Creating a professional record has never been easier. All you need is a pair of headphones and a laptop and you have all the tools necessary to succeed. While the tools necessary to accomplish your music related goals may be readily available, the skill set required to reach a competent level of production is not. In addition to having the right tools, you need the skills to use these tools effectively.
Below, I have compiled a list of the five fundamental skills of successful music producers and how you can obtain these skills.
1. Be Adventurous
Progressing and improving as a musician will come over time if you continually practice your craft. However, there is one important part of an artist’s development that is seldom mentioned. That is the artist’s willingness to be adventurous. Whether you are a beginning musician or a seasoned professional, being adventurous and experimental with your music will be a strong indicator of your success and ability to improve.
Here a few ways that you can break out of your comfort zone, be adventurous, and improve as an artist:
- Try New Instruments: Having a set of instruments and tools that you are familiar with is necessary to translate your musical ideas into actual songs. For trying new instruments, I would recommend picking up used gear online. There are plenty of people looking to get rid of their old instruments, so you don’t have to break the bank to get hold of a new instrument.
- Try New Plugins: Just as important as trying new instruments is having the willingness to experiment with new and unusual plugins. New plugins can help you uncover a brand new sound that can help transform your current project.
Allowing yourself the opportunity to explore new sounds and new possibilities with different instruments and plugins will help you think about music in a new way. Becoming familiar with new sounds and instruments will help you incorporate new ideas that you would have never thought of without this change in scenery.
Organization is probably the most overlooked skill for music producers. Being organized will allow you to transfer your ideas into your DAW as quickly as possible and give you the freedom to focus on the creation process.
Here are a few steps that you can take to become a more organized music producer:
- Sample Organization: I won’t lie to you, organizing samples is a very tedious and time-consuming process but is the most beneficial organizational tip I can give you. Take the time to organize your samples by type of sound and specific sonic characteristics. The more detailed you are in your sample organization, the quicker you will be able to bring your ideas to life.
- Plugin Organization: Organizing your plugins is key for your workflow. Again, the goal is to focus on writing the best possible music you can. Having to search through all of your plugins while you are in the midst of creating a melody line can kill your creativity. Try organizing your plugins by type of plugin such as reverbs, saturators, spectral analyzers, etc.
3. Self Awareness
Being self-aware of your capabilities as a producer is crucial for your success. Do you know what areas in your music need improvement? Is the music that you are sending to labels of high enough quality to be considered for release? Don’t let your ego get in the way of your music, music career, and the path towards success. Be self-aware of where your music is currently and what you can accomplish.
Here are a few tips to help you become more self-aware of your music:
- Compare your music to artists that you admire: When you do this, be aware that the goal isn’t to become discouraged. When you compare your music to your favorite artists, you will most likely find that their productions are significantly better than yours. Use this opportunity to set goals for your own music. Be confident that with continued hard work and applied practice, you will be able to make music of this caliber.
- Ask for advice: Asking for advice can be an eye-opening experience. Be selective when you decide who to ask for advice on your music. Ask someone whose opinion you trust and respect. Preferably, you will be able to ask someone who is a more accomplished musician or producer then you are or a trusted musical peer. Ask for feedback on your music, your social media presence, other artists that have accomplished success, or anything that you think will help you improve.
4. Ear Training
In one way or another, all successful musicians have trained ears. When I say trained ears I am not only talking about the ability to distinguish between specific intervals, notes, and chords, but to understand what sounds work well together in a song. If you are unable to put together musical passages and textures and timbres of sounds in a clear and musical way, then your music has a very small chance of succeeding.
Here are a few ways you can train your ears:
- Ear Training Practice: With practice you can develop a more intuitive understanding of what exactly you are hearing in a song musically, and this will help you more construct more convincing musical passages. You can take simple quizzes on intervals, chords, scales and much more to help train your ears here.
- Take Notes: Taking notes on your favorite songs will help you understand what elements go together and why. Write down what instruments are used, what sonic characteristics each sound has, how they are arranged, how they are mixed in, or anything that you find noteworthy about the track.
I saved this particular skill for last because it is the most important. If you do not have patience with your music and music career, you will have a hard time reaching your goals. If you have ever read interviews with successful artists, you will see that they have put in years and years of hard work to get where they are, even if it seemed like they became successful overnight.
Here are a few tips for becoming a more patient musician:
- Take Breaks: Putting in hard work and time into your craft is necessary, but if you work too long and hard, then you will start to see diminishing returns. Give yourself a break every so often to keep your ears fresh and your head clear. Rome wasn’t built in a day and a successful music career certainly won’t be built in one either.
- Set up Short Term and Long Term Goals: Setting up short term and long term goals will help you push through the difficult times that you will encounter in your career. Short term goals will help give you the motivation needed to continue towards your long term goals as they will be accomplished more frequently. The long term goals will help make sure you are on the path to the music career you want.
The five skills listed above are the building blocks for creating a professional song. By taking the time to develop these skills, you will give your music and music career the best chance of succeeding. While some of the skills mentioned may be time-consuming and tedious, they should not be overlooked. Put in the time and effort and you will be rewarded.
Daniel is a caffeine-dependent entrepreneur, music producer, sound design junkie, and world traveler crazy about teaching modern electronic music production through his site SoundShock.