Audio Production: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started - Careers in Music
Start Here:

What are you most interested in? arrow pointing down

Get Started
songwriter playing a songmusic producer at work stationrock star performing on stagetour manager making phone callmusic teacher with studentmusic therapy session
songwriter playing a songmusic producer at work stationrock star performing on stagetour manager making phone callmusic teacher with studentmusic therapy session

Audio Production: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

Author: Caleb J. Murphy

Last updated: Jul 24, 2020

Reads: 3,116


Caleb J. Murphy is a Songwriter/Producer based in Austin, TX. He is the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog to help part-time musicians succeed. He is also a contributor to CD Baby's DIY Musician blog, Sonicbids, and Bandzoogle. His work has been shared by ASCAP, Hypebot, and Music Think Tank.
FULL BIO

So you’re wondering how you can get into production. Where do you start?

One thing I do know is the road to a career in audio technology is not paved and you’re not in a Mustang. You’re walking on gravel while wearing old shoes.

In other words, it’s a grind. But it’s a grind that’s super rewarding the more you learn.

What skills does an Audio Engineer/Producer need? We’ll dive into these six essential audio production skills:

  • Songwriting
  • Arranging
  • Recording
  • Editing
  • Mixing
  • Mastering

What Is Audio Production?

“Audio production” is often used interchangeably with “music production,” but they’re actually different things. Audio production is when someone records audio and edits it to make it sound a certain way.

So, what is the difference between audio production (or engineering) and music production?</strong?

Well, for example, an Audio Engineer — the person who’s at the mixing board during a recording session — is performing audio production. They’re in charge of choosing and positioning the mics, ensuring the sound is captured accurately and making sure everything sounds high quality. A Mixing Engineer is also involved in the production process, and so is the Mastering Engineer.

Although you might think these people aren’t the creative types who are making production choices, that’s not totally true. The sound of an acoustic guitar can change drastically depending on how the Engineer sets up the mic. The Mixing and Mastering Engineers have to decide what plugins and effects to use based on how they think a song should sound.

That brings us to the person who gets much of the credit (often due credit) for the creativity in a recorded song: the Music Producer.

Music production deals with how the song flows, what instruments are involved, and how to bring out the strongest emotion in a recording. Music Producers are not the only ones who do music production — Artists, Songwriters, and Composers also have a huge say in how to record their songs.

So “music production” fits under the umbrella of “audio production.”

What Does an Audio Producer Do?

Audio Producers manage the recording process for a band when they’re making an album or recording a single. They handle the technical aspects of recording sound and music. Depending on the artists’ needs, though, the role of the Producer may also include songwriting, arranging, editing, mixing, and mastering.

These are the six stages in the world of sound production; we’ll discuss them below. I should point out that these stages often overlap — songwriting tweaks, arrangement changes, and basic audio editing may happen during the recording stage. So each stage is not totally separate from the one before and after it, but this is the general workflow you’ll find yourself in.

Songwriting

There are many ways to write a song, but one thing I can tell you is that production can’t fix a bad song. Each of the following stages depends on a strong song as their foundation. No matter how many cool samples you add and no matter how much autotune you use, the song can only be as good as its foundation.

If you play the song with just your voice and an instrument and it doesn’t evoke an emotional response in people, it needs more work.

Arranging

You can actually do a good portion of the arranging during the songwriting process — at least that’s where it starts. Part of songwriting is how the song is structured, and structure is part of arranging.

The arrangement decisions will involve:

  • How the introduction goes and how long it lasts.
  • The instruments used and where they show up in the song.
  • Where the instrumental breaks will be.
  • When the song should build and when it should decrescendo.
  • How the song will end.

As you can see, many of these steps happen during the songwriting stage while many of them happen when you’re in the arrangement stage. On top of that, much of the arrangement will change during the recording process.

Recording

This is when you take that dope song and its solid arrangement and bring it to life. This is when you put mic to voice, cable in guitar, and virtual instruments into the song.

Even though some songwriting adjustments may happen during this stage, recording is more like the “creative assembly” of a song. You can record the music live, then go back and redo certain parts that need to be tighter or performed better.

Recording is where you build the song.

Editing

Editing and recording overlap a lot. Right after you record, you’re often editing the tracks just enough so you can continue recording.

For example, a vocalist may want a bit of reverb, delay, and/or chorus on their voice while they’re recording. Or the drummer may lay down a beat as a scratch track for the rest of the band and you may have to shift a couple of hits to make it perfectly on rhythm. This saves time and makes the recording session more efficient.

After recording has wrapped, you’ll enter the editing stage full-throttle. This is when you’ll pick the best takes of all the instruments and splice them together. You’ll shift track items around until everything is on time, you’ll adjust pitches that are off, and add crossfades.

Editing audio nowadays is easier and more versatile than ever. Take advantage of the tools available.

Mixing

This is where many Audio Producers have their fun. This is the stage where you take a dry track and make it sound vibrant and professional.

Mixing is when you make all the instruments sound good together using things like EQ, compression, reverb, delay, and a bunch of other audio plugins.

A good mix allows the listener to hear all the instruments clearly. If the listener wants to focus in on one instrument, they should be able to pick it out. But if they want to just sit back and enjoy the track as a whole, they should be able to do that too.

The final mix should sound drastically different (and better) than the unmixed recording. It’s basically a polish for the already great songwriting, arranging, recording, and editing.

Mastering

And finally, the dark magic mystery called mastering. Well, to most of us it’s a mystery, but to Mastering Engineers, it’s second nature.

Mastering is your final chance to shine up a song. It does a few things:

  • Makes the song louder to meet industry standards.
  • Helps all the songs on an album sound coherent with each other.
  • Ensures the instruments keep their original recorded and mixed sounds.
  • Points out any issues with the mix.

Many bedroom Producers can’t afford to hire a Mastering Engineer, even though a trained human can get a better and more accurate master. But there are alternative options, such as automated mastering services like LANDR or eMastered, or a relatively affordable mastering software like iZotope 8.

Slide Do You *Really Have What it Takes? Do You *Really
Have What it Takes?
Let's See Let's See

How Can I Teach Myself Audio Engineering?

Glad you asked. Here are the top 5 places you can teach yourself audio engineering and production skills (in no particular order):

1. A certified music production school: Check out our list of the best ones.

2. Udemy: a way to learn at your own pace for an affordable price.

3. Berklee Online: Berklee is one of the most trusted names in the music education world, and you can learn with or without earning college credit.

4. Masterclass: this young but bold online library of courses offers lessons from some of the best in the music industry, including Herbie Hancock, Hans Zimmer, Deadmau5, and Christina Aguilera. And the classes are surprisingly affordable (Timbaland’s course on producing and beat making is just $90).

5. YouTube: this one may surprise you, but there’s plenty of good learning content on YouTube, including Recording Revolution, Musician On A Mission, Produce Like A Pro, and wickiemedia. Plus, it’s all free!

13 Production Tips To Get You Started

Okay, maybe you’re not ready to go full-throttle down the education highway. In that case, here are 13 tips to get you started today:

1. Stay persistent

No one was born amazing at what they do — the biggest Music Producers today had to earn it with hard work and an openness to learn.

2. Go with your gut

Authenticity beats people-pleasing every time. If you’re bobbing your head to your own track, that’s a good sign. Chances are, other people will like it too.

3. Record every single idea you have

Are you hearing a theremin solo on that one song? Do anything you can to make that happen. If it doesn’t end up working, at least you tried and didn’t just wonder whether or not it would work.

4. Make sure all instruments are tuned up

…and vocalists are warmed up.

5. Double up instruments to make your song sound fuller

Record acoustic guitar in stereo, add two layers of that drum machine, add a chorus of vocals.

6. Listen to lots of music

You can’t pull anything up from the well if it’s dry.

7. Invest in knowledge, not super expensive equipment

Once you get recording equipment that’s good enough to make professional music, spending loads of cash on higher-tier equipment is not worth it. At that point, it’s better to invest in gaining knowledge.

8. Plan for multiple income streams

Today’s music industry is a place that often requires musicians, Producers, and Audio Engineers to have more than one source of income. Audio Producers often work with musicians, record audiobooks, and do freelance audio editing.

9. Title every track in your DAW

You have to work quickly and efficiently, and you don’t want to forget where that fourth harmony went.

10. Start simple

When building an audio foundation, keep things simple. You can always get more complex later on.

11. Learn basic music theory

Even if you’re not a musician and if you just want to focus on producing audio, it can still be really helpful to know some basic music theory. After all, you will be dealing with musicians every day. You may have to speak their language.

12. Mix at low volumes

When the volume is low, the main features of a song will still be audible, giving you a better idea of what listeners will hear. Plus, it will be easier on your ears.

13. Take breaks

For the sake of your ears, take a break from all noise for 15-30 minutes every two hours.

If you start with these basic production tips, practice a lot, and then consider furthering your education, you’ll be on the right track.

Lastly, remember to never stop learning. Even though I wrote this article and I produce music nearly every day, I still learn about production all the time.

Rate this article. What did you think?

FAQ

Community Question

What is an audio production degree?

An audio production degree should prepare you for a career as a Recording Engineer, Live Sound Technician, Music Producer, Mastering Engineer, or Mix Engineer.

As part of the degree program, you’ll learn music production, recording techniques, how to mix music (live and in-studio), live sound, mastering, and specific music business skills you’ll need to become an Engineer-Entrepreneur. Good music/audio production schools will also give you the opportunity to put your newfound skills into practice at a student-run radio station, recording studio, and/or record label.

Community Question

Is audio production a good career?

Like many music careers, audio production is an ultra-competitive field and it can be difficult to get a foot in the door. The hours are long and for independent entrepreneurs, there’s a lot of hustle involved. However, once you’ve found your niche, if you’re the type of person who loves working with other musicians in a technical recording capacity, audio production is a great career.

That’s not just opinion, either. The BLS cites a faster than average 8% growth rate1 in the field of sound engineering and Glassdoor projects an average salary of approximately $60,1002 for Audio Producers.

Community Question

What should I major in for music production?

If you want to major in music production, look for degree programs such as Music Production, Recording Arts, Recording Technology, Production & Recording, Music Technology, Audio Production, Audio Technology, Music Production & Engineering, Audio Engineering Technology, and Sound Recording. You will be sure to learn music production skills during your studies in these programs.

References

  1. 1Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Broadcast and Sound Engineering Technicians". US Department of Labor. published: 10 April 2020. retrieved on: 24 July 2020
  2. 2Glassdoor.com. "Audio Producer Salaries in United States". Glassdoor.com. published: 25 April 2020. retrieved on: 24 July 2020
We use cookies to understand how you use our site and to improve your experience. This includes personalizing content and advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, revised Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.