Music production is the process behind every track in your library.
It covers every phase in the creation of a song from writing to the final master.
But music production is a practice that can form the basis of your creative workflow as a musician.
It’s never been easier or more accessible to start producing music.
But there’s so much to learn that getting started with music production can feel intimidating.
In this article I’ll go through everything you need to know to understand the basics of music production and get started as a music production.
What is music production?
Music production is the process of developing, creating and refining recorded music for public presentation. Music production can refer to the entire lifecycle of a piece of music—from songwriting and composition to recording and sound design to mixing and mastering.
Despite the broad definition, every workflow in modern music production has one thing in common—digital tools.
Thanks to today’s technology, music production is more accessible than ever before.
For the lowest price in history any musician can set up a home studio and get started producing music.
Here’s all the basic information you need to start producing music.
What does a music producer do?
A music producer can have several different roles depending on the genre of music and the type of workflow.
In the traditional recording process, a music producer acts in a similar way to the director of a film.
They create a vision for the material and advise the musicians artistically on how to realize it.
During a recording session the producer acts as a coordinator and provides organizational help. They also offer creative input and notes on the musicians’ delivery and the technical choices made by the engineer.
But the term producer has come to mean a wider range of duties in other genres.
In R&B and hip-hop, the term producer most often refers to the person who created the beat the artists are singing or rapping over.
In EDM the words producer and artist are often used interchangeably, with most artists producing their own material.
Today more and more artists are opting to self-produce, even within traditional genres like rock, indie or singer-songwriter.
No matter which combination of these roles describes you best, if you’re using a DAW to create or record—you’re a music producer.
With the basics out of the way, let’s get into the pillars of music production you need to know to get started.
1. Music production software and equipment
To produce music you’ll need a few main pieces of equipment.
Don’t worry—music production setups can vary a lot. You don’t need tons of expensive gear to get started as a producer.
I could list everything individually, but if you want the best advice for building a music production setup with any budget, go check out our Home Studio Guide.
Once you’ve got the basics of home studio, there’s some other production tools you can add, depending on what suits your workflow.
Many producers create entire tracks using only their DAW—but just as many others prefer the tactile experience and hands-on control of hardware.
2. Producing music in a DAW
Your DAW is the digital home for your music production.
In a traditional recording studio, the DAW would be the tape machine—but it’s so much more that.
Your DAW is the perfect environment for every step of your music production workflow.
Many producers prefer to write in their DAW by creating loops and clips of their ideas on the fly.
Structuring isolated fragments into full arrangements is one of the biggest strengths of a DAW-based songwriting workflow.
And mixing has never been easier than with a DAW and plugins.
However you use it, the DAW is where your inspiration and workflow collide, and the production process takes place.
4. Songwriting and composition: create a song
Some songwriters produce. Some producers write songs. The boundary between artist and producer isn’t always a bright line.
That means knowing the basics of songwriting and composition is important for modern producers.
The producer often has to make tough decisions when something isn’t working. Is it the mix? Or the arrangement?
Is it the parts, or the tones? Or the effects? Is this song boring, or does it just have the wrong song structure?
These are the types of questions an experienced producer should be able to answer.
To help you develop these skills, we put together an exhaustive list of resources for producers looking to learn songwriting, arrangement and music theory in general.
5. Sound design: Build the sound you hear in your head
Headphones are important for any home studio, but mixing on them exclusively can be fatiguing during long sessions.
Most engineers do the majority of their work using near-field monitors.
Studio monitors are specially engineered speakers designed to sound clean, clear, flat and neutral.
Unlike consumer audio speakers, these listening tools are not designed to flatter the music or make it sound more pleasant.
In fact it’s almost the opposite.
Studio monitors reveal every flaw in a sound so you can address it in the mix. That extra detail is the insight you need to make your tracks sound great
Still, all studio monitors sound different and choosing the right ones is a highly personal decision.
Check out our guide to the best studio monitors to find your perfect pair.
6. Samples, plugins and MIDI: Your digital sound tools
Your DAW is your studio centerpiece. But the digital tools you use inside it are just as important in your music production workflow.
It’s the data your MIDI controller sends when you hit a key, strike a pad, turn an encoder or press down your sustain pedal.
Plugins are the virtual instruments and effects that create tones and textures in your mix.
Your DAW comes with a completely functional set of built-in plugins, but there’s a whole world of exciting plugins out there. Some are even available completely free.
Building your own unique set of inspiring plugins is part of developing your palette as a producer.
Last but not least, samples are snippets of audio you can use in your productions in any way you see fit.
Samples are used in almost every genre of music you can think of—they’re one of the most inspiring parts of being a producer.
7. Sound recording: Capture the world around you
Plugins are the software sound tools you use in your DAW for, mixing, synthesis, effects, sampling and more.
Most DAWs come with a capable set of built-in plugins that are more than enough to create a professional sounding track.
But third-party plugins are how you expand your sonic palette and make your sound your own.
Maybe you want to assemble the perfect virtual instrument rig with your synth plugins.
Or maybe you’re an effects junkie always on the hunt for a new reverb plugin.
Whatever your niche, plugins can be incredibly inspiring.
They’re a huge part of what makes producing music so exciting.
8. Mixing music: Blend your sounds together
There’s an enormous number of microphones out there—and not all of them are well-suited to every task.
We put together a special guide for choosing a microphone based on which source you’ll be recording.
But if you just want to get an idea of what’s out there, check out our list of the 30 best microphones.
When it comes to microphones, we know there’s one source that’s on everyone’s mind: vocals.
There’s no easy to way to recommend the perfect mic for every singer, but matching your mic to your singing style is a good way to start.
9. Music mastering: the definitive version of your song
Mastering is the final step in your music production process.
It’s the phase where your mix gets the final polish and presentation for how your listeners will actually experience it.
The purpose of mastering is to balance the sonic elements in a stereo mix and optimize playback across all systems and media formats.
Music has never been available in more formats and devices than today.
It doesn’t matter if you’re mixing in a million dollar studio or tracking in less than ideal conditions, you still need the final quality check of mastering.
This step ensures that your sound will be heard the way you intended it to be.
It also provides the glue that gives an album consistent sound across all tracks. Without mastering, individual songs can sound disjointed in relation to each other.
Mastering is a crucial part of the music production process, but it doesn’t have to be scary.
Check out our suite of resources to learn everything you need to know about mastering.
Music production is more accessible than it’s ever been.
That means that there’s never been a better time to dive in and start learning how to produce music.
Use the resources in this guide to start your journey with music production.