16/04/2024How to Make Music – A Beginner’s Guide to Composition & Production
TYX Studio

"Even if nobody was listening to it, I'd still be making music."—Jacob Collier

Whether preparing to write songs, piecing together your home studio, mastering the art of mixing, or structuring chord progressions? This guide is for you. From aspiring music producers to those who need help writing music, we'll leave no stone unturned.

Who doesn’t love music? Well, there may be a few outliers but they’re in the minority. Humans have been making music for over 35,000 years (most likely longer), drawing out vibrations from the fabric of the universe. If you’re reading this article, we’re guessing you’re excited about continuing this creative legacy.

This journey is as varied as the artists who tread its path. With the right studio equipment, a grasp on music theory, and a passion for sound design, the possibilities are truly endless. We’ll equip you with the knowledge to produce music that captures your essence, so you can share it with the world. After all, what are we here for if not that?

So, whether you’re just getting started, or fine-tuning tracks for your EP, we’re here to help. Let’s dive into the heart of music creation, where every note offers a story, and every rhythm beckons a new opportunity for creativity.

Table of contents

  1. Why make music?
  2. Playing vs producing music
  3. Understanding music theory
  4. Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)
  5. Setting up your home studio
  6. The art of songwriting
  7. Instrumentation and arrangement
  8. Tips for recording your music
  9. Understanding the frequency range
  10. Production techniques
  11. Releasing your music
  12. Continuing your musical education

“Even if nobody was listening to it, I’d still be making music.”—Jacob Collier

Why make music?

There’s something deep within many of us that draws us to music. Music transcends the ordinary, bridging hearts and resonating through the spectrum of human emotions. This mysterious art can be a sanctuary for self-expression—a canvas where emotions, thoughts, and stories manifest in sound. These unspoken tales and feelings (often elusive in plain words) express themselves through music, reflecting deeply personal narratives.

Others are drawn by the allure of the music industry itself, fueled by dreams of becoming renowned producers or leaving an indelible mark on various music genres, from pop to electronic. As they navigate the industry’s complexities, the promise of infinite possibilities inspires dedication to mastering their craft.

Creating music adds to the cultural lexicon, enriching the collective human narrative. We all stand on the shoulders of giants. Whether mastering a digital audio workstation, crafting intricate chord progressions, or capturing emotions in lyrics, each musical piece contributes to the broader story of human experience.

Playing vs producing music

Making music covers a broad spectrum. While playing and producing music overlap, each involves distinct skills and processes. A musician primarily focuses on mastering an instrument and performing music, bringing compositions to life through technical skill and emotional expression.

In contrast, a music producer oversees the entire creation process of a track, from arranging and mixing to mastering the final product. This role requires a broad understanding of both the technical aspects of sound engineering and the creative elements of music composition. By blending these skills, a music producer shapes the sound, and enhances the artistic intent behind a piece, ensuring that the final output resonates with its intended audience.

Understanding music theory

Man notating music score

While it is possible to create great music without a lick of music theory, even a basic grasp can grant freedom and direction. After all, It’s the structure that underpins every piece of music, providing a language for composers and musicians to express their ideas, emotions, and stories. Let’s explore some key aspects.

Scales

The number of scales in music is vast and diverse, encompassing hundreds of scales across various musical traditions and theories. In Western music alone, there are numerous scales, including but not limited to:

Major and minor scales – The foundation of much Western music, with each having variations like natural, harmonic, and melodic minors. Purring it simply, major scales are joyful, while minor scales are sad and introspective.

Modes – Including Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian, which are variations of the major scale starting at different points.

Pentatonic scales – Both major and minor, which reduce the typical scale to five notes.

Blues scales – These add flattened notes to a pentatonic base for a distinctive sound used in blues and jazz.

Chromatic scale – This includes all twelve pitches of the octave.

Whole tone scale – Consisting of only whole steps, creating an ambiguous and dreamy sound.

Diminished and augmented scales – Used for specific harmonic purposes and to create tension.

This is only a glimpse into scales. Various musical cultures contribute their own unique scales. The raga system in Indian classical music. This includes hundreds of ragas, each with its own scale and mood. Middle Eastern music utilises maqams, and other world music systems also have their distinct sets of scales.

Chords

Chords provide the harmonic support for melodies and come in various forms:

Triads – The simplest form of chords, consisting of three notes.

Seventh chords – Add an extra note for richness, creating a sense of tension and release.

Extended chords – These include the ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth chords, which add additional notes beyond the seventh for more complex harmonies.

Suspended chords – Typically labelled as sus2 or sus4, these chords replace the third with either a second or a fourth, offering a sense of unresolved tension that seeks resolution.

Added tone chords – These chords feature a note added to a basic triad, such as an added sixth or a second, enhancing the harmonic colour without fundamentally altering the chord’s structure.

Augmented and diminished chords – Augmented chords raise one of the basic triad notes, creating a sharp, dissonant sound, while diminished chords use intervals of minor thirds to produce a tense, unstable quality.

Chord progressions

Chord progressions are sequences of chords that provide the foundational structure for most musical compositions. They establish the harmonic backbone of a piece, guiding the movement and emotional trajectory of the music. By varying these sequences, composers and musicians can evoke different moods and storytelling elements, making chord progressions crucial for creating dynamic and engaging musical experiences.

ii-V-I (The Jazz Staple) – Found extensively in jazz music, this progression moves from the minor second (ii) to the dominant fifth (V) and resolves on the major first (I).

I-V-vi-IV (The Pop Music Formula) – A staple in pop music, this sequence cycles through the major first (I), dominant fifth (V), minor sixth (vi), and major fourth (IV), creating an uplifting and catchy backdrop.

vi-IV-I-V (The Emotional Rollercoaster) – Common in ballads and emotional pop songs, this progression starts with the minor sixth (vi), moves to the major fourth (IV), then to the major first (I) and the dominant fifth (V), offering a compelling narrative journey.

I-vi-ii-V Progression (The 50s Progression) –Echoing the doo-wop era, this progression combines the major first (I), minor sixth (vi), minor second (ii), and dominant fifth (V), evoking a nostalgic feel.

I-IV-VI-V Progression (The Endless Loop) – Seen in many modern hits, this progression loops seamlessly, providing a solid foundation for songs that aim for a hypnotic or mesmerising effect.

Circle of Fifths – A visual tool for understanding the relationships between different keys and crafting cohesive progressions.

Remember, knowing music theory doesn’t mean adhering to rules. By understanding key principles you can bend and blend them into something entirely your own.

Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)

Infographic of daw Infographic of music interface

So, you’re ready to bring your musical ideas to life. Selecting the right Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) or audio interface is a crucial step. A DAW is your digital canvas where all elements of your composition and production come together. Today, there are many options available, each offering its own set of features. What’s most important is finding the DAW that resonates with your workflow and creative process.

Popular DAWs for music production

Ableton Live – A favourite among electronic music producers for its intuitive live performance functionalities and seamless MIDI sequencing.

FL Studio – Known for its user-friendly interface and powerful composition tools, making it a go-to for beginners and professionals alike.

Logic Pro – Offers a comprehensive suite of production tools in a sleek package, preferred by many for its extensive library of sounds and plugins.

Pro Tools – A standard in professional studios worldwide, revered for its advanced editing capabilities and audio processing.

Choosing the right DAW for you

Workflow compatibility – Consider how the DAW aligns with your creative process. Do you prefer a more visual interface, or are you looking for in-depth editing features?

Genre considerations – Some DAWs are tailored towards certain genres. For example, electronic music creators might lean towards Ableton Live for its loop-based sequencing.

Budget and resources – Evaluate what you can invest. Many DAWs offer different versions, from fully-featured professional suites to more accessible introductory editions.

Community and support – A vibrant user community and available learning resources can be invaluable for beginners navigating their first DAW.

Remember, the goal is to find a DAW that feels like an extension of your musical mind—one that complements your creative instincts and supports your production goals. Don’t hesitate to experiment with trial versions to get a feel for what suits you best.

Setting up your home studio

Young man sitting at home music studio

Creating a great studio setup can transform your music creation journey. A well-equipped home studio not only empowers you to produce high-quality music but also serves as a sanctuary where creativity can flourish without bounds. Setting up your studio requires careful consideration of your space, budget, and the specific needs of your music production process.

Essential equipment for your studio

Audio Interface – Bridges your musical instruments and computer, converting analog signals into digital audio and vice versa. Essential for recording high-quality sound.

Studio Monitors – Offers an accurate, uncoloured representation of your sound, crucial for mixing and mastering tasks.

Microphones – A good quality microphone is pivotal for capturing clear vocals and acoustic instruments. Consider starting with a versatile condenser mic.

MIDI Controller – While not essential, a MIDI controller provides tactile control over software instruments, making composition more intuitive.

Headphones – A pair of closed-back headphones is vital for monitoring your recordings closely, especially in environments where using monitors might not be feasible.

Acoustic Treatment – Investing in basic acoustic treatment can significantly improve the sound quality in your studio. Focus on key areas like corners and behind monitors to minimise sound reflections.

How to create an inspiring space

Comfort and layout – Arrange your equipment in a way that feels intuitive and comfortable. Ensure your primary tools are easily accessible to maintain a smooth workflow.

Lighting and ambiance – The vibe of your studio can greatly influence your creative process. Consider soft, adjustable lighting and personal touches that make the space uniquely yours.

Organisation and acoustics – Keep cables tidy and equipment organised. Experiment with the placement of monitors and acoustic panels to optimise sound quality.

Remember, your home studio is an evolving space that can grow with you as you delve deeper into music production. Start with the essentials and gradually build up your setup based on your evolving needs and skills.

The art of songwriting

Man on guitar writing on pad

Songwriting is the soulful journey of translating emotions, stories, and ideas into musical form. It’s where the essence of your creative vision comes to life through melody, lyrics, and harmony. Whether you’re crafting a heart-wrenching ballad or an upbeat pop anthem, understanding the art of songwriting is fundamental to making music that resonates.

Finding inspiration – Inspiration can strike anywhere. It might be a phrase, a feeling, a rhythm, or a melody that pops into your head. Keep a journal or use voice memos on your phone to capture these fleeting moments. Also, remember the old adage: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. Inspiration won’t strike unless you’re hard at work!

Writing lyrics – Lyrics are the heart of your song. They convey the message and emotion. Start by outlining your song’s theme or story. Then, experiment with rhymes, structures, and imagery to weave words that connect. There’s no right way to do this, as it’s deeply personal (Thom Yorke isn’t going to have the same process as Beyonce) so write in a way that feels natural to you.

Crafting Melodies – Melodies carry your lyrics, embedding them in the listener’s mind. Hum, whistle, or play around on an instrument to find a melody that complements your lyrics. Remember, simplicity often reigns supreme in memorable songwriting.

Developing Harmony – Harmony supports your melody, adding depth and emotion. Use your knowledge of chord progressions to create a harmonic backdrop that enhances the mood of your song.

Song Structure – Structuring your song is like mapping out a journey. Common structures include verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. However, don’t be afraid to break the mould and structure your song in a way that best tells your story.

Collaboration – Collaborating with other musicians can bring new dimensions to your songwriting. Share your ideas and be open to feedback. A different perspective might be what your song needs to shine.

Refining your craft – Songwriting is a skill honed over time. Write regularly, study the work of songwriters you admire, and don’t shy away from revising your songs. Each draft brings you closer to the version that strikes a chord with listeners.

Instrumentation and arrangement

This is where the colours of your musical palette come to life. Choosing the right instruments and sounds breathed life into your composition, ensuring each element sits perfectly within the mix and contributes to the overall mood and story of your piece.

Selecting instruments – The choice of instruments is foundational to defining the character of your track. Whether it’s the warmth of an acoustic guitar, the depth of a piano, or the electronic textures of synthesisers, each instrument brings its own colour to your music canvas.

Layering sounds – Building layers of sound adds richness and complexity to your arrangement. Consider how different instruments interact, ensuring they complement rather than compete with each other. Pay attention to the range and timbre of each layer for a cohesive sound.

Creating dynamics – Dynamics play a crucial role in keeping the listener engaged. Use variations in volume, intensity, and instrumentation to build energy, convey emotions, and create contrast between different sections of your song.

Rhythmic elements – The rhythm section provides the heartbeat of your track. Drums, bass, and percussive elements should work together to drive the song forward and lay down the groove, setting the foundation for melodic and harmonic elements.

Harmonic texture – Harmony enriches your song, adding emotional depth and complexity. Experiment with chord voicings, counter-melodies, and harmonic layers to enhance the musical narrative.

Space and silence – Sometimes, what you don’t play is as important as what you do. Use space and silence strategically to highlight certain elements, create tension, or give the listener a moment to breathe.

Arrangement tips – Start with a core idea or motif and build your arrangement around it.  Consider the song structure when arranging, ensuring each section transitions smoothly and supports the overall flow of the track. Don’t be afraid to rearrange, remove, or add parts as your song evolves. The arrangement should serve the song, enhancing its impact and emotional resonance.

Tips for recording your music

Young man recording music video

Having run successful music studios for many years, it’s safe to say that recording music is our bread and butter. This is a pivotal step in the music creation process, transforming your compositions and arrangements into tangible tracks. This stage requires attention to detail, patience, and a bit of technical know-how to ensure that the essence of your music is captured accurately and vibrantly.

Basics of home recording

Environment – Choose a quiet, comfortable space for recording. Even a modest home setup can yield professional results with the right approach.

Equipment – Invest in a reliable audio interface, a good-quality microphone for vocals and acoustic instruments, and headphones or studio monitors for accurate playback.

How to record vocals

Performance: Encourage a relaxed and emotive performance. The emotional delivery of vocals can make or break a track.

Microphone choice and technique – Experiment with mic placement and distance to find the sweet spot that best captures the vocalist’s timbre and nuances. Dynamic microphones, which are generally more robust, are excellent for loud environments and live performances. In contrast, condenser microphones, known for their sensitivity and high fidelity, are ideal for capturing the subtle details of vocal performances in a studio setting.

Check out our guide on the best microphone for singing.

Pop Filter: Utilise a pop filter when recording to reduce plosives—those harsh “p” and “b” sounds—and maintain a clear, crisp vocal track. This simple tool helps to avoid unwanted noise and ensures a cleaner, more professional sound.

Recording instruments

Acoustic instruments – For instruments like guitar or piano, room acoustics play a significant role. Find a position in the room where the instrument sounds best to the ear, and start there with your mic placement.

Electric instruments – Direct recording can be a clean and efficient way to capture electric guitars and basses. Consider using amp simulators for added flexibility and a variety of tones.

MIDI instruments – For electronic elements or software instruments, MIDI controllers offer precise control and editing capabilities post-recording.

How to achieve a clean Take

Multiple takes – Don’t settle for the first take. Record several takes and choose the best parts to compile a perfect performance.

Isolation – To prevent bleed between tracks, isolate sound sources as much as possible, especially when recording live instruments together.

Post-recording tips

Labelling – Keep your project organised by properly labelling tracks and takes. This saves time during the editing and mixing phases.

Backup – Regularly back up your recordings to avoid losing your work due to technical issues.

Understanding the frequency range

A good mix can be the difference between a hit and a flop, regardless of the musical quality or fidelity of recordings. That’s why you need at least a basic grasp of how to mix down your tracks.

But first, let’s take a look at what’s called the “frequency range”.

This refers to a span of frequencies within the entire spectrum of sound that human ears can perceive or that an instrument or device can produce or detect. This range is measured in Hertz (Hz), which indicates the number of cycles per second of a sound wave.

In terms of human hearing, the typical frequency range extends from about 20 Hz, the lowest bass frequencies perceptible to the human ear, to approximately 20,000 Hz (20 kHz), which represents the highest pitches that young, healthy ears can hear.

Understanding this frequency range is essential for mixing music effectively, as it helps you balance and refine each element of a track. This lets you adjust sounds from deep bass to high trebles, ensuring they blend well without cluttering the mix. Having a good understanding of these ranges can eliminate guesswork, allowing you to create music that matches your vision precisely.

A rough guide to frequency ranges

Sub-bass: 20 Hz – 60Hz
This range is more felt than heard and requires high-quality headphones or speakers to be accurately reproduced; it’s a range that few instruments can naturally achieve.

Bass: 60 – 250Hz
This range is key to the music’s power and is typically dominated by bass synths, bass guitars, bass drums, and the lower registers of a piano.

Low midrange: 250 – 500Hz
This is where you’ll find the fundamental frequencies of most acoustic instruments, crucial for defining an instrument’s body and depth.

Midrange: 500Hz – 2kHz
Crucial for the clarity and detail of a mix, this range houses the majority of sound from most instruments, helping them to stand out.

Upper midrange: 2 – 4kHz
Highly sensitive to the human ear, this range can highlight vocal plosives and sibilance. Excessive accumulation here may lead to listener fatigue.

Presence: 4 – 6kHz
This band is essential for defining sounds; drum cymbals primarily inhabit this range, while other instruments utilize overtones here to enhance clarity.

Brilliance: 6 – 20kHz
This highest frequency range adds a “sheen” and airiness to the sound, increasing overall brightness. Softening this band can yield a warmer, more distant sound effect.

Production techniques

Once your tracks are recorded, the next step is music production, where your recordings are polished and transformed into a cohesive piece. This stage involves editing, arranging, mixing, and applying effects—each process fine-tuning your song to perfection.

Editing and arranging

Compiling the best takes – Review your recordings and compile the best takes to create the ideal performance for each track.

Timing and Pitch Correction – Utilise software tools to correct minor timing issues and pitch inconsistencies, ensuring everything is in perfect harmony and rhythm.

Learn basic mixing

Balancing levels – Adjust the volume levels of each track to ensure clarity and balance, allowing every element to shine without overshadowing others.

EQ (Equalisation) – Use EQ to shape the tone of each track, cutting or boosting frequencies to fit each element neatly in the mix.

Dynamics Processing – Apply compression to even out the dynamic range of performances, ensuring a consistent volume level and adding punch to your tracks.

Spatial effects – Reverb and delay can add depth and space, placing your tracks in a three-dimensional soundstage.

Creative production techniques

Layering Sounds – Create a fuller sound by layering similar instruments or adding synthesised textures.

Automation – Automate volume, effects, and panning to add movement and interest throughout the song.

Experimental Sounds and Effects – Don’t be afraid to experiment with unconventional sounds, reverse effects, or granular synthesis to add unique character to your music.

Additional production Tips

Reference Tracks – Compare your mix to professionally produced tracks you admire to gauge your progress and adjust accordingly.

Take Breaks – Fresh ears can catch mistakes and areas for improvement that you might miss after long sessions.

Collaborates – Sharing your work with other producers or a mastering engineer can provide new insights and elevate your production.

Getting your music mastered

Mastering is the final step in the music production process, where the mixed audio tracks are polished and optimised for distribution across various media formats. This critical phase enhances the overall sound, ensuring consistency and volume normalisation, which makes the track suitable for playback on any audio system.

Mastering involves fine-tuning details, enhancing dynamics, and potentially adding subtle effects to create a sonically cohesive album or track. With these adjustments, the audio reaches its highest potential, delivering clarity and depth. Due to its technical complexity, many musicians and producers opt to have their music professionally mastered. This ensures that their tracks reach their sonic potential, making professional mastering a wise investment for serious artists aiming for the best possible sound.

At TYX studios, we have expert mastering engineers on hand to help get your music to professional quality.

In summary…

This is just a snapshot of the rabbit hole of modern music production. Today, there are hundreds of plug-ins and techniques to get lost in. Just remember, some of the most beloved tracks across genres had very little tech to work with. So don’t become too overwhelmed and remember “a track is never finished.” Staying true to your creative vision is the most important thing.

Releasing your music

hands tapping on phone with graphic design of music

So, you’ve poured your heart and soul into creating and perfecting your music. Now, your album or EP is finished. Time to start sharing it with the world. Releasing your music is not just about distribution; it’s about making a statement, establishing your presence, and connecting with listeners who will find meaning and enjoyment in your work.

Choosing the right release Sstrategy

Singles, EPs, or Albums – Decide whether to release a single, an EP (Extended Play), or a full album. Singles can generate quick interest, while EPs and albums allow for a more comprehensive exploration of your musical vision.

Read our article for a detailed insight into the difference between albums and EPs.

Release Schedule – Timing is crucial. Plan your releases to maximise visibility, considering factors like industry trends, holidays, and personal milestones.

Digital distribution

Platforms – Utilise digital distribution platforms like DistroKid, TuneCore, or CD Baby to get your music on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and other streaming services. These platforms make your music accessible worldwide and often provide valuable analytics.

Metadata – Ensure all your tracks have the correct metadata (artist name, track titles, album art) to make them easily searchable and professional-looking.

Promotion and marketing

Social Media – Use social media platforms to build anticipation, share behind-the-scenes content, and engage with your audience.

Music videos and visuals – Create music videos or visualisers to accompany your releases, offering a visual element to your music and increasing shareability.

Press and PR – Reach out to music blogs, podcasts, and local media to get features or reviews that can introduce your music to broader audiences.

Building and engaging your audience

Email lists – Collect email addresses at shows or through your website to keep your fans updated on new releases, shows, and merch.

Live performances – Perform live, whether in traditional venues, online live-streaming platforms, or even unconventional spaces, to connect with audiences and promote your music.

Merchandise – Offer unique merchandise that reflects your brand and music, creating another touchpoint with your audience.

Copyright and royalties

Protect your music – Register your work with copyright offices and performance rights organisations to protect your music and ensure you receive royalties from its use.

Understand your rights – Familiarise yourself with the different types of royalties (mechanical, performance, synchronisation) to maximise your earnings from various sources.

Continuing your musical education

Man writing on notepad with guitar and keyboard

We’re all lifelong students of music. This journey is continuous learning and adaptation, especially given evolving industry trends and technologies. Fortunately, there are now hundreds of courses available, online and in-person. Attending workshops and masterclasses led by seasoned musicians can provide specialised knowledge.

Moreover, there are now thousands of free YouTube tutorials and music forums where you can learn new techniques and software. In the digital age, the world truly is your oyster! However, remember that there’s no substitute for practice.

Regularly experiment with your instruments and digital audio workstations to keep broadening your horizons. Don’t be afraid to engage with music communities, seek mentorship, and open new opportunities for growth!

That’s a wrap!

We wrote this article to serve as an initial guide to the exciting, challenging, and rewarding process of making music. However, musical possibilities are as boundless as the universe itself. At TYX Studios, we can help you tap into this sonic magic.

Whether you’re just beginning your journey or are an experienced musician looking to expand your horizons, we’re here to support you every step of the way.

Remember, the path to creating impactful music is a personal one, filled with discoveries, learning, and endless possibilities for creativity. We encourage you to dive in, experiment, and let your unique voice shine through your music. And when you’re ready to take your creations to the next level, TYX Studios is here to bring your visions to life.

Book your TYX studio session today

OUR MOST ASKED QUESTIONS
We typically recommend condenser microphones for studio recordings due to their superior sensitivity and ability to capture a wide range of frequencies. They're ideal for the detailed sound production required in a studio setting.
Both our music and content spaces have access to a communal kitchen and lounge, as well as a café and an open air bar within the wider Tileyard campus.
We are open 24/7 to members, 9am-9pm for non members. If you need to book irregular hours please contact us directly by phone or through our web form.
When it comes to recording a podcast, one of the key factors to consider is optimizing voice projection and volume control. This ensures that your voice is clear and audible to your listeners, creating a professional and engaging experience. To achieve this, it is important to invest in the right equipment such as high-quality microphones and headphones, as well as soundproofing materials to minimize background noise.

Additionally, proper positioning of the microphone and adjusting the gain levels can greatly impact voice projection and volume control. Experimenting with different techniques and settings can help you find the perfect balance for your podcast recording studio. By prioritizing voice projection and volume control, you can deliver a podcast that captivates your audience and keeps them coming back for more. So, grab your microphone, adjust the settings, and let your voice be heard!
Setting up a home studio typically comes with an estimated price of £1,000, though the exact cost varies based on personal requirements and desired sound quality. For those in need of a more advanced recording setup at a professional level, budgets can range from £120,000 to as much as £800,000 for high-quality audio results.