How to Produce, Design, and Launch a DIY Music Album

Disclaimer: it’s not as hard as you think

Alec Zaffiro
Dec 1, 2019 · 7 min read
Photo by Aryan Singh on Unsplash

When I released my first project on Apple Music, it felt like I found a loophole. “How is this possible?!” I couldn’t play an instrument. I didn’t own a single piece of equipment. I’m definitely not talented, or musically inclined even.

If this sounds like a conundrum to you, it’s because the idea of being a musician is too far-fetched. It’s like being an astronaut. It sounds really cool and awesome and everyone wants to be one…

But most people don’t actually sees themselves ever really becoming one.

Music is tricky to pinpoint. Creating it is mostly abstract and many people still see it with a veneer of exclusivity — like it’s limited to only certain people with certain skills who have certain connections in the industry. But it’s just information. With today’s accessibility to tech and information, the barriers-to-entry in music are virtually zero. Thinking you’re incapable of creating music in 2020 is not only dumb, but completely stupid. I’m about to show you step-by-step it’s possible for anyone to produce, design, and launch an album on their own. Here’s how.

Step 1: Love Music

This goes without saying, but if you want to make music, you’ve got to have passion for it. You have to value it deeply. It has to move you. You need to love music. If you don’t, stop reading this right now.

Step 2: Get a Music Program

You need to get your hands on a system that can organize sound and do complex music stuff. More specifically, you need a DAW (digital audio workstation) which is a program for creating… music. Without a DAW, you will never make an album. It’s like trying to bake a cake without ingredients. Or utensils. Or an oven.

GarageBand iOS (free app)

There are hundreds of music programs out there but I use GarageBand because it’s powerful, easy to learn, and fun to use; it’s designed by Apple, so it works great on my iPhone, iPad, and Macbook. It’s also free. Yes, there are more advanced, robust systems out there (e.g. Ableton, Logic Pro, FL Studio) but, for simplicities sake, GarageBand is the right software for beginners.

Step 3: Learn How

So you love music and have a program that can potentially create it. Great. If you learn how to use that music program, you will be able to program (make) music. It’s simple. You have the following options:

1.) Flex your brain

2.) Flex your wallet

“Flex your brain” means learn how to use the DAW by yourself. Basically play around with it, experiment, and trial-and-error till it makes sense. This is possible. Music programs are tricky, but they’re not that tricky and lots of people learn them on their own. If you’ve used Microsoft Excel, DAWs are kind of like that — very complicated at first, but then you pick up on the most important functions and build from there.

Software is the only instrument you really need to learn.

With the resources available today, playing a physical instrument is no longer necessary. “Real” muscians won’t like me saying that, but you do not need instruments or raw, tactile talent to make music anymore. All you need is a computer. Yes, of course it helps if you can play, but it’s 100% optional.

Learning digital composition on a device develops a deeper, more inclusive, fundamental understanding of music (as opposed to learning just one instrument).

If you spend just a few days using a DAW, you can pick up the basics of sound design and start to see how music is actually put together. With the entire internet at your disposal — blogs, YouTube, forums — you should have no problem learning the basics of whatever DAW you choose.

You can “flex your wallet” and use the power of currency to catapult yourself into music production. If you’re serious about making music, invest in an online course. They’re super valuable for beginners and online resources like this make music open to anyone and everyone. You can find great online courses for less than $10 on sites like Udemy, Skillshare, and Teachable.

Step 4: Make Your Album

Hey, the fun part. Now apply your love, drive, and knowledge for music into your program of choice. If you have a good DAW and you know how to use it properly, guess what? Your album is on the way. Again, it really is that simple.

I made my album on an iPad with a $30 mic and a regular pair of headphones.

You don’t need much to make an album which is contrary to popular belief. Lots of people are still under the impression you need to rent studio time, own live instruments, use complex soundboards, amps, and interfaces… No!

The barriers-to-entry in music are a matter of willpower. Anyone who wants to create can (and they can do it at a high level too).

The hardest part of the whole process is learning how to curate and arrange sound; everything else is easy. Music production is just like any other skill in that it takes time, effort, and energy to get good at it. However, talent, money, and fame are not requirements at all. It’s only a matter of willingness to learn. Depending on your approach, learning music production can take anywhere from a week to a year. This is where a good online course comes in handy as they explain all the applicable, nitty-gritty stuff in detail. Once you figure out the DAW, nothing’s stopping you from debuting your first music project.

Step 5: Mix and Master

Fast forward. Your album is done. By done, I mean it’s arranged. All your sounds are there, in the right spot, but now you’ve got to make them sound radio ready. This is where mixing and mastering come into play (literally).

Mixing refers to adjusting sounds either individually or in-relation to other elements. For example, you want your bass sounds to “sit low” in the mix. In other words, you want the bass to breathe underneath, or behind, the other lead sounds (e.g. piano, electric guitar). In mixing, you can achieve this a number of ways: reduce the treble, drop the gain, lower the attack, and so on.

Mixing is all about altering sounds to highlight or minimize elements of a song.

A solid foundation for mixing will come from knowing your system inside and out. Whether through self-education or auxiliary materials, you have to acquire some basic understanding of “sound” verbiage to know how to mix. Mastering, on the other hand, is a much more complicated process.

Mastering addresses the song as a whole and smooths out various compression and EQ levels. Mastering makes everything sound more rich, full, and dynamic.

Luckily for average Joe’s like us, we don’t need to worry much about mastering. I have no clue how to master, so I pay other people to do it for me; LANDR and eMastered are great online services for this. I’ve used both and each transform audio files into high quality formats that sound professional. As a DIY musician, outsourcing is your best friend. It’s common to overlook many of the services available to you as an aspiring artist, but, as a general rule of advice, it will serve you well to recognize when and how to advance forward using help of 3rd party resources.

Step 6: Visuals

You can’t have an album without an album cover. You should acquire some kind of high-quality photos for your records’ artwork. Fiverr and Unsplash make it really easy for camera dummies to find amazing visuals for their work.

I paid a friend $20 to caputre and edit this. It took about 20 minutes.

Step 7: Distributing Your Work

If you follow the previous steps, you technically have an album at this point — you learned how to use a DAW, you put some sounds together, you mastered for quality, and you own some cover art. That’s an album, people.

Now it’s time to release your project on stores and streaming services like iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora which is not hard to do. If you use a service like Distrokid, you can upload an unlimited amount of songs to every possible music platform in a matter of minutes. Again, technology is really facinsating and the distribution process could not be made any easier.

Congratulations, You Just Made an Album

Well, I pretty much laid out all the steps I’ve taken. Personally, I feel everybody should get to experience the excitement, satisfaction, and magic that comes from expression through music, one of the greatest art forms. I write this to demonstrate how technologically simple it is to foster energy in music.

Re / verb

Words about music

Alec Zaffiro

Written by

Bored, uneducated, homeless — em dashes are my specialty. I write what I see, think, and feel. That’s it.

Re / verb

Re / verb

Words about music

Alec Zaffiro

Written by

Bored, uneducated, homeless — em dashes are my specialty. I write what I see, think, and feel. That’s it.

Re / verb

Re / verb

Words about music

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