How To Start Music Production – A Complete Guide

Here’s a quick list of the things you’ll need to start music producing:

  • Computer
  • DAW (Ableton, Logic Pro X, Pro Tools)
  • Headphones
  • Midi controller/keyboard
  • Audio Interface
  • Monitors

Making music is an incredibly fun and rewarding way to exercise your creativity.

If you want to learn how to produce music however, there’ll be a flock of people offering paid courses and masterclasses.

Whether you’re a producer in your beginner stages, or just want to start producing some hip hop beats, we’ll run you through everything you need to start producing music.

What Tools Do You Need To Start Producing Music?

Beat Making

music production on maschine drum pad
Credit: Funktasy

Whether you want to be an electronic music producer or a hip hop beat maker, any producer needs a mix of hardware and software to start producing music.

As a beat maker and music producer, your base of operations will always be your music production software, the DAW.

Unless you’re going the classic music production route of tape loops and drum machines, your DAW will be your absolute best friend.

Thankfully, for us lucky modern musicians, as long as you have a computer and a DAW, you can start producing music – every other tool is a luxury.

That being said, here’s a list of what should be your main pieces of kit:

This is the basic kit you need. Anything else will be a luxury & for specific things. E.g. Singer Songwriter, Mix & Master engineer etc.

What DAW Should I Use?

The choice of software is all up to you.

All of them have their strengths and weaknesses. Here are the most popular daws.

  • Ableton Live is our favourite music production software package. It’s the best for beat makers and producers who want a refined, fast workflow.
  • Pro Tools is the classic, industry standard studio music production software, suited best for recording and mixing audio in a studio environment.
  • Logic Pro X is the middle ground, it’s got great versatility for beat making, while providing a good experience for mixing and recording. It’s not the best at anything, but it’s good at a lot of things.
  • Reaper has to be mentioned here, since it’s the best DAW to start off with, if you’re going to be recording live instruments and doing mixing.
  • FL Studio is a great software package to learn the basics on, while powerful, it’s lacking in a lot of areas. While we don’t want to alienate any FL studio users, we feel there are more compelling options out there.

Ultimately, which digital audio workstation software you end up using is down to preference. To interact with your DAW, a good midi keyboard or midi controller will be a great addition to your kit.

If you’re using Ableton, the Ableton Push 2 is an incredible controller for producing music. If you’re looking for a more traditional keyboard layout, Native Instruments is a great choice.

Alternatively, you can also check out our list of the best Midi Keyboards!

Lastly, the listening environment in your home studio is key to getting a good sound. An untreated room will diminish any positive impact that your expensive monitors are providing. So before investing a grand into speakers, get some acoustic treatment, you’ll thank me later.

Singer Songwriter

singer songwriter music production
Credit: omroeplvc.nl

Unlike a music producer, a singer songwriter has an even smaller barrier of entry into music making. You probably already play an instrument, maybe some guitar or piano.

Effectively, you can write and perform some incredible tunes with just your voice and a piano.

If you want to record it or add some electronic instrumentation, you’ll need some gear however.

Here are the most important things you need as a singer songwriter:

  • Computer
  • DAW (Ableton Live, Logic Pro X, Pro Tools, Reaper)
  • Audio Interface
  • Microphone (SM7b is super versatile, if you don’t want to buy many mics)
  • Headphones

Other than the main important things, any good singer songwriter should own a Zoom field recorder.

A field recorder can serve as both an audio interface, a microphone and a recording platform all in one (if you get one of the more expensive ones).

If you want to record you playing guitar in a field with no electricity, this is the best way to do it.

A Zoom recorder is an incredibly versatile to put together new ideas, lay down demos, or even use as your primary recording device.

If you have an instrument and a way to record it, you should be on the path to victory my friend, everything past this point is on you.

Mastering/Mix Engineer

mixing and mastering engineer music production
Credit: SoundBetter.com

This list is going to be a bit different than the previous 2.

This is due to the fact that Mastering and Mixing engineers need a much more precise way of hearing the sound that they’re messing with.

Here are the minimum, that you’ll need to start working as an engineer.

The best advice we can give you, as an engineer, is to learn how to use Pro Tools. Comprehensive knowledge of Pro Tools is a sure fire way to get a job at a recording studio.

If you’re only looking to work from your home studio however, any DAW will work as long as you know how to use it.

Acoustic Treatment – do you need it?

A lot of beginner producers discount the importance of Acoustic Treatment.

Where most music production can be done just as well on a pair of headphones, mixing and mastering engineers tend to use monitors 95% of the time.

Studio headphones are usually used for referencing your mixes.

When you start to invest money into a proper monitoring setup, acoustic treatment is an absolute must.

You’ll be hard pressed to reach the same quality in your mixes, as an engineer with a properly treated room will.

A good starting treatment setup is getting a couple of bass traps for the wall directly behind your monitors, as well padding around the room.

A good carpet always helps reduce reflections, get a BIG one. Lastly, make sure your room doesn’t have any windows directly in front or behind your setup.

Acoustic reflections off of glass are extremely harsh, and hard to get rid of in the mix.

Ultimately, while it’s not the whole story, studio equipment matters a lot for mixing and mastering engineers.

How Do I Start To Sound Good Producing Music?

Sound Design

parawave rapid synth

Sound design is a very crucial part of music making.

Straying away from the usual presets and making your own patches and sounds, will add a lot of uniqueness to your music.

Learning the basics of synthesis and how sound works, is key to becoming good at sound design. Synthesizers aren’t the only avenue of sound design however.

You can start producing your sounds with a creative use of effects and manipulators.

Say you start with a midi piano.

You can compress it, give it some saturation, a slapback reverb and you end up with a completely different sound than you started with.

In essence, any choices that affect a sound can be used in sound design.

Sound Design Sessions

It’s also important to state the importance of doing seperate sound design sessions, without delving into music production.

Sit down for a couple of hours with only the goal of making cool sounds to save and use in the future.

Make some bass lines, hip hop drum loops, synths for electronic music, anything that you can think of. It’s also a good exercise, to recreate a sound from a song you like.

Make something that sounds like the original.

After this you can add to it and put together a completely new sound.

Ultimately everything boils down to what you want to get, figuring out the methodology comes after. We can’t express how useful this is in both, practicing sound design and gathering cool samples.

If you want some great resources on where to learn sound design, check our our learn sound design guide.

Sampling

mpc2000 drum pad music production

Sampling is incredibly fun… when you have the right audio clips. When you don’t, it can be a pain in the ass.

Using sampled sounds, can add a great depth to your music, whether it’s a noisy atmosphere layer, sampled drum loops, or just a rip of your mate playing piano on YouTube.

Sound selection when sampling, is key to getting good results.

How Do You Select The Right Sounds?

At it’s core, sound selection is a learned craft, however there are some key things to keep in mind.

Listen to sounds in context with your music.

Often, samples can sound incredible when they’re alone, but added in a mix, they just ruin the feel. That being said, you can take a sample and cut it and manipulate it in an infinite amount of ways. Any messy sample will work with a 4-4 beat if repeated in a rhythmic pattern.

As the don of Jazz, Adam Neely said: repetition legitimizes.

Don’t be afraid to use samples that are out there, manipulating them to more conventional rhythms will add an interesting layer to your music.

But being truthful, the sounds you spend hours working on aren’t always the ones that fit. Sometimes it just doesn’t work whatever you try.

The best advice we can give you is, don’t be afraid to delete and start over.

If at some point, what you’re adding is just not sounding good, but ruining the music, delete it and go a different route.

Don’t get attached to the work you put in, rather get attached to the result.

Music Theory

Music theory tends to be scary for a lot of beginner musicians.

After all, the world of music theory is vast and unending, and reaching those heights are reserved to some incredibly talented people.

However, theory can be broken down into simple chunks, which, if practiced enough, can be learned quite easily and intuitively.

The biggest help when learning music theory will come from being able to play the piano. Learning theory will always be the best, with a piano in front of you.

The absolute best way to learn scales and chords by heart, is to play them.

Improvising on the piano, while sticking to a certain musical scale or chord structure will help you learn at your own pace.

Same goes for rhythm, poly meters, polyrhythms, tuplets and other rhythmical concepts will never stick inside your head, if you don’t use them in context.

There are no shortcuts, when talking about music theory, you have to put in the work to get the results. That being said, it’s probably the most useful skill you’ll have if you’re making music of any kind.

Theoretical knowledge of song structure, harmony and rhythm will help you way more than any “how to learn music production” course ever will.

Adam Neely is great at explaining difficult theoretical concepts, his channel is a great source of information for people learning music theory.

Learn Your Theory!!

Structure

Song structure, at times called arrangement, is what can make or break your song.

Any amount of interesting sounds and great musical feats, will be quickly dulled with a bad song structure.

To get a great song structure do this:

  • Drag one of your favourite songs in your DAW.
  • Add markers where the intro, chorus, chorus B, breakdown etc.
  • Create new tracks & fill out midi blocks in these sections.

Like this:

music production structure

The main thing we usually notice that beginner producers struggle with is flow and musical motivation.

This isn’t the kind of motivation that helps you do your essay, but rather the kind of motivation that justifies changes in your song.

For example, transitioning from a Chorus into a B section is a great way to inject some dynamic interest in your arrangements.

But just dropping out elements and leaving others, can start to sound jarring and “blocky”.

Sometimes you can literally hear how the producers Ableton session looked like, which is not what you want to achieve with good song structure.

Having elements of your song lead into others, and play with the dynamics, helps to solidify your tracks.

If you do anything in your music, that choice should be justified.

If your tracks are 6 minutes long, there should be a reason for them being so long, if it’s just a couple of drops and main sections, you should make it shorter.

Imagine a first time listener finding your song and skipping before the best part, because you took 4 minutes to get there.

The key word here is motivation.

As long as any changes in your track aren’t just there for the sake of having a longer song, you’ll be golden.

Just remember, that you need to motivate your tracks forward, or it’ll start to drag and your listener will be sure to skip to the next track.

Practice

As with any other skill in life, practice makes perfect.

If you don’t practice, you won’t get any better – it’s as simple as that.

It’s important to leave time, to pure practicing sessions, free from the expectations of creating a new song.

How do you practice music production?

Well, first of all it’s very important to assess your strengths and weaknesses. What are your detriments and what do you want to improve?

If your arrangements suck, import a song, with a really great arrangement and flow, and just block it out in your DAW.

You could also try recreating the arrangement onto a track you’ve already made before. Line up your reference track and get to cutting.

The same goes if you want to practice chords…

You could mechanically drill through chord sheets and learn every chord under the sun, but using them in the appropriate context is where the juice is at.

Try learning the chords from a song you really love, by ear.

Slowly and manually figuring out what the chords and melodies are doing on your favourite songs, will help you to learn how to use chords, way faster than any textbook will.

Importance of learning piano

Piano at it’s core is the most upfront way of going from musical theory, to practice.

Learning to play piano is one of the most useful things you’ll learn as a producer or songwriter.

If you know how to play piano, you’re only limited by your theoretical knowledge and there’s no better way to learn theory, than with a piano.

It’s also incredibly important to set goals for yourself.

They don’t have to be outlandish goals, like getting a grammy, rather small, achievable goals, that will help you push yourself forward.

We have a comprehensive article about generating success as a DIY musician, you can get our exclusive goal setting template, to help you achieve your goals faster.

Mixing & Mastering

mixing desk music production

A bad mix is a sure-fire way to make your song worse.

A good mix however will make your song feel more alive and way more interesting to listen to.

As producers, nothing hurts us more than hearing the potential in a great song, being lost due to a crappy mix. Mixing and mastering are a completely different form of art, when compared to conventional music production.

A good mix and master are a sure fire way to make your music much more sonically interesting.

That being said, neither mixing, or mastering are magical tools.

If you start with low quality audio files and bad song structure, you won’t be able to make it shiny with a good mix. It’ll be better, but not the best.

A mix can’t fix your song, so before you send it off to an engineer, please make sure that your song and audio are of the highest possible quality.

Mastering is exactly the same, it can make your mix sound more exciting and loud, however it can’t make it better. You can’t fix mixing mistakes during mastering.

Beginner music producers usually look at mastering as a magical art of soundgoodizing, but it’s not that, rather it’s the last step to having presentable tracks.

How to send your music to an engineer.

It’s a good idea to send your music to an engineer for mixing and mastering, however, there is great value in doing it yourself.

If don’t want to be involved in the mixing or mastering check out our best mixing and mastering services guide.

That being said, here is a small list of what you need to make sure is done, before sending your music off to an engineer for mixing and mastering.

  • Make sure your audio is the highest possible quality.
  • Make sure none of your channels are clipping
  • Export stems that are all the same length, so that the engineer doesn’t have to rebuild your song
  • Don’t export a drum bus, split your drums into seperate channels.
  • Provide your engineer with the BPM and key of your song.
  • For mastering, make sure to leave at least -6db of headroom in the final mix

A good rule of thumb is to have separate people doing the mix and the master, this may not be possible for beginners, but it’s one of the better ways to getting the absolute best results.

Keep in mind, mixing can be very fun, when you know the basics of it.

Take the time to learn basic mixing techniques, you won’t regret it.

Some good sources for learning mixing are Rick Beato, Andrew Scheps and RecordingRevolution on Youtube.

Get Feedback From People

You’ve finally finished your track! Good job!

After working a couple weeks on it however, you’ve started losing context, and can no longer look at your song objectively.

Getting feedback from other people is pretty much an essential part of figuring out if what you’ve made is good.

Whether what you’ve made is incredible or it’s just a stepping stone to better music in the future, a second or maybe a third opinion is incredibly valuable.

We like to audition our songs for at least a month, sending it to friends, family and anyone who’ll listen.

This way, you’re going to get a better understanding of how well you’ve done, when making your track, as well as if your track has any lifespan in it.

You don’t want your track to get boring after a couple listens, you want your music to last, which is why getting feedback and auditioning your song is so important.

Where do you get people to listen to your music if nobody is responding to you?

We’ll take this time to push our Facebook group, we do Feedback Friday, every week and everyone is welcome to submit a track.

So don’t worry if your friends don’t have time to open up SoundCloud, get on Whipped Cream Sounds and get the opinions of our community of talented producers.

Where Do I Start Learning Music Production? (Great Resources)

Along with our own material, there are a multitude of amazing resources for learning production

Want to know how to learn sound design?

Alternatively, here are a few of our favourite Youtube resources for music production

Or visit these awesome websites for great tutorials and articles about production.