For my first column I wanted to write 10 useful things to consider whilst starting out in your own musical endeavours! In later articles I want to go into some more technical skills relating to music production but I thought it would be best to begin with some more general observations I have come across during my years of attempting to create listenable music. The key thing with production is practice and experimentation; these tips are designed to give you a framework with which to begin your own journey…

2013 Oct Audio-Board


TIP #1   Limit Your Tools to Begin With

One of the best things about the democratization of music production is the availability of a vast array of workstations and plug-ins available. This abundance can have its downsides though, particularly to the uninitiated beginner. The sheer number can seem daunting, and it can be difficult to know where to begin. My advice is to do some research into the DAWs available to you, select one and stick with it. Learn the program inside out, so that you are extremely comfortable with its every aspect. I bounced around several programs to begin with without dedicating enough time to truly understand them and as such results were mixed. Almost all of the modern DAWs are powerful enough to produce excellent quality music when the operator is familiar with them and so exactly which one you choose is really simply a matter of preference, the crucial part is an understanding of the program itself. The same is true of plug-ins; it is much better to become familiar with a limited number of plug-ins than it is to have numerous instruments with little to no understanding of how to use them.

Almost all of the modern DAWs are powerful enough to produce excellent quality music when the operator is familiar with them…

My personal choices are Logic as a DAW, with the Native Instruments range for synthesis, I use Waves for my processing and Izotope Ozone for mastering and further processing. Most DAWs now come with a suite of synthesisers, compressors, EQs etc. which are a good to begin your learning with, the other external program I would suggest for the beginner, particularly those interested in making EDM, would be Native Instrument’s Massive. This is a fairly simple VSTi to use and is almost ubiquitously used in modern EDM. There are endless tutorials on youtube to help you in the learning process; the key thing is contact time. Play around with the presets, try making some sounds form scratch, follow along with a youtube tutorial, all of this will allow you to become quickly proficient with your tools, resulting in better productions.


TIP #2   When Struck by Inspiration Make Sure to Get Your Ideas Down

So you have a riff going through your head all day, you run home, load up your DAW, crack open a synth and…… Oh wait no that sound isn’t quite right, nope not that, maybe if I layer it with this…..err, oh, shit, the riff has gone. F#*K! The amount of times I have done this beggars belief. A key tip that I wish I could actually remember myself is that when inspiration strikes make sure you get the idea down in any form so that its ready for you to perfect later. You can always come back and re-record, modify your synths or mix it properly, but once that idea has left you it seems almost impossible to get it back.


TIP #3   When Not Inspired There’s Plenty You Can Still Do

Your time when not inspired should also be put to good use. Familiarise yourself with your tools, do some tutorials, spend time designing sounds, write drum patterns, mix and process other tracks your working on. All of this is useful in its self, and so often I’ve spent an hour or two playing around with a sound only for the sound itself to inspire a whole new track. So if you feel like you want to do some production but haven’t been hit with a catchy melody, spend your time honing your craft and experimenting with sound.


TIP #4    Listen to Your Pieces Everywhere

When you have a finished track it’s a good idea to take it everywhere with you and listen to it on s many different sound systems, headphones and even laptop speakers as possible. Often times something that sounds great on your system is awful on someone else’s, and this is because you have mixed the track to the particular idiosyncrasies of your speakers or headphones. Listening to the track the frequently will also give you a chance to reappraise your work and find the flaws. Just because a piece seems finished doesn’t mean you can’t go back and tweak it. I usually end up with about 5 or 6 different “finished” versions before I hit the one I am satisfied with.


TIP #5    Avoid Becoming Disenfranchised (Fed up!)

Of course music production is a complex and labour intensive process, and no doubt at times it can become draining. If you find yourself becoming frustrated with a track, leave it for a few days, work on something else, listen to some other artists. I have spent hours fiddling endlessly with a track, becoming increasingly irate only to end up ruining the track with bad processing, or throwing out perfectly good parts because I had become tired of the same five second loop.


TIP #6    Analyse Your Favourite Artists

This is key – Take the time to really try and understand the music that inspires you! Listen to the construction of the melodies, the chord sequences, the sound design, the arrangement as a whole and see why the piece works. This is something you can draw from and try to emulate in your own work. A good tip when working on a track is to drag in a similar track by an admired artist to use as a point of comparison. You can use as a benchmark by which to measure all the components of your work, from the sound design to the mixing. Use a spectrum analyzer you can actually see if you are mixing your work to a similar standard.


TIP #7    Don’t be Afraid to Imitate

Following on form the previous point it is sometimes effective and instructive to imitate and learn from the work of your favoured artists. Try and construct a part, similar to something you like in someone else’s track. You may find the part itself is too alike to actually use, but the skills and insight you acquire can be put to good use elsewhere.


TIP #8    Know the Genre You Are Writing In

Fairly obvious, but it definitely wise to really familiarize yourself with the genre of the track you are writing. Listen to the sound palette, the arrangements, the tempos and the melodic devices used by established artists. You can use this as a framework to gude your own work, and particularly for beginners it is extremely helpful in actually writing complete songs. However…..


TIP #9    …Don’t be Afraid to Break the Rules

These rules imposed by genre definitions are illusory. Don’t allow yourself to become too restrained by form. Use your knowledge of the framework to subvert and innovate around the status quo, after all you are engaged in a creative process, too frequently people forget this and churn out derivative, manufactured monotony. The one caveat to this is if you are working in a genre, for instance Drum and Bass, where the form is somewhat limited by the requirements of DJs it may be difficult to get your 20 minute progressive track played live. This should really be a secondary concern and don’t let it limit your creative freedom too drastically, but bear in mind that the form does have some utilitarian value.


TIP #10   Enjoy It!

As tedious as it may be to say this it is, none the less, absolutely true. You really need to enjoy music production to stand any chance of becoming adept. It can be frustrating at times and it certainly requires an unfathomable amount of work, but the rewards are worth the effort. You should aim to use it as a cathartic process and try to revel in the craft, rather than worrying about getting signed or releasing your music on this label or that. Just have fun and enjoy the thrill of finishing a new track!

You really need to enjoy music production to stand any chance of becoming adept. It can be frustrating…but the rewards are worth the effort.

I hope these little tips are of some help. I will be beginning a series in which I show you how I build a track from start to finish, starting next month. I will focus on several key areas; sound design of various elements, processing, arrangements, beat writing, mixing and mastering.

If there’s anything in particular you would like me to talk about let me know! I will certainly try and help you out. 🙂

In the mean time there are plenty of places you can look to learn more about music production. My picks would be Nextstepaudio.com, blog spot of the brilliant Brian Trifon of Trifonic fame, the Dubspot youtube channel and Artfx Studio’s youtube channel, all of which are full of great tips and tutorials.

Come back soon! -/ Pete