If you’re an aspiring musician and already have some songs under your belt, chances are you’re ready to take that next step in your music career.
For most artists, that means making and recording your music.
The process of making music is exciting. After all, you get to pursue your passion and share your sound with the world.
However, it’s far from a walk in the park. The information out there on how to record your own music can be daunting, and it’s hard to know where or how to start. There’s so much you have to do to make sure you’re putting the best music you can out there, from choosing and learning how to use a DAW to arranging and mixing your tracks, and promoting your music.
Don’t worry. We’re here to help. In this post, we break down how to make and produce a song into 10 easy steps.
Note: For the purposes of this post, we assume you are already a musician with songs and are looking to get started with recording your music. We won’t cover learning to play any instruments or how to sing—we’re jumping straight into the good stuff.
How to start making music
Step 1: Decide where and how you’re going to record
Before you start recording your tracks, there’s one key decision you need to make regarding where you’re going to record and produce your music.
Are you going to pay for time at a professional studio? This guarantees you’ll get access to great equipment, but it can be expensive. If you’re planning to take this route, it’s important to have a plan in place, so you make the best use of your time.
The alternative is to do it yourself. It has never been easier to record music on your own, as long as you have the space and invest in some essential pieces of equipment. Plus, you can record when you want, how you want.
If you already have a recording space at your home, then you’re ahead of the game. However, if you don’t, it does take a bit of work to set up a DIY recording studio. That’s where the next step comes in.
Step 2: Choosing or buying your equipment
You don’t need to have a full-fledged recording studio in your own home off the bat, but it is important that you have all the essentials to make music. Aside from your instruments, your voice, and your band mates, you’ll need the right equipment on hand in your home studio.
First and foremost, you’ll need to make sure your computer can record music. Most modern computers and laptops can handle the basics of music recording, but if you’re looking to buy a new computer or laptop to record on, check out this post on the best computers for recording music.
On top of that, you’ll need:
- a microphone (or microphones, depending on how many instruments you use)
- an audio interface
- studio monitors or studio headphones
- a DAW (also known as a digital audio workstation—more on that soon)
With these basics, you can kick-start the process of making music using your computer. However, if you want to get better sound quality or recording down the line, it’s also worth investing in to kitting out your DIY studio with foam panels, pop filters and more.
Step 3: Get your DAW sorted
If you’re making music using your computer, the most important part of recording your own music is the DAW.
DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and it’s the digital interface you’ll be using when you record, mix, and master your music. This is the most important purchase you’re going to make, because you’ll be using it at every stage of the creative process.
Most musicians have a specific DAW they swear by, but don’t stress too much about it. The truth is that most major interfaces have everything you need to make and record music.
If you don’t already have a favorite, some popular DAWs are:
- Pro Tools
- Logic Pro
- Audacity (this one’s free and open source)
- Studio One
- FL Studio
- Bitwig Studio
Step 4: Experiment with your equipment
Once you know what DAW you’re using, and you have your recording equipment sorted, it’s time to start experimenting. This is where the fun begins.
Why experiment now? It’s important to understand what your equipment is capable of. The best way to do that is through experimentation.
At this stage, don’t worry too much about making music that sounds good. You’re just looking to get an idea of all the options you have at your disposal. The only way for you to get better at using your equipment and DAW is through trial and error, so it’s essential to test the limits of what your gear can do.
Play around with different mic placements, or try recording in different rooms to see what kind of sound you’re getting each time. Take a basic recording or music sample, then start playing around with filters and different plug-ins. Another way to experiment is to use different presets and templates to see if anything works for you.
And when in doubt, turn to the internet. There are a number of tutorials for just about every piece of equipment or DAW on the market. If you’re not sure where to start, hop on to YouTube and type in the name of your equipment plus the word “tutorial.” You’ll see plenty of videos from content creators who are looking to help train budding musicians at no cost.
Step 5: Get a basic understanding of music theory
When you started learning to play music, you probably gained at least a bit of understanding on basic music theory. You likely have some knowledge on things like basic song structure. Even if you haven’t taken music 101, the fact that you can sing or play an instrument means you have at least some understanding of how music works.
But if you want to get the most out of your music and sound recordings, you should integrate music theory concepts into music production, as well as your playing. The music theory behind how to write a song and how to produce a song are slightly different. You want to learn how to make use of instrument tuning, optimal vocal ranges, chord voicings and timbre to create better recordings.
If you’re stuck, there are a number of online resources specifically dedicated to helping aspiring producers understand music theory concepts. Places like YouTube, Reddit, or Oxford Music are great places to start.
Step 6: Make your first audio recording
You have your equipment and your recording space, and you’ve written at least one or two songs. It’s time to jump in and start recording.
During your experimentation phase, you should have worked out an idea of what’s the best way to set-up your equipment and microphones, and how to set up your interfaces. The focus now is on playing well.
At this stage, try to take your time and make sure you’re giving yourself the best possible recording to work from. It’s best to have multiple takes, versions and improvisations recorded, so you have plenty of options when you start arranging your music.
Step 7: Making your arrangement
You’ve recorded various iterations of your music. Next, it’s time to arrange them all together into a song.
This is where you start making serious decisions about which samples to use and which parts to leave in or out—or decide if you need to record a completely new section or cut a bit out entirely.
Arranging music is often the most time-consuming part of the process, but it is also one of the most important parts. How you layer your music, what instruments or vocal tracks you put in front, or what to do in your intro are all major choices that have a profound effect on what your tracks are going to sound like.
Every time you move something around and every time you add or delete a part, take the time to really listen to what you’ve done. Sometimes the subtlest of changes make a huge difference on how your music sounds.
Step 8: Mixing and mastering
Audio mixing is all about taking your recorded tracks and blending them together. During this part, you’ll have to adjust volume, equalization and compression for individual parts of your track to see what works well.
If you’re not quite happy with your mix, play around with the parts and figure out the best combination. Take your time. Don’t be afraid to step away from it for an hour, a day, or a week, then listen to it again.
Once you’re done mixing, it’s time to master your track. Mastering is the process to fine-tune all the songs of a record so they work together as a whole. It’s a subtle art, and requires patience and a strong attention to detail.
Your tracks should be the same level of loudness, have a similar frequency response, and sound great over any speaker. Here, you’ll use the same tools you use for mixing—volume, EQ, and compression—but put the processing on the entire mix.
Step 9: Get feedback from other musicians
Feedback is an essential part of growing your craft, both as a musician and producer. Even if you’re a solo musician and you’ve done everything up to this point by yourself, it’s still incredibly helpful for you to get feedback from other musicians.
If you don’t know any musicians personally, there are plenty of online resources for artists looking for feedback or music production tips. The best way to get feedback is to promote your music on Soundcloud. You can send a private stream to other musicians to ask for their opinion, or throw it open to the public using Soundcloud’s commenting feature.
Step 10: Start promoting your tracks
You’ve taken the time to create, record, arrange, mix and master your track. Now, it’s all about getting your sound out there to the world.
Whether you’re looking to land your first gig, play at new venues, get signed to a label or just make some money from your music, you need to promote your music online.
There are plenty of platforms out there, but the biggest are Soundcloud, Apple Music and Spotify. To get started, take a look at our resources on getting your music on these platforms:
- The Ultimate Guide to Promoting Your Music on Spotify
- How to Promote Your Music on Soundcloud
- Everything you need to know about Apple Music for Artists
You can also post music on YouTube, Last.fm, Reddit or Musical.ly.
Lastly, don’t forget to share your tracks on social media, and reach out to online publications like WHABBY Music to spread the word. Remember: you can’t build your audience as a musician unless you put yourself out there.
Other quick tips on how to record music
Start out by recording covers
The best way to get the hang of music production is to start with covers. You already know how the songs should sound and you don’t have to spend time writing them. This means you can focus all your time on fine-tuning the recording, mixing, and mastering process.
Don’t use gear just because you have it
You want to make sure everything you’re doing is essential to your music. You don’t want to overcomplicate your songs just because you have a setting or piece of equipment you want to use.
Postpone your non-essential equipment purchases…
…and invest in some acoustic treatment instead. Basic acoustic treatment will make a world of difference in all of your recordings. Start with side wall absorbers and work your way from there.
Don’t be afraid to fail
It’s absolutely okay if you have to re-record a song or if your first, second or even third mix doesn’t sound good. Experimenting and pushing yourself is the only way you’re going to get better. Remember: you’re not going to push yourself unless you’re trying new things.
Label everything you record
While the creative process can happen organically, your recording should be well-organized. Keep notes of everything you record, put the mic type in your file name and make notes of all the details you’ve changed, like “alternative vocal takes” or “mic position moved”. This makes a world of difference in the arranging and mixing phase.
Another tip: Take photos of your set-up. Not only is it helpful if you need to recreate it in a different space, but they also make for good promo material.
Save and back up
There are countless horror stories of musicians who have lost hours of work because of a computer crash. Unfortunately, hard drives fail and software crashes. The last thing you want is to lose any music if you do run into any problems.
Get into the habit of saving project files regularly and always backup files after recording, either on to the cloud or to an external hard drive. This is especially important during those late-night sessions.
Always finish your mix on a good night’s sleep
Speaking of late-night sessions: Don’t finish your last mix late at night. Your hearing will be tired and you’ll be less perceptive. Find a good stopping point, get some well-deserved rest, and come back to it in the morning. The final tweaks to your tracks should happen with a fresh brain.
Like anything, remember that practice makes perfect. Making music is a journey, not a destination. It takes time to learn the ins-and-outs of your equipment and your software, and to find your sound.
Experiment, test and learn, and ask for feedback. As you get out there, you’ll learn more about how to make good music, and ultimately grow as an artist.