Ever wondered what happens from the moment an artist has an idea to the moment they reach millions of fans? Well here’s a short rundown…
*for those bedroom artists and producers
This is where most of the creative work happens. A song is usually comprised of chords, lyrics, melody, and rhythm elements (some songs may not have lyrics, but melody is key). It’s important here to explore ideas and reference and sample music or sounds that are interesting and new to trigger as much inspiration as possible. You can surf through YouTube or Spotify playlists, listen to movie soundtracks, video game soundtracks, or even listen to the world around you for inspiration.
After drafting ideas comes sound selection and composition. This revolves around building the elements of your song. Usually, chords, lyrics, and melodies will utilize vocals, keys, or leads. Rhythm would utilize drums and percussion. However, you can use almost any sound to create these elements as long as it fits your vision and the sound you want to invent. For example, you could use chords to play a rhythm that accompanies with your drums — creating layers of rhythm within your production.
2. Production/ Editing
Once you’ve decided what elements you want in your song, it’s time to put them together and edit them. In this step you may start to record instruments or vocals for your track. You’ll most likely want to arrange your recordings and sounds in a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Some options for DAWs:
- Pro Tools (Mac/PC)
- Garage Band (Mac) *free
- Logic Pro (Mac)
- Ableton Live (Mac/PC)
- FL Studio (Mac/PC)
*There are many more programs you can choose from. These are just some of the more popular ones
Using these software, you can create a full-length project all in the comfort of your bedroom.
Even in this phase of music making, there is still composition and sound design that can be done. While you may think that the natural sound of your track is all you can get, you can actually choose to add effects to enhance your song. These include reverb, frequency shifting, delay, chorus etc. all of which can provide a different soundscape to your song. You can also stretch/shrink samples or make cuts or duplicate certain phrases.
After you’ve written, recorded, and edited all parts of your song, the next step is to clean it up.
Mixing will enhance your track and make it sound crystal clear just like any radio pop song. However, to achieve that level of clarity requires a great amount of ear training and time. Simple mixing can be done using plug-ins (both stock and third-party) to create a more dynamic song. These plug-ins use audio effects which come in 3 main forms:
- Temporal — time based effects (Delay/Reverb)
- Spectral — frequency spectrum effects (EQ)
- Dynamic — volume and dynamic based effects (Compression)
The use of these tools is to help widen your mix, create depth in your sound, and variance.
After you’ve created a clean mix of your song, it’s time to master it. That is, to make it sound amazing on all platforms: streaming services, radio, laptops, phones, stage speakers etc. At this stage you’ll want to think about where you want your beautiful music to be heard. For most independent artists and producers, streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple music are the most common places to output your music. With each platform, there are differences in the way they may process your audio, so you will have to make adjustments. On top of that your song will sound different on phone speakers vs. laptop speakers. A great way to capture the subtle changes in audio quality is to listen to songs that are similar to the style/volume/frequency of your own track on those platforms and on different devices.
For the technical process of mastering, this requires you to go back into your DAW and create multiple versions of your song (using audio effects plugins mentioned above) for different platforms and devices. There are also some online mastering tools that you can use such as:
You finally have a finished product of your song. Now it’s time to distribute it your fans and reach potential new ones. There are 2 usual paths when it comes to releasing your song. You can try to reach a major record label or an independent one.
Major record labels mostly fall under 3 large music groups:
- Sony BMG
- Universal Music Group
- Warner Music Group
While these record labels are sure to help you reach a wide variety of audiences and fans, they are relatively hard to be noticed by unless you already have a strong following.
Thus, for artists and producers who are just starting out, reaching out to independent record labels or digital platforms is best. There are lots of options:
- CD Baby
- Soundcloud *free
- Bandcamp *free
- YouTube *free
Some of these platforms will even sign you to a record label once you reach a certain following! The first 4 are used to distribute onto services such as Spotify and Apple music while the last 3 are more used to build a fan base and spread your music across multiple platforms. Either way, using some or all of these platforms is a great way to get noticed and get your music heard!
How is money made?
Well now that you’ve got your music out there, how do you exactly make money and profit off of your hard creative work?
There are lots of ways to generate money through your released songs. Streaming platforms will pay you per stream and if you’ve been signed to some kind of record label, you’ll be paid for royalties and copyrights.
With royalties there are 3 main kinds:
- Performance — you’ll get paid every time a song is played publicly
- Mechanical — you’ll get a % cut when someone buys a copy of your album
- Synchronization — you’ll get paid when you sell rights to a TV show, movie, or other visual media that requires synchronized music (video game)
Of course these pay cuts are highly dependent which record label you’ve been signed to. A larger, more popular record label will tend to pay you more than a smaller, indie record label.
Now with streaming platforms, the money is even less (unless you’re one of the top artists on the platform). Here’s some of the price breakdowns for popular music streaming services.
Napster: $0.019 per stream
Tidal: $0.0125 per stream
Apple Music: $0.00783 per stream
Spotify: $0.00437 per stream
Amazon: $0.00402 per stream
Pandora: $0.00133 per stream
Thus, these platforms are mainly used for artists to spread their music, build a fan base, and let their fans know about tour dates and merchandise etc.
I’ve simplified a lot within these 4 steps but I hope that it’s helped some of you understand the process of creating music!