What Is Music Production? – Everything You Need To Know

Q: What is Music Production?

By the traditional definition, a music producer is someone who oversees, manages, and guides the process of producing and recording a song. In recent years, that definition has changed a bit & now incorporates bedroom producers, mix & mastering engineers and studio recording engineers.

mixing & mastering desk music production

You’ve been listening to some popular producers and have decided to become a music producer yourself. The only issue is, you don’t really know what music production is.

In this article, you’ll learn all about what a music producer does, the things you should know about being a music producer, as well as some potential career paths. And most importantly – how to get started with music production…

Types of Producers

Something that people not in the know, tend to turn a blind eye towards, is just how vague of a term music production is.

A music producer can be somebody making their own music, helping others reach their musical goals, or just simply making things sound good.

Knowing what type of producer you are, or will be, is key, to knowing how to get started with music production.

Here’s the 3 main types of music producers you might encounter:

1. Bedroom Producer

bedroom producer music production setup
digitaldjtips.com

We’ll start off with bedroom producers.

We are bedroom producers too, but this doesn’t mean we literally produce in our bedroom.

It’s more of a blanket term for a music producer, that oversees every single aspect of a song, from writing, arranging, mixing, mastering and sound design.

Of all the producer types, the bedroom producer is the most versatile. This does however mean you’ll have to dip your toes in many pools, to start making some quality music. There are probably 10 times more bedroom producers than any other music producers.

The barrier of entry for a bedroom producer, in 2021 is absolutely non-existant.

As long as you have a computer and can get your hands on a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), you can start making music right away.

However, if you’re looking for an easy hobby, this isn’t it…

Being a music producer is difficult for a number of reasons. The main one being that it takes a long time to get to a level where your music is actually worth releasing. Realistically, if you’re starting from ground zero, it will take you at least a year or two, before anything you make will be “good”.

There are intricacies involved in music production that, not only take ages to understand in theory, but require deliberate practice. Even if you’ve got great musical ideas, your mixing skills might not be great, or your sound design may not be up to standard.

Take compression for example, the concept of compression is theoretically quite simple.

But using a compressor effectively and accurately, as well as being able to discern what your compressor is doing to your audio, takes a lot of practice. As a bedroom producer, you really can’t cut any corners, you’re responsible for the entire creative process.

You have to know everything that goes into creating a finished, polished track – from creating the sounds, to writing, to creating a finished mix, there’s a lot to learn!

Before you jump off the deep end with music production; ask yourself if you’re willing to put in the time, and deal with the frustration that comes with learning production.

Most importantly though, and despite the difficulty, being a music producer is rewarding!

There’s nothing more satisfying than finishing your own music and having people appreciate it.

The rewards outweigh the frustration by far.

2. Studio / Recording Music Producer

recording engineer studio setup
soundonsound.com

A studio producer is what most industry music professionals associate the word: “music producer” with. But, they’re a completely different breed from the Bedroom Producer.

As a studio producer, you’ll be responsible for overseeing an artists recording process as well as the final track or album.

A studio producer is usually somebody hired by the artist, or the label, to be the technical and creative leader, that will help the artist achieve the best sound they can.

Essentially, a studio producers job is to make the musicians and instruments sound the best that they can. And, of all the music producer types, this is probably the one, that is the most hard to get into & succeed in.

After all, being able to put aside any musical bias, as well as looking at every aspect of the music objectively, takes a certain type of person.

You might often end up working on an album you don’t like, but this doesn’t give you a reason to do a worse job. And on top of that, you need the absolute trust of all parties included in the recording process.

After all, you’re not doing the recording, nor are you playing an instrument, you are there for your musical taste and expert knowledge of your field.

That being the case, as a Studio Engineer, you have to be the best you can possibly be in every aspect of music production.

Nobody ever became a studio producer as their first job in the music industry. If you’re new to the world of music production and have just recently realized you want to become a music producer – it’s probably best for you to start with the bedroom producer route.

Learn about every aspect the creative process, work with as many artists as possible, and someday, you might start fulfilling the role of the record producer.

3. Mixing/Mastering engineer

mixing & mastering engineer studio setup

The Mix & Mastering engineer is solely responsible for the clarity and loudness of a track. They don’t do anything with sound design, or the music writing; they just make the finished piece sound as pristine as it possibly can. This improves the sound quality & listening experience.

Every track you hear on Spotify, Apple Music (& the others), will have been carefully mixed and mastered by an engineer.

A mix engineer is mostly responsible for the end piece sounding good, & reaching commercial loudness levels, but they’ll also be free to add their own creative flair to the track through, reverb choice, delay, colour, warmth & more.

This freedom often makes mixing, the most creative and unrestricted aspect of the music production process. Mixing can be incredibly rewarding, because it doesn’t have many restraints.

Musicians are restricted by their instruments, but mixing engineer’s are only limited to the audio itself.

For instance: an artist will usually be writing music in modern western harmony and rhythms, whereas a mixing engineer is only boxed in by the sonic quality, and feel of the end product.

Freedom with mixing only comes, when you’ve become comfortable with the technical and theoretical aspects of it.

Mixing is a learned skill, it’s not a singular process. When mixing you’ll be encountered with a tonne of problems to sort out that can all have different solutions. No solution is the wrong solution, as long as it gets a good result.

For example, most mixing engineers try to stay away from overly limiting their master busses. But, the legendary Nirvana engineer, Steve Albini limits every single master buss that he has, and he’s not afraid to push it.

Why? It compliments his own personal mixing style and sound.

Almost everyone would want to sound like Andrew Scheps, or Steve Albini, but as an engineer – finding your unique voice is incredibly important.

mixing and mastering engineer

With mixing and mastering there’s a high barrier to entry. The gear costs a lot, & has got to be really precise for you to be able to make the right adjustments to audio.

While you can definitely create an incredible sounding mix on a pair of $40 HD206, a professional mixing engineer uses high quality gear like, studio monitors.

With a great set of monitors comes another cost: acoustics.

If you’re working in an untreated room, it’ll sound like you’re working in an untreated room. And, you’ll be involuntarily injecting the sonic quality of your room, into every track you work on.

So, you’ll need a good set of monitors & acoustic treatment to avoid this. Also, you might end up buying a tonne of plugins, so beware of that!

Don’t be scared of the outright cost of entry though, you can easily start on a simple setup, learn the basics, & even end up being able to produce great sounding mixes.

It entirely depends on having a great ear & knowing your gear. We use $40 AKG headphones to mix & getreally good results because, we know how they sound, & make adjustments based on that.

Even with more expensive headphones, we always find ourselves going back to the equipment we know inside and out.

Check out our best studio headphones guide to get yourself a pair of mix ready cans!

A great mixing engineer at their core, is a great problem solver and creative thinker. You’ll also have to have good communication skills as you’ll be working with a wide variety of clients.

Where Do I Start?

30 years ago, if you wanted to get started in the music industry, you’d need an expensive recording setup – modern producers have it easy.

As long as you have a computer and a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), you’re fully set to start your production journey (aside from track recording).

That being said, there are a lot of things that will help you when recording, or when doing more advanced production.

What You’ll Need

music production meme
Credit: Thomann

So what are the main things you’ll need to start music production?

Here’s a little checklist of the main things you need to get a full setup from most important to least:

Remember, that besides a computer and a DAW, every other piece of kit is an optional luxury.

Music Producers tend to really obsess over the best plugins for music production. When considering your entry costs, keep in mind that once you pop, you can’t stop.

There’ll always be a newer and better plugin, that you “REEEALLY NEED”. Just keep this in mind… when just starting out with producing, less is more & you have loads of amazing plugins included with popular DAWs.

If you want to know what the best vst plugins of 2021 are, check out our best VST plugins guide.

Where To Start Learning

So you’ve got your kit, now what do you do with it?

It really depends on what you want to do, but a good idea is to start with learning the basics of music and music production.

If you’ve never done anything with music before, we suggest getting to grips with basic music theory. A basic understanding of music theory is probably the most useful thing you’ll learn as a producer.

Watch a lot of tutorials. Especially when learning new software! And try to read the manual… we know it sucks, but it’s honestly there for a reason.

If you don’t know anything about production, here are some of the basic techniques and concepts you should learn as a beginner producer:

  • How to use your DAW of choice.
  • Music Theory
  • Sampling
  • Editing
  • What is synthesis and how to use it
  • Gain structure (how to prevent clipping)
  • Audio theory aka how sound works
  • Rudimental mixing techniques (EQ, Compression)
  • Creative effects (Reverb, Delay, Flanger)
  • Arrangement and song structure

As long as you know how to use your DAW and know how to make a song sound great, that’s all you need.

For those of us without an incredible amount of dormant talent for music production, taking things slow and steady is how you’ll get better.

The most important thing you’ll hear from everyone when starting on your music production journey:

USE. YOUR. EARS.

Workflow

bedroom music producer music production setup

Every new concept or technique you learn, should be used in context as soon as possible. This will help to solidify your newfound knowledge, better.

That being said, not everything you’ll learn is always going to be helpful. There are a lot of things in music production that offer diminishing returns.

A good knowledge of the basics will mean you can start to discern, what is useful to you and what isn’t. After all, you’re making the music – nobody will be doing it for you.

For this case, it’s necessary to point out that it’s essential to settle into a workflow that fits your style of music production.

A good workflow will mean you can start to experiment with new techniques and ideas within the context of your music production workflow. It’ll also help you get into creative flow a lot faster, & stop you staring at an empty project with the same 8bar loop you can’t progress.

As long as you make good music, your technique doesn’t matter. Never let a technical “rule” get in the way of a great song.

So, to recap:

  • If you’re starting off as a music producer, you need to get to grips with the software you’ll be using.
  • You need a basic understanding of music theory as well as how sound functions.
  • And most importantly, you need to learn as many new things as possible.

Give yourself as much choice as you can, so that eventually, you’re only limited by your imagination and not your technical skill.

Remember, learning about something you love and find interest in can be extremely fun and rewarding, but you can also kill it if you ‘try’/’push’ it too hard.

Try to not get overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of the music production world, take it slow and you’ll get there eventually!

Useful Resources

The best resources nowadays are all mostly online.

Between YouTube channels and websites, you can find anything and everything you’ll ever need to know about music production.

That being said, along with our own great material, we’ve made sure to include some books as well, for you old school people out there.

Here are some of our favourite resources for learning music production:

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

Want to learn from a book?

Summary

To recap:

By the traditional definition, a music producer is someone who oversees, manages, and guides the process of producing and recording a song. In recent years, that definition has changed a bit & now incorporates bedroom producers, mix & mastering engineers and studio recording engineers.