How To Start Producing Music – The Ultimate Beginners Guide

Making music is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Especially now, when it’s so easy to start that nearly anyone can start producing music, knowing where to start can be quite confusing.

To help you on your music production journey, let’s look at the things you need to learn, to start to produce music.

What is Music Production

Music Production is a blanket term, that refers to the creation of music, in all aspects. Music Producers deal with the entire production process from start to finish.

From composing, to mixing, mastering etc. Music Producers are the jack-of-all-trades people of the music industry.

Music Producers usually split between Artist Producers and Studio producers, for the sake of this article, we’ll focus on the Artist Producer, but we’ll talk about other production roles too.

So enough introductions, let’s look into how to start producing music!

1. Get a DAW

The DAW is the heart of your music production set-up. No matter if you’re a bedroom producer, or work in a big-time studio, everything ends up in a DAW. Even the expensive mixing desks eventually end up going through a DAW.

This is where you’ll be able to arrange your music, create sounds, make drums, etc.

Thankfully, over the last years, the DAW market has become more vibrant than ever, offering some pretty great options for a pretty low entry point.

Our favourite picks for starting music production are:

  • Ableton Live
  • Logic Pro X
  • Reaper
  • GarageBand (free)

If you’re completely strapped for cash, there are also an incredible range of free DAW’s available to download and use. And, on top of that, if you don’t have access to a computer, there are some great mobile DAW’s too.

  • For Android phones – Caustic is an awesome app, that let’s you make entire songs, with different instruments, synths and effects.
  • For iPhone, you have native access to GarageBand, which is an awesome DAW, but if you want an upgrade, the FLIP sampler is an incredible mobile DAW.

You’ll eventually want to shell out for a full priced DAW, so let’s take a look at some of the best options in more detail.

Ableton Live

Ableton Live 11

Compatibility: Windows & MacPrice: $99 – $749

Ableton Live is our favourite DAW, and is the fastest out of them all, providing an incredible workflow.

It provides an inspiring freedom to create anything you might ever want. With Extremely good built-in synthesizers, effects and tonnes of professional grade sounds, there isn’t a better option for people looking to start music production.

That being said, it’s not the most intuitive software for beginners and it can be quite unappealing on first-look. While we think Live looks great – we’re used to it. And… beginners can easily get overwhelmed by Ableton Live’s vast amount of options and controls.

The full version of Ableton Live Suite can also be quite expensive, but there’s a 90-Day Free Trial as well as a free version of Ableton Live available.

Check out this awesome article, if you want to know more about how to get Ableton Live for FREE!

Logic Pro X

Logic Pro x

Compatibility: Mac onlyPrice: $199

Logic Pro X is probably the DAW you’ll go for if Ableton doesn’t appeal to you. In fact, Live and Logic have been close competitors for years.

That being said, with every new update, Logic Pro X is getting closer to Ableton, so the comparisons made between these two can only be made in close details.

Logic Pro X is instantly more appealing to beginner producers. Logic is actually what we started off using first. The GUI is nice, and it’s got everything you need. It’s amazing for metering, mixing, mastering, recording and electronic production.

It’s really an all-rounder.

Since, we’ve made the switch to Ableton, but that didn’t come until years of Logic Pro X use. And, Logic is still a DAW I would recommend to beginners over Ableton.

Logic offers way more visual feedback for what you’re doing. For instance, if you add a keyboard to a MIDI Channel, you’ll see a keyboard icon.

Logic Pro X is also better suited for people that do a lot of recording. So, if you’re a singer, or produce music for your band, Logic Pro X is probably the DAW for you.

But as a result of all this, Logic is far more clunky for automation, mapping MIDI and other things. If you’re an Apple fan, then you’ll probably get along with the workflow, but there are a lot of annoying bottlenecks which

Ableton Live is better suited for electronic music, Logic Pro excels in a hybrid scenario, offering both awesome recording and digital instrumentation possibilities.

Just like Ableton Live, Logic Pro X also offers a Free Trial you can use, however, unlike Live, Logic Pro X is a MacOS exclusive, so if you’re using Windows, Ableton might be the best option for you.

Reaper

reaper DAW

Compatibility: Windows, Mac, LinuxPrice: $60 – $225

Usually this spot would be taken by Pro Tools, easily the most popular “studio” DAW. However, we’re trying to think of beginners here, and Pro Tools isn’t great as a beginner’s DAW.

Reaper on the other hand, is one of the cheapest DAW’s you can get.

It’s extremely customisable as well, and you can essentially make Reaper look and feel the way you want it.

Based on an open-source architecture, Reaper has solidified itself as one of the best DAW’s out there, while being a fraction of the price of other professional software packages.

In fact, some studios are completely switching away from Pro Tools in favor of Reaper. In part due to Avid’s pricing and business model, but also due to Reaper just feeling less stuffy than Pro Tools.

If you’re interested in recording sounds, working with bands, mixing etc. Reaper is an extremely solid option. It’s also really beginner friendly, with tons of tutorials online.

GarageBand

garageband DAW

Compatibility: Mac onlyPrice: $199

Lastly, if you own an Apple computer, you have access to the Mac OS native GarageBand. While it may have started as a bare-bones loop station, GarageBand has grown into an awesome little DAW.

Since Apple’s acquisition of Logic Pro, GarageBand has become the little brother of Logic. Offering a very similar workflow and layout, the only thing missing from GarageBand are synth plugins, presets and advanced plugins.

You get some pretty awesome instruments and also have some effects like:

  • Reverb
  • Delay
  • Compression

That being said, with GarageBand and a fleet of free plugins, you can create really great music. In fact, there are plenty of professional musicians, that have gotten so good at GarageBand, they don’t need anything else.

And you can make some insane stuff on it. Sam Gellaitry has often posted GarageBand phone sessions, and they sound incredible.

Add to that the fact you also can have GarageBand on your iPhone and you can start to understand the appeal of this awesome little DAW.

If you’ve been using GarageBand already, and have been loving the workflow, but want more content and stuff to do, consider getting Logic Pro X. These two programs have become quite similar, so switching between them is very easy and painless.

You can also open GarageBand iPhone projects in Logic. So, you could capture an idea and then move it to Logic to finish.

2. Start Learning Sound Design

Making music is all about sound, but we probably didn’t need to tell you that. The point is, making sounds will be a large portion of what you’ll do as a music producer.

Whether you’re making synth loops, or chopping up samples, learning how to manipulate sound in the way you want is key to creating your production style.

The learning process will be different for everyone, but the key concepts remain consistent.

First of all, you need to know effects. An understanding of the basics of audio processing will be a massive help when making sounds.

Learning how to use Saturators, Reverb, Chorus, etc. are just a few things that you’ll need to pick up.

Exactly what you’ll end up using on a daily basis is all up to you, but knowing what you can do is the best way to figuring out what you want to do.

Next, learning the basics of synthesizers is extremely important, if you want to make your own patches and sounds to play. While you will probably adjust a few knobs randomly for your first song, learning how to control your digital instruments is important.

We recommend starting with Serum because it’s user-friendly and has a load of online tutorials on how to make sounds using it, so you won’t be stumped for learning resources.

We’ve done some tutorials on Mr Carmack, Medasin, 53 Thieves and we’re constantly adding to them!

Also, there’s a lot of music theory stuff on this site too, breaking down huge artists:

YouTube tutorials, from channels like Andrew Huang, SynthHacker, and Mr. Bill will also be a great help too!

Andrew Huang is really good at explaining these concepts such as sound design, synthesis, quickly and intuitively.

Mr. Bill is our favorite source of sound design techniques and tutorials. While he mostly focuses on dubstep and IDM, his tips are extremely helpful for all genres of synthesized sound.

Some other great YouTube Channels about Music Production: Dan Worrall, SpectreSoundStudios, RedMeansRecording, Adam Neely as well as Kenny Beats.

3. Learn About Mixing & Mastering

mixing and mastering studio

While beginner stages of music production usually leave mixing behind, learning how to make your music sound good is just as important, as knowing how to make it in the first place.

Unless you have the money to pay for mixing and mastering every time you release a song, you better learn it on your own.

Mixing and Mastering can sometimes feel like part of the dark arts, but they’re not. Once you get your head around the basic concepts of Gain Structure, Panning and Dynamics, you’re already most of the way done with learning mixing. After that, it’s all practice.

The best way to start learning mixing would be to take it step-by-step.

Start by learning how to level your mix first. Setting up proper gain structure for your instruments, so that they achieve a good balance of volume, is key to a cohesive mix.

If you don’t have any tracks to work on just yet, don’t worry!

You can download full stems from Cambridge Music Technology, which you can use to practise on. These are songs that have been released, and mixed and mastered by pros. You can compare your version to the released one, and keep learning!

Go on to Equalization, or EQ, to shape each element in the way you want it. EQ’s let you control the entire spectrum of frequencies for every sound, essentially allowing you to make certain frequencies louder, or quieter.

Frequency charts can be a massive help when EQ’ing, letting you instantly see, where an instrument should sit sonically. Download our awesome EQ cheat-sheets on our free downloads page, to help you out!

Lastly – Dynamics. This includes compressors, limiters and multiband processors. A basic understanding of compression can go a long way. While new producers tend to struggle to get their heads around compression, learning it as soon as you can, will give you an edge over other producers.

Compressors are probably the most powerful mixing tool you have available, learning how to use them comes with a learning curve, but it will be what takes your sound to a new level.

After this start learning about clipping, distortion, reverbs and creative effects that will give warmth to you mixes.

We’ve also got some great articles that will help you start mixing and mastering:

Check out our tutorials section on the website, or use the search function to take a look for tutorials you’d like. We’ve tagged everything so you should be able to find some very interesting stuff.

4. Start Learning Arrangement

Ableton Live music production structuring

As musicians, our goal is to make songs. But when we started producing music, we were getting stuck on 8-bar loops, that sounded cool, but what to do next?

This is one of a few things, that new producers run into, that seems like the first big roadblock. Learning how to arrange your instruments and tracks in a way, that makes a compelling song, is what will take you out of loop-hell.

Let’s look at our favourite ways of arranging music!

Subtractive Arranging

Subtractive Arranging is probably the easiest way you can go from an 8 bar loop, to an entire song. Copy your loop, to be as long as you want your track to be. Now, you can start cutting parts from your big block of looping instruments.

Cutting out bass and top loops in the intro and bridge, then bringing them back for a verse is a good way to create movement.

Movement in this case, is the most important thing in your arrangements.

Subtractive arranging can come with the downside of feeling too blocky, and lacking movement. Creating different parts for different sections in your song is a good way to give some interest to your arrangements.

You can change up a rhythmic pattern, or slow it down to half-time. The key is to keep it moving, nobody wants to listen to a 3-minute loop with an intro and outro.

Creatively cutting parts from individual tracks can lead to interesting rhythms and sections that divert expectations. Creating movement and interest with your arrangement is what will make a listener want to listen to the entire track, not just skip to the best bits.

Additive Arranging

Additive arranging is entirely opposite to subtractive arranging. This is also harder to pull off, if you don’t have a rock-solid musical idea in your mind already.

Additive Arranging is a great way to make a very engaging and interesting arrangement.

Going step by step, and either copying new parts in, or making variations for every bar, will start to create a cohesive arrangement the further you go.

When arranging this way, you can prepare transitions ahead of time, leading to a better flow entirely.

That being said, this is not the easiest way to go about making music if you’re a new producer.

Without a very solid idea of where you’re trying to go, the song can easily start sounding all over the place and lose any melodic centre.

Whatever way you decide to arrange your music, is up to your personal style of production. Some producers work within drum racks, some work with individual audio clips. Neither way is better, it’s all down to preference.

Same goes for arranging, you might stumble upon a unique way to put together your arrangements, this might work for you, but won’t work for others. As long as you’re making compelling and awesome music, the process doesn’t matter.

5. Learn About Files and Export Settings

waveform

When all is said and done and you have your entire song finished, how do you properly export your music? Hearing complaints of exports sounding different than they did in your DAW is nothing new, and usually is caused by incorrect export settings.

The basic settings you should look out for are: file type, bit depth and sample rate.

For professional audio, you’ll need to export your music as .WAV or .AIFF files. These are un-compressed audio files, unlike mp3, which compresses your audio down to 320kbps.

The best export settings, and recording settings to choose are 32-bit floating files. These are great, and there’s an awesome article that explains why here.

That being said, there’s no need to complicate things when you’re just starting out. Your exports should mostly be 24-bit, so make sure you have it set up correctly within your DAW.

Sample Rate requirements differ depending on your platform or medium.

If you’re putting music on a CD, you should export your music with a sample rate of 44.1 kHz. For any other application, whether it’s streaming or download, 48 kHz is all you need.

To recap: as long as your files are 24-bit, 48 kHz .WAV or .AIFF files, your exports should sound just as good as they sound in your DAW

6. Start Adding To Your Plugin Collection

logic pro x plugins

Let’s face it, plugins are the bane of every producers existence. While they are awesome, provide incredible amounts of options and sounds, it’s too easy to get lost in gear-acquisition-syndrome.

When using DAW’s like Ableton Live or Logic Pro X, you already have everything you need to make music.

Usually with hundreds of ways to shape your sound, as well as multiple different synths and gigabytes of samples, stock libraries have gotten so advanced, that you don’t really need anything else.

With that in mind however, at a certain point in your production journey, you will run into some roadblocks, which you’ll want to expand your plugin collection for.

You might want to get a better synth plugin, or some cool digital audio effects. And, usually they’ll help you make better music.

Beginners can get carried away with purchasing plugins though, so be warned!

There are always fantastic free options to download, so check those first, and make sure you’re getting a plugin for a solid reason.

For instance: “I need a compressor to warm up my vocals” – that’s a good reason.

Not: “this plugin is going to make my music instantly better because I saw someone else using it and they made something great”.

Placing too much importance on plugins can lead you to creating dead mixes. For example, Sausage Fattener is an awesome saturator, but it’s very situational. Learning how to use the Ableton built-in saturator will be more valuable to you than getting Sausage Fattener.

As long as you get plugins when you need them, you’ll be alright. Just don’t be one of those kids putting Drip on everything.

*2 CLiCkS bRO!*

7. Look Into Studio Equipment, Monitors & Treatment

If you imagine a music producer, you probably imagine a guy in a studio, with tons of equipment and synthesizers around. Do you need this to make music? If so, what are the basics you’ll need?

To put it simply, you technically need only a computer or phone to start making music. When you want to start recording instruments however, you will need to get some hardware.

Let’s look closer at what you might need!

Studio Equipment

The basics of any music production setup are Input and Output.

You will need an audio interface to handle the input. 2-channel interfaces can be quite cheap, and will let you record vocals, instruments, as well as hook up your speakers or headphones to. There’s a great list of audio interfaces you can check out here, to help you decide what is best for you.

The Output is what will be the most important. Hearing the music you’re making, the way it actually sounds, is important, to create music that sounds good.

For this reason, a good listening setup is important.

A pair of Audio-Technica or Beyerdynamic headphones is a great start for all music producers. These provide awesome transparency and a flat frequency response, letting you hear what you’re doing, more accurately.

When looking for headphones it’s important to get a pair that’s in your budget and suits you. There’s a great list you can check out here, that will help you decide.

Music that has been made exclusively on headphones, can sound boxy and claustrophobic, so getting a set of studio monitors will be an awesome addition to your setup.

Try not to cheap out on your monitors. If you’re investing into a set of production speakers, you better make sure they sound flat and transparent. ADAM Audio speakers are awesome, the T5V and T7V monitors are reasonably prices, and provide incredible sound quality.

When you get monitors however, you run into a new issue, which is, acoustics.

Acoustics

When you’re serious about making sure your music sounds good, acoustics are key, to getting a good listening environment.

Room Acoustics are so important, that we’d rather choose 300 dollar monitors in a good room, rather than 5000 dollar monitors in a bad room.

If the room you’re producing in has a lot of reflection, standing waves and boominess, no matter how much you spend on your speakers, these issues won’t go away, and will translate onto your mixes.

Taking care of your basic room acoustics is key to making great sounding music. Carpeted floors are awesome, taking care of a massive reflective surface. Treating your walls can be done quite cheaply as well.

Surprisingly, one of the best materials for sound absorption are towels. Making Wooden frames, and pulling towels over them in 3-5 Layers will create a super effective acoustic panel.

Making multiple of these can instantly make your room much better for acoustics.

Microphones

studio microphone

If you’re planning to record any sound, you’ll need a microphone. Microphones are situational, some are better for recording guitars, some better for vocals.

That being said, as a beginner, you probably don’t want to buy 10 mics to cover your basics. If you’re planning on only recording one instrument or channel at a time, all you need is a great sounding and versatile microphone.

The Shure SM7B is probably the best and most versatile microphone you can get as a beginner. It’s not that cheap, but it’s great on everything from drums, to vocals, to guitars and everything else.

If you want something cheaper, and SM 58A or SM57 are budget classics, and you can pick one up used for less than $60.

Alternatively, if you like recording outside, or using portable instruments to record music, a Zoom recorder is an awesome piece of kit. a Zoom H6 has 4 combi XLR TRS inputs, so the Zoom recorded can serve as both an audio interface, as well as a mic, at the same time.

In fact, every producer should have a zoom recorder, they’re just that awesome.

8. Create A Practice Routine You Stick To

Creating a routine that works for you really is how you get success in anything.

Our advice is to spend the majority of your time inside your DAW software, playing around with it to find out what everything does, rather than mindlessly watching music production tutorials.

You really want to aim to make your first 50 songs start to finish.

It doesn’t matter how good they are, just complete them, and move on with it. You’re not releasing music yet, no one is hearing it, so chill, and just make stuff – you’ll learn a lot from doing.

Start with at least 30 minutes of practice/day.

This is a small amount of time and is easy to get started with & stick to.

Consistency is what you’re aiming for here. So, build the habit of opening up your DAW every single day, and then start to increase the time, once that habit is set in stone. This will make it easier for you to increase time and stay consistent with it.

If your session is going well, continue it. If it’s going bad, and you get frustrated, stop.

You won’t get anywhere forcing yourself to sit there annoyed. Actually, you’ll burn out.

Make sure you have breaks, and stop when you aren’t enjoying it anymore, or you’ll be de-motivated to open your DAW next time.

Here’s what a good music production schedule could look like:

  • Monday: Beat making – your goal here is to make a beat. Throw some stuff in your session, drums, loops, plugins. Play around with everything and see what it does. Don’t worry if you can’t create a full track – that doesn’t matter right now – you are learning.
  • Tuesday: Sound Design Session – look up videos about your favourite artists, pick a synth and learn it inside and out. After you’re done watching, play around with the synth settings to see what each does, and how the sound reacts. Don’t be afraid to crank the settings.
  • Wednesday: Mixing & Mastering – take your beat from Monday, or download stems from Cambridge Music Technology, load these up in your DAW, and try to mix them together. You want each sound to have its own space, and want to make it sound better than it did before.
  • Thursday: Music Theory Session – start to learn the basics of music theory. Watch some tutorials about music theory for music producers, then open up your DAW and apply what you have learned. Don’t worry about it sounding good just yet, just do it and think later.
  • Friday: Beat making – continue working on your beat from Monday, or start a new one! Entirely up to you. It’s better to try and finish tracks at first, even if they don’t sound good.
  • Saturday: Sound Design Session – open up your chosen synth, and start to play around with it. Load up some presets, see how they’ve been made, play around with the settings and see what each knob does.
  • Sunday: Mixing & Mastering – watch some tutorials, read articles, and then apply what you are learning to your own music. You’ll learn more by doing it.

Everyone is different, so find a routine that works for you. You’ll have to switch things around and make notes to help you remember and solidify what works for you and what doesn’t.

Writing in a journal after each session things like:

  • What went well?
  • What do I need to work on?
  • How did I feel during that?
  • What could I do better next time?
  • How could I feel it more next time?

Will all help to build your routine into something that suits you.

Above all, make music. That’s your main focus. After you’ve written 50 songs, you can start to focus on making them better, and improving your mixing ability, sound design and more.

Finishing Up

Making music is one of the most fulfilling things you can do. The pleasure of finishing your first song is something nobody forgets. That being said, knowing how to start producing music can be tough, and unintuitive.

Whether that’s using digital audio workstations, learning basic music theory or mixing and mastering, creating music can be just as rewarding as it can be frustrating and tough.

The key to making great music however is knowing what to do with your ideas, sounds and arrangements.

We’ve tried to cover all the basics to get you started on your music production journey, the rest is up to you. Whether you want to start mixing music, or expand on your basic music theory, growth will be what sets you apart from other producers.