Learn Music Production
Music production is the process of creating music from idea to finished product. The idea can be a drumbeat, a riff or a chord progression. Record traditional instruments or alternatively create music in its entirety using a computer. In this article, we will help you get started with learning music production.
Table of contents
In modern music production you use a computer and a music editing program. So a Digital Audio Workstation is the combined name for these components. Also required are audio interfaces, monitors, Microphones, midi controllers and consequently, associated cables. When recording multiple instruments, or even a drum kit, multiple microphones and inputs on your audio interface will be required.
With music already crafted using a computer, such as a drum loop you are already on your way. However, if you are sitting with your guitar or with your band you still have some way to go. You record via an audio interface. An audio interface is a box containing functions for both converting your sound from analogue to digital and back again and distributing sound to and from your DAW. An audio interface has inputs (preamps) for microphones and guitars and outputs for monitors and headphones. It also has volume controls. You can connect the audio interface to your computer via USB, Firewire or alternatively Thunderbolt ports. Connect a midi keyboard through your audio interface.
The Editing Process
You record your music through an editing program. Some well known programs are Logic Pro (only for Mac), Ableton Live, Cubase, Pro Tools and Reason. Music editing programs usually contain audio and midi tracks, loads of options for editing, plug-ins (both instruments and effects) and a mixer with matching options for connections. When recording, we distinguish between audio and midi. The editing program can work with both:
Audio and Midi
Audio is analogue signals from instruments or vocals. This can also be an analogue synthesizer where you record the sound directly from the synth's analogue output. This will be recorded on a dedicated audio track. It is important to remember not to record too loudly. Turn the volume control up or down to adjust the recording volume.
Midi is a digital industry standard which you use to program electronic sounds. The programming consists of you recording on your midi keyboard. What you play will then appear as stripes on the computer (notes) containing different information. These stripes activate sound in your editing program - usually from a plug-in.
In this case, a plug-in is an instrument you connect to your dedicated midi track which is usually called an instrument track.
Every instrument is recorded on its own track. These tracks are gathered with a mixer and end up on a single track, namely the master track. This happens automatically but it can be set up differently by connecting a number of tracks (e.g. all your drum tracks on one track) before sending it to your master track. Often, people want to be able to process and control each group of instruments on their own.
Editing and arranging
Editing is a stop between recording and mixing - a kind of clean-out, where you edit out parts you do not want in your mix. This might be firstly multiple recordings of a vocal track that need putting together. Secondly, moving a drum strike slightly to stay in time. Or lastly, adjusting the level of delay on a guitar track. It is normal to have to edit the arrangement multiple times throughout the process. It's a good idea to have all the little issues and niggles ironed before you move forward to mixing.
Form a coherent whole by bringing together the different elements of your masterpiece. Adjust the tone and volume of each track to get the finished sound you are looking for. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to hear all instruments clearly or at least get a sense of them. They should all be done justice.
It is both a technical and musical process. You'll come across a lot of challenges where you will most often have to look at your original draft. The better your original draft works musically, the less problems you will have when mixing. When you have reached the desired balance between the different elements you have your final mix. On your computer, you can now export as a stereo track.
Mastering is the final phase of sound editing before publication. Mastering is done to create a comfortable combined sound and a higher average volume. Finally, the technical quality is also secured. Meaning the final product can be played on many different sound systems without fluctuations in the sound. We recommend a professional engineer undertakes mastering. It is a rather specialised area of expertise.
Effects and tools
When producing music, you will be using multiple effects/tools to shape the sound of each instrument. Reverb on a vocal track, compression on a snare drum, panning of synth sounds will all likely feature. You'll be using effects throughout the process but especially when mixing. A list of the most popular effects and tool is next up.
An equalizer regulates frequencies to avoid overlap. For example, your bass and your bass drum will usually be within the same spectrum of frequencies which can cause problems. A rule of thumb is to dampen frequencies instead of increasing them.
Works with the relation between weaker and stronger parts in the sound and with the strike of each note. One very used function used on vocal recordings is to secure an even sound level. Another function is to give a more defined sound to the snare or bass drum.
Creates a perception of room around the sound. Reverb is often added on to a track after it is recorded.
Adjust the length and tempo of the sound by using Delay. This repeats your signal and can produce a dramatic effect. This can give you very different expressions. Short delays can give you a slap back effect (bathroom echo), a doubling effect (giving the sense that there are multiple layers of the same track) to more rhythmic precise delays (like guitarist, The Edge from U2) which is a more musical use.
Tricks for beginners
How do you make it sound cool? Below are some tricks to keep in mind as a beginner in the world of music production.
Listen to your own music and listen to others' music. Listen to the music itself but also to the production, the sound and placement of instruments. Choose specific songs which can be guidelines for what you are working with and cross reference with your own songs. The songs you are referencing are mastered and therefore have been given the professional finishing touches. Listen through different monitors and speakers. Listen at different volumes - primarily low volumes. Be humble, critical and self-aware.
Know your equipment
Learn how to use your DAW by using the different tools and effects. Spend time getting to know your DAW and its functions. Practice using different effects and functions away from working on projects. Try out things which are not necessarily made for final production. E.g. take a "day with the compressor" and a "day with the equalizer" and go through everything. Learn the strengths and weaknesses. Buy carefully and conservatively - most music editing programs will have what you need. If you are using a lot of money go for good monitors, a good allrounder microphone and acoustic adjusting of your production room.
Get guidance and lessons
A good and honest tutor will guide you through dangerous waters while highlighting your strengths and weaknesses without killing off your individual style. Internet forums can also be a source of good information. Read and ask questions. Musicians are generally a kind and generous group. You will surely find answers and suggestions to your problems! There are many ways of producing music. It is a mix of hard work and artistic craft. A good starting point is to have clarity about the music being produced and what sound you are aiming for.
There are many different terms in the field of music production. Beneath is a glossary of some the ones which are most common.
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
A DAW is the computer together with the software you use for recording, editing and mixing music. Logic Pro (only supported by Mac), Pro Tools, Ableton Live and Cubase are some examples. However, often the term is only used about the software. They are often very advanced and all have their differences but always contain the same basic functions e.g. tracks for audio and midi, digital/virtual instruments and effects (in the form of plug-ins), editing and routing options, a mixer and a range of cut-and-paste functions.
A Plug-in is a software unit which is often an effect. In other words, an editing tool used to shape sound or a software instrument.
Monitors are super high quality speakers which are constructed for revealing any problems there might be in the sound The sound is neutral when compared to HI-FI speakers.
In this case we are talking about an external box with inputs and outputs for signals. A standard audio interface has an input for microphones (preamp), inputs for external equipment, outputs for monitors and headphones and finally matching volume and muting options.
There are many types of microphones. A microphone is made up of a membrane which converts sound waves into electric oscillations.
How to find relevant music education
Is your child interested in getting started with music production? Learning music production can be invaluable for your child: not only do they have fun learning a new skill, but it also teaches them computer skills, responsibility and resilience. In the future, they will also be able to use these skills and share their passion with their peers; they could DJ, produce music, etc.
Are you interested in music production yourself? Do you want to learn how to produce music? Maybe you already know, but you want to improve your abilities? We have lots of talented and experienced teachers all over the country. Find a teacher in your city today!
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