The future of music

Music Production: Most Comprehensive Guide

December 29, 2023
music production

If you want to get into music production, you probably want to know what to expect first.

Our comprehensive music production guide will take you through everything you need to know – from songwriting to sound recording and mixing.

After going through our guide, you’ll know if producing music is something you want to try.

But you’ll also be ready to produce your first track. 

And who knows – maybe you’ll also be ready to kickstart your new career!

Music Production – Beginner’s Guide 

If you’re interested in music and technology, then you’re already on the right track to becoming a good music producer.

Music production has many stages, and all of them are interesting in their own way.

If you’re a creative person, you’ll like the songwriting part. And if you’re interested in sound and tech, you’ll probably enjoy the mixing stage.

So what does a music producer actually do?

What Is Music Production? 

Music production is the process of creating, recording, and generally fixing music before it can be distributed. 

So, music production covers every phase in the creation of a song. 

That being said, music producers help artists to make music, and they manage and guide the whole process of producing a song. They also advise musicians artistically, so they are sort of like directors of music.

But that also depends on the music genre you’re talking about. A producer can have different roles in different genres. 

For instance, in hip-hop and R&B, producers usually create the beat of the song. And in electronic dance music (EDM), artists usually make their own material, so they’re also producers. 

Keyboard in the music studio, music production in progress.

Either way, music production covers the whole process of making music, and it involves the use of a variety of digital tools. 

It’s a multistage process, and it requires a lot of knowledge, patience, and an eye for detail.

Music Production Equipment 

Before moving on to specific parts of music production, let us introduce you to the basic music production tools.

First of all, as a beginner, you don’t have to spend a ton of money on fancy equipment. 

You’ll just need to get some key pieces to get started.

Generally, the main parts of a starter music production setup include:

  • Computer
  • DAW
  • Audio Interface
  • Microphone
  • Headphones
  • Plugins

With these essential pieces, you can produce your first track. 

Extra gear that will probably come in handy in your future projects includes synths, drum machines, groove boxes, and effects pedals. These pieces are fun and useful, but you don’t need them to get started.

Computer 

First of all, to be able to start producing music, you need to have a functional computer or a laptop.

You don’t need to have a Macbook Pro model (although that would be fantastic) – the one you already have will do just fine in the beginning.

DAW 

A computer/laptop is necessary because you’ll need to download a digital audio workstation (DAW).

A DAW is a program where music production actually takes place – A DAW is a software application for recording, mixing, and mastering audio files. 

Producing music in a DAW is fairly easy, so it’s great for beginners.

And for those just starting out, we recommend checking out the following DAWs:

  • Apple Logic Pro
  • Steinberg Cubase
  • PreSonus Studio One
  • Ableton Live Lite

Audio Interface, Headphones, and Microphone

To get started with a DAW, you’ll also need an audio interface. It’s an essential part of every home recording setup.

In essence, an audio interface is a physical hardware product used for converting your musical input into a form your computer understands.

Interfaces are usually connected through USB, and FireWire or Thunderbolt. 

And that’s how you’ll actually be able to record sound through a microphone. 

Headset and microphone in a recording studio.

Decent studio headphones or monitor speakers are also very important in producing music.

See also: Best Studio Monitors

We also recommend getting a decent microphone. Check out my guide on the best vocal mics.

You don’t have to get something pricey. The most important thing is to learn how your speaker system works.

If you continue with music production and you learn more about the whole process, you can invest in more professional and expensive equipment. 

Plugins 

Another thing you should put on your shopping list is plugins. 

Basically, a VST (virtual studio technology) will integrate software synthesizers and effects units into your digital audio workstation.

Since there are so many updates in music production these days, VST plugins are constantly changing as well. 

As a beginner, you don’t have to buy the newest VST plugins. There are many affordable plugins for beginners that will do the job. 

Equipment Set Up 

Once you get all the necessary production tools, you’re ready to jumpstart the music production process!

But before the real fun begins, you need to assemble your equipment.

If you have a friend who knows a bit about music production, they can help you get everything in order.

But you’ll also be able to do it by yourself. Most of the pieces we mentioned today are relatively easy to handle.

Your interface will connect to your computer via USB. And every sound you record will go in either through the interface directly, or through the microphone. 

You’ll also have to attach your speakers and headphones to the interface so that you can hear the track you’re recording and working on.

Finally, your computer will be the center of your home recording setup. It’s where you’ll do mixing and mastering, and where all of your work will be stored. 

A person using a laptop with speakers to produce music.

To set up a home recording studio, you won’t need a lot of space (unless you’re planning to track a full band or a drum set) – but you’ll need to find a comfortable, peaceful corner where you can work without distractions.

For the best results, try to avoid low ceilings and square rooms.

Now, although you’ll need to invest in your equipment, it’s actually possible to assemble an affordable home recording studio. And we’re not talking about the cheapest entry-level equipment.

With so many options on the market, it’s possible to find quality production equipment without breaking the bank.

Luckily, digital-age technology allows us to yield great results in a home studio, even with a limited budget. 

Songwriting and Composition

When everything is assembled and ready to use, you can start with the first creative stage of music production: songwriting and composition.

This is where your idea comes to life.

Some producers decide not to write songs though. But if you’re interested in songwriting, this might be an interesting process for you to explore.

When creating a song, you’ll mostly pay attention to melodies and harmonies. You can try to play them on different instruments, and generally play with them and see how they fit the structure of the song.

Generally, try to search for interesting melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic concepts. 

And allow yourself to get into the creative flow.

Songwriting and composition should be fun and exciting. And you’ll know when you’ve done something right – you will simply want to record it right away. 

See also: How to Become a Songwriter

Arrangement 

Before recording anything, you need to make sure your track is ready for recording.

And that’s why you need to familiarize yourself with music arrangement.

Arranging a song means taking the core elements of the song and breaking them down into building blocks. 

In this stage, you may add melodies, vocal tracks, instruments, or various details to your song. 

And you should do it until you’re sure your song has a nice flow from start to finish.

To make sure your song has all the parts it needs, including the following elements:

  • The intro
  • Verse
  • Chorus
  • Bridge

Of course, every music genre has its own typical structure. So whether you’re going to stick to the standard structure depends on the type of music you want to produce.

Recording Music 

For the next part of the music production process, you’ll need headphones and a microphone. 

While recording the sound, mute the monitor speakers. This way, you’ll only hear the playback and the instrument.

Recording sound with a microphone can be challenging for newcomers. It’s tricky to get it right the first time.

Black microphone with the person in background producing their song.

If recording vocals and instruments seem too intimidating for you, you can play with different sounds and effects. In fact, many producers use digital tools to make music. 

And you can use plugins to create tones and textures.

Finally, you can play with samples. Samples are audio snippets that can include anything from short melodies to individual instruments, rhythmic loops, and various tracks. 

So, sampling involves taking a section of audio from another source and integrating it into your new track. 

Using samples is great for people who are starting out with music production, but it’s also generally very common in many music genres. 

Mixing 

Now that you have your recordings and samples, you need to put everything together in a proper way.

Your final track needs to be coherent and fluid, and it needs to make sense to the listener.

So what does mixing actually include?

Well, mixing usually involves combining multitrack recordings, balancing sounds, and using different processors. In this stage, you’ll basically have to blend everything together.

Some of the tools producers use in this phase include:

  • EQ – the tool for manipulating the frequency and shaping the sound
  • Compressor – this tool will help you even out dynamic spikes and adjust the volume
  • Reverb – this tool provides a sense of space and natural depth

When you’re done with mixing, it’s time to do a test.

Listen to your track on different sound levels, and try to use different speakers – earbuds, car stereos, speakers on your phone, etc.

Listening to your mix will allow you to notice potential mistakes or weak spots. And if something doesn’t sound right, make sure you fix it before moving on to the next step. 

Mastering 

Don’t worry – you’re almost done!

After composing, recording, and mixing, you need to polish your track. And that’s called mastering.

This is the final step of music post-production which usually prepares tracks for distribution.

In music production, mastering can include enhancing the overall sound and optimizing the sound quality.

And it’s usually done by using tools like equalization, compression, limiting, and stereo enhancement.

Laptop with music pad for producing music.

For beginners, mastering can be a tricky part – but that’s simply because it takes some time to become familiar with all the options you have to polish your recorded audio.

But services like LANDR software can make things easier for you. With LANDR, you can create, master, and distribute music at a reasonable price. 

Either way, mastering is a crucial phase of producing music because it brings the best out of your recording. 

And if you’re making an album, mastering will make your album coherent and consistent. 

It’s what makes your music what it’s supposed to be – the final step of turning your vision into reality. 

See also: Best Online Mastering Services

Music Production Tips 

You don’t have to be a professional to produce a track that will sound appealing to other people.

You just need a good idea – and tools to make it come to life.

Good music production equipment is important, but you don’t have to spend too much money. Getting quality key pieces at a reasonable price will do you just fine in the beginning.

And get the equipment that fits your goals and preferences. Before purchasing anything, set specific goals and conduct a little research. That will ultimately make your buying process a whole lot easier.

Plus, you won’t spend money on something you don’t need. 

Another thing you’ll have to think about is your workspace. This also depends on your goals.

If you’re planning to make music by yourself and mainly use samples and your own vocals, a simple room will suffice. 

But if you want to record instruments like drums, or bring the whole band, you’ll probably have to think about renting a garage.

Either way, we suggest you keep it simple in the beginning.

Eventually, you’ll get comfortable with your DAW, learn more about each phase, and generally gain more confidence. 

But to improve your music production skills, you’ll have to be patient and persistent. 

And don’t be afraid to make mistakes – the most important thing is to make music, even if no one will ever hear it again.

Practice makes perfect.

A woman using a laptop and keyboard.

Learning how to produce music is also about eliminating bad habits and learning how to do it better the next time. 

Finally, don’t forget to have fun. Making music should be about learning as well as playing, developing your creativity, and enjoying the process.

Although it can be challenging at times, making music is also very rewarding – especially if you have a passion for music.

That moment when you hear your final track and you’re satisfied with it is simply amazing.

And as you progress, you’ll probably want to learn more – and become better at it. 

Before wrapping up, let’s summarize our music-producing tips:

  • Set goals 
  • Get the equipment that fits your goals and budget 
  • Take your time to get comfortable with your DAW
  • Familiarize yourself with each phase of music production
  • Keep it simple
  • Keep exploring
  • Enjoy the process 

Music Production – Final Thoughts 

All of the phases of music production might seem a bit intimidating at first – creating a song, arranging, recording, mixing, mastering…

But producing music doesn’t have to be difficult. 

If you get all the necessary equipment and follow the steps we discussed today, you’ll be able to make music without hassle. 

And with practice, everything will get easier – and even more exciting. 

The important thing is to get started! 

If you want to take your skills to the next level, check out my guide on the best online music production courses.

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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