When it comes to how to start producing music, digital technology has afforded all of us musicians and producers a huge advantage. Now, with a simple laptop and computer, a few pieces of hardware and a stockade of software, you can have a recording studio in the comfort of your own home! No more buying expensive studio time at outlandish hourly rates. No more contracting someone else to mix and master your sounds. No more waiting to produce, and losing ideas you come up with because of your incapability of recording on the spot. With the right setup the power can be yours to learn music production. Over years of practice you will develop the skills needed to get that crisp, professional sound you likely crave. Satiate your need for creative freedom and invest in a home studio! In this article I’ll give you the very basic fundamentals necessitated to start producing music.
Hardware – The Necessary Gear
First order of business is getting a computer to house your software. You’ll want to grab a desktop for power, affordability and stability. A desktop is infinitely sturdier than even the most battle-hardened laptops. The fact a desktop stays stationary ensures it a longer lifespan than it’s laptop cousin. If you plan on playing gigs with a laptop, such as loop sets (recording loops that repeat live and layering a song together piece by piece) or DJing, it is a laptop you seek without question. Whatever choice you go with, be sure to research each choice carefully. Music production and live performance software (such as Ableton Live) tends to require a powerful PC. You wouldn’t want to buy a cheap-o laptop only to have it crash during a live DJ set, would you? Make sure the specs are up to snuff before making a hasty purchase.
Another essential item you will need is a set of studio monitors. It’s best to go to a Guitar Center and get a set of speakers designed for audio production. If you have the budget, a pair of decent speakers (usually bought separately) will run you around $300 – $400. You don’t want to skimp out on weak speakers and blow the speakers when you crank up your 3rd jam. It’s for this reason it’s better to go to a store with electronics geared to music production – the aforementioned Guitar Center will be a prime candidate, as opposed to Best Buy or Wal-Mart. It’s also wise to get a pair of decent headphones, to better capture the nuances of your mix. (This will come later as you progress as a music producer.)
One more piece of essential gear is your audio interface. The audio interface is necessary to get the sound from your computer out to your studio monitors. It will also be your means of recording. Audio interfaces will accept audio cables (1/4″), XLR cables (for microphones), and MIDI capabilities to hook up your MIDI controller or keyboard. Audio interfaces feature their own sound card designed specifically for audio production. This makes the sound coming out of a quality pair of studio monitors sound crisp. It is important to have quality studio monitors and a capable audio interface to maximize your mixing and mastering capabilities.
Software – What You Need to Get Started
The most important piece of software I’ll touch upon in this article is a DAW (Digital Audio Workspace). This is your studio in a box. A DAW essentially allows you the capability of recording, composing, and arranging nearly unlimited tracks. MIDI capabilities allow you to trigger software instruments through keyboards, or even just program music in on a keyboard roll. This program will also export the collection of tracks into one solid entity at the summation of the song writing and recording process. In short, you’re gonna need one of these first. With the wide variety of DAWs available on the market, from Reaper to Reason to Fruity Loops to Pro Tools (and still many others), you may initially feel overwhelmed. Conduct research on each of them and figure out which best suits your needs. With a MAC you can always start on Garage Band and upgrade later, and as for Windows you can get the free program Audacity to get started, although I’d suggest ponying up the cash for AT LEAST Mixcraft, which is a pretty powerful DAW at a very affordable price.
Another piece of software to be keen on is the audio drivers necessary to get the sound from your computer, through your audio interface and into your studio monitors. These audio drivers usually install automatically through a CD-Rom bundled with your audio interface. Some times, however, you may need to check the website of the audio interface’s manufacturer in order to download updated drivers.
How to Start Producing Music Without Music Theory? Learn Music Theory!
If you’ve gotten this far into the article, I’m going to assume you’re either privy to some music theory already. Or maybe you are just very enthusiastic on learning how to start producing music! Whatever the case may be, realize it will take a reasonable understanding of music to produce memorable music. Even a foundation of the most basic music theory will put you ahead of the game in getting started. Learning an instrument is simply a must, in 99% of cases. The best instrument to learn for music production would be the piano. With the digital technology we’re afforded and the aforementioned virtual instruments, it is remiss to bypass learning the piano. Guitar and bass are also both great to learn as well, but no single instrument can match the versatility of a keyboard with MIDI capabilities.
Having said all that, music theory is learned subconsciously from the first song you hear on. Sure, you might hate American Idol, but I bet you laugh at the bad singers and all their flat or sharp notes. If you are able to tell when these singers are off-key, that means you have learned some degree of music theory! The more music you hear, the more music theory you will learn peripherally, knowing full well when something is “off.” As you music theory strengthens and musicianship increases, you’ll be able to take “off” moments and make them sound amazing! But before you can do that you’ll need a good deal of…
Don’t expect to sell hip hop beats in your first year. Don’t expect to craft songs of a professional level for a few years. There’s always room to improve, there’s always new skills to learn. Never stop educating yourself on the various techniques of music production. You can not rush artistic expression, it is something that grows easy over time through dedication and the accumulation of talent. Bear in mind learning how to start producing music will be an investment in both money and time. Patience is not just a virtue – it’s a necessary practice in order to produce memorable music efficiently.