Are you keen to understand the process of producing as well as writing and performing your own songs? Perhaps you’d like to be able to record, edit, mix and master your work – on your own schedule.
You’ve spent time and effort writing your own material, so when it comes to laying down your tracks, getting it right is crucial. Learn how to start producing music at home and you’ll not only save money but have full control over the finished article.
Here are our tips on finding the appropriate equipment and developing know-how as a beginner music producer.
How to start producing music at home
Music production encompasses the process of developing, creating and polishing recorded music for public release. It’s layered, complex and extremely skilled. But it can be learned at a very basic level, fairly quickly.
As a musician, you have two possible routes to record your music.
- In a professional recording studio, with a paid engineer and producer
- At home, using your own setup
You can also elect to cover certain stages of production at home, with others carried out in the studio. Some artists record at home but send the track away for mixing and mastering for example. Others prefer to have full autonomy, but this means investing in the kit to do it all yourself. The latter option makes basic production extremely cost-effective. But you will need to invest time and effort into understanding how to do it, as well as injecting a little cash into the setup.
If you’d rather not do this, or have a tendency towards impatience with detailed tasks, the studio is your best option. Doing your own music production will become a false economy should you be using it merely as a cost-cutting exercise, without the passion or interest required. If you do decide to choose the professional recording studio option be sure to find a studio and producer with a good reputation. Finding a good match for you where you can collaborate effectively will make all the difference to the outcome.
How to start making music at home
Making music at home encompasses everything from singing in the shower, or writing a topline on your guitar, through to creating and releasing a full album. These days it’s entirely possible to see an entire project from start to finish, from the comfort of your bedroom. This means you can record your own demos and even release music for streaming, without ever entering a professional studio, or meeting an audio engineer. There will, however, be a great deal of tech and terminology to grasp.
But before you begin, you must make sure you are clear about what you want to achieve and know what you want your sound to be. If you’re struggling with this, perhaps consider a mood board to prepare, including your genre, similar artists, songs arrangements you like and your intended audience. This will help you to develop a firm idea of your vision. This will impact every aspect of your music production and keep you on track when the process gets more involved. It’s also a useful plumbline when working with others.
Music production for beginners
A music producer must be creative and artistic, but also highly organised and able to lead. They are likely to be involved in the evolution of the song, from its inception through to its completion. Or they might just be hired to work within one section of the process.
So what are the various stages of music production?
- Writing and preparing the song
- Recording it
- Editing the recording
- Mixing the track
- Mastering the track
We’ll go into more detail on what’s involved in each of these stages shortly.
Once all these stages are completed, you’re ready to upload your track for public download, submit it to label talent scouts, or have CDs made to sell at your gigs. It can help to spend some time shadowing a music producer before you do it yourself, particularly if you plan on making a career of it. Or you might want to have a paid in-studio experience before going it alone, so you have a practical understanding of the process.
What do you need to start producing music?
If you’re keen to produce your own music, you can undertake your project at home. Your DIY setup may be small and in your bedroom. Or it might be a full garage conversion. Unless you’re recording a full band all at once, you don’t need a huge amount of space. Here are some of the basics that will be required for vocal and instrumental tracks. Beats are even simpler tech-wise, but we’ll cover those in more detail later in the article.
- Desk or console
- Computer and/or a good smartphone
- Recording software
- An audio interface
- Monitor speakers
- Screen monitor/s
- Acoustic panels
Your computer is an important starting point. Aim for a quad-core CPU, with at least 8GB of RAM, but ideally 16GB plus.
You can find out more about the requirements fo a DIY recording studio, inducing how to put one together, here.
Music production courses
In addition to the equipment, you’ll need to know how to produce music, to be able to do it at home. You may want to take a course. These are available in a classroom setting at colleges, recording studios and music schools around the country.
Alternatively, you can opt for online learning – a cheaper and usually quicker option. Here are some inexpensive options, all suitable for beginners.
And of course, YouTube is a mine of information, most of which won’t cost you a penny.
How to start making music on your computer
You must have at least one song, to begin with. It could be a cover if you’ve bought the rights to record it. Or your own composition. Once you’ve practised it to perfection and worked out the arrangement (including any backing singers and instrumentalists), you’re ready to record.
You record the track’s sounds in your home studio, that is the live acoustic instruments and vocals, along with any electronic sounds. You can plug your instruments and microphones into interfaces to record them. Mic preamps may be needed to make sure that the signal you’re recording is good enough. Although many audio interfaces have mic preamps built-in.
This audio information is then carried into the computer via the computer USB port. Once on the computer, they become digital files, ready to be arranged. Any digital and virtual instruments or beats (known as MIDI tracks) can then be added in. Your software will allow you to cut, drag and copy sections, crafting it however you choose, much like a photo or video editing programme.
If you have any separate sample tracks, these can be incorporated too. As you can imagine, this can quickly get messy or complicated. And a multitude of choice in terms of digital sounds and plugins can quickly become overwhelming.
Music production software
This is your music production powerhouse, so it needs to be good. The software is the element that enables recording, mixing and mastering of your music tracks and is called a sequencer. Some of this software is available for free – notably in the form of tablet and smartphone apps. Higher quality options can be up to several hundred pounds.
Those budding producers with a Mac can take advantage of its powerful recording software – Garageband. If you’re just starting out, you’ll likely be better off with a cheaper system, as it’ll have fewer functions, making it easier to understand. But if you want to splash out on a pro kit, take a look at some DAWs.
What is a DAW?
Another term used for a sequencer is a Digital Audio Workstation. The major DAW brands are Cubase, Logic, Pro Tools, Reason, FLStudio and Ableton Live. These all come with a good selection of virtual instruments, meaning you can mix your own backing without recording a single live instrument. Many DAWs come with tutorials to help you get started, on what can be a very complex and nuanced art form.
The DAW, or sequencer, will enable you to alter frequencies in the editing and mixing process. If you find there’s a clash, the EQ will level it out. It will also contain a range of effects like reverb and echo. You then use your monitors to playback, so you can hear how it’s sounding. If you’re brand new to music production, it may be better to keep your mixes simple at first.
Next, you’ll move onto mastering where you can add in fades and noise reduction. It’s at this stage tracks tack on codes and time stamps. The mastering process looks at the track as a whole, whereas mixing hones in on the details found in individual parts.
How to produce music beats
Many artists now make a living purely from creating beats. These can be purchased as single entities and so are much simpler to produce as a beginner, than trying to record an entire track with many components. The full beat track is created on your DAW software.
If you want to make beats, you’ll need to understand the structure for your genre. Many have a standard BPM (beats per minute) that helps align a song to a musical style. You’ll also need to work out how long you want the track to be, the tempo, the kinds of digital instruments and the levels of layering required. Once your beats are complete, you can sell them on dedicated websites.
How to program drums and other instruments
Most instruments are pretty simple to programme in a DAW. If you want to create beats, learning how to programme drums is an especially useful skill. You’ll need to get hold of some samples to work with. As with beats, these can be purchased online, with many sites offering free databases. Don’t overcomplicate things as a beginner. Stick to straightforward setups, with minimal effects until you’ve built up some expertise. A basic vocal track with a couple of instruments or a beat is an ideal starting point for the new music producer.
It can also be useful to get advice from fellow musicians if you want to learn how to start producing music at home. Find out how they went about their at-home production and get a first-hand view on what the process was like. See if you can share skills. It could be they have a particular talent at mixing and you’re much better at editing. Or you might be able to share some of your equipment to cut costs. You never know, you may be collaborating with the next Mark Ronson in the making!
Can I teach myself music production?
If you don’t want to enrol on a course, or haven’t the budget for formal training, you can by all means teach yourself. It will take a good deal of research and it helps if you have an experienced producer to mentor you. Free online tutorials are a great place to begin your production journey.
How do I make my mix sounds clearer?
You can try reducing your bass, adding some reverb to create space, try some mono or a notch filter, compressing using side chaining and compressing using drums. None of these techniques should be applied generally or liberally, but rather used in specific problem areas.
What do you need to start producing electronic music?
Electronic music is cheaper and easier for a beginner producer. You’ll need a digital audio workstation computer and monitor, and you can skip the entire recording process. You can even make some basic tracks using only your mobile phone and an app.
Have you started producing music by yourself at home? What software do you favour and how have you found the results? Let us know your advice for those who are new to music production and share your finished tracks in the comments below.