Being a music producer sounds like a cool job to have. And it is.
Not only that but as you probably figured out, if you do it well and play the cards right it can also bring in a lot of cash.
But how do you get into that? What exactly is a music producer? How do you become one? What tools might you need? How do you build up your success as a music producer?
These are just some of the questions that we’ll try to find answers for in this guide. Stick around and let’s find out.
In this guide
1. What is a music producer?
In it’s simplest description, a music producer is a person with a vision for a music piece.
He or she can also be the one to compose said music or just bring in other people to compose and/or record the song and guide them to meet the vision.
The same producer can also take and re-mix other songs, bringing his own twist to it and moving away from the original song to various degrees.
Why? Because he has a vision for the said song that he believes can be more fun, enjoyable, maybe even more melancholic, dramatic, a different genre, because he can, because why not?
Due to this fluidity, the term can be confusing and it doesn’t explain very specifically the full responsibility of said producer in a song.
By comparison, a mix engineer gets a bunch of individual tracks and “glues” them together. A guitar player, well…he plays guitar. A recording artist signs and so on and so forth.
A music producer, he makes music happen.
How exactly he does that depends on the person itself.
2. How to become a music producer?
This is again a tricky question with a somewhat open-ended answer.
Because being a music producer is no a clear-cut job, neither is a path to it.
There are multiple ways of getting there so we’ll try to go through as many options as we can and figure out what are the key steps you can take with each.
2.1 Find your thing. What sounds like fun to you?
Here is the thing. I’ll assume you’ll start from the ground up. If you are not, more power to you but I can’t make that assumption.
With that in mind…
The thing in music, generally, is that it can take a lot of time to get to a nice place where that is your main source of income and once you are there you got to keep going not to fall off the face of the planet.
Sure, some people get or are lucky to be “found” and signed to a good deal quite fast. Some already have some connections that can make things a bit easier in the beginning and so on.
For most people… it will be a slow process of building up, skills, connections, experience, learning the industry and so on.
The point is, you need to enjoy what you are doing, otherwise, there is no point to it and you’ll eventually quit.
So, what is it that you want to be doing?
EDM, hip hop beats, sound design, film scores, etc?
Not sure? Experiment until you figure out.
2.2 Music production schools
In the “old” days and even now, the more straightforward option to get into production is to go to school and get a job at a studio.
The school part has a few different options you can take depending on your situation.
You can go to a music college or you can take independent classes and courses, attend workshops, some with the option to take them online.
Aside from the actual course, in the meantime, try to get internships/jobs to get to be around studios and the people involved as much as possible.
After graduation, continue with internships/jobs at studios and from this point, you basically wait for a shot in the spotlight.
Like mentioned before, it’s not a straightforward thing so you’ll just need to keep your eyes open to spot an opportunity to shine.
2.3 Flying solo
Most people involved in the actual production of music probably have some home studio of sorts.
You can start with a home studio and work your way up. But, this isn’t as sexy as you might imagine.
First off you need to realize that you’re on your own, this means that you have to push yourself to do what you have to do.
There is nobody to put any pressure on you to learn your DAW (digital audio workstation) or plugins or to finish that track from last night.
There are also possible space issues, you might not have room to add much equipment, you might need some sound treatment, etc.
These you can probably deal with if you are dead serious about this endeavor but it’s not as simple as you might have been lead to believe.
Another issue is that you are isolated. So if you take this approach also make sure to start building up contacts in the industry and create new relationships, a.k.a. make some friends in the music space.
You can use social media or forums to find people, attend events big and small, and just be around talking to people.
If you take this path, use these resources as much as possible and avoid becoming a basement vampire that doesn’t interact with other people.
2.4 Flying with a partner
Not mutually exclusive from the previous way of doing things, finding a partner to work with might be a great opportunity.
And by partner I mean an artist you help or a band. You are both at the start of your careers so you can help each other.
Now, like in any partnerships, there are caveats you need to pay attention to. Not all partnerships are going to work.
Not every neighborhood wannabe is actually going to put in the effort to get somewhere.
So I would say, try partnering up with people but if you see them slacking maybe cut the ties and move on.
Sure, it’s not at simple as it sounds, you are working with people after all and people can be complicated but try to use your best judgment and don’t forget about your goals.
When it works right, it can be massively beneficial but you don’t want to end up spending a lot of time and effort for somebody that doesn’t really care.
2.5 So, what’s next?
Start making music and start building a name for yourself as early as you can.
Build up your social profiles and try to get a website. The website part, don’t rush it until you are good at what you are doing unless it’s very easy for you to put up a website.
The social profiles, put them up yesterday and try to make them look professional as much as you can. Also, don’t use your personal stuff, create profiles for your producer persona.
Start putting your work up and getting feedback fast. Also, there are forums that allow you to post your stuff in a thread and people will give you feedback.
One word of warning, don’t post your stuff on a forum/social group etc unless you know it’s allowed.
A lot of people will simply ban you if they consider that you are spamming and they might be overzealous in their spam protection.
Now learn, practice and repeat until the end of time.
Occasionally, take a break, look back and celebrate your progress. It’s important to realize you are actually making progress, it will help motivate you to push further.
3. Music production software and hardware
Most music makers have a home studio so you’ll probably end up with one of your own too.
Before we dive into this, remember to not get yourself in debt to buy gear.
The second idea, gear helps you but it does not make you. Gear won’t make you a good producer, it will only enhance your skills.
Without the skills, you can have million dollar studios and it won’t matter. The quality won’t be there.
Every home studio has a few key pieces of equipment and we’ll go over some of them, why you need them and what to grab without breaking the bank.
3.1 A computer
There are people that like to debate till they bleed from their eyes which computer and operating system are better.
The thing is, they all do the job. Focus on goals, not on being a fanboy.
What are you familiar with? Mac? Windows? Linux? Go with that as your operating system.
The only other consideration here would be if you go to a music school and everybody uses one particular system.
In that case, it might make sense to switch because it will make collaboration easier. Also, the teacher will show you how things are done on that operating system so everything flows a bit better.
In terms of hardware, go with what you can afford. If you already have a computer just skip this part entirely until you notice that your computer just can’t perform.
Also, look at resource consumption.
Start your software and do whatever you are doing, let the software run and see if the computer is maxing out its resources, CPU, RAM, etc. If not, the hardware is not the problem.
3.2 An external hard drive
This will be for backups and only for backups.
Tons and tons of people hang on a single copy of their work. And if that copy fails, they cry and go to a data recovery service that may or may not be able to recover their work.
If that data is your source of income back that up, and then back up the backup.
How hard is to spill water on your laptop or to drop it or to lose it? Not that hard, right?
Also, hard drives sometimes just fail and there is nothing you can do about it.
I think you get the idea. Backups.
Of course, an external hard drive is not the only or even the best option but it’s a good start.
The main point, make sure you have at least 2 copies of your work, in different places.
Also, also, test your backups. Make sure that in case of disaster you backups actually work.
There have been horror stories of companies that lost their data and when they checked their backups they had a great surprise, the backups didn’t work.
3.3 DAW – Digital Audio Workstation
This is your main software application where you’ll make beats, record, mix, etc.
Again, it’s a subject of flaming debates over which one is the best. Again, don’t fall for that.
There are lots of them out there you can explore and every try some demos for free.
My recommendation is FL Studio.
It’s affordable and super easy to get into and figure out how to do things. Probably the reason why it’s so popular.
One thing to keep in mind with DAWs. Typically they are a host for other programs or plugins. They bring these things together and allow you to work with all of them.
Most of the work you will actually do with these plugins that you add to your DAW, things like virtual instruments, audio filters for mixing and all of that.
The point is, keep the DAW costs to a minimum because you’ll also end up buying plugins for it.
Most DAWs will come with plugins from the start but some are not great and also they might not be what you really need.
3.4 Samples and virtual instruments
Like I mentioned before, your DAW is mainly a host of other tools. So, what are these tools and what to grab?
This will depend on what you are trying to do. Do you want to create EDM? Do you want to mainly mix stuff? Do you want to do sound design?
There are different plugins for different purposes. Some focus on giving you ready-made instruments like pianos, guitars, drum kits and synths.
Some give you sound generators and a lot of control over them. This allows you to ‘design’ the sound as you see fit.
Samples are another thing you might want, more specifically sample packs. Again, what you grab will depend on what you want to do.
I’m not going into too much detail here but when you know where you want to go you can search for plugins/samples to help you get there.
We might have some guides in the future for this, so stay tuned.
3.5 A MIDI keyboard
This is a super helpful tool. Even if you don’t intend to literally learn how to play the piano.
You need a way to figure out how to put into software what you have in mind. Having a few keys you can play with can help with that.
Also, there will be times where your head is just empty, nothing seems to come out. A keyboard to the rescue.
Just play around with a sound, a synth or whatever and soon enough you’ll start forming a new idea.
When choosing a keyboard bare in mind you don’t really need a full 88 key midi keyboard, or even a 61 one. Unless you really want to learn to play it.
We do have a guide on ‘regular’ midi keyboards or if your budget is on the smaller side we also have a guide on ‘mini’ midi keyboards. Just bear in mind that mini keyboards tend to have smaller keys but on the flip side, they are also very portable.
Like with anything, think about your use case, don’t just blindly buy something because it’s popular or because somebody on some forum likes it.
3.6 Studio monitors
For those who don’t know, these are speakers made for professional audio work.
Generally speaking, regular speakers tend to colorize the sound to make it sound good as much as possible.
Studio monitors, on the other hand, try to give you the most accurate sound they can.
Why they matter?
Your music is going, hopefully, on a lot of different speakers with different characteristics. For your music to sound good on all of them you need to tune your sound in a neutral environment.
Some speakers boost bass, others boots mid frequencies other boost high frequencies. You need to make sure your music sounds good on all of them.
You want to get to a really balanced baseline.
The problem is that if you make music on a system that boosts bass, for example, you will maybe tune that down so it’s not too much for you.
But then someone listens to that on a system that doesn’t boost bass and your music feels too thin on the low end.
That is what studio monitors should help you solve. They give you a well-balanced starting point.
It doesn’t mean they are perfect but it’s the best thing we have over regular speakers.
We’re not going too in depth here but we do have other guides on studio monitors, make sure to check them out.
3.7 External sound card
This helps you more easily connect and control your studio monitors and gives you the option of using balanced signal.
Usually, studio monitors don’t come in packs, each speaker is a stand-alone unit. And so there is no physical knob to control the volume of both of them at once.
You can still adjust them from the computer but I’m not a fan of that. Also, you can control them from their own knobs, individually. But you’ll get in a battle to match the volumes every time you adjust the volume.
Add a simple sound card with a volume knob in the mix and problem solved.
Also, there is this thing called balanced signal. What this does, it eliminates interference that typically gets into the wires and eventually in your speakers as a hum or hiss or whatever bothering sound.
In order to have a balanced signal you need a fully balanced system, meaning the sound card must send a balanced signal, the cable needs to be able to carry it and the studio monitors need to know what to do with it.
The studio monitors typically know what to do with a balanced signal but you don’t have something to send such signal from your computer unless you use a sound card that does it.
Sound cards are plenty so if you are going to grab one make sure it can send a balanced signal.
We don’t have a guide for these yet but a quick recommendation is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, a very good price/quality product. There is a more affordable version but it doesn’t support balanced output so, eh.
I want my balanced signal.
These are about all the tools I would recommend until you actually feel the need for something else.
Of course, if you want to add a particular instrument like a guitar you know that on your own already so no point in mentioning it here.
4. How to make money as a music producer? – Coming Soon
5. How to promote yourself and your work? – Coming Soon
As you can tell, this guide is not yet finished but we’ll get there soon.
Other than adding the missing chapters we plan to also expand a bit on the existing ones so stay tuned, we got more tips incoming.
Until then, start taking steps towards your music production career.