This article is part of a series explaining how readers can learn the skills to take part in activities that academics love doing as part of their work.
Music technology has always fascinated me. My father’s reel-to-reel tape machine began a lifelong obsession that led to managing recording studios, teaching music technology and making music. It’s something I’ve never lost my passion for, as for me the studio opens up a world of creative possibilities.
The process of developing ideas, layering tracks and refining a mix delivers a certain satisfaction that only this creative process can fulfil. What’s involved in all of this, you might wonder?
Well, broadly, producing music entails writing, recording and mixing music to create a “track”. Initial musical inspiration is explored and could come in the form of a riff, a sound or a feel. Multiple layers of instrumentation are then added to develop the sound of the track, before being “mixed” or interpreted for creative effect.
Sound complicated? Well there are certainly some things you need to get your head around before delving into this world. The good news is that access to online learning has opened up the possibility of developing these skills at home. The other thing to note is that you can access the resources needed to begin for little or no cost.
Still not convinced? Well it doesn’t even really matter if you play an instrument or not. Loop-based music production has made it possible for anyone with a computer and some spare time to start producing music.
I grew up in an era when getting your music recorded to a release standard generally involved hiring an expert to record and mix your product. Setting up a home studio required a significant investment in music technology hardware.
Fast-forward to today, where my 16-year-old son is releasing his own albums via digital distribution services like Spotify and Soundcloud, using his computer and a bit of know-how. While I’ve shown him a few things, he has picked up a lot of his skills through learning the craft online.
So where do you begin?
There are many avenues to explore if you want to learn about producing music online and accessing the tools to make it happen.
Even if you don’t have a budget to start working on music, you could easily make a start by using one of the freely available digital audio workstations. Avid’s Pro Tools First is an introduction to the industry-standard recording software used in studios across the world.
If you have no idea where to start with Pro Tools, that’s not really an issue. Avid has produced free online tutorials to get you going.
Then there are other websites that focus on delivering information to up-skill users in the use of audio software. Pro Tools Expert offers a lot of supporting information and tutorials on a range of topics. It’s designed to support users from all backgrounds.
Pro Tools isn’t the only freely available software for producing music.
Reaper is a digital audio workstation that’s gained in popularity over recent years. It’s reasonably priced at US$60 for non-commercial users. However, you can try before you buy, with a free 60-day evaluation period on offer. The Reaper web page also includes a range of resources to help new users navigate the software.
FL Studio focuses on electronic music making with a view to freeing up creatives to produce music without the “constraints of other audio recording software”.
Many Apple users would be familiar with Garageband, a loop-based music creation studio. Working with loops involves using pre-recorded or programmed sounds to produce music. It has a surprising range of features in a simple package. It’s even available as a mobile phone application.
Where can you find help?
Finding tutorials for platforms like Garageband is also simple. There’s a wide range of Garageband tutors to choose from online.
If you’re willing to invest a bit more in your learning there’s a plethora of music production courses available for a small fee. Udemy is a service where more experienced producers offer self-paced courses. These can be a great place to pick up skills relevant to your musical focus.
While these options focus more on using and getting the most out of your software, there are plenty more that cover recording techniques. Really, the opportunities for learning and developing your music production skills are endless.
When searching for tutorials you’ll find a number of options, but try finding an instructor who communicates effectively. The feedback within forums is also a great source of information that can guide you to the right tutor.
If you have no idea where to start with songwriting, then there are also plenty of experts available online to guide you through the process.
Work out your musical goals
What are the secrets of getting the most from all of these options? I’d start by considering what you want to achieve. Are you focused on electronic music production, or do you see yourself as a rock producer?
The answers to those sorts of questions would influence what digital audio workstation you choose to invest your time in learning.
Pro Tools is used in most recording studios. If you want to take your work to a professional studio to polish, then working in Pro Tools would allow you to easily move between studios.
If you want to create beats, then you might want to focus on FL Studio. It has been a starting point for many contemporary electronic artists.
Ableton Live is another popular choice of electronic producers today. If you see yourself working in the electronic sphere, then you should definitely get to know Ableton’s capabilities.
The best thing about all this is most of it will cost you nothing to explore your interests. So, if you see music production as something for you, what are you waiting for?
You can read other articles in this series here.