Making Music For Beginners – You’ve probably heard it before, but there’s never been a better time to make your own music. Here’s how.
Producing music at home is affordable, rewarding and fun, but setting it up can be a complicated and confusing process if you don’t know where to start.
Making Music For Beginners
In this article, we’ll cover all the essentials of music production: what it is, what equipment you need, and the most important steps to produce a song.
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Music production is an umbrella term. Whether it’s songwriting, arranging, recording, mixing, mastering, or anything in between, it can probably be described as music production. Simply put, it’s the entire process, from start to finish, of creating recorded music.
The various elements of music production depend not only on skill and knowledge, but also on specific hardware and software. So, the first step is to consider what equipment you need.
First and foremost, you’ll need a computer of some sort. Laptops, tablets, and—especially these days—smartphones are viable options for creating music. A desktop PC will still give you the most processing power and screen development bang for your buck, but phones are becoming more useful as music production devices thanks to the advent of sophisticated and powerful apps.
Next is a DAW or Digital Audio Workstation. It is software that is at the heart of modern music production, allowing you to record, arrange, edit, mix and master your music.
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There are many powerful DAWs to choose from, either paid (Ableton Live, Logic Pro, FL Studio) or free to use (BandLab, GarageBand). In general, all DAWs have the same basic capabilities – but there are a few key differences to keep in mind. Some are great for recording audio, some are great for creating beats, and others work best as live performance tools.
So before you commit, take some time to learn about each DAW’s pros and cons. Alternatively, you can check out our recommendations of the best free DAWs and start with one of them.
Monitor speakers are often described as the most important item in your studio, and for good reason. No matter how good your musical ideas are, if you create and mix on substandard speakers, the result will almost certainly not be inspiring. Monitor speakers differ from hi-fi speakers in that they have a more transparent sound than a flat one.
While monitors are undoubtedly the gold standard for playback, quality headphones are a great place to start if you have space or budget constraints. Choosing the right option should be carefully considered and not rushed, take some time and read the pros and cons before investing. You can get started with these guides:
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While it’s legitimately possible to create a track with nothing more than a computer, a DAW, and a pair of headphones, sooner or later you’ll want to expand your setup. What other equipment you may need depends largely on the type of music you intend to make.
An audio interface sits between your computer and external devices such as microphones or studio monitors. This is the intermediary that translates the audio signals from the microphone into digital data that your computer can understand.
It also does this process in reverse: when you hit play on your DAW, the interface will convert that digital information back into an electrical audio signal that can be played through speakers or headphones. This process is called analog-to-digital conversion and digital-to-analog conversion.
If this sounds a bit confusing, keep this in mind – if you plan to record vocals or acoustic instruments, you’ll need an audio interface.
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Sure, your laptop or tablet can actually capture audio with its built-in microphone and convert it to digital – but these converters are designed for video calls, not for capturing a detailed musical performance! The difference in quality you get from using a dedicated interface will make a huge difference when it comes time to mix it all together.
In addition to audio recording, there is also the tricky issue of latency. Latency is the small delay between pressing a key on a MIDI keyboard (more on that later) or singing a note into a microphone and hearing the result coming back through your headphones. This happens because computers cannot do things directly; they take little time to convert and process these digital and analog signals.
High latency disrupts a musician’s sense of timing, making live recording difficult, if not impossible. So, if you’re going to record other musicians, look for low- or zero-latency monitoring interfaces.
It’s also worth taking the time to consider how many audio inputs and outputs the interface has: a singer-songwriter might only need one input for a microphone and a guitar instrument, but if you’re recording a whole band that wants to play together, you might need eight inputs or more.
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If you plan to record live musicians, in addition to the interface, a microphone is also indispensable. Microphones can vary widely in quality and price, and knowing which microphone is best for a particular instrument is an art in itself. We’ve got a complete, in-depth guide to everything you need to know about microphones – but read on for the quick and dirty version.
The two most popular types are dynamic microphones and condenser microphones. Dynamic microphones are great for recording loud things like electric guitars and drums. Condenser microphones are much more sensitive. They require a special type of power source from your interface called “phantom power” (often called “+48V”). This sensitivity makes them ideal for vocal recordings.
Both types of microphones will connect to your audio interface with an XLR cable. You may be tempted to buy a USB microphone that plugs directly into your computer, but in general, a microphone and interface together offer more flexibility and quality.
To begin with, try to find the right balance between quality and price. It’s entirely possible to get great recordings with a dynamic or condenser mic at a reasonable price, and you don’t have to break the bank at this stage. Here are some recommendations:
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Controllers bridge the gap between your computer and your instrument, allowing you to play and control sounds and virtual instruments in your DAW much more efficiently. There are many different controller designs: keyboards to play notes, drum pads to trigger patterns, and sliders and knobs to control sound effects.
Regardless of the type, it’s important to note that you can’t use the controller to create music if it’s not connected to your computer via a USB or MIDI cable. The controller makes no actual sound; it just sends data (called MIDI data) to your DAW and tells it which note to play or which pattern to activate.
Find out everything you need to know about this type of gear in our comprehensive beginner’s guide to controllers here. To understand how the controllers use MIDI to send information to and from your computer, scroll down to the recording section.
Sure, it’s good to have all that gear, but you’ll also need something that does something
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. Acoustic/electric instruments such as guitars and keyboards, as well as outboard electronic instruments such as drum machines and synthesizers, are a staple for bedroom producers and major studios.
If you’re short on space or on the go, virtual instruments can be a fantastic resource – especially when paired with a controller. Most DAWs these days come bundled with a few virtual instruments and some plug-ins that let you start creating sounds right away. Here’s everything you need to know about virtual instruments, but if you’re new, start by downloading the best
Of course, you can create entire tracks with nothing more than samples and loops. DJ Shadow, The Avalanches, and DJ Premier—even Kanye West to a degree—are just three examples of superproducers who have built careers around their skill at creatively manipulating samples.
Besides the legalities of copyright, sampling is a quick and easy way to create music. You can start with our recommendations for the best sites to download free samples, then move on to more detailed practice exercises:
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The work you do in music production will usually be in service of the song. The song is the most important element in any production and can help guide the sound of the track. Songwriting is too big a subject to delve into, so you need to learn the core principles of songwriting separately. You can write and produce at the same time or produce a song that is already written.
The first thing you’ll want to do is create a new ‘session’ in your DAW. A new session is like a blank document; there you sketch ideas, record them, edit them and so on.
Before you can get down to the fun stuff, you need to do something administrative about your session. Start by setting the tempo as BPM (beats per minute). This is how fast or slow the base pulse of your track will be.
It is essential that you put this at the beginning if you want
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