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Producing music is both an exciting adventure and daunting experience for anyone who is new to it. I have noticed a lot of people visiting my other post (10 Inspirational Tips for Music Producers) via the search terms "How to start producing music" - so I decided to write this post to offer some advice from my years of experience.
I have now been producing music for nearly 8 years. I started with the loop based program Fruityloops (now called FL Studio) which kept me busy for 6 years. A lot of my friends at that time had moved onto Reason, Cubase or Ableton and to keep up with my peers/challenge myself some more, I moved over to Ableton. It is only in the last few years that I have really come into my own with my music. With various track releases, worldwide labels asking me to remix for them and my tracks being shared on 'illegal' download sites, it really is a sign that I am starting to make small waves in the 'business'. While it is only early days for my productions, I have learnt some valuable tips on how to produce music from beginning to where I am now.
1. Just Start
Nearly every piece of music software/hardware I have worked with has been self taught. It might be because I'm not a big fan of manuals, but I'm sure it's just because I love getting my hands dirty straight away. There are so many music programs you can start with (most have demos) and a lot of them have tutorials built into the program. If your computer can't handle the software or you need to buy a sound card then you may just have to head over to another producers house and have a play on their software, or you can always just have a play with some online music making programs. I have included a few links to various music programs at the bottom of this article.
2. Google Everything
Google (and YouTube) have taught me so much useful information about producing music over the years that I really should start giving them a cut. When I needed to know "how to cut loops in Ableton" or "how to make wobbly basslines with Operator", they were there.
3. Grow Organically
Many people who jump into the producing chair want to have the most amazing song in 3 minutes. While I admire their tenacity, it simply doesn't happen this way. It takes years (yes...there are no shortcuts) to perfect the art of making solid tracks. And even after years of practice things can still go a bit haywire (Mix Messenger - David Guetta anyone?). Allow yourself to grow organically by letting your ideas and skills formulate over time. If you don't know how to do something, research it - but don't over-research. You are much better off learning small sections each day than trying to learn everything on day 1 and burning yourself out. I mean, you do want to be in this business for a long time don't you?
4. Learn From Success
There are countless artists who create some amazing productions each and every day. I would recommend focusing on the tracks that inspire you and using them to help you craft your sound. I am not suggesting you recreate their sounds and pass them off as your own, but more about using their structure, build ups, sound design and length as a guide. Occasionally, to get past the mental block of structure, I have laid an artists track out in the timeline and roughly followed their 16-32 bar sections. A lot of the time, I have found out that the tracks themselves are quite basic in sections, however their build has been what has inspired me. This method is very topical and could be considered by some as 'riffing', however when you are starting out it's important to focus on basic structures (just like in pop music) with lead in-chorus-mid section-chorus and then lead outs. If you do use this method, please only use it for learning purposes and not re-creation.
5. No-One Is Superior
With every industry comes a level hierarchy often represented by 'the most fans' or 'the most money'. However, no-one is superior and we all should be open to the fact that acquiring knowledge from anyone is the true king. Even after all these years I still allow my mind to be positively influenced by my listeners, no matter how much experience they have in the field. In actual fact, many of them offer advice and then utter the phrase, "but I don't really make music so I wouldn't really know" - which couldn't be further from the truth. Producing music is as much a part of listening to feedback as it is creating it, and if done correctly, you will be producing music for years to come. Aim to keep your mind open to feedback from anyone no matter how big your music (or ego) gets.
6. Experiment With Different Styles
When you start producing music you will often lean towards one main genre of choice. This is usually based on your club experiences and friend circles. Yet even at the start of your journey, you need to be flexible with your skills and allow your best genre to find you. Over time, you may find yourself in the 'repition-field' which can quickly wear you out with lack of inspiration. Even if your music is being received well, you may want to change up your style/genre (like Tiesto did with Trance to Electro) to get that spontaneous inspiration back into your life. You could do it publicly (like Deadmau5 with his dubstep) or keep it secret to avoid alienating your current fans.
7. It's Not About Stuff
What I find most baffling with new producers starting out is their instant addiction to getting as many gadgets, add-ons and hardware as they can possibly afford. In many cases, this can have a detrimental effect on a fresh mind. Instead, I would recommend that a new producer only start with the basics - the program itself. Sure there are thousands of plugins and add-on hardware options that can make your productions explode - But first you need to build the dynamite. If you can learn to build a track by only using the core ingredients you will be a stronger producer in adaptability, which is essential in today's fast paced and rapidly changing world. These days, most programs have enough built-in plugins to allow you to create a complete track with the basics, so start there and work up once you are ready.
8. Stop Reading
In my college years, I avoided homework and study as much as possible. Yet, with the integration of the Internet into our daily routines I probably read/watch and learn at least 3 times the amount I did in school. Which is why I need to keep reminding myself to stop reading every now and then and just do it (thanks Nike).
9. Make Crap
In reality, every producer wants to make incredible music. But to get the basics down sometimes you may need to experiment with different synths, loops and samples. Or in other words; Make crap. For the first year I produced music, very little of it actually saw the light of day. Many of the tracks ended up as 30 second loops that I just wasn't able to transform into full songs with my level of skill at the time. But years later I revisited those silly loops and random tracks and found I was able to pull elements from them and use them in new tracks. Don't ever underestimate something you made years ago.
10. Collaborate and Connect
The beauty that is the Internet has opened up communication lines like nothing before. Connecting with like minded (and like-skilled) artists is simple and can teach you so much more than reading a website or watching a tutorial. Even by following your favourite producers on Twitter and Facebook will give you insight into how they think, what they use and on occasion, a view of their studios (Deadmau5 via Ustream).
Overall, producing music isn't an exact science and can sometimes drive you completely mad. But hopefully, by following some of these tips you can get the same level of excitement as listening to music by creating it yourself.
Do you have any tips from your experience as a producer?
Listen to my music here: https://soundcloud.com/subpixel
In general, inspiration can come in many forms, most often when we least expect it.
You may already have a bunch of tips that help you find inspiration when producing, so I hope you can add these to the mix and get back on track. After reading these tips, you may also like my other post: How To Start Producing Music.
1. Loosen The Grip On Your Mind
If you occasionally beat yourself up for not coming up with something the way it sounded in your head, you're not alone. The way we hear things in our mind and the way we interpret that thought into our music are nearly always going to be different. This IS a good thing. Allow your inspiration to come through your music in a way you weren't expecting. It keeps it interesting, fresh and can spark a lot more inspiration.
2. Start Before You Think
Often referred to as "on the fly", being spontaneous can sometimes kick-start your imagination in a big way. Dropping in a random loop, off beat percussion or quick melody and building a track around that regularly leads to something worth saving. Sometimes, getting stuck with a particular sound, VST or genre can quickly demotivate you in making another track.
Remixes (and bootleg remixes) are great ways for producers to gain some attention. They are also great for breaking free from the 'freak out' that can come from seeing a blank canvas. By challenging yourself to remix you will inevitably fuel your inspiration and at the same time learn how other producers construct their songs.
4. Humour Yourself
Got Cheese? Humour is a great way to break up an uninspiring production. Open a new project, lay down some random samples and add some humour either in the form of funny recorded vocals or cheesy sounding synths. Sure it may not be a track you ever show anyone else, but it might just be the kick* you need to jump into the next project with a clear mind. *Pun intended
5. Lay It Out
Some producers may struggle with melodies, while others may struggle with the layout of a track. Whatever your hurdle, laying out a track from another artist you admire may just help you overcome that obstacle. While I don't recommend copying another artists work, I do recommend gaining inspiration from the way in which they have crafted their sounds, started their breakdowns, changed the riffs and fleshed out their layers; Which may help you get past those technical issues that can block creativity.
6. Enjoy Your Production Space
Most artists will tend to have one main space to which their productions are born. Allow this space to be a place that inspires you and invites you back each time. Some will find the addition of the Internet to this workspace to be a freeing move which can help break up studio time comfortably, especially in the track rendering down-time. Other additions may be open window lighting, controlled darkness, sound-wall padding, plants, supporting chair and (monitored) alcoholic beverages.
7. Don't Do Anything
How often have you forced yourself to create something even when you haven't been in the mood? Producing is a very complex process and can occasionally be slowed to a halt with forced creativity. If you don't feel like making any music, then don't. While there are moments when you may need to push on through regardless of mood due to project time constraints (#Tip 2), creating a track when your mind isn't there can often do more harm then good; Leaving you frustrated and annoyed which can alter your positive perception of your production space and musical abilities.
8. Time Constraints Are Good
If you have managed to gain a project with time constraints, think of yourself as a lucky one. Many producers ( usually including yourself at an early point in your career) would love to have the opportunity to be asked by labels and other producers to create original and remix productions for them. Essentially, it's the next step up from producing tracks and sending them to labels in the hope that they listen to them, let alone sign them. If the time constraints are really eating at you, it might be best to go back to Tip #1 or #2 or contact the label/producer and coming to an alternative arrangement.
9. Allow Yourself The Freedom To Change
Most people do a variety of different projects at any one time in their lives. The same goes for producers, who often pick up the 'cousin' craft of DJing. Participating in another activity that occupies your mind for long periods of time can often alter how you produce; Sometimes making it harder to create new tracks. This situation is perfectly normal and may just mean that you are putting inspiration into your other activity and it may take a little while to get back into the mind space needed for new productions. To counter act this situation, you may just need to play out Tip #2 or even #7 until you decide which path should take precedence.
10. Listen, Watch and Attend
Listening to new music, Watching music videos and Attending gigs, concerts and festivals should be a must for every producer. Opening your mind to 'research' via the Internet, or in the physical world will impact directly on your productions. As humans, we often emulate what we hear and see, and as most productions fit to a certain style based on genre (Kick, Snare, Perc, Instrument, FX) the visual and aural learning can only benefit your mind and concepts. Add to that the rapid rise of the digital producer taking his productions to a LIVE show purposely blurring the lines from bedroom producer to live act.
Hopefully you will find these tips useful for your own productions as I have. If you have any questions:
Listen to my music here: https://soundcloud.com/subpixel
The music industry has gone through many changes over the years but nothing seems to have hit it harder than the arrival of the Internet. The Internet appears to have completely changed the game to the point where the big labels/corporations are still struggling to find their feet. Previously, DJ's who were lucky enough to buy the first release of an LP were usually the only ones to have it in their area, thus propelling their star further for having the freshest tracks.
But these days, anyone with an Internet connection can access the latest music, sometimes even before it has been officially released worldwide. This situation has been changing the general appeal of the DJ for some time to the point where producers seem to have been overtaking the lime-lite. From where I sit I continually see producers getting more attention through the Internet in terms of events, opportunities and even fans.
Some producers have set the world alight in such a short time with their incredible productions, leaving the actual art of DJ'ing to second place. One producer in particular (love him or loathe him) is Deadmau5. His productions are state of the art; colossal beasts that have generated a massive fan-base in a ridiculously short amount of time. With the aid of the Internet (and portals such as Ustream, Youtube and Beatport), Deadmau5 has been able to craft a career focusing on his skills as a producer first, before any DJ'ing actually took place.
And he's not alone. There are a ton of other artists gaining increasing attention for their productions and overtaking spots usually reserved for extremely skillful DJ's. In some cases (and it seems to be growing by the day), the Producers are able to sell out shows much quicker without the actual proof that they can DJ and/or even have a live act presence. But that doesn't stop the hordes of fans wanting to get a glimpse of an artist that inspires/moves and fuels them with their creations that other DJ's often can't match.
The shift is happening right now. And to stay on board with current demands (and eager/impatient downloaders) veteran and fresh DJ's alike may have to start considering the addition of 'producer' to their title or they may find themselves lost in the sea of creators.
- Diesel Laws
Music. A powerful word given the multiple different meanings worldwide. To me, it represents an intangible connection; Something that passes through the air to make you feel something. In many ways this feeling is a positive experience with a rumble from a bassline, the soothing harmonies of a synth or the memorable vocals that flow with the track.
Yet, even with this positive experience I am constantly drawn to the negative comments on products in the DJ world and how their 'simplicity' is ruining or killing the industry. While I believe their comments do raise some valid points about the ease of digital music creation, they simply forget to notice the bigger picture - COMPETITION.
For as long as musicians and producers have been creating music we, as a human race, have strived to simplify every area of that process. Be it the simplicity of portable recording software, digital equipment, USB drives, internet downloads and more. The competition for companies to beat their rivals at bringing out the best products that appeal to a much wider audience has to do with our demands for simplicity. We constantly yearn for updates, changes and modifications so as to create less work for ourselves, make the process more enjoyable and get to the end in a faster time.
This, in it's layman terms, is SIMPLICITY.
I bring to you an example of how simplicity is applicable right now with the invention of the Pioneer CDJ-350 and DJM-350.
I was watching the above presentation by DJ Avicii about the new Pioneer CDJ's and he discusses the new features and explains the simplicity of what can now be achieved with the MASTER BPM LOCK. What that means in a nutshell is that you can lock the Beats Per Minute across both CDJ's, which in turn makes EVERY song in your playlist play at that tempo (speed). I don't want to get to in-depth about this feature, but what that means for most is that by using these pieces of hardware, it makes it ridiculously easy to beat-match tracks together. So instead of a DJ changing the speed of the incoming song to match the one that is playing, it is already done for him. Simplicity.
Now hopefully by now you can imagine the issue seen by most people with this situation. It opens up the debate about how simple have we actually made that product? Eventually will we need a DJ to stand there and mix tracks together or can that be automated also? And it's not just in the DJ'ing arena - this also flows into the ease of producing dance music in general (and also every other field where computers play a part).
So what's the big thing that everyone is missing with the creation of these 'easier' products?
It now means that in whatever field you are in, to stand out you will now have to work harder then before. Rather than complain/argue your point about how the 'industry has changed', instead use this as a fuel to your fire. With the ease of producing digital music from brilliant pieces of software such as Ableton Live, any artist/producer will now have to push that little bit harder to make standout tracks that appeal to the updated world.
The fact that a producer can now create a track, self master and sell it on a website in only a matter of days is an incredible thing, and I am so excited that we are at this stage in the game. While this may scare/annoy or anger some other people in the industry - it is what it is, and just because a new song can be completed in a day does not mean that it will be great. It also does not mean it will be a hit and sell millions.
Simplicity opens doors and allows more people to be a part of their chosen world. And with more people, there is more competition. And with more competition comes the pursuit of the "Stand-Outs" - the people who use the simplicity but push further into challenging waters to rise above the pack. Just because it's simple, doesn't mean it's simple.
If you are a person who constantly reminds others that "the music industry has changed" and "everything is so simple now", then please stop. We know it has and we are aware of the simplicity. We have embraced the changes and are using them to our full potential. We are also excited that women can now vote, wear bikini's legally and that smoking cigarettes is being outlawed due to health concerns.
Keep creating, updating and modifying the world.
- Diesel Laws