Making the decision to embark on a career in music is a momentous one. It comes with a lot of challenges, both personal and professional. From genre and instruments to investment and equipment, the musician or audio producer must tackle both creative and business decisions to become a success. Here’s a comprehensive guide to getting started making music.
Anyone interested in music should think about what they’re best at, whether it’s singing, playing an instrument, or writing lyrics or songs. They should also give careful thought to what training they might require becoming better at a particular musical skill, voice part, or instrument. Also, what they’re prepared to invest in terms of time, money, and energy into becoming proficient at it.
Making a skills inventory can be extremely useful at this stage. Skill inventories involve writing down a set of skills and giving oneself a proficiency rating, usually between one and five, to indicate how good they are at something. Making a list of skills the musician would like to establish a foundation of learning in or get better at, is also an excellent exercise.
Style and Genre
Every musician has artistic inspiration for what prompted them to enter the field of music to begin with, and most have artists that inspire and inform their sound. Every musician should think about what their goals are for their sounds, and that usually begins by identifying what genres of music they most gravitate towards. Some may love the upbeat and cheery sounds of pop or ska, while some may vibe more with the dark, sonorous sounds of darkwave or doom metal.
It’s also worthwhile to consider how a musician’s particular skillset can traverse a genre of music. There’s no reason that a violist can’t play metal, for example, or a singer trained in jazz can’t play punk. Music is a dynamic and inventive field, and no matter what a musician plays or sings, it can likely be adapted to the genres they most want to perform. Genres also do not have to singularly inform musical style; twenty-first-century music is seeing a great deal of masterful genre-blending.
Learning and Resources
While some traditions of music, like classical, require a great deal of training and study, most musical formats can be easily accessed by beginning musicians. Learning the basics of an instrument or two and a digital audio workstation can open up an entire realm of sound to the beginning musician.
A beginning musician has an array of tools at their disposal to learn about chords, DAWs, music theory, and other topics in music. Lots of blogs, videos, and books can teach the beginning musician essential foundations of musical practice. Beginning musicians can utilize their local libraries, YouTube, Coursera Free, and other free resources to learn about the structure and fabric of music. Dedicated musicians should make sure to become competent at least two instruments (this includes voice), fundamental music theory, and chord structure.
Lyricism is also a very worthy field of study, even for non-vocalists. Musicians interested in becoming good lyricists spend a lot of time reading, not only general or specialized fiction but various forms of poetry and the lyrics of other musicians. Lyricists often carry around a notepad and pencils or pens in case inspiration strikes, and it’s an excellent habit to adapt, as is making use of a note-taking app on a smartphone or tablet.
Learning about the business of music is also incredibly worthwhile, and essential to anyone who intends to make music as more than just a hobby. There’s a wealth of information on the business of music online, such as the blogs of ReverbNation, BandCamp, and Pitchfork. From choosing a good band manager and reading the fine print of a record deal to learning how to price, market, and pay tax on albums, the more business-oriented skills a musician develops the greater their success may be.
Finally, the new artist should become familiar with different types of audio equipment, from recording consoles and DAWs to MIDI functionality and recording accessories. For budding audio producers, this is critical to future success, and for performing artists, mastery of recording equipment can mean occasional work in studios or radio and broadcast stations.
For musicians just starting out, deciding how much they’re able and willing to invest in their craft is an important consideration. While time and energy investment are a given, every career in music eventually requires monetary investiture as well, although it doesn’t have to take a great deal.
When thinking about what to invest in their career, each musician should ask themselves what their needs are in terms of instruments and their upkeep, studio equipment, digital audio workstation licenses, production costs, marketing, lessons and coaching. It should be noted that having nothing to invest doesn’t mean that an aspiring musician can’t produce at all; it just might limit their range and scope of sound and production.
Investment Level One
Musicians with no money to invest needn’t despair. There’s a great deal an aspiring musician can do still, especially if you’re interested in making electronic music. A great number of DAWs are freeware or offer limited usage licenses for free, like Rosegarden, Magix Acid Pro, Garageband, or Giada. Loops can be used in DAWs to compose music, and there’s a lot of places online to get free loops, like Looperman, Splice, and Sample Radar. For musicians who plan to sell their music, it’s critical that the loops they use are royalty-free (although it’s considered polite to credit the authors in the finished work). Mastering a DAW takes a great deal of practice, but a lot of free resources and texts on specific DAWs are available.
It’s also very inexpensive to get a standard performance mic, like an SM-58, for home use. It won’t get the same quality of sound in recording as a condenser mic, but it will still make decent quality recordings of voice and most instruments and can even be suitable for recording the final cut of an album for musicians who become adept at audio editing and production.
Investment Level Two
Musicians who have a small amount of money to invest, up to a few hundred dollars, can do a great deal with that amount of money. With a couple of hundred dollars, an aspiring musician can purchase a used or small instrument like a keyboard, recorder, or electric guitar, an expensive microphone like a Shure SM-58 or 59, and possibly a DAW license.
For musicians taking the electronic music route or are interested in becoming audio producers, a used MIDI-capable keyboard is an indispensable tool for writing and composing music and loops in a DAW.
Investment Level Three
For musicians who have more to invest, up to a thousand dollars, the possibilities expand. With a about a thousand dollars, an instrument purchase, DAW license, microphone and a small amount of recording gear, and a few professional lessons in voice, an instrument, audio production, and/or music theory are possible from the very beginning.
It should be emphasized that having more to invest isn’t an absolute requirement to becoming a successful musician or audio producer. It can make it somewhat easier, however, and for diligent musicians having a small amount of equipment and professional training can make success as a professional musician within easier and quicker reach.
The Big Debut
Every musician or producer has the moment of truth when they first release their music. All those hours spent writing, rehearsing, and recording, setting up social media channels, and gnawing on the end of a pencil eventually lead to producing actual songs, whether their own or a fellow artist’s. What happens next?
At this point, every musician should be prepared to receive feedback. Every musician hopes that their music will be loved, and of course, some that hear their work will. But accepting constructive critique is also vital, and it’s incredibly important that critique be separated from criticism. In particular, critique from other musicians should be taken under careful consideration, especially musicians working in the same genres as the debuting musician.
Straight-up trash talk and bullying can be ignored, but those who propose critique are attempting to help the budding musician/producer improve their craft, and such critique must not be taken personally but rather as a gift that each musician can use to get better at what they love most.
Every musician should also pay close attention to what their fans love about their work. Taking those words to heart can offer real motivation to new musicians and encourage them to keep producing music.
What’s most important, however, is how the music professional themselves feels about the work. While no work is ever going to be one hundred percent perfect (and perfectionists should be wary lest they never finish the work on account of it not being “just right”), if the musician feels like it’s missing something they should give careful thought to figuring out what it is. It could be small, like a tiny adjustment in the flow of the lyrics, a small error in the bowing of the violin or the strum of the guitar, or an imbalance in the bass of the recording. It could be tremendous, like the music just not going with the lyrics written for them or an instrument or voice being off-key. But once the musician feels good about what they’ve released, it’s time to take a deep breath and release it to the world and open their ears to what people really think and feel about it.
Last but certainly not least, once the musician has worked up a repertoire of songs, and hopefully been doing a bit of marketing with them to get their sounds heard, they should begin to consider future opportunities in performance, DJing, or professional audio production. Networking with other musicians and producers can greatly improve the odds of booking gigs, even just local ones. Aspiring musicians and audio producers should have an electronic press kit with links to their social media as well as a digital portfolio of their best work, the more varied the style and sound, the better.
Becoming a pro musician or audio producer, like any other field, takes work and dedication. But by establishing a solid foundation in the tenets of music and audio production, aspirants can launch a successful and celebrated career in this exciting and dynamic field, one that can span decades.
Audio Production Program
The Audio Production and Engineering Program at the Institute of Production and Recording is an occupational degree program designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Throughout the program, students are involved in hands-on exercises and real-world studio projects that enable them to apply their knowledge and refine their skills.
At the end of the audio production and engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients — an audio resume with professional content that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.
Contact us today to learn more about the audio production programs and starting a rewarding career.