There are lots of well known artists who self produce their music. Tyler the Creator, Imogen Heap, and Charlie Puth are some names that come to mind. Are they anomalies? Or is this going to be a more common practice within the industry?
We always recommend hiring experts for their crafts so self producing isn’t something we’d typically recommend. However, with the rise of technological tools and resources like YouTube, it makes sense that many artists and songwriters just like you would inquire into how to get started producing.
Traditionally, there have been distinct roles with the creation of music. Production refers to the instrumental backing track that the vocal is on top of. This includes drums, synths, live instruments, and anything else that makes “noise”.
The other roles of creating a song are mixing, mastering, vocal recording, and engineering, but those topics are for another day.
If you’re trying to learn how to self produce as an artist or songwriter, here are the 5 most important things to keep in mind. Let’s dive in.
#1 Set Your Expectations
You’re doing something new. Spoiler alert – you won’t be good right away. In fact, you might be pretty bad for a while. Don’t let this derail your mission. Producing, just like being an artist or songwriter, takes years to master and even then it’s a lifelong journey.
Before you set out to make a Grammy winning song on your own, it might be worth considering what you are actually trying to achieve. Do you want to make better demos that you will then hand off to other producers? Are you looking to save on cost with your production process? Trying to learn a new skill?
A lot of artists we work with at Sounds Sphere are coming from the self producing world. Some artists just don’t know any different and are used to doing everything themselves. So let’s get one thing crystal clear before moving forward – what is your motivation for wanting to self produce?
Once you understand your motive, taper your expectations to align with reality. If you work hard and practice enough, you can probably start making decent tracks in a few months. There isn’t a real secret to producing – it’s all about time and effort.
#2 Understand Your Playing Field
Okay so your expectations are aligned and you’re ready to get started. Producing is quite different from writing songs or performing. To be a good producer, you first need to understand the rules of engagement. You will need:
- A computer
- A DAW (digital audio workstation) or software
- Virtual or live instruments
- A microphone
- MIDI keyboard (optional)
We’ll do a deep dive into software options another time, but for now, we’ll focus on the bigger picture. Just FYI – there are literally thousands of video tutorials on what software to buy and how to use it. Sounds Sphere doesn’t have skin in that game, but if you have questions let us know.
No matter what tools you select they all will more or less provide the same net result. You will use the software to manipulate and control sounds that you either record live, or play using MIDI.
You can think of MIDI as a programming language for music because that’s just what it is. MIDI sends information about pitch, velocity, or other behaviors to your DAW via hardware. A MIDI controller looks like a keyboard, but it doesn’t have any sounds of its own. Its only job is to transmit information.
Once you’ve got your tools and understand what to do with them it’s time to breathe.
#3 Don’t Overwhelm Yourself
LeBron James played through 9 seasons in the NBA before winning his first championship. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in its early days before coming back to make the company what it is today. The point is that you can’t always expect to master anything immediately.
Great things take time to unfold and while your next musical single might not be as big of a deal as an NBA championship or billion dollar business, you can still approach learning to self produce with a little perspective.
Be gentle with yourself as you try to learn a new skill. It’s admirable and hard to learn new things. Good job in taking the first step.
Before you dive off the deep end, consider that there will never be enough hours in your lifetime to master all that there is to know about audio and production. Start with the basics, go slow, and remain dedicated and you will certainly end up in a place you can be proud of.
So you’ve got the tools and the mindset, but what do you actually need to DO to produce songs?
#4 Master The Fundamentals
There are 4 main fundamentals that will allow you to manipulate and control audio to make it sound how you want. If you get a good understanding of the basics, moving on to advanced techniques will be an easier transition.
We suggest spending at least a few weeks on each topic to thoroughly understand it’s function and how it affects your productions. Here are the 4 major concepts for producing:
- Melody / chords
- Drums / beat
- Tempo / key signature
- Mixing (which breaks down into):
Here again, we’ll keep the discussion high level for the purposes of this article, but finding information on these fundamentals isn’t hard. YouTube has 2,749,209 hours of material on these topics. No seriously, we counted.
Don’t get lost in trying to know everything about everything. Once you understand things like scales and half time drum patterns you’re already on the right track.
#5 Stay The Course
Visualize yourself a few weeks into learning production. How do you feel? As each day passes you’ll gain confidence in your ability to create what’s in your head. You’ve made a commitment to get better at production now stick to it!
Setting a practice schedule can help you get through the muck when trying to learn the basics. Reward yourself after an hour spent learning or only allow for leisure time if you complete the day’s practice.
Within a short 3-6 month time period you will have a solid foundation with which to build on. But don’t stop when it’s comfortable. Challenges are the only way in which we get better, so keep at it and keep building on top of what you learn.
There you have it, everything you need to know about how to get started self producing.
You’re a badass producer just waiting to be unleashed! With enough practice and dedication, you’ll be crushing it in no time.
And maybe one day, your tracks could be up on our playlists for other artists to use!