more you know all the possibilities of the tools you’re using, the more you’ll be able to create music effectively and produce your ideas the way you hear them in your head.
Step 6: Time to produce some music and release it out into the world
Once you’re all set up and took the time to learn, it’s time for you to get to work and actually produce your first demos! Try not to be too perfectionist at first. Your aim should be to explore and experiment with your newly gained knowledge and tools.
Once you have a couple of tracks you consider ready, release them on free streaming platforms like SoundCloud, Audius, or MetaPop. Then, share the links to your music on your social media channels. Ideally, you’re looking for people to give you honest feedback on your tracks. That’s not something so easy to get from friends or family members, so you’ll want to maximize your chances of your music being heard by total strangers.
Don't get discouraged if people are not reacting to your music at first. Of course, we always wish for our tracks to be heard and for people to comment on them and share links, but the truth is, getting this kind of reaction from people isn’t easy. This means nothing about the quality of your music or your talent! Remember that building an audience takes time, so try to be patient and keep releasing tracks and sharing them on social media.
Step 7: Network with other artists and producers and get feedback on your music
Platforms like Audius or MetaPop are backed by a great community of artists and producers. Join their Discord server (or write on their forums), connect with others, and share your tracks on the channels or threads dedicated to receiving feedback.
Doing this isn't only something that can help you improve your skills, it’s also part of opening doors for potential collaborations. Depending on your goals, it will help you find artists that could be interested in working with you.
Networking is a big part in finding work as a musician or a music producer. Music is suggestive, so it’s all about knowing how to connect with the right people, the ones who can relate to the music you're creating.
If all this sounds like a lot of work and hustling, it’s because it is. Producing music is a work of love. If you’re truly passionate about it — if you take the time to educate yourself, invest in the right tools, network with artists, and work hard to develop your skills and talent — you’ll have all the chances on your side to succeed as a music producer.
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