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?