How to Produce Music: Top Tips for Getting Started

How to Produce Music: Top Tips for Getting Started

As Beethoven once said, "music can change the world." Rightly so! Music is uplifting and inspiring. It's a medium of expression—as is the process of producing music.

Put simply, music production is the process of creating music from scratch, including ideation and creation. Producing music is an art, and with the right tools and techniques, you too can create heartfelt music like the artists who inspire you.

Consider this article a beginner's guide to understanding the equipment you need to produce great music, learning what goes into creating the top DAWs, and developing the skills to master songwriting techniques. We wrap the article with a comprehensive list of best practices for producing music at home. Let's dive in!

Essential equipment for music production

Let’s review some of the essential items you need for your home music production studio.

Computer

Anyone planning to create a home recording studio from scratch should invest in a computer. Aim for a computer with at least 16 GB RAM. Are you torn between Mac and Windows? Both are okay because mainstream software can be run across all platforms, so pick the one you are more comfortable using. Good performance and storage matter the most in a computer used for music production. On average, a computer will cost $500 and up.

Computer

Audio Interface

An audio interface is an external device or a sound card that transforms the signals from a microphone and other instruments into a format the computer can understand. It helps create high-quality audio and lets you connect to essential studio gear while recording your sessions. An audio interface can cost anywhere from $50 to $200.

Audio Interface

Headphones/Audio exits

Ask any music producer, and they'll say studio headphones are a must-have item in their recording studio. Quality headphones help you assess the tiny details within a mix.

Studio headphones come in three types:

  • Closed-back on-ear. These are ideal for studio recording, as they fully cover the ears and prevent spill.
Closed back on ear

  • Open-back on-ear. These represent a greater risk of audio spill since they don't fully cover the ears. These headphones are preferred when you need to program or mix music.
Open back on ear

  • In-ear. These are good for monitoring music on-stage rather than in a studio.
In ear

Note that studio headphones are different from regular headphones. Regular headphones are meant to make the music sound good. They may come with a built-in boost mechanism that changes the frequency range. That's not important in studio headphones because you want to listen to your music exactly the way it actually sounds. Budget-friendly studio headphones start at $40.

Microphone

The role of a microphone in the music production process should not be underestimated. Since the microphone is what records your voice and instruments, it’s worth investing in quality here (while still being mindful of your budget). Typically, there are two types of microphones: dynamic and condenser. Condenser microphones are versatile studio microphones that you can use to record any instrument. Compared to dynamic mics, they are sonically sensitive. Dynamic mics are preferable for live settings.

Microphone

A microphone can cost anywhere from $100 to $1,000. Dynamic microphones are relatively cheaper than condenser microphones. Learn about recording tips here.

Top DAWs to consider

A DAW, or digital audio workstation, is music production software used by audio and mastering engineers to edit, mix, and master music. It also lets you record music and comes with playback controls. DAWs are a must for any home studio to create music that is ready for commercial use. Below are the top three DAWs for sound design.

Logic Pro

Logic Pro

Apple's Logic Pro  is a DAW and MIDI sequencing platform. Logic Pro features include smart tempo, an excellent sound and instrument library, dynamic plug-in loading, a score editor, and an autosampler. It includes a 90-day free trial, after which you can purchase it for $199.99.

Avid Pro Tools

Avid Pro Tools

Avid Pro Tools is an industry-standard multi-track audio editing, mixing, and mastering DAW. Pro Tools has 100+ instruments and plug-ins, 32 audio tracks, and solid post-production workflows, and it lets you add reverb. It comes with a 30-day free trial and plans start at $9.99 per month.

FL Studio

FL Studio

FL Studio is a great DAW for beginners, thanks to its intuitive design. It comes with a comprehensive set of tutorials and is chock-full of features like a step sequencer and an instrument tuner. Stock plug-ins and sound libraries let you create immersive sounds. Choose from an unlimited free trial or a paid plan, starting at $99. Note that the trial version doesn’t include features like technical support, free updates, access to older versions, and more.

Cubase, Ableton Live, GarageBand, and Audacity are other popular DAWs to consider.

Songwriting techniques

Songwriting techniques include picking a genre, finding the right theme, choosing a song structure, and writing lyrics. You can move toward its initial production afterward. Read on as we discuss these points in detail.

Pick a genre

An aspiring songwriter needs to pick a genre in which to work (even before they can add bass lines and melodies). Here's a list of different song styles:

  • Country music. Country is made up of a medley of ballads and dance tunes. It has elements of folk music and blues. Tunes are played on pedal steel guitar, banjo, and fiddle. George Strait, Tim McGraw, and Garth Brooks are popular artists in this genre.
  • Pop music. Pop is played on electronic instruments. In pop music, the songs are short, the beats are strong, and the tunes are simple. Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, and Lady Gaga are popular artists in this genre.
  • Rock music. Commonly called “rock and roll,” this type of music has a strong beat and undertones of blues. It uses electronic instruments like guitar, bass, organ, and/or piano. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones are popular bands in this genre.
  • Hip-hop music. Hip-hop is popularly known as rap music. Unlike other genres, rap artists often speak in a rhythmic tone rather than sing. Popular hip-hop artists include Outkast, Kanye West, and Jay-Z.
  • Classical music. Classical has elegant undertones, extensive contrasts, and clear-cut melodies. Classical music is performed on instruments like violin, cello, and double-string bass. Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are world-famous classical music composers.
  • Blues music. Blues music often has a somber and melancholic tone. B.B. King, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters are some of the best blues music artists ever to live.
  • Metal music. Metal is a type of rock music that is intense, virtuosic, and powerful. Popular metal artists include Freddie Mercury from the rock band Queen and Bruce Dickinson from the band Iron Maiden.
  • EDM music. Electronic music includes music like breakbeat, downtempo, trance, and house. Skrillex, Martin Garrix, and David Guetta are popular EDM artists.
  • Latin music. Common styles are tango, salsa, and reggaeton. J Balvin, Becky G, Daddy Yankee, and Ricky Martin are popular Latin music artists.
  • Dubstep music. Dubstep is a variety of electronic dance music with an elevated bass line and slashed-down drum patterns. Zomboy, Excision, and Bassnectar are popular artists in this genre.
  • Ambient music. Ambient is a type of electronic instrumental music that focuses on atmospheric qualities instead of rhythmic tones. It has no recurring beats and is gentle on the ears. Think of soundtracks playing in the background of a TV series or movie. Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, and William Basinski are popular artists in this genre.

A genre largely determines whether you're in a major or minor key. It is beneficial to have an understanding of music theory when creating your own music. Music theory dives into concepts like melody, harmony, rhythm, scales, chords and chord progression, keys, and notation. Courses offered via popular platforms like Coursera and Udemy have everything you need to learn about music theory.

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Choose a song structure

Popular hit songs that we listen to today follow a song structure (e.g., “ABABCB” song structure). In “ABABCB,” A signifies the verse, B is for the chorus, and C is the bridge. It goes like this:

  • Intro
  • Verse
  • Chorus
  • Verse
  • Chorus
  • Bridge
  • Chorus
  • Outro

“Hot N Cold” by Katy Perry is a popular example of this structure. However, song structures change from genre to genre. Today's pop songs follow a standard “ABABCB” structure, whereas jam bands and experimental musicians don't.

Other popular song structures are:

  • AAA. In this structure, all verses are sung in a similar fashion. “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” by Peter, Paul, and Mary and “Salve Mundi Domina” by Brebeuf Hymnal are examples of “AAA” structure. “AAA” is a strophic form of music in which all verses of the lyrics are sung to the same music.
  • AABA. This structure is also called the 32-bar song form and is often used in jazz music. “Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole is a fine example of this structure. In this structure, the lyrics focus on the main storytelling with the verse, and a contrasting bridge section is added midway.

Find a theme that works with the genre

Your next step is to identify the theme you'd like to go with or the message you wish to convey. A theme portrays the main idea or subject, which influences the essence of the composition. For example, heavy metal themes can be quite dark (think doom, misery, war, or destruction). Pop music, on the other hand, revolves around themes like wealth, status, drugs, partying, or breakups. Contemporary jazz music has more upbeat, enthusiastic, and happy undertones.

Create lyrics and music

There is no cookie-cutter method to writing lyrics, as this process can be quite personal. Experimentation is the key to creating meaningful and melodic lyrics. Below are our top tips for this process.

  • Practice, practice, practice. Whether it‘s your first song or your 10th, writing lyrics is a creative process that needs to be honed. Try to pen down your first draft, then analyze and refine it. Don't be disheartened if your first draft doesn't make the cut; persevere to create the best you can. Give it the time it needs.
  • Define the essence of the song. Jot down the essence of the song in a line or two. A thorough understanding of what you want to convey gives you direction, making the entire process easier.
  • Take inspiration. Read and listen to song lyrics that inspire you or follow a similar theme. Analyze how the lyrics flow and how they use imagery. Find recurring patterns and techniques and apply them to your lyrics. For example, experiment with tenses (past, present, and future).
  • Avoid using difficult or “filler” words. What may look good on paper might not translate well in the actual music. Words that are hard to understand are not relatable, so avoid them. Sure, the lyrics need to be catchy, but adding filler words to make it rhyme might backfire.

Produce music

Once you have your production equipment and DAWs in place and your lyrics are ready to be turned into a song, it's time to produce music.

Sound design is the process of shaping a melody. It’s accomplished with the help of a synthesizer—which comes with every DAW. Soundbanks have pre-made settings for synthesizers (Serum is a popular example). All you need to do is layer the presets together. Serum is a synth plug-in, which is a virtual instrument to create electronic music.

You can also choose to use sample packs, which are pre-made audio clips instead of synthesizers.

Once you have created some sounds, you can proceed to record your own audio—whether it's an instrument or your voice.

Finally, process, mix, and master your audio file with the help of a DAW.

Best practices for music production at home

Best practices for music production at home

Here's a list of best practices that can help you improve the music production process from home:

  • Soundproof your studio. As a music producer, you will play loud music often. Be mindful of the audio escaping your studio, as it can disturb your neighbors. The best way to tackle this is by soundproofing it with foam panels, which have the added benefit of keeping unwanted sounds from entering your space and interrupting your workflow.
  • Look for value in equipment. Look for equipment that is valuable for a home studio. For example, you need decent studio monitors to create music, but splurging on high-end monitors is not an absolute necessity. Prioritize quality headphones over quality speakers.
  • Manage cables. Studio cable management is an underrated skill. Nobody likes a messy studio with random cables lying around. Use metal racks, zip ties, masking tape, or even velcro to tackle the zoo of cables and keep your space ready for production.
  • Design your studio for your space. While a home studio doesn't have to be as extravagant as a professional studio, it is still a space where your creative juices will flow. Plan your space thoughtfully, whether using external help or going DIY.
  • Keep it simple. Do a thorough assessment of your workflow and the equipment you will need to produce music. Don’t go over the top. Start with what you need and upgrade or enhance as you go.

Are you a music producer? Find work with Upwork

Music is an inseparable part of our lives. For that reason, music producers will always be in demand. If you are a vetted music producer or wish to plunge into the music industry, Upwork provides the right platform to showcase your creativity.

Plenty of businesses around the world are looking for producers with the know-how to create quality music. Upwork lets you choose to work with clients across the globe to earn money and do what you love. Work as an independent music producer today!

Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.

Prices are current at the time of writing and may change over time based on each service’s offerings.

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How to Produce Music: Top Tips for Getting Started
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Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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