Teaching yourself anything can be daunting, and music production is no exception. There are so many questions you need to answer. Where do you start? What tools do you need? What DAW should you get? People give up on music production before reaching their full potential because of how overwhelming it is, and I do not blame them at all.
But is music production actually something that can actually be self-taught?
I truly believe that music production can be self-taught, but will take a lot of dedication, hard work, and time to achieve. You will need to learn about your DAW, song structure, recording properly, and many other things. Yes, it can seem overwhelming at first, but over time it will be less daunting. Believe it or not, a large number of music producers and beatmakers have been on the journey you’re on right now, and are self-taught.
Famous Self-taught Music Producers Exist, and You Can Do it Too
Metro Boomin, Dr.Dre, and Rza are all famous self-taught music producers. I focused on hip-hop here, but you’ll find examples of self-taught music producers in all different genres.
Metro Boomin – His mom gave him a laptop and FL Studio when he was 13. Ever since then, Metro has made songs and networked like crazy, which led to his success. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metro_Boomin)
RZA – He produced most of the songs for the Wu-Tang Clan, and did that all without going to school. He started out rapping but at some point in his music career, he picked up a DAW and started making music. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RZA)
Dr. Dre – He started out DJing, which opened the door for him to transition over to music production. He made a ton of music, which allowed him to improve his production chops over time. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr._Dre)
Sure you can argue they had talent, but that diminishes the amount of time and effort it takes to understand how to produce a good song. No one opens a DAW and creates Grammy-winning songs with no prior experience. Your favorite music producer likely made low-quality songs when they first got started. But they put in the time, effort, and dedication to become great.
Here’s a video from Ira Glass that I love because it does a good job of describing your journey as a music producer:
It boils down to creating a volume of work when you’re first starting. You’re getting in the reps and learning and trying new things. As you learn and do more, your songs naturally get better and better.
I also am a self-taught music producer and can confirm what Ira Glass said. I never went to school for music (although to be fair I did play in a band), and I learned everything I know through youtube videos, online guides, and music forums. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though, and in the past, I have debated paying for music school even with the steep prices. But I valued the benefits of being self-taught more than going to school, which is why I stuck with learning everything on my own. But maybe you really want to try the music school route or are just unsure of what to do. I’ll break down the pros and cons below to give you a better idea of what to expect going the self-taught route.
The Pros and Cons of Being a Self-taught Music Producer
Save Money – One of the biggest reasons being self-taught can be beneficial is cost-effectiveness. You don’t have to pay any money on tuition, books, or other expenses that come with attending a music school. Take a look here and you can see what the cost is of a few well-known music production schools. You’ll be saving thousands of dollars if you decide to go the self-taught route. Sure you’ll still need to buy the essentials, but you would have to buy them regardless of if you went to school or not.
Personalized learning experience – The other benefit of being self-taught is the fact that you get to learn precisely what you want to learn. In class, you’ll learn something that might be a waste of time, which can slow down your growth. When learning on your own, you can just spend time learning what you want, which means not wasting any time on things that may not be relevant to you. You get to go at your own pace, with little to no stress.
Lack of Structure – A downside to being self-taught is that you’re learning experience will lack structure. In music school, you have a curriculum with a beginning, middle, and end so it’s easy to follow along. But on your own, that doesn’t exist. You learn as you are making songs. For example, you might notice after a while that your song sounds empty or boring. Why is that? That’s when you do some research to figure out how to make a song interesting. This will bring you down a short-term rabbit hole but is the process I typically went through when I was teaching myself music production.
Overwhelming – The other challenge to going the self-taught route is obviously how overwhelming it is. To put it simply, “You don’t know what you don’t know”. It’s a frustrating feeling that most won’t overcome, but if you do it is immensely rewarding.
How to Learn Music Production On Your Own
If you are looking to take the self-taught route, then there are some basic steps you can follow to begin learning music production on your own. I can’t emphasize enough that you’ll need to be patient to see improvements but stick with it.
- Get yourself a DAW and learn it – Something popular and compatible with your computer. I say popular because it makes following tutorials online easier. I like Ableton or FL Studio as options so if you’re unsure go with one of those two.
- Learn song structure – Figure out what genre of music you want to create, and figure out the structure and sounds you’ll need to make that genre.
- Get quality samples – Whether it’s Splice or somewhere else, get yourself high-quality samples you can use to build out your song.
- Learn music theory – Helpful for learning how and why certain notes sound good together and others don’t. I know a little music theory, but not a whole lot. It’s something I know is valuable, but you don’t necessarily need it to make good music. It does help though.
- Learn how to mix and master – As you begin producing songs, you’ll want to figure out how to mix and master them so they sound as professional as possible.