A few weeks ago, you decided to take up electronic music production. You've downloaded a DAW and have started to produce a few decent sounding beats but keep feeling disheartened as your efforts don't match the artists that you love and admire. What you really want to know is how long is it going to take to become as good as those producers?
On average it takes around 4-6 years to master music production to a level where you can produce to a professional standard. This time is dependent upon the hours you put in each day, and any relevant experience or skills you might already have.
In this article I'll be exploring what factors determine the length of time it takes to become a professional music producer, how you can speed that process up, and how to overcome obstacles along the way.
Why does music production take so long to learn?
If you ever check out the r/edmproduction subreddit, you'll soon notice that every 5th post or so is a cry for help from somebody frustrated at their lack of progress in learning music production. It's a common issue, and just goes to show that if you're struggling to see any advancement in your production skills then you're not alone. So why does music production take so long to learn?
Music production takes a long time to learn for a number of reasons. There are many techniques and skills involved that need to be learnt through repetition rather than just theory. In addition, it takes time to train your ears, especially when learning to mix and master your tracks.
Music production is not just one skill, but a collection of different skills that each need to be practised and developed over time. These key skills include:
You might think that learning music theory isn't required for electronic music production, and you'd be right...sort of. Although not essential, having a basic knowledge of keys, scales and chords will really help improve your workflow.
For example, knowing immediately why a note or chord sounds 'off' in your track will save you time and effort trying to rectify the issue. Understanding the melodic structure and rhythms that underpin your favourite artist's music will help you produce memorable melodies and percussion much faster than clicking random notes in your DAW until something sounds good.
You don't have to spend a lifetime studying music theory, however a little knowledge here will go a long way towards saving you time and improving your productions.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with using synth presets or samples for your productions. This doesn't make you any less of a producer, and don't listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.
However, learning how to make you own sounds does have real benefits. Firstly, it's a question of workflow speed. Need a plucky synth sound with some grit to it? - Well instead of scrolling through hundreds of presets, knowing how to achieve this sound in your synth of choice from scratch in a couple of minutes will save you valuable time in the long-run.
Secondly, it's about developing your own personal palette of sounds. Many artists have their own 'signature sound' in their productions that comes from creating interesting sounds that are completely unique to them. Think how many times you've heard an intro to a track you've never heard before and immediately recognised the artist. Mastering sound design will help you develop your own individual musical identity.
So, you've spent a few weeks mucking about in your DAW and even produced a few 8 bar loops that sound pretty cool, but then you quickly lose interest and move on to the next project. If this sounds familiar, then you really need to start progressing to the next stage and start learning how to arrange your tracks effectively.
This is something that a lot of new producers struggle with, however, learning the basics can be as simple as dragging a reference track into your DAW and copying out their arrangement. From there you can listen to how they have built tension and release, used breaks, fills, and transitions between different sections of the track, and added variety to keep the listener interested.
Learning how to make great arrangements can be one of the more challenging skills to master as a new producer, and this is exactly why you should tackle it sooner rather than later.
Ok, so you've produced a decent arrangement and are pretty happy with the result. However, when you compare your track with commercial artists it sounds quieter and rather flat and lifeless. The issue here is probably with your mix.
For me, learning how to create a decent mix was by far the hardest part of learning music production. There are so many subtopics here that you will need to understand to get better such as Gain Staging, Compression, Loudness, and EQing to name just a few.
This is where training your ear becomes essential. I find it incredible going back to some early tracks of mine to hear how stunningly bad the mix was...muddy sounding bass notes in stereo, piercing high hats, and levels that are just all over the place. At the time I probably thought the mix sounded ok, but through the experience of mixing many more tracks my ear has learnt to tell the difference between a bad and a good mix, and with enough practice, yours will too.
Learning Music Production By Repetition
So hopefully by now you realise there's a lot of techniques to learn in order to master music production, and that's without the additional hurdle of really understanding your DAW software, VST plugins, and any hardware gear you may have!
Therefore, what is really important is that for every track you start, you must try and push on through to completion so that you get to practise every one of those skills. Think of it this way — every time you finish a track you are steadily strengthening each of those key areas of expertise and becoming a better producer.
Take writing chords and melodies for example. At first you might be satisfied with an 8-bar chord progression with a simple 4-note bass pattern repeated throughout, with maybe a few samples thrown in for good measure.
Once you're done you might be so overwhelmed by the fact that you've made something original that at first it sounds pretty good to your ears. It's only when you listen to it a few more times or play it to a friend that you realise it actually sounds really monotonous.
So, you try again, this time adding more variety to the baseline. Maybe adding a B Section or Counter Melody. This new song sounds way better than your first effort, but once again, after a few listens you notice little things that you aren't happy with, so you go again...
The more music you write, the less satisfied you will become with what you have created, and this in turn will force better music out of you. This is the positive feedback loop, which, although sometimes painful, will enable you to become a better producer.
Tips For Learning Music Production Faster
When I started out in Electronic Music Production I had absolutely no clue where to start, what skills to concentrate on first, and how to use my time effectively in order to learn music production as quickly as possible. There are no shortcuts to learning music production, however the following tips may help you progress faster.
Music Production Beginner Tips
As a music production beginner, it really pays to concentrate on learning your DAW before anything else. Reading the manual is a good place to start, however that style of learning doesn't suit everyone. Alternatively try watching some beginner YouTube tutorials and start experimenting with building up a basic track within your DAW.
Try not to get side-tracked by downloading third party VST instruments or effects at this stage, as this just gives you something else to learn. Instead, spend a good few weeks increasing your knowledge of how your DAW works including its stock instruments and effects. If you're not happy with the bundled sounds within your DAW then go grab some free sample packs.
Don't spend money on expensive hardware either. To start with all you need is a PC or Mac running a DAW, some decent monitors, or headphones, and at a push maybe an inexpensive MIDI controller.
Music Production Time Management
Once you've learnt the basics of music production, it's then time to set yourself a plan to maximise the time you have available in order to upgrade your skills to the next level.
Set Short-Term Production Goals
Having a long-term objective is great as it gives you something to work towards. However, it's all well and good having a goal to be a signed artist in 5 years' time, but you'll need to split this up into manageable chunks in order to understand how you are progressing.
For example, how about setting a short-term goal to learn a new synth in one month, or upload your first completed track to Soundcloud in three?
Goals should be measurable, realistic, and time bounded. Perhaps create yourself a checklist or worksheet and pin it within your studio workspace so you can visually track your progress.
Set Aside Time To Produce
Like me, I'm sure you have other commitments in your life that also need your time and attention, whether it's work, school, family, or your social life. Making time for music production can be tough to do with so many competing pressures.
One way around this is to set aside a regular fixed time each day or week when you can concentrate solely on production. Make it clear to the important others in your life that this is your 'me time' and that you shouldn't be disturbed.
This one is simple but much easier said than done — get rid of all other distractions! Switch off your phone notifications, sign-out of WhatsApp, and maybe even lock the door. You need to be in an environment with as few distractions as possible. Can't hear your music properly as the neighbours are shouting at each other again? - maybe think about investing in some production headphones to help you focus only on your mix.
Overcoming Writer's Block
Despite your best efforts, every once in a while, you'll sit in front of your blank DAW with zero inspiration for how to begin a track, and a rising sense of frustration or even panic.
Overcoming writer's block however, can be as simple as changing your writing habits. If you always start with a bassline, try mixing things up by starting with an epic sounding atmosphere and go from there. Try experimenting by chopping up a sample and adding a ton of effects to make something cool. Get out of your usual routine and you may just find yourself unblocked.
Alternatively, listening to your favourite artists can be great for inspiration. Maybe try to emulate a lead synth sound or bass in your DAW. Checking out production YouTube videos or listening to podcasts can also be a great way to kick-start your creativity.
Prioritise Finishing Tracks
We've covered this point already, but it's worth reiterating one more time. Make sure you spend time practising all the key skills of music production, from initial melody construction, all the way through to the final mix. If you don't then you're leaving huge gaps in your knowledge, and this will hold you back from becoming a better music producer.
Keeping Music Production Fun
Many years ago, I used to play the electric guitar. I wasn't very good but really enjoyed playing and coming up with original songs. My mother in her wisdom suggested I take some formal lessons, so every week I would sit in front of a guitar teacher who would make me repeat endless scales and chords and tell me off if I hadn't practiced enough the week before. Over time this sucked the joy out of my playing and eventually led to me giving up the guitar entirely.
This might seem an odd example to give having just told you repeatedly that music production takes a lot of practice, however my point is that doing something creative shouldn't feel like work. If you're not having fun, then switch-up your approach until you are. Becoming a professional music producer shouldn't be your primary motivation. At the end of the day, it's all about having fun and the joy of creating something new.
Learning music production is a long process and requires a massive long-term time commitment if you are serious about progressing to a professional standard. This makes it even more important therefore that you enjoy the journey and have fun along the way.
Above all, be patient with yourself. You probably won't be being released by Anjunadeep any time soon, but if you're willing to stay the course, then well you never know, in a few years' time you just might...
I hope you've found this article useful. Have a great day and Happy Producing!