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Having fully formed musical ideas playing in your head is one thing — but getting them recorded and produced and sounding like the beautiful music you imagined is another. How do you translate raw inspiration into a high-quality musical production? Where should you start to learn how to make music?
If you know what you’re doing, great music production can make a song sound utterly cutting-edge, or, if you prefer, timeless. Here are six things to consider if you’re learning how to produce music in a home studio.
Brush up on your music theory
You don’t have to be Beethoven to reap the benefits of music theory, and the more you know, the more musical tools you’ll have to work with when it comes to producing music. Learning music theory can help you create:
- Vocal and instrumental melodies that can help you melt hearts, warm souls, and inspire revolutions.
- Chord progressions that will grab your listeners’ attention and communicate different moods.
- Vocal and instrumental harmonies that support your song and enhance the vibe.
- Drum grooves, bass lines, and other rhythmic elements that will keep your track (and audience) moving.
Music theory may seem intimidating or inaccessible, but it’s easy to get started learning. Here are a few books, free courses, and paid classes that can help you get up to speed:
- Getting Started With Music Theory (Coursera)
- Berklee’s Music Theory Handbook
- Music Theory Comprehensive Complete! (Udemy)
- Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory: A Complete Self-Study Course for All Musicians
Learn your DAW
The more fluent you are with your digital audio workstation (DAW) software, the more of your time, focus, and energy you can devote to producing amazing music. If you’re not familiar with DAWs, here are just a few of the things they can empower you to do.
- Record high-quality live audio (vocals, guitar, bass, drums, etc.).
- Sequence high-quality virtual instrument parts (synths, electronic textures, digital emulations of nearly any instrument you can think of).
- Layer multiple tracks of real and virtual instrument audio on top of each other, creating multi-track symphonies of sound.
- Edit and adjust audio and MIDI data to your heart’s content.
- Add all sorts of effects (reverb and delay, compression, distortion, equalization, and so much more).
- Mix your song by adjusting volume levels, panning, EQ, and other qualities of your tracks
- Bounce your song so it’s ready for mastering by Disc Makers SoundLAB.
Not sure which DAW to use? Popular ones among music producers include:
- Pro Tools
- Logic Pro
- Ableton Live
- FL Studio
- Digital Performer
Nearly any DAW will have more than enough firepower to do what you need in your home studio, especially if you’re just getting off the blocks learning how to produce music. And nearly any DAW that interests you will offer a demo or “lite” version that you can play around with for starters. The right DAW is the one that inspires you to make great music — so download, experiment, and see what works.
Especially for beginners, learning how to produce music and record in your home studio can be intimidating, so here are some basics to get you started.
- Make your space. An ideal location for your home recording studio is somewhere where you feel safe, comfortable, and creative — and where there will be isolation from outside noise. Music producers regularly use basements, bedrooms, garages, closets — whatever is available and whatever works. If your space is less than ideal, there are many low-cost sound treatments and techniques you can use to make your home studio sound better; sometimes even repositioning a couch or hanging quilts or clothes on a wall can make a big difference.
- Build your rig. You don’t need the fanciest equipment to produce great music, but you do need the right equipment for you.
Many home studios include the following basics:
- A computer or mobile device capable of hosting your DAW.
- Microphones, to help you capture live audio.
- High-quality monitor speakers and/or studio headphones, so you can hear your work clearly.
- A recording interface, which can help you connect your computer to your speakers/headphones, microphones, and direct-input instruments.
- A MIDI controller, often a keyboard of some sort, so you can play different parts on virtual instruments.
- Backup hard drives, so you can safeguard your work, just in case.
Once you have your rig set up, experiment and see what sounds best to you. Sometimes even moving a microphone an inch in one direction or another can make the difference between a sound that’s good and one that’s perfect.
Get creative with musical arrangements
Just because popular artists do things one way doesn’t mean you have to. In fact, some of the world’s most impactful musicians are the ones who “break the rules” when it comes to musical arrangements — not the ones who strictly followed the roadmap of whatever was popular when they were creating.
You can get creative with your own musical arrangements in many ways, like:
- Don’t constrain yourself to verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus — or any other musical formula.
- Listen to music in many different genres and pull in elements from styles that are completely different from your own.
- Think about what your listeners and audiences might expect you to do next in a song — and then see what happens when you do the opposite.
- Focus on telling a story or communicating something raw and important to you through your track — and make your arrangement choices based on what will best support those goals, not what you feel “should” happen next.
- Experiment far and wide and go with whatever turns you on.
Create your own sounds
If you record yourself playing guitar, fire up a soft synth, or open up a sample pack, what you hear initially doesn’t have to be what you end up with. There are countless ways to use existing sounds as raw materials and then customize them as much as you like.
- Use effects like reverb, distortion, amp simulators, and EQ to transform an existing sound into something new.
- Use your DAW’s pitch-shifting capabilities to make sounds higher or lower in register.
- Play with different microphones and mic positions when recording live audio to see what best captures the sounds you’re looking for.
- Cut and paste different samples together to get what you want.
- Try playing loops backward, faster, or slower to fit your needs.
- Go deep into your synthesizer’s programming — waveforms, oscillators, etc. — and mess around until you come up with sounds you love.
When it comes to creating new sounds, the sky’s the limit, so don’t be afraid to get creative and follow your inspiration.
After following our music production tips and finalizing your audio production, Disc Makers’ CD and vinyl packages will make your recordings come to life.
How to Use GarageBand in 5 Steps
Using reverb and delay: Lessons from six classic tracks
How to get better results mixing in your home studio
3 songs that break music theory rules – and are better for it
Making the most of your home studio space