Music production is the process of creating, recording and arranging different musical elements together. It involves everything from songwriting and performance to recording, editing, mixing, and mastering the audio elements, all to bring the vision to life sonically.
The advancement of technology has lowered the bar on what it takes to produce a song, which could be a good or a bad thing depending on who you ask. Nevertheless, it’s important for those interested in the craft to understand what it actually is.
While the methods and tools may have changed over the years, the process is the same:
Planning out the song structure, lyrics, melodies, harmonies, instrumentation, etc.
Capturing audio performances using microphones, audio interfaces, and recording software.
Cleaning up and slicing recorded audio clips, fixing mistakes, and tuning vocals.
Balancing volumes, panning, EQing, compressing, and adding effects to make the song sound polished.
Optimizing the stereo mix for loudness and clarity, so it translates well to different speakers.
Distributing the end product to the public through physical or digital platforms.
There’s no one way to produce a song, and many of the steps can be done concurrently. However, if you are looking to produce a song, here’s a step-by-step guide on how:
Come up with an idea.
What do you want your song to be about? What emotions are you trying to share? Try to come up with some lyrics, melodies, and beats in your head first.
Choose your music gear.
You can start with headphones, a microphone, and a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) like Logic Pro or Ableton, which contain virtual instruments. Electric instruments like guitar, bass, and keyboards can all be plugged into a digital audio interface connected to your computer (or phone or tablet), and acoustic instruments can be recorded into the same interface using a microphone.
Record your instrument and vocal tracks.
Plug your gear in, test your levels, and hit record! Lay down your instrumental and vocal parts one track at a time, and record them multiple times if necessary to get the best take for each part.
Edit the tracks.
This is where you can cut, copy and paste the best parts of each take, pitch correct your vocals (and instruments), and re-arrange your tracks to re-craft your song structure. Basic editing makes recordings sound tighter.
Mix the song.
This is where you balance all the tracks together and create space. Use volume and panning to place everything, EQ to shape the sound frequencies, as well as add effects like reverb, delay and compression to get the mix sounding full and professional. To go deeper, you can utilize automation to dynamically change levels, effects, etc.
Master the song.
This is the final stage to polish the stereo mix. Use tools like EQ, compression and limiters to balance the stereo mix, achieving the desired loudness without going overboard. Where the mix is the cake, the master is the icing.
Export and release.
Bounce the finished track to an audio file format like MP3 to share with friends. You can also download an uncompressed audio file (WAV or AIFF) to upload to a digital distributor like CDBaby or Distrokid. (Make sure you have cover art if you go this route.)