New to the world of music production? This article will explain the different steps involved in music production and help you organize the process in your head.
In today’s world of original music composition, the only rule is that there are no rules. Record what you want and use it as a sample. Automate the effects in ways never before imagined. Mix rhythms and genres to create rhythms and melodies that go beyond and create new categories of music of your own.
However, just because you can do anything in music doesn’t mean you have to.
No matter what kind of music you make, you want it to be good music. You want other people to enjoy listening to your songs, to hear the message clearly and not be distracted by a bad recording or weak playback. Like a chef with a kitchen full of ingredients, there are thousands of ways to make your masterpiece, and it’s very easy to make it dirty.
The goal of this column is to help you understand the process of making music from start to finish, so that you can create tracks that meet a standard of quality we call «good music», regardless of style.
With each article, we will try to give you new ways of thinking about your approach to making music, which you can apply as you wish. The important thing is that you understand the process and the tools you have at your disposal, so that it is easier to build a quality track that conveys your message as intended.
Let’s start by defining the music production process by separating it into six basic stages:
- Song composition
These are by no means set in stone, and are based entirely on how I like to think about the process personally. The breakdown is meant to be used as a general guide to help organize the process in our minds.
Many times, we do some of these things at once (e.g., composing and arranging, tracking and editing and mixing, etc.). But on average, these are the general steps that are taken to produce a track -consciously or not- and it is useful to understand what goes into each stage so that we can execute it properly and get the best results.
- Song composition
What does it mean to write a song when so much of today’s music has no words? This is a great question for another article. But for our purposes, let’s say that writing a song is the process of putting together musical ideas to form a larger structure of coherent melody, harmony and rhythm. It is the process of brainstorming that results in a beginning, a middle and an end.
Of all the stages of original music composition, the arrangement is perhaps the least understood and the most neglected. When a song has a good rhythm and melody but becomes too repetitive after a while, this is usually an arrangement problem. It is the arrangement that makes a song interesting.
Now we bring the equipment. Since the recording process can involve many things, we will simply call this stage «tracking», and the goal is to capture a performance of the song.
A song exists in the ether. It is just a collection of musical thoughts. What makes it tangible is a recording of that song at a particular time. Playing a song live would make it communicable, but it would not be tangible, as the song would disappear when it was over. It is the recording that captures the song in a format that can be listened to continuously at will.
The possibilities of digital editing have made capturing a great performance easier than ever. But it is best to use these tools as an alternative solution, not as an emergency solution. And when it comes time to do some editing, you should treat this as a separate stage for a couple of reasons.
For many, this is where the real fun begins. You’ve written your song, recorded the parts, and now it’s time to sit back, relax and turn this track into a masterpiece. Knowing how to mix well is an art form that takes years of learning and practice. But that doesn’t stop anyone from doing it, and you should feel free to dive in and start exploring the possibilities.
Mastery has traditionally been treated as its own scenario. But for many bedroom producers, it has simply become the last part of the mixing stage. For most people who read this, it’s probably the last thing, but it’s still useful to know how it came about.
When recording an album, artists sometimes use several studios, producers and engineers for different songs. The result is that each song will have its own sound, sonically. Mastering is the process of making that the original music composition and songs sound coherent and part of the same album.