Music Production Beginner? Starting out in production is no easy task, however follow these 15 Beginner tips for Electronic Music Production and you'll be making music in no time.
1) Really learn your DAW
Whether you’re using Ableton Live, FL Studio, Logic, or any other DAW, there is a document hidden on your hard drive that will really help you on your music production journey – your humble DAW manual! When I first started out, I was so excited to download and start using Ableton Live that it took me weeks to even look at the manual, and instead wasted time mindlessly mashing buttons and getting nowhere. The manual is there for a reason!
2) Don’t overcomplicate your setup
Many professional producers make great music completely inside the box with mainly stock plugins. The more VST plugins and hardware you have, the more things you then must learn, and this can quickly become overwhelming! Ask yourself whether you really need that fancy Push 2 controller or Soundtoys bundle for example. If you really feel you need some plugins, then start with the free options first. I’ve created a list here to get you started. In terms of hardware, the only thing I’d recommend as a beginner is a basic Midi keyboard. I've reviewed some great budget options here. Can't decide between studio monitors or headphones? Read this article to help you decide.
3) Learn how to create your own sounds
Most DAWs come with some excellent bundled instruments and synths. Ableton for example comes with Operator and Wavetable which are both extremely powerful and versatile synths. Spend some time really getting to grips with how to produce the sound you want from them, instead of constantly relying on presets. Ableton has a great interactive website here to give you the basics of synthesis to get you started. The major benefit from this is that once you understand how synthesis works, you’ll find that this knowledge is completely transferable to other synths and instruments. Check out this post to learn how to make a Kick Drum from any sound, and this post learn how to make a Snare from Ableton's Operator synth.
4) Listen to more music
Pay attention more when listening to your favourite artists and genres. This is called ‘intentional listening’. Ask yourself what makes a certain track stand out? How does the artist create tension and release? How have they arranged their track or created a certain sound? Don’t just listen to the same artists either, try and expand your palette of sounds and ideas by listening to different genres. You’ll be amazed how these ideas and patterns will come back you when you are in front of your DAW, enabling you to fuse together this knowledge to create something truly original.
5) Use reference tracks
Leading on from the last point, if you really like a particular track, drag it into your DAW to use as a reference track. Listen to their arrangement and place markers in your DAW at the points where certain elements of the track are either added or removed. Copy the drum patterns or emulate their melodies. Compare your tracks when mixing or checking levels. This isn’t cheating, it’s an essential part of the learning process.
6) Watch tutorials
There is a huge amount of music production content on YouTube, Twitch and other streaming sites. Everything from tracks from scratch, track breakdown, sound design, or just general production tips and techniques. Check-out this post where I’ve given my opinion on the top 10 music producers to follow on YouTube.
7) Finish your tracks
Once you’ve been producing for a few months you’ll probably find it quite easy to create a cool sounding eight bar loop. You might spend the next few days or weeks fiddling with it and adding more tracks, before finally ditching it in a sudden attack of self-doubt. Sound Familiar? – Well, you’re not alone. However actually progressing your track to its conclusion is well worth doing. Getting better at music production, like all skills, is learnt through repetition. If you’re regularly not progressing to the arrangement or mixing stage, then you’re not developing those techniques. So, grit your teeth and push on through to complete your tracks.
8) Re-use old projects
In those cases where despite your best efforts you’ve failed to complete a track, don’t waste it. Liked the drums, but the rest of the production sucked? – well re-use them. Why not sample sections of your old loops and add filters and effects to repurpose them into something unique and cool sounding? To do this make sure you’ve saved all your tracks with a meaningful name so you can go back to them later and dig out some gold…
It’s easy to get into the same old workflow rut if you’re not careful. Always start your tracks with a synth Bass sound? – why not mix it up and find a great sample to warp or create a great ambience track for the foundation of your song. Why not use an effect that you’ve never touched before and go wild with the controls, bouncing out any cool bits to audio to use at a later date? Maybe experiment with different genres too. You might only want to produce Tech House for example, however why not mix it up and try and create a Synthwave style track?
10) Understand basic Music Theory
Learning music theory is something that many producers find challenging, or sometimes don’t bother with at all, simply relying on what sounds good to their ears. It’s not essential, however understanding the basics will really improve the efficiency with which you can produce great music. Understanding how scales and chord progressions work for example will allow you to more easily come up with memorable melodies and harmonies. It’s really worth putting in the time here.
11) Set goals and meet them
Its easy to get disheartened at times if you feel that you’re not making progress in your productions. This lack of belief can be bad news for your motivation, and many people simply give up after a few months thinking that they’re simply not good enough. This is a mental battle, and one way around it is to set yourself realistic small achievable target. Instead of simply setting a goal to be a signed music producer in 5 years, break that down into manageable steps. Perhaps set a deadline to completely understand a new synth in 4 weeks, finish and upload your first track to Soundcloud in 5 weeks etc. This then allows you to feel that you are always moving forwards.
12) Be Social
There are many great communities out there on the web for music producers of all levels of experience. Find one you like the look of and join it. You’ll find plenty of great advice from like-minded people who are further along in their craft than you, and in turn you can help others who are just starting out. In my experience music producers are a friendly bunch, and you never know, you may even make a few friends along the way.
13) Don’t be afraid of criticism
One of the great things about music production communities is that it’s a safe place for you to share and get feedback on your creations. When you receive constructive criticism from someone, take it onboard without letting it dishearten you. Music is an art form after all, so different people will have different opinions. Never be afraid to ask for feedback though, as it's one of the main ways you will improve.
Working with other producers can be a really positive experience. Seeing how somebody else approaches their workflow or does sound design for example, can be inspiring and help you learn new skills or come up with better ideas. It can also help focus your mind if you have a joint deadline to keep and may even help you with your career.
15) Enjoy Yourself
In those dark moments of self-doubt when the track you’ve been working on all night sound like garbage the following morning…remember what you’re doing all this for. Its for the joy of making music, right? That’s not to say it isn’t sometimes hard work and frustrating, however never lose sight of why you started on this journey in the first place. It shouldn’t be for making money or becoming famous, just simply for the joy of creating something new.
I hope you found these tips useful. Have a great day and happy producing!