Can you Become a Music Producer Without Learning how to Play Instruments?


Music production is becoming more accessible for anyone these days. People of all ages can produce music as long as you have the resources and knowledge. Well, you have probably read about the resources you need to become a music producer in terms of gear. But what about the latter? What is the knowledge you need to become a music producer? To become a music producer, you will probably need to know music, listen to music, and love music.

Yes, you can definitely become a music producer without actually learning how to play a musical instrument. However, there are certain aspects of music, technology, and business that you need to learn. But first of all, to become a music producer, you have to love music. You have to have that gut feeling and instinct. It does not matter what kind of genre you listen to, as long as you can appreciate music, you can learn all the technical skills later.

DEFINING A MUSIC PRODUCER

What is a music producer? A music producer is someone who creates music. A musician, on the other hand, is someone who plays the music the producer has created. A musician can be a music producer and vice versa. The definition of a music producer has changed over the years. Traditionally, a music producer is someone who manages the whole process of recording a song.

If you were a musician back in the day, you would need a producer to work on the technical aspects of recording a song. All you had to do was write the song and play the instrument. The producer is the director if you compare music production to making a movie. The director does not necessarily need to know how to act, but the producer knows how the actor should act. I hope you get the analogy. Here is a list of what a typical music producer does whether at home or in a professional studio booth:

  • CREATING MUSICAL IDEAS AND RECORDING THEM

One of the main things that a producer does is to create music from ideas. Usually, a producer imagines how the track sounds in their head before even laying down the actual instruments. A music producer does not need to write the lyrics to the songs. He or she will sometimes only create the chord patterns, beat, harmonies, and melodies to a song.

You do not have to be in the studio when you are at the ideas or brainstorming phase. Music producers have different processes and inspirations when creating a song. You can either be on the beach, the living room, or in front of a piano or guitar. (if you know how to play the instruments. Again, you do not have to know how to play an instrument to become a producer. However, knowing how to play a musical instrument is definitely an advantage.

There are specific tools and software that can help you arrange and create chords that you do not have to play manually. You can hire musicians if you want the accompaniment to be real organic instruments on your track. Some people prefer the real thing over virtual studio instruments.

  • ARRANGING OTHER PEOPLE’S IDEAS

As a producer, musicians will seek you for help on arranging their songs in a way that will sound better than what they originally created. That is why sometimes, demo tracks will sound different than what you hear on the radio. The mastered track on the radio probably went through the hands of professional songwriters and producers.

A producer is supposed to have a good ear, meaning, a producer should be able to enhance the song ideas from other musicians. You are expected to offer solicited advice to make dull tracks sound more exciting.

  • MAKING THE IDEAS SOUND GOOD

A music producer does not just create ideas and help turn them into tangible products you can hear. It also has to sound good, primarily if you work with talented artists. One of the other jobs of a producer is to be able to recognize talent. That is why you need to know, in your gut, if a musician or artist you plan on working with has real potential.

You also need to know how to work with the tools you have. You need to know your DAW in and out. That is why it is better to have your own set of equipment in your home studio. Mixing and mastering is a skill that takes years to perfect. You will need to spend countless hours behind your computer screen to make the best sounding track you can produce.

 If you are really serious about music production, I suggest you read all the articles you can, and you can even take a class if you want to. It should really help you develop as a music producer.

  • SOUND DESIGN

Creating ideas is not enough; you will need to convert those ideas into tracks through the process of sound design. This process involves selecting the right instruments that complement each other instead of clashing. As a music producer, you are creating each scene and tradition coherently so that listeners would appreciate the song.

For pop music producers, especially, you will need to learn the formulas in making the hits. There are many niches and music genres, so you should also listen to them to be a diverse music producer. You do not have to learn how to produce every genre. You can specialize in one style and be the best in that field.

THE SKILLS YOU NEED

Now that you know a little bit of what a producer does, let’s dive into what skills you need to learn to become a music producer. Some of these skills come naturally to some of us, but some have to work hard to earn it.

 I want to say that anyone can become a music producer, but not everyone has the patience you need to become one and make a career out of it. You need total dedication, and you need to devote most of your time and money into learning. Some people even quit their day jobs to pursue their dream. Here are some of the things you need to possess to become a music producer:

A GOOD EAR

You need a good ear. You need to know what sounds good. You need to understand how to arrange a coherent song with melodies and harmonies that blend perfectly throughout the song. This skill can be learned; however some of the most successful music producers were born with having a good ear. DR. DRE, for example, had this gift ever since his younger years. He didn’t know how to play a musical instrument at first. However, he has what it takes to pursue his career in this industry. He is just one of many successful producers that has what it takes.

CAN RECOGNIZE TALENT

This skill is where you need to have a good gut feeling. As a music producer, you will need to look for musicians who you know and feel to have potential. Remember, if you are choosing an artist, you have to make sure they do have what it takes before putting all your faith and energy before producing their tracks. Well, unless you have a studio for rent. They will pay you in that case.

MUSIC APPRECIATION

You need to appreciate music from the heart. You will have a favorite genre, obviously, but try to become more versatile when it comes to the music you are listening to. You need to learn how to bend genres and create new and innovative sounds, which is why I suggest you pop your bubble and expand to get more ideas.

SOFTWARE MANIPULATION

This skill is vital if you want to become a music producer. You need to know how to manipulate your music software from your DAW to your VSTs. Without this knowledge, it would be tough for you to become a capable music producer. However, you do not precisely have to be good with computers to know how to work with software. As long as you know, each of the functions and what they do for a track you are creating, you will be able to translate your thoughts into full songs. 

DAW

A DAW or digital audio workstation is home base for every home music producer. You will be using a DAW most of the time for recording music and any other form of audio. VSTs, on the other hand, are the instruments you will use to populate a song. Some DAWs will already have tons of built-in tools and effects. But it is better to utilize third-party apps such as virtual instruments and effects.

GOOD PEOPLE AND BUSINESS SKILLS

If you already have the technical side of things on lock, as a producer, you will also need t to improve your business and people skills. You cannot make a career being a music producer without working with other people other than yourself. You need to have excellent public relations skills and the right attitude toward other producers and artists in the industry. Expand your skills as well as your network to gain clients and, eventually, profit.

CREATIVITY

Having a vast imagination helps a lot in becoming a music producer. How can you create without creativity, right? Sometimes, you have to think outside of the box and be a little unorthodox to come up with new ideas. Before trying to pursue a career in this industry, ask yourself if you have what it takes. If you like the music you are creating, it doesn’t matter as long as you are enjoying yourself without stepping on any one’s toes.

RHYTHM

Another useful skill to have is rhythm. You cannot become a music producer if you can’t keep or know tempo. Although because of the automated tools, you do not need to play music in time as the software will do most of the grunt work for you, you still need to understand what tempo and rhythm are. This skill is another aspect of having an excellent ear.

LEARNING THE BASICS HELP

Although I said you do not really have to know how to play instruments to become a music producer, it helps if you know a little. If you know how to play instruments, it would be easier for you to translate ideas into songs. You can create the melodies in your head and play it on a piano or guitar before laying them down. I salute producers who can’t play a musical instrument because I imagine how challenging it is for them to create a song without this knowledge. I suggest you try to learn at least the basics of piano or guitar to make things more comfortable in the studio.

TIPS FOR BEGINNER MUSIC PRODUCERS

  • An essential tool for a producer is the DAW or Soundboard, so learn how to use it by heart.
  • Listen to any kind of music, even the ones you do not like.
  • Listen to how different instruments sound.
  • Try creating your own samples and beats. Do not rely on the samples you can purchase.
  • Try to remix an existing song to practice your skills.
  • Network and collaborate with artists and other producers. You can learn a thing or two from them.
  • For business purposes, create your own style and brand.
  • You will experience failure. Most of the best producers do. But, look at every failure as a learning experience.

ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT

  • Laptop or Computer
  • DAW/VSTs
  • Audio Interface
  • Microphone

For a full list of the equipment, you will need to build a music studio at home, click here.

RELATED QUESTIONS:

  • What of the skills listed above should I learn first?

You might already have some of the skills listed above. Try to learn the others by practicing, reading, and application. If you ask me, try to improve your hearing, and the rest will follow. 

  • If I am to learn an instrument, which is the best one to start on first?

The most common instruments people learn are piano and guitar. I suggest that you learn basic piano chords and scales. Most producers use a keyboard to create and record tracks, so you will never go wrong with a little bit of piano knowledge.

  • How can you record a track without knowing how to play an instrument?

There are tons of tools to help you create chord progressions without knowing how to play an instrument. You can also purchase samples and arrange them until you produce a song. The key here is knowing how to make music with existing music.

  • How to produce a song?

Different producers will have their own process of creating and recording. But to answer the question, here are some of the steps to create a song:

  • Set up your DAW. Set the tempo and key.
  • Choose a beat
  • Make chords or the rhythm section
  • Add harmonies
  • Arrange the song
  • Record melodies (vocals)
  • Mix and master tracks
  • Add some flavor such as drum rolls, piano or guitar fills, background vocals, etc.
  • Do not overkill
  • Are there career opportunities for an aspiring music producer?

There are a lot of career opportunities for an aspiring music producer. If you haven’t made a name for yourself, I doubt you can make it as a producer without starting from the bottom of the corporate ladder. Unless you build your own recording company, here are some of the positions you can fill:

  • Audio Technician
  • Studio Manager
  • Sound Designer
  • Instrument Tech
  • Sound Mixer
  • Radio Broadcast Engineer
  • Digital Audio Editor
  • Record Producer

CONCLUSION

Just because you don’t need to learn an instrument, does not mean being a music producer is easy. It is hard. It is expensive. It is diverse, but it is rewarding. Becoming an excellent music producer is a long process, especially if you are not gifted with natural talent. However, you can learn anything as long you set your mind to it. Creating a song, especially a pop song, has a formula. It is more of science if you think about it. Music is science and art, which you have to get a Ph.D. to learn different specializations and aspects. It is comprehensive, so when learning music production, start with the skills you have and slowly build your knowledge step-by-step.

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