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A Beginner’s Guide: Can you become a Music Producer with little training and a tight budget?

R. R. Rozario
R. R. Rozario News

[The good news is, you can!]

What can we say about the lockdown? Artists who previously barely managed an album a year are now churning out two per month! We’ve seen people who were never traditional/trained musicians or even part of the music industry, produce broadcast-worthy tracks and gain significant followings. So what gives? How do these people produce music? Is it just AI? Not exactly. There’s still a lot of talent and experience needed. Read on.

First, there’s a lot of context involved and it has to do a lot with the difference between a talented musician and an innovative one. Today, it comprises knowledge not just of music playing, but also trends, passion, experience and risk. When you’ve spent a lifetime listening to music, all kinds of music, and you’re able to identify and distinguish between several elements and aspects of it, that’s half the battle won. So it helps to first be a good listener of music. 

Let’s face the facts about the world we now live in. While there’s no substitute for a good musician, there are apps and software programs that do much of the work you’d otherwise struggle with. If you’re from the generation that has grown up using 20-25 apps/softwares daily, you will immediately get a grasp of these apps/softwares that render even the most seasoned of musicians quizzical. We know musicians that use a plethora of apps, both free and paid, to generate single sounds and effects which they then import into their Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs). I know one in particular who never plays an instrument. Not even a single chord on a guitar!

While older artists are struggling to navigate the world of distribution today, barely having a few hundred listens, Spotify is teeming with new and barely known artists attracting a listenership of tens of thousands per month. 

So what’s the new normal? The answer lies with the late king of pop, Michael Jackson. No kidding here! 

Michael Jackson never read music, he barely could play his instruments, and apart from his magnificent voice, he was a maestro at getting things together. He had amazing clarity about not only what he wanted, but also what the world wanted from him. First, the world had fallen in love with his child-voice. For years he had that going for him, but then things change, and puberty sucks! So he stuck with that voice. Did you know the latest rumour is that Michael Jackson had a solid bass man-voice that he hid from the world?

Second, Michael Jackson wrote and produced his music in an incredible, yet a simplistically obvious way that we’ve all indulged in. He sang the notes he wanted. That’s pretty much it; Air-guitar, air-bass and air drums! He created each element on each track with his mouth. Once every chord, melody, rhythm etc formed in his head. All he then needed were musicians to play them. 

The video below of his Beat It demo is a masterclass in itself!

Sing or Strum your melody like MJ did

Think about your Digital Audio Workstation. You have a midi editor. All you need is a melody. A software like Melodyne can easily and in minutes convert notes you play, strum of even sing into midi files. You can change and edit the progression, key and pretty much everything else to suit what you need, then use an instrument plugin (hundreds of free and paid plugins are available, right from full-blown orchestras to Strats and everything in between) to generate even Santoor bits for your song. There are so many free and paid DAWS strewn all over the internet, to suit all budgets and levels of proficiency. Most can import just about any plugin there is, including Melodyne.

If you really can’t afford the price at which Melodyne comes, guess what? Bear Audio has a free tool for you to generate a midi file. You can convert any mp3 to a midi, ready to be edited and plugged with an instrument! So go ahead, strum or hum, there’s always a way if you’re a hustler. 

Buy a cheap Midi Keyboard at the start

You get them for as low as INR 5000-6000 on Amazon, complete with beat pads and all the knobs, bells and whistles. Many even offer free loops, sounds, beats to sample, plugins and software with the package. Find one that suits you and we promise you won’t regret it. It will surprise you how many lay people pick up these midi keyboards with no prior training. If you have the passion and put in the hours, all the tools are there!

A Good Condenser Microphone is well within reach

We’ve seen many online, ranging from under INR 1000 to 30,000+. Even your budget-level Zoom H1 recorder can do a fantastic job, too. We’ve put them all to the test, we’ve switched off the fans and closed the windows, and the results aren’t actually that bad! A Zoom recorder can easily be plugged into your computer and used as your primary input device recording vocals right into your DAW. All it takes is a few clicks of the mouse. 

Master your Song

If you thought you’d have to spend a ton on mastering your song, you’re wrong. While there can never be a substitute for talent and experience, you can do a decent job if you have a good ear for it. iZotope Ozone 9 is the master for mastering audio, and they have several versions based on budgets. 

What’s better is that each one of these softwares has a trial period that extends from 15 days to a month. If you really want to experiment or hustle something up, use their fully functional trial versions. 

Now what if, again, you don’t have the moolah for Ozone 9? Worry not! BandLab has a free online mastering tool with three options, which I must admit are pretty good on some tracks I’ve experimented with. All you have to do is drag and drop your track on their site and give it under a minute to generate your master. 

To Summarise

So then, is all you that need to create your own music a decent imagination, creativity and some song lyric inspiration? Do you really have to run from studio to studio paying hefty hourly charges, even though they have slightly lower quotes for indie musicians? Definitely not if you’re just stepping in to the industry and not if you want to test the waters streaming on Spotify. If you want to gain enough knowledge and experience, that when you do in fact enter that studio, you’ll know a little something. First learn on your own by trying and failing as much as you possibly can. 

In time, you may even find some noteworthy collaborators! Oh, what a wonderful world we live in!