For some, the musical journey ends once they learn the instrument of their dreams. The endgame might be to master the guitar solo from ‘Stairway to Heaven’, or the complex piano work of Bach.
For others, the goal is to take their talents to a collaborative space and begin experiencing the joys of playing and performing in a band. Some try their hand at songwriting, while others may even become session instrumentalists.
But for some music aficionados, their primary purpose in the musical realm isn’t to learn or play an instrument at all. It’s to tinker, create and problem-solve – enter the world of music production.
What is Music Production?
Music production isn’t really one thing. It’s a loose, umbrella term that can nearly be applied to the entire musical creation process. Music production can be defined as exactly what it sounds like – the production of music at any stage. This can include:
- Musical arrangement
- Recording techniques/engineering
- Creating and using custom synths and VSTs
Suppose you break music production down like this – you will likely have dabbled in it. Even if it is just doodling around on an electric piano to create a cool-sounding chord progression.
Of course, that wouldn’t really make it your song anymore, but hey, a lot of popular music is trending that way anyway. Some music producers are a bit… ahh… touchy with how the term is used. Steve Albini is one of the GOATs, and has an excellent rundown of the music industry in his article in The Baffler.
But the piece is literally dripping with elitism. Albini takes issue with people calling themselves ‘producers’ without knowing some pretty niche stuff. Some highlights:
— If you use words like ‘Punchy’, ‘Warmth’, ‘Groove’, you have no idea what you’re talking about.
— You’re not a real producer if you don’t… go to college, get a degree, become an assistant, then a second engineer, then, and only then, become a full-time producer.
— Knowing every random and oftentimes irrelevant piece of hardware you might find in a studio and their every little intricacy. A specific example – knowing which equalizer ‘has the least phase shift in neighbor bands.’
I see Albini’s point, but gatekeeping what people can and can’t do in musical production is a bit questionable. For most home recordings, yes, knowing some of this stuff is great, but it’s absolutely not a requirement to produce a great album.
So, for this article, we won’t be looking at composition, songwriting or obscure facts about analog equipment. Luckily, if this is something you’re interested in – we’ve got you covered. You can check out our guide on writing and arranging a fully-fledged song here.
Instead, this piece will be all about how to get started. No, not the equipment (you can find out about that here), but the wealth of resources you can use to learn what it takes to become the next greatest producer.
The First Lesson of Music Production
If you’ve read my articles before, you’re probably aware that I’m a big fan of dishing out dense maths and physics info that I don’t quite understand.
If you hate this, well, I’ve got some good news, and some bad news.
The bad news is music production can get very, very technical – especially certain elements like learning how to compress and analog recording practices.
However, there is some good news. When it comes to music production, there’s a catch-all clause that disavows any ‘theoretically correct’ techniques. Ready?
If it sounds good, it doesn’t matter how you get there.
Now, this isn’t an excuse to throw away your textbooks, exit this article and write me a strongly-worded comment about how I’ve wasted your time. Learning the ‘proper’ way to produce music can be a valuable and great way to expand your musical horizons.
In reality, there isn’t really a proper way – just guidelines.
Every musical decision made in isolation is meritorious. Say you, someone who has never studied music production, produce a song with overblown compression, terrible microphone placement and no frequencies below 200Hz.
The end result might still sound better to you than a shiny, mega-studio production by the greatest sound engineer of all time.
But if you know what ‘the rules’ are, you will learn all that much better how to break them.
How to Get Started Producing Music
It can be easy to think you won’t need any help getting started producing music. For some, this may actually be true – most DAWs nowadays are pretty intuitive and easy enough to learn, at least basically.
If you’re only looking to churn out demos and have a bit of fun, you can probably accomplish this without needing too much help.
However, in today’s rampaging digital era, there’s simply so much content out there – paid or free – that you are almost spoiled for choice. If you want to get serious about producing music, why not leverage the resources at your disposal?
Knowing where to get started given the glut of info available can be seriously overwhelming.
Is it worth paying for an online course? Should you just stick to free textbooks and pdfs? Will YouTube give you everything you need?
As always, I’m here to help! In this article, we’ll unpack some popular music production options available and sort them into price tiers. Whether you’ve got thousands of dollars to unload on a full university course, or nothing but time to consume YouTube videos – we’ve got you covered.
Music Production Guide – Resources for Getting Started
YouTube series are an awesome starting point for those just getting into music production. There is a wealth of free content available for budding musicians to peruse. Of course, with such a wide variety of information, it can be difficult to separate the good from the bad.
One thing to note is a lot of these channels are gateways for promoting their paid services. This is not a bad thing, and they may still have hours upon hours of great videos to learn from. So let’s jump in!
- Subscriber count: 244,000
- Number of videos: 200+
- Website: www.musicianonamission.com
Musician on a Mission (MoaM) has been around since 2015 and has quickly grown to become one of the most popular resources out there for amateur music producers. It was started by UK local Rob Mayzes after he identified deficiencies in the education system for those trying to learn music production.
Since then, the channel has produced 200+ videos on its YouTube page, a huge range of blog posts on music production and premium paid content for those with a little coin to spare.
With such an enormous library to choose from, it can be a little disconcerting to figure out where to start. A good place would be to check out their playlist titled Mix School: Learn How to Mix Like A Pro.
Let me just list off some of the topics covered in this playlist:
- How to fix vocals that are too loud on an amateur mix
- Which mixing plugins to upgrade first
- DAW-specific guides
- Guides on compression, EQ and vocal tuning
- Spectral spacing
The list goes on and on.
What’s great about MoaM’s content is that it isn’t just clickbaity bites that lead consumers to the paid product. Pretty much every video is about as long as it needs to be, with most over 10 minutes and others multiple hours long.
The video I would personally recommend to kick things off with is a bit of a behemoth. It’s a 7-hour-long LIVE MIX performed in its entirety on stream. The presenter doesn’t just silently make changes for novices to watch and copy – he goes into great detail about every musical decision made and why it’s worth doing.
It may seem logical for beginners to first try and understand concepts like how to EQ, what compression is and the best way to gain stage before tackling something like this.
But I believe there’s no greater learning experience than watching a pro apply these musical concepts and trying to understand why they do what they do.
So, grab some popcorn, some coffee (you’ll need a lot of this!) and settle in. With such a long video, it makes sense to watch no more than an hour at a time, and to jot down important notes or takeaways from the content.
Once you’ve overcome the Mt. Everest that is the studio session, you can start filtering through the rest of MoaM’s more tailored videos to fill in the gaps in your knowledge.
- Subscriber count: 635,000
- Number of videos: 400+
- Website: www.recordingrevolution.com
Recording Revolution is another content-rich well that extends across a blog, paid resources and a litany of free YouTube videos. The company was founded by Graham Cochrane who started out just like you and I – as a music producer operating out of a bedroom studio.
What makes Recording Revolution such a powerful tool for beginners is its focus on home studios. The content they put out recognizes much of their audience won’t have access to Abbey Road-esque equipment and spaces.
The YouTube channel has been around for an insanely long amount of time. If you scroll down to their very first video, you will see it was published 12 years ago, on February 4th 2010. The video isn’t the best – there’s a lot of noise, stuttering and the camera quality ain’t what you’d expect from most content today.
However, that’s kind of the point. Recording Revolution has built a reputation around one key motto:
It’s not the gear that matters. It’s the creator. Even as the production quality has drastically improved, the message remains the same. This is what makes their videos perfect for bedroom producers – knowledge, creativity and skill will always trump money.
Some of the videos that might be particularly useful for our loyal readers include:
- A guide on how to reduce mud when recording in a home studio
- 4 home studio myths
- Vocal recording guide in a home studio
- 5 key home studio components
- How to record a song from scratch
This is barely the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds upon hundreds of tutorials, guides, tips and reviews for budding producers to sift through. Recording Revolution can be used to build a knowledge base right off the bat, add to what you already know, or to learn something specific in a song you’re trying to master.
A great starting point is the 5 minutes to a better mix series. These videos are all succinct, clear and presented in a very beginner-friendly way. Best of all, each video is only about 5 minutes long, making them very digestible.
There are 31 videos in this series, and I highly recommend it as a springboard for getting introduced to Recording Revolution’s suite of content.
Other Great YouTube Series
There are just so many awesome YouTube series out there that cover pretty much anything you can think of. This article has only touched on two of the more popular channels – there are thousands to dip your toes into.
It’s worth mentioning that I believe videos where you get to watch a professional producer create, mix or master a song to be as valuable as any tip or guide. These sessions are usually hidden behind paywalls, but stumbling across these rare gems should be appreciated.
Listening to a seasoned veteran go through their decision-making process will be full of incredible insight that can really get you started on the right track.
- Subscriber count: 570,000
- Number of videos: 80+
- Good for: Electronic producers, those looking for humorous and entertaining content
- Subscriber count: 2.2 million
- Number of videos: 250+
- Good for: Composition theory, testing out plugins and musical hardware, whacky and wild songs made out of razor blade noises
- Subscriber count: 92,800
- Number of videos: 120+
- Good for: Metal heads, podcasts and clips with professional audio engineers
- Subscriber count: 938,000
- Number of videos: 200+
- Good for: FL studio users, plugin reviews, production tips and tricks
- Subscriber count: 42,700
- Number of videos: 20 (in his Fundamentals of Mixing playlist)
- Good for: Those trying to learn the basics of mixing, plugin reviews
- Subscriber count: 663,000
- Number of videos: 100+
- Good for: Insights into mixing specific popular songs, recording tips (mic placements, etc.)
There are hundreds more than what I’ve listed here. These channels may be a good starting point, but once you’ve got the hang of basic audio production, it’s time to fly off from your nest and explore the world on your own!
Oh, and it would be remiss of me not to mention the cult classic that, in spite of its old age, remains relevant and full of pertinent advice. Best of all, it’s delightfully absurd.
Reading a book can be a fantastic way to really expand your knowledge when it comes to music production. Whether you want to learn basic music theory, figure out the best recording method or become a mixing maestro, there’s a book out there for you.
Books have both unique advantages and disadvantages compared to other methods like watching YouTube videos or reading blogs.
- Author: Mike Senior
- Available as: Physical book, eBook
- Release: 2011
Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio is actually produced by popular online music tech and production magazine Sound on Sound. This is often one of the first books recommended for beginners just getting started, and rightfully so, was the first book I ever read on music production.
It’s a bit of a hike to get through – spanning over 450 pages. Yet, the breadth of content never feels overwhelming. It walks readers through the mixing process from front-to-back, starting off with the equipment you’ll need, preparation basics, all the way to stereo enhancements and the mixing ‘Endgame’.
Those looking for tips on how to actually create music, learn about microphone placements and best recording practices will need to look elsewhere. However, if you’ve got all of that downpat and you’re ready to take on the exciting (and sometimes frustrating) world of making a song radio-ready, this book will have everything you need.
He describes, in detail, what each type of audio effect is and how it works, before moving onto what it is trying to achieve, and finally, the various ways it can be implemented.
A key takeaway I got from this book is that there is never one correct way to use any plugin or mixing technique. Just because you can use a compressor, doesn’t mean you should.
The idea behind Senior’s philosophy is that you need to really listen to the song you’re mixing and figure out how you can solve any issues that you come across. That you shouldn’t apply plugins first and then make decisions after.
Mixing, at a raw level, isn’t about getting every individual audio track sounding pristine. It’s about making each instrument, each sound, work together in harmony.
And for that, your ears are the best weapon you have.
- Author: Sylvia Massy, with Chris Johnson
- Available as: Physical book
- Release: 2016
Straight off the bat, it’s worth mentioning that Sylvia Massy’s book is not available digitally.
For some, this may be an immediate turn-off. But if you’re like me and actively despise reading off a screen, this news may come as a blessing.
As its name indicates, Massy’s book Recording Unhinged is a bit more focused on recording techniques than the world of mixing. It features interviews, tips and anecdotes from some of the production world’s greatest names: Hans Zimmer, Dave Pensado, Geoff Emerick, Linda Perry, JJP and more.
Don’t get me wrong – there are certainly optimal recording techniques when you consider mic placements, room structure and gain inputs.
However, the point this book is trying to make is, once you know how all of that works, you’re in a great position to throw it out the window and start making your own sensible (or not!) rules.
Recording Unhinged is an awesome resource because it compiles such a broad range of useful information. It still adheres to and explains basic recording concepts that will benefit your music-tracking process, but combines it with weird and whacky ideas that can take your tunes to the next level.
Add insights from industry professionals, and you’ve got yourself an entertaining, informative and inspiring piece of work from one of the world’s finest music producers.
And best of all, Sylvia goes into great detail about how to best record a chicken. For, you know, all your chicken recording needs.
- Author: Tim Dittmar
- Available as: Physical book, eBook
- Release: 2011
Tim Dittmar’s Audio Engineering 101 is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a comprehensive look at all things music production. Whereas the previous two reviews were on books with narrow(ish) niches, this entry takes on pretty much everything.
Obviously being such a broad guide, it doesn’t go into as much excruciating detail as other books on more specific concepts. However, for those just looking to get their feet wet in the world of audio production rather than learn individual elements intently, it’s hard to look past such a thorough book.
What’s really exciting about Audio Engineering 101 is that it’s currently in its Second Edition and has been updated to reflect the shifting landscape of music production.
The author has added in a whole host of new, useful information that suits the digital era. He’s included a section on podcast production, building and maintaining a home studio, and even niche topics like using an iPad–to–DAW connection for mixing and recording.
The writing found in this publication is easy to follow and straightforward for people of pretty much all ages and skill levels, although it is certainly aimed a little more toward music production novices. That said, aficionados will still find plenty of valuable tidbits dispersed throughout Dittmar’s wisdoms.
Other Useful Music Production Books
- Author: Bjorgbin Benediktsson
- Available as: Physical book, eBook, audiobook
- Release: 2019
- Good for: Learning the basic fundamentals of mixing at a very reasonable price
- Author: Geoff Emerick with Howard Massey
- Available as: Physical book, eBook, audiobook
- Release: 2006
- Good for: Invaluable insight into the decision-making process and techniques used by one of the world’s most revered audio engineers
- Author: David Byrne
- Available as: Physical book, eBook, audiobook
- Release: 2012
- Good for: Not strictly a music production book, but can completely shape the way you view music in your life. A new perspective on the world of music
- Author: Bobby Owsinski
- Available as: Physical book, eBook,
- Release: 2017
- Good for: Learning about how to mic up and record various instruments
Online courses are one of the best options for learning how to become a music producer. You can find courses on all sorts of niches: from broad topics like audio production, mixing and mastering, to working within specific genres or DAWs.
They present information in a logical manner and often include templates for “students” to apply their knowledge while they’re sitting a course. This allows you to learn through application, rather than just rote, which can really help with getting a “feel” for certain elements of the music production process.
Of course, the top-tier courses can get super pricey – but not all courses have to be expensive though, so I’ll walk you through some of the free options, as well as some paid offerings.
- Price: Free
Let me be clear – you’re probably not going to find an online course with personal lectures, feedback and assignments for free. Running such an operation takes a hell of a lot of time and it’s only fair the teachers are remunerated.
However, alternatives like the BAM audio school aren’t too far off. It’s essentially a collection of useful resources presented in a logical, structured manner for “students” to study themselves. You can go at your own pace, take notes, skip things you don’t think you need to learn, and so on.
Then, at the end of every section, Bruce Miller assigns various tasks to be completed. This isn’t quite as powerful as having someone grading your own work, but applying knowledge is nearly always going to be retained better than just reading and memorizing information.
The school is also in the process of adding self-grading tests after each topic so newcomers can figure out their production strengths and weaknesses.
You can even contact Bruce with specific questions about the content or any issues you encounter, giving it an individualized touch.
The webpage is pretty… underdeveloped. It isn’t the most enticing of designs, and the text can get really tiring to read after a while. Some of the links don’t work, or straight up haven’t been added yet.
But when you consider the site is a passion project with hours upon hours of content given out for free, I think it can probably be excused. That’s not to mention it is undergoing a significant upgrade, slated to be released by the end of 2022.
If you can deal with the unprofessional and frankly ugly web design, then Bruce’s work is almost too good to be true. It’s insightful and will help you apply your knowledge and learn to creatively problem-solve way better than mindlessly following along YouTube tutorials.
I highly recommend at least giving his content a shot. What’s there to lose when you don’t have to pay a cent?
- Price: Three tiers: $9.99 a month (paid annually), $24.99 a month (no lock-in contract) or an upfront payment of $149 a year
Slate Academy’s all-access pass is less of an online course and more of an all-encompassing swiss army knife for budding music producers.
For a pretty reasonable subscription cost, you get access to an absurd amount of content. Slate’s service is an awesome starting point for somebody that wants to learn how to produce audio and access a bunch of tools that will help them on their journey.
The pass includes:
- 75+ premium VSTs and plugins. Slate have a reputation for top-tier replications of analog compressors and EQs, along with AutoTunes, saturators, limiters and everything else you’ll need to get started creating and mixing your next hit.
- The ANA 2 Ultra Bundle synth that comes packed with 100 presets spanning pretty much every genre you can think of. New preset packs are delivered monthly, so the potential sounds you can play around with keep expanding.
- Sample packs, including drum machines, 808s, vocals, guitar riffs and more
- Continued access to any new plugins, samples, synths etc. released by Slate while owning the pass.
However, let’s hone in on what this article is all about – learning resources.
Slate Academy comes with a number of awesome features for diving into music production. There are mixing classes for all sorts of genres, including Pop, Metal and Hip Hop.
Each of these classes comes with 20+ individual videos that take you step-by-step through the mixing process, covered by a tenured professional. These videos host hours of content alone.
What’s really great about these masterclasses is the educators tend to only use the products included in the All Access pass – plugins, samples and so on. This makes it really easy to apply the lessons being divulged into your own projects.
However, what I think is really valuable about Slate’s offer are the templates. The platform gives their subscribers access to all of the actual mixing projects used in the classes, and they’re compatible with every major DAW. This lets you actually go into each individual project and tinker with the settings of any given demo to better understand why professional producers make the decisions they do.
Earlier in this article, I lamented that taking notes from a video or a book isn’t quite the same as actually applying them to a track.
Sure, you can pause a video, or use a bookmark, but the result won’t always be as effective. However, you can follow along with the Slate masterclasses step-by-step inside the DAW using the exact same materials.
You can actually hear the differences that each plugin makes, comprehend the importance of each compressor knob, and see where you might be going wrong in your own production efforts.
Or, if you’re game, you can disagree with the professional’s decisions and see how your mix compares come the end of the course.
All of that for $150 a year is not a bad deal at all.
The biggest drawback with Slate’s program is the lack of self-analysis that comes with a traditional course. There aren’t any personalized lessons, feedback or assignments to complete. However, the addition of templates you can meddle with yourself closes the gap – at least a little.
Other Online Courses to Consider
- Price: starts at $19 per month
- Good for: Ableton producers – Noiselab considers itself as the most comprehensive online resource for Ableton users.
- Price: Free
- Good for: Owners of Waves plugin, industry insights, tips and tricks from professional producers, mixing and mastering
- Price: Varies, but usually cheap
- Good for: Udemy is a unique website in that individual educators can list their courses on specific topics. Researching these courses is paramount to ensure you don’t stumble across a scam or education that isn’t relevant to your own musical goals. However, it can be a great way to connect with top-tier producers and musicians and create a lasting, productive relationship.
- Price: Starts at $24.99 per month
- Good for: Following full song mixes from start to finish, hours upon hours of content from professional producers, lengthy tutorials on recording songs from scratch (including videos on mic placement, overdubbing, composition)
Online courses that come with degrees are a bit like going back to school, except this time, there’s no maths. Okay, that’s probably a lie. You know what they say – music is math!
These opportunities are only recommended for those that are really serious about music production. Finding courses or learning under the wing of an industry pro is going to be pretty expensive no matter what – they can easily sum up to over $10,000.
But the biggest benefit is that you’re being taught by an experienced music producer in an educational capacity. You will have training that allows you to work on your personal mixing, recording and production style. They will teach you, not the strengths and weaknesses of most producers, but specifically yours.
Someone will often assign you work (imagine that, homework and assignments you actually want to do) and come back with personalized feedback. This can be so much more intuitive and valuable than blanket statements which you will find with most other learning methods.
Yes, a book or video can tell everyone how to use an EQ, but a course will show you how.
Being able to pick the brains of someone with more experience and skill than you is just such an incredible opportunity, and if paying up for a course or a tutor is something you’re umming and ahhing about, I say GO FOR IT.
- Price: Depends on specific course, but usually £680 (approx. $800 USD) per quarter
Point Blank is a registered music school that has been offering courses for the best part of 30 years. It was founded in London and has physical locations in the UK, LA, China, Ibiza and India. And of course, given the premise of this article – they offer online courses.
Starting from humble beginnings, Point Blank has expanded to become one of the most revered music production schools in the world. The program has pumped out a number of well-known artists, including Plastician, Pete Tong, Goldie and Mishlawi.
The online courses on music production span more than ten different topics. Some are broad and tackle pretty much everything a new producer needs to know, while others only last a couple of months and focus on a specific element like DJ skills or sound design.
- Music Production Complete Master Diploma
- Complete Electronic Music Composition
- Complete Ableton Live
- Complete Mixing and Mastering
- Mixing Electronic Music
- Producer Career Development
Yeah, Point Blank is pretty pricey compared to… well… literally everything else in this article. But that’s kind of the point – it’s not just a casual online course for hobbyists. It’s the real deal.
Every course you take will align you with an experienced tutor, personalized assignments and real-time, remote lecturing. You will get feedback on your own music, skills and understanding of the course content, all the while being given the chance to meet and learn from famous producers.
The school has an in-house record label (Point Blank Recordings), where students can actually collab with published artists and earn some real industry experience while studying.
Of course, some of these benefits might be lost when solely doing remote work, but Point Blank do their best to ensure equal opportunity for everyone, no matter whether they attend in-person or from the comfort of their home studio.
When you graduate from a school like Point Blank, people take notice. So if you’re serious about getting into the music production industry, it’s a good idea to consider a course that will give you the nurturing and distinct skills needed to succeed.
Check out some of their free samples here.
Whew. We’ve made it! Well, I have – I can only hope you’ve managed to hold on for the ride.
If the length of this article tells you anything, it’s just how much the internet has changed the game.
Back in the day, the only avenue to mastering musical production was through becoming an intern at a studio, buying coffee after coffee for the pros that hung around and learning as much as you could by shadowing them.
But with the internet, you can access hours upon hours upon hours upon… hours of content for free. You can take it with you on the train, plug a podcast into your car radio, or take notes while reading articles like this one at work in your limited spare time.
This piece barely scratches the surface of what’s out there, and getting through everything I’ve mentioned would already take up to a year. That’s the thing about music production – it’s an ever-evolving ecosystem that no matter how hard you try, you will never know everything there is to know.
For some, that might be overwhelming, but for me? That’s pretty damn exciting.
Let me know in the comments some of your favorite resources for learning about all aspects of music production!