In one of my recent posts, I did a list of essential websites for electronic music producers.
These were a really useful collection of sites, ranging from online mastering services to a random obscure music finder.
In this guide today, I'd like to focus on some essential skills you can develop as an electronic music producer.
As a music producer, the learning journey is never over, so whether you're new to the craft or you're a few years in, these are some essential skills that are guaranteed to improve your production.
So let's dive right in!
Understanding your genre.
It's okay to produce only one genre of music.
It's okay to produce many genres of music, too!
But what's important when you're making music is understanding the genre conventions and characteristics.
Most genres have specific tempos, textures, instrumentations and form & structure that they adhere to. But more than that, there can often be some genre-specific production techniques.
You should also be familiar with the major artists producing whatever genre you're working in, and be able to recognise some of their key techniques and sounds.
I've referenced this technique before, but listening to a piece of music and making a note of its key themes and stylistic qualities is a great way to get behind this idea.
In his book Making Music - 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers, Dennis DeSantis calls this making a Catalog of Attributes.
The concept is simple; listen to a piece of music in the genre you want to produce, and analyse everything you can about it. The tempo, structure, harmony and melody.
Identify any rhtyhmic patterns, and any specific processing techniques you can hear.
At the end of doing this, you should have a list of attributes that will allow you to create a detailed and relevant piece of music, which hits all of the common attributes and conventions, but isn't a direct copy of what you've been using as reference material.
Train Your Ears
The goal of being a music producer is to make music that sounds good, right?
Well, there are two things at play here.
Music sounds good for two reasons; the subjective reason, and the objective ones.
People make generalised opinions about what music sounds good to them every day. This is where producing in a specific genre will often mean that people who like that genre will like your music.
But aside from taste and preference, there are more tangible and objective things you can do to ensure your music sounds good, regardless of what genre it is.
One of the key areas in which this is relevant is in being able to communicate with other producers and engineers, using specific language that they understand.
In order to do this, you need to be able to train your ears in the right way.
When you're assessing the objective quality of your music, you will be talking about the mix, the compression, the filtering and so on. And you'll need some more specific adjectives to work with than 'it sounds good or bad.'
Teaching yourself as much as you can about how these crucial components work will allow you to not only communicate with other producers, but will also allow you to identify issues as they crop up, and be able to know how to fix them.
So how can you train your ears?
There are two types of ear training; technical ear training and musical ear training.
The first involves training yourself to understand and be able to identify the effects of the tools in your production arsenal, so you will know how to use them.
There are some reall cool apps to help you with this, such as Quiztones, hearEQ or StudioEars.
Each of these is tailored to help you get familiar with the key processes in music production, such as compression, reverb, filtering and EQ and much more.
They can also help you be able to identify specific frequencies and changes in amplitude.
All of these will give you the technical skills you need to be a better producer and implement what you've learned into your music making.
I often see people ask if you need to know music theory to learn to be a producer.
In my head, these are people who want to make Trap bangers and get rich, and are looking for a shortcut. But that's just what I imagine...
The reality is that while you don't need to know everything about music theory, you still need to know something.
As a music producer, you're still a musician, so you should be able to identify different types of chords, the difference between a minor and a major key.
You should know time signatures, and how different rhythms work together to create interesting texture and patterns.
The general rule is, the more you understand about music theory, the higher quality your musical output will be.
Music production is all about communicating creative ideas from your mind to the world, and giving yourself the musical tools to do this, as well as the technical ones, will allow you to level up your music.
Understand your Software and Hardware
This is one of the best tips out there.
If you think of music production as a formula, this is what we get;
Results = Creativity + Ideas x Time
Obviously this is silly, but the theory is sound. (No pun intended.)
When you're making music, you only have a limited amount of time to get your ideas down. This can either be in terms of the actual time you have available; you might only have an hour to do some music because of your shedule. Or, it can be as simple as being able to get your idea down into your DAW before it drifts away from your brain.
And the best way to do this is to know your DAW & gear inside out.
All DAWs have keyboard shortcuts, ways to intuitively and simply get your work done as quickly as possible.
Similarly, if you use any hardware, spend time getting to know its functions inside out.
Because while experimentation and trial and error is great, you want to be able to inject a bit of efficiency into your workflow whenever you can.
A great way to do this is to take regular time in your DAW or with your gear, not with the goal to make music, but just to learn the controls and parameters more thoroughly.
This can also be a good way to tackle creative blocks; if you're not feeling particularly creative, it's a good way to still spend some time with your gear and leanr some new tricks for when you're actively working on music again.
Broaden your Horizons
One of the most overlooked ways to improve your skillset as a music producer is to broaden your horizons by changing what genres you work with. This applies to both creating and listening.
If you're always making music in or around the one genre, things can become quite limiting.
So a good exercise to set yourself is to try and create a track, to the same standard as what you usually make, but in a different genre entirely.
Another thing to consider is that as music producers, we have trained our ears to listen to music differently. You almost subconsciously hear all of the production going into the track.
What this means, is that listening to different genres of music can help you identify production techniques that are used in that genre, giving you more tools to use in your own music creation.
What's more, is that we can often get stuck when we are working on music all the time, and then listening to that same music in our down time. Varying the musical genres you listen to can help avoid burnout, and allow your brain to make the distinction between work time and down time.
Switch your gear and plugins.
Similar to the point above, when we are working on music we often get set in our ways. We end up going for the same plugins or gear, and can often develop tunnel vision.
We've all got favourites after all; a favourite compressor, a solid synth patch and a go to setting on your reverb.
But doing things in predictable ways can lead to predictable results.
If we learn to inject a bit of discovery and experimentation into our music making, we can often find great results.
A way to do this is to set things up for yourself so you're forced to learn new ways of doing things while you work. It's a great thing to experience getting out of your routine way of doing things.
So, next time you're working on some music, try some different things.
Challenge your assumptions of your go-to plugin or effects process and switch things up. Obviously, no one is forcing you to keep these new options, and if they don't work but your go-to choices do, then by all means do things your usual way.
But you'd be surprised at how you can discover something exciting by changing the ways you do things every now and then!
This will be easier for some than for others, because organisation comes quite naturally to many people, while many more find it super difficult.
(I'm one of the latter, for sure!)
But you'd be surprised at how much difference it can make if you take some time to organise things.
This can mean different things to different producers!
One obvious area for organisation is your sample library.
It can be tempting to have all of your samples in one folder, and just navigate through the sub-folders and blindly search for a sample that sounds good. But obviously, when you're in the middle of creating a tune, this can slow you creativity down to a stand-still.
There are a number of ways you can organise samples. Ableton Live has a handy colour-coded tagging system, allowing you to tag a sample with a colour and a custom name label, which you can then access in the browser.
But you could also just do some good old fashioned file organising.
Go through your folders and group together like sounds; make drum kits or collections of melodic hits that go together.
Another way you can organise your music production is by using project templates, allowing you load up your go to settings in an instant.
So, that's a round up of some of my go-to tips to help electronic music producers develop their craft.
As always, this is by no means an exhaustive or definitive list, and there are a load of cool techniques and tricks out there you can try to help you develop your skills.
One such technique is to check out our Project Templates.
Across our three sites, Top Music Arts, Logicxx and Flpstudio.com, we have industry standard recreations of top electronic tracks. Our worldwide team of music producers work tirelessly to create these so you can learn the intricate tricks that make up a professional tune.
We have deals across all of our sites, so be sure to check these out, so you can dig into the inner workings of a professionally mixed track, and use these insights to help your own music improve.
So, hopefully you found this collection of tips useful, and be sure to check back soon for more tips, tricks and tutorials to help your music production journey.