Creating and producing your own music is not only incredibly rewarding and educational, but it’s also a really economic way of getting your music out into the world.
As a brand new artist beginning your journey in the music industry, it can be really daunting and overwhelming. Where do you even begin? Studios can offer amazing facilities and experiences, but it is often really expensive, and a lot of the time, not accessible or feasible for a grassroots artist. This is why it can be a really good idea to get into producing your own music. It’s also incredibly beneficial because when you do eventually get into a studio environment, you can effectively communicate your ideas with your producer and engineer. It’s all because you will have some prior experience and knowledge with navigating DAWs and using musical jargon.
When I first started to write music, I quickly gravitated towards the world of electronic and pop. I was 18 and moved to Brighton to attend BIMM. I was a student, and there was absolutely no way I could afford studio time. I tested the waters working with a couple of producers, but for different reasons, it never worked out. Luckily, I had dabbled in music production before coming to BIMM, as I studied Music Technology at A-Level. Consequently, I thought, “Well, why not give this a go myself?” and I dived head-first into the world of music production.
It can appear daunting at first – there are a few different pieces of software you will need to become accustomed to, and none of them look particularly user-friendly. But through trial and error, you will learn A LOT, and it’ll prove to have endless benefits. You have to put the hours in, but it is genuinely something you can teach yourself, with the help of a few YouTube tutorials. There is so much information online about different DAWs, plug-ins, sample packs, the list goes on! This is a really accessible and easy way to begin to create and release your own music from your bedroom, on a budget.
But where to start?
A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is, most commonly, a software application used to record, edit, and produce sound files. They are typically used in the music industry to save multiple tracks of audio recordings to then mix, equalise, and add audio effects to, and to create a fully-formed track.
Which DAW to use is totally unique to the individual. Some people like Logic, others prefer Ableton or Pro Tools. Personally, I use Cubase, simply because it’s what I first learnt on at school, and I get on with it (and Ableton terrifies me!). But this is something you have to explore for yourself, and you’ll want to try a few out before you settle on one. You can download a free trial or lite version of most DAWs, so you really can ‘try before you buy’. Some DAWs are a one-off payment, and some are subscription-based, so do some research and watch some YouTube tutorials, and find what works best for you.
If you’re unfamiliar with the different DAWs out there, this helpful website offers multiple-choice questions about your price range and what you’re planning on using the DAW for, to recommend you which piece of software could best suit you, with a load of pros and cons with each recommendation, so you can accurately weigh up your options.
Plug-ins are self-contained pieces of code that can be used within your DAW to enhance its functionality. The plug-ins you will be interested in using will depend on the sort of music you’re making, but as a general rule, you will probably want to use plug-ins to emulate hardware, such as compressors and equalisers, and effects, such as reverb and delay. Another use for plug-ins is for virtual instruments, so you can imitate analogue synths, or instruments such as a piano, or even entire orchestras.
Most DAWs come with their own basic plug-ins, which is a great place to start. You can quickly learn how each individual plug-in works, with really helpful visuals to aid your understanding of the purpose of each individual graph, knob, wheel, and button.
A MIDI controller (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a device that sends MIDI messages to your DAW and is vital in your home-studio set-up. A common example of a MIDI controller is an electronic keyboard. Pressing the keys on the keyboard will carry event messages of specific audio to your computer and DAW, such as pitch and velocity, meaning that you can play in instrument parts using your virtual instrument plug-ins, or even trigger drum samples.
Plug-Ins: Taking it further
Once you grow comfortable with how to operate and navigate your way around the equalisers, gates, and maximisers your chosen DAW has to offer, you can branch out, and purchase other plug-ins.
My personal, current go-to is Fab Filter. I bought the Total Bundle a couple of years ago, which contains 14 plug-ins. These plug-ins consist of both mixing and mastering tools, such as multi-band compressors and de-essers, and creative effects and synthesiser plug-ins, such as saturation and filters. However, major life hack! I shared the bundle with numerous people, as there is no limit on how many keys the software comes with. This means you can download the software to multiple computers, meaning that you could split the cost with a number of people, making it a lot cheaper for all of you. Be aware, you can’t do this with all plug-ins – most companies place a limit on the number of keys that come with their software. But it is always worth looking into because you can save a lot of money.
My favourite reverb plug-in is the ValhallaVintageVerb, inspired by the classic hardware digital reverbs of the 1970s and 1980s. Everyone loves a bit of reverb, and this multifaceted plug-in will not disappoint.
Diva is one of my new, essential virtual instrument plug-ins. It allows you to recreate five decades of iconic analogue synth sounds, with over 1,200 factory presets. I’ve only had it for a couple of months, and I’m still learning about all of its functions. This is another plug-in that I split with friends, to make it cheaper.
Splice is a subscription-based service that allows you to access a whole library of samples, from synth loops to vocal samples, to kick drums. It starts from £7.99 a month, and it’s a unique and creative way to experiment with new sounds on a budget.
These are just a few of my essential tools to get started with creating and producing your own music, and I hope it can help you in beginning your production journey. Anyone can produce and create music, so don’t be afraid to get stuck in. Have fun!