Updated: Mar 8, 2020
The Steps to Becoming a Music Producer
Like many of us in their 20s-30s, my first introduction to music production was through software. For many years all I used was a cheap MIDI controller and whatever on stock sounds Garageband came with. I eventually upgraded to Logic Pro, but very little changed in my workflow; load presets, make loops.
As adulthood snuck up on me and my work and school life revolved around the computer, the last thing I wanted to do after I got home from a hard days work was open up Logic and stare at a blank project. The thought of having to scroll through a million presets, to find the right timbre, to start creating, slowly pushed me away from making music. I stopped making music all together and almost gave up on it completely; if it wasn’t for a conversation I had with a man who mentioned that he didn’t use a computer for music making, and he'd been doing it this way since the beginning.
I couldn't believe it, I needed to know more. He proceeded to explain, so I paid close attention to everything that he said and took notes. He said he used a workstation, a mixer, and a TR-909, whatever that was. I went home that day and started researching “how to make music without a computer”, the results were baffling; MIDI CCs, audio routing, external sequencing, so much terminology that was new to me. I faced many challenges while teaching myself how to go “dawless”, but I was persistent. I knew a life without music making wasn’t an option for me, for I would wither up and die, so I kept researching, asking questions, and ultimately it came down to trial and error. After finding a setup that worked for me I sworn off making music on the computer for good, but after a few years of being 100% dawless and no longer being depended on the computer as an instrument, I have learned to use the daw as a tool, and my connotations about it have changed.
I am ___(insert meaningless label here)____
I mentioned that I found a workflow that worked for me.. what I forgot to add was the amount of gear that came and went throughout the years as I tried to make this work while staying 100% dawless. There always seemed to be a “missing piece”, and like many synth enthusiasts, I assumed I just needed more gear. After some time and not many finished tracks I realized this “missing piece” was a way to structure, a way to take something from a jam and turn it into a finished song. I’m not saying this is impossible without the daw, but it definitely makes things easier. I quickly realized I was staying dawless for all the wrong reasons; like what would people think, as if anyone ever said, “this track is great… but is it dawless?” Silly, I know, but it’s a normal human reaction to outside judgement -or so they say. Basically it comes down to this. Do you consider yourself a good enough musician to even call yourself a producer, or are you just a hobbyist mediocre keys player who likes to try out new gear but rarely makes any music? You have to understand where the judgement is coming from. Is the criticism you're basing your worth on as valuable as you've convinced yourself it is? Or are you allowing a strangers opinion of yourself become your own? I think bestowing the title producer upon yourself comes with certain responsibilities, one of those is being able to distinguish between constructive criticism and straight up hate, and never letting what anyone says be it good or bad distract you from your main purpose.
So if you’re not 100% dawless and you’re not 100% in-the-box, how do you take advantage of the best of both worlds without being totally pulled in one direction? To me the most obvious answer would be to get yourself a REAL instrument. Using synthesizers for sounds has freed me from being dependent on the computer for music production; that in itself has changed my negative feelings about the daw tremendously. Having at least ONE synthesizer in your studio will make a tremendous difference in the way you look at music creation. The steps you have to take to get from point A to point B can be diminished, no longer are you spending the first few minutes (which is normally the time where you’re most inspired) scrolling through presets trying to find the right sound. If you’re starting to build a negative inference towards music because you’re associating it with mouse clicking, then I highly encourage you to take a dabble at a real synthesizer and see how having something tangible can quickly refresh your workflow.
During my dawless journey I came across producers that were intrigued by the fact I made music without a computer, most of them were more experienced in their craft than I. I had someone say to me “being a producer means you must know when to use the right hat.” This didn’t make much sense to me at the time, but now I understand it clearly. There needs to be a fine line between the time you spend creating and the time you spend editing or mixing. I feel that during my early daw days this wasn’t clear to me, it was logic and a MIDI controller from start to finish. It takes a bit of self-discipline to know when an idea is good enough to take into the daw, and not get stuck making endless loops. Again, this is where having a real instrument comes in handy. Being able to step away from the computer and experiment, or simply play your instrument for the joy of it, is something that can often get intermingled with finishing tracks.
It’s Ok to be Different
Like everything in life, the way we choose to create music is ever changing. Creativity is a living, breathing creature who gets better and better each time we feed it, by this I mean exercising the art of creation will only make you a better musician (make more music!). With consistency in your craft you will slowly learn what works for you and what will take your productivity to the next level. From the room corners of bedroom producers, to those who can afford a designated studio room, there is something special about each person’s workflow, and it’s ok to be different. It’s ok to do it one way and realize that you might want to try it another way. Don’t get caught up with labels, do what makes you happy and enjoy every second of the journey.