The ability to be an at-home studio music producer is still a relatively young concept considering it wasn't until the 1950s and 60s when multi track recording, wider range of electric instruments, amplifiers, and noticeably improved microphones were developed. Live performance recording was vastly altered and producers could focus on heavily detailed sound manipulation and experimentation. From there musical technology such as mixers and synthesizers swept the world, allowing more people access to professional sounds and manipulation tools. The past 10-15 years has brought us even more access and control, with better quality sounds and tools. With a basic setup - a computer, DAW and MIDI keyboard - we can control the sounds of orchestras and pitch perfect singers in our bedrooms. This is all to say that music production has come a very long way in very short amount of time compared to other fields.
For this beginner guide we'll cover some of the basics of music production and the audio manipulation process.
The Basic Setup
To record, manipulate audio and produce music we only need a few fundamental things:
With just a DAW and our keyboard we can easily make music and manipulate sounds. Of course we'll want some important additions for our home studio such as:
With this setup we can record instruments, vocalists, and arrange/manipulate anything we record or place into our DAW. We can create our own sounds and instruments from recording random things like scotch tape (known as foley) or a bass instrument from the sound of a whale.
Let's go over a few of these requirements to get a better understanding of how they impact our workflow:
DAW: There are many DAWs on the market and some are built for specific operating systems, while others can be used on both MAC/PC. Choosing the "right" DAW is a commonly debated topic in the general music production community. Ultimately most producers will tell beginners to just pick one that is compatible with their computer and learn the ins and outs. You'll most likely be faced with choosing between:
There are many other powerful DAWs on the market as well as free options too. We're currently working a guide to help you make a more educated choice about which DAW to pick depending on your needs. Stay tuned for that!
VSTs & Plugins
Most mainstream DAWs support the use of third-party instruments and tools known as VSTs (virtual studio technology) or plugins. An example could be a reverb plugin that offers more features than your DAW's built-in reverb or an expansive VST like KOMPLETE which offers tons of professional grade instruments.
Sounds & Samples
Since we can simply drag and drop / open any sound file in our DAW, most producers find themselves building their own personal libraries of sounds and samples. We've put together a nice list of good sites to get free and good quality samples. Sites like the Converse Rubber Tracks provide professional studio quality hits, loops and patterns but to get that type of quality it's often customary for producers to purchase packs on sound marketplaces. There are a TON of them out there but new producers can ignore those for now. Stick with the free stuff as you'll be putting the majority of your budget into recommended music production equipment.
A Brief Overview of the At-Home Producer Process
From recording to mixing and mastering there are a handful of vital activities involved in the production of music.
Audio Recording: utilizing microphones and audio interfaces to capture sound in a controlled, sound-treated space into your DAW
MIDI Recording: utilizing a MIDI keyboard in combination with a digital instrument to play or write out notes into your DAW
Mixing: putting signals together via a dedicated summing amplifier or a DAW's algorithm
Routing: guiding source signals to internal buses or external processing units and effects
Processing: on-board mixer processors such as compressors or equalizers
Mastering: process of preparing and transferring recorded audio and tracks with the final mix by utilizing a combination of equalization, compression, noise reduction, editing, leveling, etc. to achieve a state ready for either digital or analog replication.
There are many additional nuances involved in music production and we'll be updating this beginner guide in the near future. If you have anything you'd like added or a specific guide you want to create, feel free to contact me.