When some set out on their musical production journey, it becomes one filled with university courses, prized tutorships, and big-ticket professionals. Many of us dream of an education in the industry, but the realities of life can quickly get in the way.
First off, it can be absurdly expensive to pursue such a mentorship. It’s not just the teaching that’s costly – add in studio time, plugins, hardware, and instruments, and you can quickly run up a bill in the tens (or hundreds) of thousands.
Then there’s the time factor. Many of us already work full-time jobs in different fields, and music is just a hobby. Do you really have (or need) the drive to work 9–5, complete assignments, attend classes and workshops, and work your way up the ladder without being paid much of anything?
If you want to be a professional – yeah, a traditional training is likely the way to go. But what options are there for those who just want to produce music at home for fun?
Well, as it turns out, quite a lot.
How to Decide Which Videos to Start With?
We’re living in the information era. You can find almost anything you want to learn about, see or hear, on the internet. But with such breadth of knowledge comes a level of uncertainty. Knowing where to start, what to do, and how to separate the good from the bad is hard.
Music production is a multi-layered beast. There are so many individual elements to it that can be squeezed together in whatever way you want.
This is why it’s important to develop a plan first. It’s a great idea to hone in on what you, and you alone, want to accomplish on your musical production journey.
- Do you want a broad overview of the music production process just to learn?
- Do you want to create your own songs using a DAW?
- Do you want to work within a specific genre?
- Do you want to mix music for other people?
- Would you like to compose video game music?
- Do you want to learn about using VSTs?
- Are you trying to build a home studio?
- Will you be using a professional music studio?
And so on. Asking yourself these questions will go a long way to simplifying the learning journey. I, for example, decided the best place to start was to develop a base knowledge for mixing and mastering my own music within a DAW. Once I’d built that foundation, I could start applying it and filling in gaps in my knowledge as I pressed forward.
Some will prefer individual videos that problem-solve elements of their production process – such as producing vocals, recording guitars, or developing heavy synth lines. Others will want a more structured journey that covers the basics of music production from start to finish.
What Makes a Video on Music Production Good?
If you’ve read my articles before, you probably know my philosophy on this. Anything that helps you is good, regardless if the last thousand people to watch it found it useless.
This is why developing a plan is so important. Someone who wants to learn how to produce black metal vocals is probably going to find an EDM production guide “bad”.
Most different video presenters/channel hosts will have their own style in terms of musicality and personality. I personally recommend starting out with the most popular video series. Popularity does not, never has, and never will dictate how good or worthy someone’s content is.
However, it does guarantee a certain level of quality. Most popular music production channels have charismatic hosts presenting information in digestible bites. Clearly, enough people are watching it because they find the tips and guides useful.
From there, it becomes easier for you to branch out into more niche videos (if required). By checking out the most popular in the game, you can get a feel for the style of video you want.
Maybe you like the “funny” type of channel, that disperses tips and tricks alongside weird videos where musicians make drums out of egg sounds. Or perhaps you want no personality at all, and just a quiet, dry video where you can follow along as a pro mixes a song from start to finish.
The Best Free Resources For Music Production: Videos
YouTube is the starting point for most music producers on a budget. There are thousands upon thousands of channels, videos, and series filled to the brim with lessons.
In our introduction article to music production, we looked at some of the most popular YouTube channels going around. These were selected because they were a bit more general, and covered most elements of the music production world.
In this guide, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the more specific channels and videos in areas most music producers will need to learn. We’ll explore individual videos and media dedicated to a niche within the very broad field of music production.
One of my favorite alternatives to YouTube is twitch.tv. The once-exclusively game-streaming platform has blossomed into a thriving community for music producers. Musicians, ranging from the not-famous like me, to the revered like Deadmau5, have streamed the production process for entire songs on Twitch.
You can watch the whole kit and kaboodle – composition, synth creation, VST usage, arrangement, recording, mixing, mastering, and more. Watching these streams can be incredibly time-consuming, but when you find someone you like, you can learn a lot.
Okay, by now, I’m certain that there are only three things on your mind:
Where’s the free stuff?
When will we see the free stuff?
Show me the free stuff!
Fine. Fair enough. Let’s get into it!
Free Videos For Producing Vocals
When I think of producing vocals, I must admit my mind immediately wanders to crazy effects. How can I get my singing to sound like The Strokes, or how do I get the classic 80s reverb/delay sound?
In actuality, producing vocals is a lengthy process with quite a few steps involved. The “fun” stuff – your reverb, delay, and so on – often comes last. It’s just as important to consider optimizing vocal recordings via mic placements, gain staging, or learn how to EQ a vocal track lacking clarity.
Jonas Aden has a great video that covers the process from top-to-bottom. It’s not of absurd length either – the information can be gleaned quicker than an episode of Game of Thrones. He brings in a professional teacher to divulge his tips, tricks, and pertinent advice when producing any kind of vocals.
He doesn’t just talk about mic placement and EQ as well. When I say it’s comprehensive, I mean it. Aden’s video goes through choosing a microphone suited to your vocal style, the importance of room acoustics (I told you so!), and how to actually connect your DAW to an interface.
Being Australian, I’m a sucker for content that hails from the land Down Under. The Australian Institute of Music, one of our country’s most prestigious music institutions, has a decade-old video on mic placement.
It stands the test of time very well. The host, Jason de Wilde, goes through how various distances from a microphone can affect the end result. He talks about how to avoid plosives (trust me, you want to avoid them) or how to create natural-sounding backing vocals.
And just listen to our accents! Aren’t we great?
Let’s stay ten years in arrears and look at another video from 2012. We’re exploring Rob Williams’ three-step formula for EQing vocals this time. In general, I’m pretty wary of any “formula” for mixing anything. It kinda defeats the purpose of mixing, which is to problem-solve on a case-by-case basis.
However, Williams’ video is very popular, boasting nearly 2 million views. He goes into great detail about why he uses his formula the way he does and how it can be applied across various projects.
This makes it more of a “learn with me” type video than a “copy and paste this formula”, which is much more beneficial for building a portfolio of production knowledge.
And, as promised, here’s some of the more “fun stuff” – making your vocals stand out with effects. This part of vocal production is a little less about learning through theory and more about finding out what works for your specific production goals.
For example, you might want to copy Joe Gilder’s “Quick n’ Dirty” vocal tone, but don’t quite like how much distortion he’s using. Easy! Now you know how to create a base for a Stroke’s-like effect, but you can adjust the parameters to your liking.
Or, you can learn how to make your vocals sound more like John Lennon’s … I mean Kevin Parker’s from Tame Impala.
The resources out there for learning how to produce vocals are colossal. You can find so many small tips and tricks that could completely revolutionize the way you sing in your masterpieces.
Maybe you want to try out one of my personal favorite techniques, vocal layering. Well, there are about a hundred thousand videos on that specific topic to discover.
Or, we can take a look at what professional metal artist Devin Townsend does to create his soaring, wall-of-sound vocals in Pro Tools, featured by Waves Audio.
Free Videos For Producing Guitars
Let me be honest with you. I really don’t like recording electric guitars. First, I often spend ages poring over my amp’s knobs, trying to find the one perfect tone to match my song.
Then, of course, I try to record it with a microphone, and the tone sounds completely different. So I try another mic, or a different distance, and the tone sounds off once again.
After maybe an hour of fiddling, I might finally get something that’s 80% of the sound I was searching for.
Now, this process isn’t just because I’m a crap producer – although it certainly doesn’t help. The struggles of recording electric guitar have been acknowledged by the pros, even though they do manage to get great tones…eventually.
VSTs like NeuralDSP and processors like AxeFX have been used in all sorts of studio albums and live performances. Blink-182, Trivium, and Death Cab For Cutie have all used (or are using) digital amps for their electric guitar needs.
This doesn’t mean that learning about micing guitars is useless. In fact, one specific type of guitar isn’t close to being matched by its virtual alternative.
Of course, I’m talking about acoustic guitar.
Learning how to mic an acoustic guitar is one of the most important elements of producing it. The microphone’s distance, whether you use one, two, or three, and combining condensers with dynamics can all massively impact the end sound.
Rick Beato has a comprehensive acoustic guitar production guide on his YouTube channel. It runs through various ways to mic the guitar, as well as how to EQ and compress it depending on the tone you’re after.
Recordingrevolution, one of the most popular free resources for producers, has a video that goes through the “4 Laws of Acoustic Guitar Recording”. This video is a bit more about taking onboard advice rather than the actual recording process.
Still, the tips and tricks provided are quite useful for those new to recording acoustic.
Recordingrevolution also has another excellent video on how to mix rock guitars, specifically focussed on finding a level of clarity and width.
A more in-depth guide on mixing guitar can be found on the Produce Like A Pro channel, one of my favorites. The video is hosted by Warren Huart, who has worked with The Fray, James Blunt, and Aerosmith.
The best part about this particular video is Warren only uses “in-the-box” plugins – so there are no fancy third-party VSTs that you have to watch him use wistfully.
Free Videos For Producing Synths
Producing synths is a pretty broad topic. It’s one that people study exclusively when they get into music production. I’m going to level with you here – I have no real idea how synths are programmed. I tend to just play around with the knobs on a preset to find a sound I like.
If this is as far as you want to take your synth production skills, that’s fine. You’ll still need to learn how to mix them and get them to play along nicely with the rest of your compositions. But for those with a deeper love of synths, there are many resources at your disposal to become an expert.
In The Mix’s “Sound Design and Synth Fundamentals” is close to the most popular synth production video available on YouTube. It has over 1 million hits, and only has a run-time of 15 minutes.
It isn’t going to tell you everything you need to know – that would take years. But it’s one of the better videos out there for a relatively short, digestible bit.
The host uses Serum, but the teachings will apply to pretty much any synth plugin you can think of. Most DAWs will come with an in-built synth you can mess around with, or there are plenty of third-party options that can be picked up for free or on sale.
The video touches on how each knob will affect the sound of a synth, and how you can use these to mold specific sonic qualities that will be perfect for your creative exploits.
The same music channel has a slightly more advanced video that dives into each attribute of a synth in a little more detail.
Either of these videos will be a nice starting point for building a foundation of knowledge. Next, you could take a look at this video from David Hilowitz Music, where he builds a synth from scratch using Kontakt.
Learning how to do this is not even close to being a requirement for producing synths. It’s just a slightly different approach to understanding the synth’s fundamentals.
Chances are, you’ll never need to create a physical circuit and convert it into a digital synth – that’s what most plugins already do. But it does show you the potential creative outlet of using a synth extends a bit further than downloading a plugin and fiddling with knobs.
For example, something I did with my “knowledge” (or lack thereof) with synths was to create my own out of vocals. It’s rather simple – I just recorded myself humming each note, barely in tune, for a full octave between C3-C4.
Then, a little (well, a lot) of reverb, some delay, and EQ, and we had a full-blown virtual instrument to do my bidding. I actually got the idea from My Bloody Valentine, who often used vocal synths alongside guitar riffs to create an ethereal texture.
Once you’ve got the sound of your synth down pat, many people will want to know how to do one thing: how to make them sound bigger. Luckily, there are heaps of videos out there on this specific topic.
It’s worth mentioning this tip is more intended for swirling pads than leads, but it can really be applied to any sort of synth. Beat Academy has a solid 16-minute video on this which is quite helpful. It looks at various mixing tips and tricks, as well as changes you can make to the synth’s settings to “widen” it up.
Then, if we want to move on to mixing, Pro Audio Files has a great 14-minute video to help nudge you in the right direction. The lesson is hosted by professional mixer David Glenn, who runs through his method for getting multiple synths to play nicely together within a song.
What’s great about this video is its simplicity. Glenn is a pro and doesn’t use hundreds of different effects in a desperate attempt to get everything to work together. He pretty much only uses EQ, and walks viewers through the best way to mix synths using very little.
Free Videos For Producing Drums
Drums are one of the biggest pains for amateur music producers to get their heads around. For starters, recording acoustic drums in a home studio has so many requirements.
If you’re building a studio from scratch, knowing that you have to track drums will likely run up your bill by at least a few hundred. Let’s think about what you might need:
- At least a 4-track audio interface
- 2-3 mics (at an absolute minimum)
- A drum kit
- Space to record a drum kit
- A treaty with your neighbors
- A drummer
Of course, some can get away with one mic on a snare and a kick, while others may need 20 mics to record each of their 20 toms. But in general, producing drums is really tough for small-timers.
This is why I exclusively use drum VSTs for my music – they’re not quite at the same level as guitar amp sims, but they’re certainly serviceable.
However, plenty of people have overcome these obstacles and recorded perfectly fine drum beats from the comfort of their rooms. The first step is to learn how to mic each kit.
Sweetwater, a prominent music retailer, has a YouTube channel that provides plenty of professional content. Their video “How to Mic a Drum Set in 1,2,3,4 and More Mics” is a great introduction to the topic.
It’s a little longer than some other options – coming in at 20 minutes – but given how important micing drums are to their eventual sound, it’s time well spent.
If you’re like me and plan to create your own virtual drum beats, it’s a good idea to learn about programming VST drums. This will help ensure they sound realistic (if you’re synthesizing acoustic drums) and give you more control over the beats.
There are two really good videos on this topic. The first one I quite like is from Gear Gods, where the host takes you through programming drums using the EZdrummer VST plugin.
The next video, The Indie Music Lab, focuses less on programming and more on making VST drums sound real. It’s presented as five tips and can give you several ideas for new ways to use VST drums in your mixes.
For those interested in creating synthetic drums, this 30-minute video from ARTFX walks you through designing each element (kick, snare, hat, claps etc.) from scratch.
Now, if you want to mix drums, you might encounter a dilemma. When you google “how to mix drums”, you’re ambushed by a swathe of videos and articles scrambling to tell you the best ways to get drums sounding “THICK”, “LOUD” and “PUNCHY”.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. I’m sure many of you (and myself, at times) have wanted to answer that exact question. However, it’s a very specific sound that only teaches you one way of mixing drums.
For that, I recommend this short video from Joe Gilder. It’s one of his more popular videos, having racked up half a million views, and goes through some of the drum mixing basics. He discusses how to set up and use a drum buss, use EQ to tame ringing and resonance, and the best ways to apply compression.
Free Videos For Learning How to Mix & Master
You might be wondering, “why do we need more videos on how to mix? You’ve already provided plenty!”
I sure have. But I want to make a point – while videos showing you how to mix vocals or drums are useful for that specific application, they somewhat miss the point of mixing.
Generally, the main idea of mixing is to make all the instruments/recordings in your song work in harmony. It isn’t necessarily about getting vocals to sound like they’re born from angels or turning your bass-line into a fuzzy, distorted mess. Those are more elements of sound design than they are mixing.
No, mixing is much like problem-solving. It might be hearing that your lead vocals are slightly muddied by your lead synth and figuring out how to amend this without compromising the clarity of either instrument. Or learning how to make the kick drum get along nicely with the bass drum.
In fact, I think the best place to start for beginners is learning the differences between mixing and mastering. Too often, they’re lumped together as essentially being the same. While the plugins used may share some similarities, the goals of mixing and mastering are typically different.
As I’ve said before, one of my favorite learning resources for mixing is to watch a pro hack it out. If you have the time and patience to sit through a feature-length video, you will glean so many new tips, ideas, and methods you can use to attack your own mixes.
The best part about these videos is they aren’t typically focused on providing one solution (for example, how to mix multi-layered vocals). They take in all elements of a song and figure out how each piece of the puzzle fits together, something that can be applied to music from all walks of life.
In terms of “start-to-finish” videos, many are available on YouTube, and even more can be found on premium subscription services like Nail The Mix. Of course, this article is all about free resources for music production, so we won’t go into any of these.
Recommending just one video is a bit of a trap, as each presenter works within their own musical style and has their own hosting personality. Your best bet is to skim through a couple and see which host you prefer.
Maybe their song sounds a lot like yours, or perhaps you just find them entertaining. The best learning resource is going to be one you enjoy!
The same process should be done for mastering, if that’s an area of music production you wish to explore. Always remember – mastering is different to mixing and requires a different toolkit.
In a similar vein, and in a much shorter video, Reuben Cohen dives into the master of “Happy” by Pharell Williams. He discusses the process he used when mastering, why he made certain decisions and any criticisms he has of the end result. This is really useful, as it emphasizes the significance of listening to a song instead of applying a generic formula when mixing and mastering.
Not everybody has the 2-3 hours to sit down and take in an all-encompassing mixing tutorial. That’s fine – there are plenty of alternatives out there. A popular video style is the “x number of tips and tricks for making perfect mixes”. In general, I hate the clickbaity type of title.
Ten small snippets of information don’t make a complete novice compete with the studio greats. However, these nuggets can still be super valuable, especially for those with a little more mixing experience.
Another option is to find more comprehensive overviews of each element of the mixing process. This will set you back multiple hours as well, but each individual is contained in 20-30 minute segments so it’s a less daunting task. You can work through them at your own pace.
For example, In The Mix has a “Mixing Start To Finish” guide, which provides a general look at a generic mixing structure. What I really love about this video is one specific tip – TAKE A BREAK. Not enough mixing videos touch on this point, and it’s super pertinent.
If you mix the same thing for too long, your ears get tired, and your perception of the song in its totality will likely get warped. This might impact your mixing decisions and make you increasingly biased.
Circling back to In The Mix (he has very good introductory videos, perfect for beginners), he also has a series that dives into each of the main mixing elements – gain staging, EQ, reverb, saturation, distortion and of course, the mysterious compressor.
You can seriously follow this type of video down a massive rabbit hole.
It starts as a simple Introduction to Saturation. Still, before you know it, you’re watching a 2-hour video on why tape saturation is best-suited to emo music. If you don’t want to watch one of the full masterclasses, I recommend sticking to one video per element.
If you want to learn about compression, great – watch one video on it and take notes. Then, leave it for a day or two. Maybe watch a guide on EQing vocals, but again, don’t watch anything more on EQing. Let the new information sink in. If you overload your brain with, let’s be honest, less relevant details, you’ll end up losing some of the important stuff.
Learning to mix is a super personal, but super detailed element of music production. There are thousands upon thousands of videos and resources spruiking methods that are only actually 5% different from what any other video says. It can become too easy to fall into the perpetual mindset of “I need to learn more” and never actually accomplish anything.
Because at some point, you’ll need to swap out the videos for actually producing music.
Whew! That’s the end of yet another lengthy article. I hope you all managed to stick with me through it. And if you stopped each time to watch a video I embedded, I’m glad to see you’re still here after what has no doubt been quite a few months!
In all seriousness, we live in such an amazing time for amateur artists. The depth and breadth of totally free, informative content is at a point that was almost unimaginable just a decade ago.
In fact, there’s so much out there that it might actually be a detriment. People can face choice overload or analysis paralysis, given how many popular and well-constructed resources there are.
The trick is to make and stick to a plan. Not every video is going to revolutionize your production process. You might straight up hate some (or all) of the YouTube content I’ve included in this article.
Conversely, you might love every single one, but get so embroiled in absorbing the information you never actually apply all the new skills you’ve learned.
So, I’m going to leave you with one more piece of advice. You can become the smartest music producer theorist in the world – but that means nothing if you don’t use it. Make sure to cut into your “watching time” by having fun on a DAW, creating a synth, or messing around with producing someone else’s song.
Sure, you might never get to the level of a true industry professional by absorbing free videos and mucking around on a DAW, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about improving your skills, and evolving into the best producer of music you can be.