Music has become more and more democratic thanks to the Internet. What required specialized equipment and a big label back in the days can now be done with a PC and a bit of creativity. This has allowed a new generation of music producers to emerge, and many of them don’t have any formal education in music production.
Take a household name like Metro Boomin — the mind behind hits like “Bad and Boujee” — who is self-taught. Or think of Marshmello, the DJ who wears a giant marshmallow on his head, who also never went to school for music production.
The barriers to entry are lower than ever before, and that’s a good thing. It means that anyone with the passion and drive can become a music producer. But it also means that the competition is higher, and it can be difficult to stand out from the pack.
In this article, we will see how you can become a music producer without school.
What Does a Music Producer Do?
The first step to becoming a music producer is understanding what the job entails. In short, a music producer is responsible for creating the final product that the listener will hear.
This includes everything from working with the artist to come up with the initial idea for a song, to selecting which instruments will be used, to mixing and mastering the finished track.
Editor’s note: Some producers don’t mix their tracks, but instead rely on an audio engineer to do this for them.
In order to be successful, a music producer must have a good understanding of both the technical and creative aspects of music production. They need to know how to use the various software programs and hardware devices that are used in the studio, but they also need to have a good ear for what sounds good.
A music producer wears many hats, and the job can be very different from one project to the next.
The Skills You’ll Need
There are some skills that all producers need to have in order to be successful. These are not limited to the music field, as you’ll want to do more than just making tracks in your spare time. You want your tracks to be heard by the world.
- Creativity — A good producer needs to be able to come up with new ideas and think outside the box.
- Technical Skill — A producer needs to be able to use the various software programs and hardware devices that are used in the studio.
- People Skills — A producer must be able to work well with other people, as they will often be working with a team of musicians, engineers, and other professionals. Also, in an ideal world you’d collaborate with specific artists and build up your sound vision with them.
- Patience — A good producer needs to be patient, as the process of making a record can often be long and tedious.
Now, all of the above can be trained without school, which is why it’s not mandatory to get a degree in music production to become a killer producer.
The best way to learn how to produce music is by doing it. Your first attempts will suck, but it’s just like learning to walk. You have to fall over and over until something clicks and suddenly your legs can carry you.
The best and easiest way to start is by downloading a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
There are many different options available, but the two most popular ones are FL Studio on Windows and Logic Pro X on Apple. Another very popular option is Ableton. If you visit these DAWs’ websites, you’ll notice that they are quite pricy. The reason is that they offer a lot of features, as they have been in development for decades.
And both apps’ free versions are extremely limited. FL Studio doesn’t let you save your tracks once you’ve completed them without buying. Logic Pro X gives you a free trial but it’s limited in time.
Luckily for you, there are some free ones. They aren’t as feature-rich as the paid ones, but they are more than enough to get started in your journey.
The Best Free DAWs
Free DAWs come with compromises compared
The best ones are:
This is actually a very good DAW, and it’s been in development for a long time. It’s available on Windows, Mac and Linux. It’s completely free, and offers a lot of features.
You can have separate audio tracks, download additional sound libraries, and modify the parameters of each track (EQ, Reverb, Delay, etc.).
The only downside is that the interface looks a bit weird. It’s definitely not on par with the paid options, but it’s just a matter of getting used to it.
Reaper is a very lightweight DAW that can run on even the most ancient computers.
It doesn’t have as many features as the other ones, but it’s more than enough for 90% of projects.
The interface is also quite user-friendly, and there are a lot of tutorials online on how to use it.
The only downside is that it’s not free. You can use it for 60 days, and then you have to buy a license. But it only costs $60, which is quite cheap considering the alternatives.
Editor’s note: The $60 license is only for personal use. If you want to sell your tracks, you’ll have to buy the commercial $225 license.
This one is only available on Apple computers. It comes pre-installed on every Mac, and it’s completely free.
It’s a very user-friendly DAW, and it has a lot of features. You can even use real instruments with it by plugging them into your computer’s audio interface.
The only downside is that it doesn’t have as many features as the paid options. But again, it’s more than enough to get started.
The Learning Process
Once you have installed your DAW of choice, it’s time to start learning how to use it. This can be done in many ways, but the best way is by following video tutorials on YouTube.
There are channels, each specialized in its own DAW. Unfortunately, these channels often are run by specialists who have purchased hundreds of extra plugins. It’s not always easy to follow what they’re doing, Simply because you don’t have access to the same tools as them.
The workaround: Look specifically for tutorials that use ‘stock plugins’, and you’ll be fine.
Another great way to learn is by taking an online course( Like this one from Udemy). These have the advantage of being more structured, and you can always ask the instructor questions.
The downside is that they often require a monthly subscription, and they can be quite expensive. If you’re serious about becoming a music producer, though, they are definitely worth it.
There are also some good books that can help you, but they can be quite expensive. The best way to learn is by doing, so my advice would be to just start playing around with the software and see what you can come up with.
Once you have a basic understanding of how your DAW works, it’s time to start learning some music theory. This is not mandatory, as there are many great producers who don’t know anything about theory.
But it will definitely help you in the long run, and it will make the whole process a lot easier.
The best way to learn music theory is by taking an online course. Again, there are many of them available, and they are not too expensive. The advantage of learning theory is that you’ll be able to understand what other people are doing, and you’ll also be able to communicate with them better.
As you can see, there are many ways to become a music producer without going to school. The most important thing is to just get started and to keep learning as you go.
Promoting Your Music
Once you’ve made some tracks that you’re happy with, it’s time to start promoting your music. The best way to do this is by creating a SoundCloud account and uploading your tracks there. YouTube is another great platform where you can showcase your creations.
Make sure to add tags to your tracks, so people can find them easily. You can also share them on social media. But even better would be to actively sell your tracks. You can send your creations to record labels, or you can sell them on platforms like Beatport and Bandcamp.
Instagram is a great place where you can sell your music. Not many people know about it, but you can find more obscure artists (this works especially well with rappers), and send them your tracks. If they like it, they might make a song on your beat, and give you credit in the process.
This is a great way to get your name out there, and it’s also a great way to make some money.
If you’re serious about becoming a music producer, then I would highly recommend investing in some good quality production equipment. This doesn’t have to be expensive, but it will definitely make your tracks sound better.
Some essential pieces of equipment are:
- External Audio Interfaces: These are used to connect your microphone and instruments to your computer. They come in all shapes and sizes, so make sure to do your research before buying one.
- MIDI Controllers: A MIDI controller is an essential piece of equipment for any producer. It allows you to control your DAW with physical buttons, knobs, and faders.
- Monitors: Monitors are used to listening to your tracks. They come in all shapes and sizes, but the most important thing is that they sound good. Make sure to do your research before buying a pair of monitors. Monitors aren’t your pc screen in this context, but an actual speaker that you plug into an audio interface
- Headphones: Headphones are also essential for any producer. They allow you to hear your tracks clearly, without distractions. There are many different types of headphones, so make sure to do your research before buying a pair.
- MIDI Keyboard: A MIDI keyboard is not essential, but it’s definitely a good idea to have one. It allows you to play and record melodies easily.
Do you absolutely need all of the above to get good as a music producer? No. These are just some essential pieces of equipment that will make your life a lot easier.
As you can see, there are many ways to become a music producer without going to school. The most important thing is to just get started, and to keep learning as you go.
Only spend some money on the hobby once you’ve gained some skills and are sure you’re committing down this path. When you’re serious about it, then I would highly recommend investing in some good quality production equipment.
Our recommendation is to get started with what you have, and then upgrade as you go. Once you’ve figured out that music production is actually something you want to do, then you can start investing in better quality equipment.
The most important thing is to just get started, and to keep learning as you go. And don’t forget to have fun! You have to balance between having fun with making music and studying to get better. If you only focus on making music your progress will be very slow. But if you spend most of your time studying you’ll eventually lose your passion.
One thing to note: better equipment and music plugins won’t make you a better musician. If you’re still a newbie, focus on learning the basics and on having fun. You can always upgrade your equipment later on.
And don’t expect to get good within a few months. Music is something you can study for the rest of your life without ever mastering it. There is no such thing as ‘music mastery’. What matters is that you find joy in what you do.