How I learnt Music Production and produced a song in one month

#1 — First month of my challenge: 12 topics to learn in 12 months

OK..This photo is a bit too much 😂 … and this is not music production, real musicians would kill me

On the day of the 3rd of April I decided my first topic of my learning challenge: music production.

Sometimes inspiration comes from your environment and the circle of people you are with. I am living with two music producers and I always wanted to produce a song, so what a better chance than to include music production in my Learning Challenge.
I must admit that I had little to no experience in this topic, I tried music production once when I was young with a software called Fruity Loops (now known as FL Studio) where I only used drums and some basic beats. However your experience should not stop you on choosing the challenges. If you don’t know about this learning challenge and its methodology I invite you to read the below article:
https://medium.com/learning-lab/why-i-decided-to-learn-something-new-every-month-and-how-i-will-do-it-e749580d2c7

Just a disclaimer 😬😬 during this month I didn’t learn everything about music production, just the basics of it! There is a loooot more to explore and discover, and I would probably need decades to master it!

Now let’s move to the main purpose of this blog, how did I manage to produce the song?

Preparation

  1. Finding a mentor
    Since my two roommates are electronic music producers it wasn’t a hard task. Dorian (Skwiggs) was my mentor and I also had some help from Andrei (Async). If you are looking for music producers mentor, the best would be to attend to meetups and to find someone there.
  2. Defining the scope of the topic
    What I want to achieve is to learn how to produce electronic music, understand the process and have enough knowledge to be able to do it myself. I got the approval of my mentor about its feasibility.
  3. Choosing a learning resource
    After googling a bit, I found this guide to learn music theory. If you want to learn how to make a song you should better understand music and melodies, and I totally recommend this guide.
    Music Theory for Musicians and Normal People by Toby W. Rush
    http://tobyrush.com/theorypages/
  4. Defining a project
    My goal is to create a song of more than 3 minutes and to publish it in SoundCloud. I chose to have a lenght above 3 minutes since most of the pop songs have a length between 3 and 4 minutes.

Learning Music Theory

I started to read “Music Theory for Musicians and Normal People” while travelling in Australia and for that reason I couldn’t really apply my learning immediately, although I really recommend you to do so.

By reading this guide you will understand a few important definitions and concepts:

  • Pitch: how high and low a note is.
  • Rhythm: the length of notes and breaks.
  • Scale: notes palette of the track.
  • Why notes sometimes match or sound “wrong”.
  • How to make variants from a melody.
  • How to chain your notes to have a good melody.

There was a lot of information to process and understand since it was something really new. It was hard for me to understand any detail of the different scales 😬 so I could only understand the main concepts. Don’t let this discourage you, as it is normal to not understand everything in any learning process.

Producing music

Before starting to produce music, I had a quick introduction session from my two roommates. We started with how to use the software and compose music with it. Dorian explained to me the fundamental rules to follow(that come from music theory). My other roommate taught me how to use automation to create variation within a song. I first started to play with the software “FL Studio”. This software is quite easy to use, but if you also want to produce music there is another famous alternative “Ableton Live”.

Setting up the project (with git)

By playing with “FL Studio” I realized that I was quickly making a mess, because everytime you take a decision to change your song you somehow destroy the current version 😓, that’s why I decided to go with git.

Git is a tool that I use as a developer. For those who don’t know, Git is a collaborative version control tool. With git I could try new things without jeopardising the entire project, create different alternatives (branches) and also allow my mentor to add fixes remotely.

I used one main branch “master” for the final song and created a “feature” branch each time I was adding something big, and then “fix” branches each time I was making some changes/fixes.

A screenshot of my Github Repository and its branches

Git was really useful and removed the fear of changing/destroying something that seemed to be good.

You can find my repository here:
https://github.com/sandoche/learning-music

Music structure

In order to create my music I did some additional research to learn the basic structure of electronic music. I saw a few different patterns and decided to create the following:

Intro > Verse > Chorus > Chorus variant 1 > Chorus variant 2 > Verse > Outro

This is how it looks at the end

Composition workflow

Based on my mentor’s guidance, I followed a process like this:

  1. Find a melody: Experiment with various melodies using the piano tool within “FLStudio”.
  2. Create your first loop with it.
  3. Create variants of the loop.
  4. Add the beat.
  5. Create an intro.
  6. Put everything into the playlist.
  7. Add an outro — the opposite of an introduction.
  8. Add transitions.
  9. Add automation.
  10. Do some remastering and export (readjusting the volume and effects).

Creating a good music

During the process described above, I had to meet my mentor many times to validate and rework my track (Github was very helpful here). Thanks to these music reviews I discovered a few important rules to creating good music along with some cool features of “FL Studio” to improve my track.

Here are a few of my discoveries from these reviews:

  • The notes should not be dissonant, “FL studio” provides a helper to visualise that.
  • Don’t repeat the same notes too often to avoid sounding repetitive.
  • Bass progression should remain the same throughout the entire track.
  • It’s better to reuse the same notes throughout the track, music theory refers to this as “scale”.
  • Bass frequencies should not conflict with other frequencies so it’s important to use the equaliser to avoid this.
  • If you use a reverb effect, do not reverb the bass unless the bass is the only thing playing.
  • Automate the frequency cutoff instead of the volume for the intro, outro, and transition.
  • Use some drum sounds for the transitions.
  • Use “pads” or “strings” to create an ambient sound.
  • The kick should be every 4 blocks.

These reviews were really helpful to progress my learning.

Learning outro

Upon finishing my production I discovered this link about learning music from “Ableton”, by the way, they released it just as I was finishing 😑

https://learningmusic.ableton.com/

This online course is very good since it explains the basics step by step and also has some exercises. It was good to finish my learning month with it although I’d have liked to have started by using it. Better to close with it than not have it at all though 😉

Screenshot of learnmusic.ableton.com teaching how to use chords

This course was an excellent way of linking my practise with “FL Studio” and the theory I had studied as it would reexplain what I’d practised in relation with the theory behind it.

It explains well how to:

  • Create a beat
  • Add the right chords
  • Create a bassline
  • Create a melody
  • Structure a song (with examples of different structures)

It uses real music samples and it only takes two hours to complete, it’s a very cool course.

I guess you now want to listen to my song 😂

Final result — “Summer loading…12%”

Here is my song. I created a cover and came up with a title which was a bit of extra work but well worth it. I hope you like it!

The song is called Summer loading…12% because I live in Amsterdam

Github source: https://github.com/sandoche/learning-music

Another song— “Santo Domingo to Tarifa”

I also started to produce a song during my vacation right after this month of learning! It took time for me to finish it because I had to switch from a mac to a windows and re-import/export everything.

And also its source: https://github.com/sandoche/Santo-domingo-to-tarifa-music

Feedback from this learning month

What went well

  • Cooperation with the mentor by iteration.
  • Understanding of electronic music components.
  • Use of the software FL Studio.
  • Understanding of the process / steps of music.
  • Understanding the rules of music.
  • Workflow with Git.
  • I can now listen to music in a different way!
  • I now really like to produce music, I just need more time 😁 😁

What to improve

  • Reading only gave me a general overview rather than deep understanding.
  • If possible apply theories directly, I first read the guide and then started to produce since I didn’t have my computer with me. I should avoid that and do both at the same time for a better understanding.
  • Stick to one month although this is in part due to me being on vacation without my laptop. I started on the 3rd of April and finished on the 14th of May.

I would like to thank Dorian who was an enormous help towards achieving my goal.


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