How to Produce a Song: What to Know to Start Making Music 🎶

  • Design & Creative
Contra Tips
· 7 min read

Learn everything you need to create music from home, from the equipment needed to expert tips on how to produce a song on your own.

Making music from the comfort of your own home can be a gratifying experience, and being able to make money from that is something that many people dream of doing.

With the rise of streaming platforms, the opportunities for independent artists have expanded exponentially. No longer are they solely dependent on record labels or studios to produce, distribute, and profit from their music. Today, with enough talent, determination, and strategic understanding of the industry's intricacies, anyone can carve out a niche for themselves in the vast world of music.

In this guide, we’ll tell you the basics of freelance music production and the steps to make incredible sounds. We’ll also explain the fundamental tools that are essential to knowing how to produce a song and offer a few songwriting tips, too.

If you have a passion for music and want to make your mark on the music industry, this one’s for you.

What is music production? 🎙️

Simply put, song production is the process of creating music. This includes things like:

  • Editing
  • Arrangement
  • Songwriting
  • Mastering
  • Mixing
  • Tracking

You might spend a different amount of time on every music production stage. Even if writing the song took only three minutes, that’s still part of the process and is considered music production.

As technology has evolved, so has the process of creating music and, by extension, the responsibilities of a music producer. Traditionally, if you were a music producer, you would work with artists or bands and provide vision, suggestions, or critique, much like a film director. While these roles still exist, there are other types of producers, too. 

For example, in hip-hop, a producer is the person who created the track, whereas in EDM, you would be the producer and the artist if you made the entire song. 

What equipment do you need to start producing music? 🎸

Gone are the days when you would need an entire studio to produce music. Many famous artists started creating songs and recording vocals in their bedroom or garage. To start, it’s recommended to have:

  • A computer or laptop: This one’s essential, as it houses your music production software. Ensure the processor, sound card, and RAM are of sufficient size and quality. Using a less expensive computer or laptop may save you funds upfront but will likely cause you frustration in the long run, as you’ll deal with lag, playback delays, and long encoding times when you are ready to export your work.
  • Headphones and speakers: Another must-have, these allow you to listen to sounds at different frequencies, giving you more control over the music you produce.
  • DAW (digital audio workstation): This is the software you use to produce music. The choices are many, including Apple Logic Pro, Ableton Live Lite, and Soundtrap. Each software has different features, so shop around and select carefully.
  • Audio interface: Think of the audio interface as the mixer — it’s what all your equipment (mic, keyboard, speakers, and headphones) connect to. This is how to record music and adjust the volume of each component. 

Regarding setup when using speakers, larger rooms are ideal because they give you more freedom with the placement of your speakers and help with acoustics. This results in better sound accuracy since specific frequencies won’t be emphasized. Similarly, if you use speakers, avoid rooms with carpeted floors, as lower frequencies will be stressed due to the carpet absorbing higher frequencies. 

How to produce a song: 6 steps 🪜

There’s no denying producing a song is a fluid process and doesn’t necessarily follow a step-by-step approach. But if you’re just getting started as a freelance music producer, sticking to the following steps can be incredibly useful.

1. Songwriting and composition ✍️

Maybe you already have a melody in your head, or you want to play around until something sounds right. This is the stage when you develop the basis of the song: the beat, the melody, and the bassline. This is also when you play around with each element of the music to form a beginning, middle, and end. 

2. Sound arrangements 🧩

Once you have a basic idea of what the song will sound like, it’s time to focus on the arrangement. Music that goes from intro to verse, then chorus, then verse, then chorus, with the same sounds in each, is usually quite dull. The arrangement lets you add excitement by changing the structure of instruments within each section of the song. For example, you could remove an instrument in the first verse and only introduce it in the second, or change the bassline up from the first chorus and the second chorus. 

3. Sound design 🎹

Your song is taking shape and sounds great, but why stop there? The next step is sound design. What is sound design? This focuses on creating or adjusting the feel or style of the song. This is your chance to fine-tune what you want the sound of each element to be. Maybe you want to tune the drop before the chorus to sound like Skrillex or for the guitar in the solo to sound more like Aerosmith than ACDC. Using a quality soundbank is excellent as they have samples, synthesizers, and sounds to emulate just about any artist. 

4. Sound recording or samples 💿

This step is optional as it depends on whether you want vocals in your song or any sounds. If you do, you have two choices: sound recording or samples. 

Sound recording involves using your own instruments or voice (or someone else’s) to add to your song. Samples are pre-recorded sounds, like vocals from popular songs or instruments like guitars or drums. Many producers who want to remix a song start by adding these.

5. Mixing 🎧

You’re almost ready to export your track, but if you want it to be perfect, mixing it is a must. But exactly what is sound mixing? This is the stage where you add the final changes, such as lowering the volume of an instrument or using a compressor, adding effects like an echo or panning here or there. 

6. Mastering 🔊

Mastering ensures all songs on an album are coherent by adjusting the volume so that one isn’t louder than another. Traditionally, a music engineer handles the mastering. But if you plan on creating songs at home and releasing them individually, you won’t need to do that. Instead, optimize the music for different systems or streaming platforms, or add an equalizer preset for a particular style or genre.

Tips for music production at home 🎵

Now that you know how to produce music, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of producing music at home.

  • Keep it simple: When first starting out and learning the ins and outs of mixers and DAWs, there’s no reason to buy all the equipment professionals use. Start by buying the absolute bare minimum to make the music you want, as this will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and make learning more streamlined. 
  • Use equipment with value: It might be tempting to splurge and buy studio-quality speakers, but an excellent, affordable set of headphones will do the trick initially. 
  • Take breaks: Making music is all about being creative, and overly long sessions will tire you out, making it feel like more of a chore. Be sure to give yourself time between sessions to avoid burnout and keep the artistic juices flowing.

Get paid for your music with Contra 💸

If you’re ready to start getting paid for the fantastic music you make, Contra is ready for you. Join Contra — a commission-free platform built for Independents, designed to help you grow your business as a freelance music producer into a successful and fulfilling venture. Similarly, if you are looking to hire great independent music producers, Contra has you covered, too. Sign up today.

What Is a Sound Designer & What Does One Do? 🔊

Unlock the world of sound design with our comprehensive guide. Dive into the roles, techniques, and opportunities for independent sound designers.
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