How technology fuels Music Production (and my framework for taking a shot at it)
It’s never been easier to learn, create, produce and release your own music as in current times — a result of the widespread adoption and use of modern technologies, read: thanks to Digital Music formats and standards (MIDI, music compression, more) and easy access to software for Music Production (Digital Audio Workstations) that can run on any low-budget windows machine and even tablets.
Of course, not many of those who know how to play instruments venture themselves in the Production front, but for anyone remotely interested in playing around with being part of the “industry”, it’s just extermely easy to do so.
In this write-up I’m taking a look at one my hobbies, learning from it, and doing what I do best, making sense of processes and tools by means of a Framework.
I’m not a skilled player nor a skilled producer (in fact, I suck at Producing — a multi-layered truth since it has literal meaning, but also a channel and content I greatly appreciate), I dabble with things.
In my years of playing (dabbling with) piano I’ve met incredible talented musicians while being mentored at church. People without any formal training, some with formal training and others highly skilled multi-instrumentalists. Some friends have traversed this path, of creating and releasing their creations on online platforms, notably this great songwriter, singer, guitar player and pianist whom was a teacher, mentor, and shared tools to me at an early age to learn music.
Since then I’ve continue my journey by self-learning and some pieces of classes here and there which were greatly appreciated to gain that extra knowledge and technique for playing on a grand piano. I’ve also managed to get friends and family interested in playing an instrument which is also gratifying.
Recently, though, I decided to have a look at the process of recoding something, editing and distributing it to major platforms.
The process of releasing and publishing a song is quite straightforward nowadays. This is while abstracting some complexities with regards to copyright, ownership of royalties and etc.
Notably, these would be part of the issues with releasing anything in ye old times. The process of registering your own creation could be cumbersome and bureocratic in itself. I remember looking at this 7 years ago when I composed something, with a level of effort put into the writing of the music sheet and all. What spunned from my then research was a relative difficulty in putting through my creation to the right body of music — that was back in Brazil, which would also indicate an added level of difficulty since most of that process wouldn’t be as digitized as it is in first world countries — I don’t have actual number and stats to back me up here, so impressions only from a quick research on this, 7 years back…
Nowadays, in a tech-dominated world the whole process is much easier from the genesis of Music learning up to it’s release to the world.
The way I see it, is by looking at the process of music creation, namely 4 phases (again, this coming from a hobbiyst, not a musician, nor someone who actually studied this — so if you have insights and comments, please share and I can append/add more qualified information).
For each of the phases, I believe there’s the need to illustrate: some Tools and Processes required to achieve each.
Tech has provided many benefits for each of the phases and this is at the core of the ease of creation — access to technology.
It is then imperative that everyone has access to said technology.
A sentence that contains a myriad of challenges in itself, challenges that go way beyond you and I, but which we can all be part of solving: being mentors to underprivileged people, donating old piece of equipment that has little or no value to our workflow, but that can add immense value to someone’s development, etc.
Practice social giveback as much as possible it’s what I’m saying.
Sources vary depending on which type of instrument you’re trying to learn. Someone looking to learn piano/studio
From a hardward perspective, you’ll find heaps of recommendations for your chosen instrument online. Some are starter kits can be found on mainstream media such as “wired”.
One piece of tech I highly recommend is an iOS tablet. This should be a top priority, even if it’s an older device. I own an old iPad (with the headphone jack!) and it is just so much better than windows tablets for consuming, content and even later at producing. It’s not even funny as to how much better they are.
Some other tools include apps for the iPad, but also videos and content creators online. Though for a started I would recommend a structured course — watching random videos on theory for someone starting is a pitfall, one that will cost your will to learn.
I recently bumped into this free resource with some nuggets of theorical information. But I only recommend after some basic knowledge on the basics of scales.
There’s plenty of subscriptions focused on teaching music. These should be the preferred method as it incentivizes continuous engagement with music — I mean when you see your money leaving every so often, it’s that extra push you might need to get back into practicing (believe me, I’ve been there).
If you’re going through the piano/keys learning, buying a digital piano is a great place to start. These include weighted keys to simulate the feel of pressure in the keys (which requires and forces better technique).
A cheap piano is not ideal for starters for the lack of playing range it takes from the player.
P.s.: Avoid “DJ” equipment while learning music theory. These are are great later down the track, but take a lot away from actual music theory for a player. This is a pro tip, as I myself fell in the trap of buying Teenage engineering and Arturia hardware w/o the proper scoping and need definition. 🙃
I’m not a music teacher, but my experience was theorical first, learning basics of scales and music theory is fundamental. With it you can more easily go through exercises because you can double think into what you’re doing with your hands, but also the theory backing it.
Learning with analog instruments is beneficial — I often found myself more productive without having a raft of sound options to play with while trying to focus on a specific exercise. Plus, analog instruments allow and force us to work on our technique, which has a high yield over time.
Tools for creating will include your instrument — having a digital instrument goes a long way as some software can use MIDI to get input from your devices and generate its music sheet.
My favorite tools for creating music is MuseScore and Apple’s GarageBand.
Composing and getting ready to release an original requires ORIGINAL work. As you’ll see when releasing your song, not having used samples and other people’s intellectual property is fundamental.
There’s a fine line between being inspired by something and straightup copying stuff.
Some tools will greatly help you with the process of composition, you’ll see software that works with MIDI equipment to assist with generating music sheets based on your playing, the stuff of the heavens for someone still crawling on the music theory pathway.
I am a big fan of GarageBand for producing, for its easy of use and availability on MacOS and iOS. For Windows, there are good free options too, though some can be too complex to be worth the time.
Producing music is a science in itself, just start looking for people working on Synths and you’ll understand the importance of Sound Design.
I never went deep into the weeds of producing at this level, but with basic editing knowledge you can get past this. And this is not undermining or diminishing the work Sound Designers perform, it’s the opposite, leave this section for the pros, that’s what I’m saying.
Leave this section for the pros, that’s what I’m saying.
When it comes to distributing your creation to online platforms, you must use a distribution platform. There are various options for this, including: Distrokid, CD Baby, TuneCore, and AWAL.
I’m not an expert, have only worked with Distrokid, it works ok, though it’s not cheap, per se. You pay a yearly subscription to the service for unlimited uploads. But then at the time of the upload there might be extra fees required depending on the content you’re making available — a cover requires you pay the original composer a monthly royalty, for example.
There are various comparison guides for these platforms on youtube, such as this one.
The process of distributing is straightforward by using tools on the market. When you create your Spotify’s artist page you’ll be shown recommendations of platforms that can be used to upload your songs to the platform.
As it turns out, these Distribution tools also do so for (virtually) all music stores under the sun. Once you choose the distribution platform it does it all for you.
Finally, This is how this looks like from a framework perspective:
The results from following this can be seen from the release of single, such as this one, a song I composed years ago and recorded it on a Yamaha Gran Piano from where I was taking lessons. I kept the recording and released it now on these platforms, after a quick touch up on software.
It’s a true wonder to be able to perform as these steps yourself, after decades of an industry that required a lot more effort, hardware and connections to be able to achieve something (somewhat) similar.
Methods and Results don’t lie:
It’s pervasive technology, empowering everyone to achieve their dreams.
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Thank you for reading and leave your thoughts/comments!
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