Music production is a music-making process that requires knowledge of many music production concepts. These concepts include sound engineering, mixing and mastering, music theory, operating synthesized and sampled instrumentation, and recording and arrangement within digital audio workstations (DAWs). With how much information there is to learn about music production, you may be wondering if you can learn music production on your own.
Can you learn music production on your own?
Yes, you can learn music production by yourself but it will take a lot of dedication, hard work, and time to achieve. You will need to learn about your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), song structure, music theory, and many other music production concepts.
The amount of information you need to learn in the beginning is what makes music production so hard, but not impossible. There are well-known producers in the music industry that were able to teach themselves how to produce music.
Metro Boomin, Dr.Dre, and Rza are all famous self-taught music producers.
- 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 made low-quality songs when they first got started. However, what allowed these music producers become world-renowned was their consistency and dedication.
Is music production hard to learn?
Yes, music production can be challenging to learn, as it involves a variety of technical and creative skills, such as understanding audio engineering, music theory, and software. For people who come from no musical background, it can be even more difficult. However, it is possible to learn the skills needed to produce music with dedication and practice.
Some people believe that because music production can be difficult to learn, only people who are young can learn music production and be successful. This is not true. If you are wondering whether you’re too old to learn music production, do not worry. People of all ages are able to learn music production successfully and even make careers out of it.
How long does it take to learn music production?
For aspiring music producers with no prior music experience, expect a level of proficiency in music production after 3-4 years of consistent practice. Consistent practice for music production means at least 30 minutes of learning each day. For someone with some prior music experience and more time each day to learn music production, it can take 1-2 years to be proficient in music production.
Here’s a video from Ira Glass that does a fantastic job of describing your journey as a music producer over time:
Ira Glass is a producer and host of radio and television series such as “Talk of the Nation” and “Morning Edition” (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_Glass). As Ira Glass mentioned in the video, the goal when creating art such as music is to create a volume of work when you’re first starting. You’re getting in the repetitions and learning and trying new music production techniques. As you learn and do more, your songs will naturally get better and better.
Understanding the 10,000-hour rule for music production
You can also use the 10,000-hour rule to estimate how long it would take you to achieve proficiency in music production. The 10,000-hour rule is a concept created by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”. The 10,000-hour rule means that on average if you spent 10,000 hours learning and practicing a specific skill, you will achieve mastery of that skill. In the context of music production, if you spent 10,000 hours learning music production and making music, you would achieve mastery in song production.
For example, if you spent an hour a day practicing music production, you would achieve mastery in 1,000 days. This translates to about 3-4 years. If you were to increase the time from 1 hour to 2 hours, then you would achieve 10,000 hours in just 2 years. The 10,000-hour rule is just a way to estimate how long it will take you to learn music production, and is not exact.
Why does music production take a long time to learn?
The reason music production takes a long time to learn is that music production involves not only acquiring knowledge but also developing practical skills and creative musical sensibility, which can take a long time to develop.
You will need to have a good understanding of the software and hardware that is used in music production. For example, a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is a requirement for most music producers. DAWs are similar in functionality to one another but vary greatly in terms of interface and processes. That means it will take some time for you to learn your DAW of choice and understand how to use the tools within the DAW when creating a song.
You will also have to train your ears to understand what sounds work well together in a song and which sounds do not. This is not something that can be trained overnight and will take time to develop.
Finally, it takes a lot of practice to get good at music production. You need to be able to apply the theory and skills that you learn to your own music, and you also need to develop your own style. It takes a lot of time and practice to get good at all of these things.
What do you need to learn in music production?
Here are some key concepts you’ll need to learn in music production:
- Arrangement – In music production, the arrangement is the process of taking the individual tracks that make up a song and putting them in a specific order. This includes deciding where to place the intro, verses, choruses, and outro.
- Composition – Composition is the process of creating new music. This involves writing melodies, chord progressions, and rhythms.
- Sound Design – Sound design is the process of creating new sounds, or modifying existing sounds, for use in music production. This can be done with software or hardware, and it can be used to create pads, leads, basslines, and other sounds.
- Mixing – Mixing is the process of balancing the volume levels of each audio and midi track, adding effects, and making sure the song sounds good as a whole.
- Mastering – Mastering is the process of finishing off a song and making it sound polished and professional. This includes adding compression, limiters, and frequency equalizers.
- Music Theory – Music theory is the study of the principles that govern music. This includes understanding melody, harmony, rhythm, and form.
How to learn music production
Methods of learning music production include:
- Reading and engaging in music production forums
- Watching music production videos
- Reading articles on music production websites
- Watch streams on Twitch and YouTube
- Subscribe to newsletters
- Use reference tracks
- Taking music production courses
- Creating music within your digital audio workstation
- Reading music production books
- Receiving guidance from mentors who are experienced record producers
Some of these music production methods are pricy, but you can learn music production for free if you have a limited budget. Regardless of the methods you choose, the journey to becoming a music producer will be challenging in the beginning.
How did professional music producers learn music production?
Professional music producers learned music production by doing. In other words, they produced hundreds of songs until the songs they were making sounded good. As mentioned previously, you want to create a large volume of work regardless of how bad your songs sound. As you build up the catalog of songs, you will notice a gradual improvement in the quality of your song production. In addition, many professional music producers had experienced record producers mentor them and help guide their learning process.
How can you learn music production fast?
There are a few ways you can speed up how quickly you learn music production. One way is by finding an experienced music producer to mentor you. A music production mentor will be able to understand your weaknesses, provide custom feedback on your music, and give you tips and tricks that may have otherwise taken years to figure out on your own. Music production mentors may also have industry connections with other music professionals that they can connect you with to further your career. To find a mentor, join music production forums and communities and ask around to see if anyone is willing to help.
Another method to learn music production fast is by dedicating more time each day to learning and practicing music production concepts. As mentioned previously, someone who practices music production 3 hours each day will learn much faster than someone who only practices 30 minutes each day. To avoid being overwhelmed, you can use the Pomodoro technique for your music production learning sessions. The Pomodoro technique was created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, and the technique involves working for 25 minutes, and then taking a break for 5 minutes.
A third way you can learn music production quickly is by using reference tracks when producing your own songs. Using a reference track means finding a professionally made song in a genre, analyzing the instrumentation, arrangement, and mix of that song, and comparing it to your song. This method will allow you to find weaknesses in your music and adjust it to match the professionally made song.
Why should you learn music production?
There are many benefits associated with learning music production and music in general, such as improvements in brain function and intelligence.
A study conducted by Christopher Johnson in 2007 showed that schools with quality music education programs saw higher standardized test scores in both English and Math, compared to schools with low-quality or no music education programs. These results took into consideration any socioeconomic disparities between the schools.
Learning music production may also encourage activity in the brain. The chair of the Peabody Preparatory’s Early Childhood Music Department, Dr. Eric Rasmussen, stated that “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain”.
There are many other claimed benefits of learning music production that may have some validity.
1. Allows creative expression
Creative expression refers to the use of various forms of art and media to convey a personal message, emotion, or idea. Learning to produce music means being able to have an outlet for creative expression through the songs you are creating. This creative expression allows you to connect with others who resonate with the songs you are making, as well as express yourself freely.
This is why many music producers are able to grow a large fanbase. The people listening to the producer’s music are able to enjoy and relate to the songs on a deep level. For a music producer, often times the songs you are making can be almost therapeutic, as it allows you to express your emotions in your music.
2. Improves brain function
Learning music production may improve brain function and intelligence. The professor of music education at the University of Kansas, Christopher Johnson, conducted a study in which students exposed to quality music education programs performed better on standardized testing than those who did not have exposure to quality music education programs.
Although there was no specific mention of music production in the study, there is an overlap between music production and what can be learned in music education programs. This overlap includes topics such as music theory and music arrangement.
In addition, music production involves multitasking since you will be juggling many tasks like arrangement, playing instruments, adjusting sound levels, and mixing. This multitasking can improve your general ability to be more effective in the workspace and to work efficiently.
3. Encourages collaboration
Collaboration in music production means working with other music producers by sharing music samples, creating music, and staying up to date on industry trends. There are many communities in the music production space you can join, and the people in these communities are very helpful and willing to provide feedback and guidance on the music you are creating. You can even find communities for specific genres of music such as electronic dance music and hip-hop.
4. Provides job opportunities
There are many job opportunities in the music production space for those interested in learning music production. These job opportunities include :
- Audio engineer
- Recording studio manager
If you are able to improve your music production to a proficient level, it will be easier to find these job opportunities and get paid for something that started as a hobby.
5. Helps you learn technical skills
Music production involves using various tools that are technical in nature. These tools allow you to create, record, mix, and master music. By learning these skills, you will improve your understanding of the technical aspects of music production, which in turn will allow you to create better music. Here are some of the technical skills you will be able to learn:
- Digital Audio Workstations: You can learn how to use software like FL Studio, Ableton Live, and Logic Pro to record, edit, and mix audio.
- Audio Engineering: You can learn the basics of sound engineering, including microphone placement, signal flow, equalization, and dynamic processing.
- MIDI: You can learn how to use Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) to control the sounds played through synthesizers, drum machines, and other VST (Virtual Studio Technology) Instruments.
- Signal Processing: You can learn about different types of audio processing techniques, such as compression, reverb, delay, and distortion.
6. Provides exposure to entrepreneurial skills
There are a variety of entrepreneurial skills you can learn on your music production journey. Here are some of these skills:
- Project Management: Music production involves numerous tasks that need to be properly managed. These tasks include creating the music, mixing, and mastering. If you are learning music production on your own, project management becomes even more crucial since you will not have the guidance or structure a music production course or school would have.
- Networking: Music production involves having to communicate with other music producers, singers, rappers, and even music labels. Music production allows you to meet all kinds of people and improve your general ability to communicate and network.
- Brand Development: Music production involves creating a unique sound and image that represents you as an artist. By participating in the production process, you can develop your brand and learn how to effectively market and promote yourself.
Pros and cons of being a self-taught music producer
There are many benefits and a couple of downsides to learning music production on your own.
- 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 for 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.