how to make music

How to Make Music Like the Pros

More and more musicians have home studios. We rely less and less on professional recording studios and experienced Producers, mainly because those things are too expensive for DIY musicians.

The trick is figuring out how to get your music recorded at home to have that professional sound. So to help you solve that problem, here are six tips on how to make music like the pros.

  1. Listen to More Music
  2. Get Educated
  3. Get Quality Equipment That’s Also Affordable
  4. Don’t Plan to “Fix it in the Mix”
  5. Get Objective Feedback
  6. Master Your Music

6 Tips on How to Make Music Like the Pros

1. Listen to More Music

The writer and artist Austin Kleon writes, “You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.”

The artist is someone who collects things, he says. And what you collect makes up what you share.

You see, we’re all just recycling centers. We take in art, churn it around inside, add our own stuff to it, and spit it out as our own work.

So if you’re not taking any in good art, the end results won’t be as good. (I understand “good” to be subjective to each artist, but you get the idea).

This is why listening to music is a crucial part of making music. What goes in will influence what comes out. So if you listen to poorly assembled music, that’s not going to help you make music you’re more happy with.

It’s not going to help you make more professional-sounding music.

2. Get Educated

Whether you pay for an online course or attend a music school, the common denominator is a necessary one: learning.

Getting educated about making music is invaluable to your music career. And in today’s world, it’s so easy. Education is superfluous.

You can find free or cheap online music classes. You can go to a brick-and-mortar music school. Our blog here at Careers In Music has some super helpful guides on recording professional music. Heck, you can go to YouTube and learn a lot.

The point is to gain knowledge that you can then use in the studio.

The pro Songwriters, Producers, and Mixing Engineers don’t just have a natural talent. They worked to attain the skills they have. They learned somehow — some through going to school, some through experience, and some from being apprentices.

If you want to have a skill but don’t know how to do it, you’re the only one responsible for that.

You see, we’re all just recycling centers. We take in art, churn it around inside, add our own stuff to it, and spit it out as our own work. So if you’re not taking any in good art, the end results won’t be as good.

3. Get Quality Equipment That’s Also Affordable

To record professional-level music, you need professional-level recording equipment. And fortunately, you can get high-quality equipment for super cheap.

Here are the basic pieces of recording equipment you’ll need:

You probably already have a computer. There are free DAWs that work great, like Reaper or GarageBand. And you can find studio bundles on Amazon with the rest of the equipment for $200-300.

Or, if you don’t quite have a few hundred bucks to drop on equipment, just use your phone. In 2017, an 18-year-old hip-hop producer produced one of Kendrick Lamar’s songs using only his iPhone.

Or there’s this guy who recorded a song on his iPhone to make the point that you don’t need expensive studio equipment. There are apps for pretty much any aspect of music making you’d need.

So, if you want to make your tracks sound more professional, get some quality recording equipment, even if it’s just your iPhone and the GarageBand app. The most important thing is to know how to use what you have to make great music.

4. Don’t Plan to “Fix it in the Mix”

When you’re unfamiliar with mixing, it can be easy to think you can “fix it in the mix.” This means you record something, you hear a slight problem with it, and just think you can fix it later when you’re mixing the track.

Stop. Please don’t do that.

You should hone your audio engineering skills to the point that mixing is not a big ordeal. Mixing is not a band-aid, it’s a tool to enhance your already good recording. The recording is the foundation of your song — if you do it well, every step after that will flow smoothly.

So with that in mind, here are some general tips for recording music like the pros.

Tune up
This is a common mistake among home studio Producers. It might be one guitar string that’s a few semitones off key, or it’s a vocal that needs a little help from pitch correction.

So just tune up before hitting record. If you notice an instrument or vocal that’s off, it’s worth it to re-record it.

Stay on time
It’s not a surprise to hear DIY music that’s not in the pocket. Maybe the bass and kick are not quite together. Or maybe the vocalist is just a hair behind, enough that it’s distracting.

That’s why it can be helpful to use a generic drum loop on top of the metronome for recording. Many musicians find it difficult to play with a click track because it’s difficult to hear. Adding a simple drum beat alongside the click can really help.

You’ll just want to make sure the drum loop is as simple as possible. It shouldn’t inadvertently lead you to place emphasis on the rhythm where you didn’t intend it.

If you rely on effects to make your song good, you’re going down the wrong path. You should be able to play your song for a room full of people with just you and your instrument — and it should still be a good song.

Go easy on the effects
When you’re mixing, it’s best to use a bunch of subtle changes rather than a few drastic ones.

For example, when you’re cutting or boosting frequencies with EQ, keep it between 1-4 dB at a time. Because remember, you’ll be scooping out or bringing out those frequencies on other instruments in that song. All of these little moves add up to subtle but effective results.

This is especially true of compression. It’s so easy to overdo. So, first, only use compression when you need it, like if you’re dealing with a vocal that is quiet at parts and very loud during others.

Second, when you do use compression, use it very subtly. If you use too much, it can make the track sound too harsh and uneven.

Let all the ideas out
Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist, Producer, Songwriter, and Singer Jacob Collier might be a musical genius. He rubs shoulders with people like Quincy Jones and musicians from around the world.

He said during a live YouTube stream that you should let all of your ideas out during your recording sessions, regardless of how crazy you think they are. Just get them out of your head. You won’t know how they sound until you know how they sound.

Then you can go through these ideas later and sift through them, keeping the ones you like and leaving out the ones you don’t

5. Get Objective Feedback

Yes, music is subjective. But when something sounds off — a sour note in the vocal, a sloppy rhythm section, a distracting sound — most people can pick it out.

And when you’re spending so much time with a song, something that doesn’t sound right can start to sound right. Your ears learn how to tune out the weirdness, they start to tell your brain that everything sounds great.

That’s why it’s so important to get objective feedback. This should be from someone you trust and who will tell it like it is. Preferably a musician friend who’s not afraid to say, “Hey, that one thing sounds weird. And the rhythm is off during this one section.”

If you have a friend like that, you should appreciate them.

6. Master Your Music

Mastering your music is the last step in the process of putting together a song. And it is often what separates the amateurs from the pros.

Whether you use an online mastering service or a human Engineer, this step (at its most basic) makes your song louder.

Depending on the service or Engineer you work with, the mastering stage can involve any number of these effects and settings:

  • Gain
  • EQ
  • Stereo processing
  • Compression
  • Soft clip / saturation
  • Limiting

This stage of making a song is so important and so complex that they have Mastering Engineer degrees you can earn. (The Mastering Engineer can also give you feedback about issues in your mix that you could correct before they master it).

It All Comes Down to the Song

If you rely on effects to make your song good, you’re going down the wrong path. You should be able to play your song for a room full of people with just you and your instrument — and it should still be a good song.

The six tips we talked about here assume your songs and ideas are already killer. These tips should get your already solid song to sound professional, like it was recorded in a studio even if it wasn’t.

You don’t need to drop tons of money on recording, you just have to know what you’re doing.

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