Learning music production. Pre-production phase.

learning music production

Knowing the right mixing techniques will help us to get most out of the song we are working on. Although this stage in music production is very important, we have to bear in mind that producing music is not only about mixing. Each new production you undertake provides challenges that will require careful attention. Good music producer is usually responsible for many roles behind the music production process – just to name a few: audio recording, processing, editing, mixing, mastering….And although nowadays on the internet there are way too many sources on how to learn everything, never forget that The best education is just doing it! Make music in whatever way that you can is the best way how to learn music production. Study the work of music that you love.


First stage of music production: Composition. Pre-production phase.

How I said before,  music production consists of several stages. To see this big picture clearly, you have to learn to listen music in a different way. Every production begins with the music composition and song arrangement. Often music is constructed in two or three parts/section and is divided into verse, chorus and bridge. To refer to these parts we usually use capital letters. There are many successful and often used song forms like for example AAA song form, 32-bar form (AABA song form), verse-chorus form (AB song form) or 12-bar blues form (AAB song form).  However there are many other song structures available, and as a music producer you shouldn’t be limited – it is always worthy to experiment. In 21 century it can be said that everything has been already recorded, so if you want to break through with your new tune, you have to be creative.

Your ears should be open to listening music in a new and creative way in order to make right decision in the pre-production stage. Music is a piece of art. You have to learn to listen music as a musician (artistic point of view) and as an engineer (technical point of view).

As a musician you have to clearly know the answers for the following questions:

  1. analyze song arrangement. Is the song form used in correct way?
    Isn’t this music composition way too boring?
  2. what parts of music are not working together
  3. where is the climax (climax is a part of a musical composition where music reaches its highest tension.),
  4. how we are getting to the climax – gradation
  5. intro – isnt it too long?
  6. etc….

From technical point of view we are trying to hear the following:

  1. Pitch of individual instruments – The relative lowness or highness that we hear in a sound. Before recording, it is always helpful to analyze whole frequency spectrum of the composition and find its weakness points.  For example if we can hear that song is a little bit dull, probably we are missing high frequencies there, and shaker or tambourine will solve this problem nicely. Through detailed spectral frequency analyzation we can fix a lot of smaller but also bigger issues in our production. Lot of engineers will tell you that this can be done in the mixing stage, but in my opinion if you have a chance to think about it in pre-production process, you will have less work during mixing.Pitch is based on the frequency of vibration of the sound and the size of the vibrating object. We will focus on frequencies in some other article, for now it is good to know that the slower the vibration, lower the pitch – if we take for example double bass, we can hear that is lower than that of the violin because the double bass has longer strings.
  2. Timbre – tone color. Timbre refers to the quality of sound and it clearly distinguishes one instrument from another. Every tone comes with its overtones. For example if we play on piano A (440Hz), in this A (fundamental 440Hz) we can hear also 880Hz (1st overtone), 1320Hz (2nd overtone), 1760Hz (3rd overtone), etc… Some musical instruments produce sharper of flatter overtones and this inequality contribute to uniqueness of their sound (and also to the high price). Timbre of the instrument (or vocal) is determined by overtones which are emphasize.
  3. Texture – looking for “thickness” or “thinness” in our song. Musical texture describes the individual layers and specifically it refers to the number of parts used in our music (in vertical direction). Musical texture can be monophonic (single melodic line),polyphonic (two or more melodic lines) and homophonic (a main melody accompanied by chords).
  4. Loudness – degree of softness and loudness and overall change in volume

All above is part of the big picture of currently produced song and it is always good to think about it before we jump into a recording room.

Even if one can think that musician and audio engineer point of view are overlapping, they are totally different stories. It is like with building house. To build a great house, we need to have the spirit inside to get an emotion we want. But also we need to use material that is durable and firmly in the basics. Material that will emphasize the spirit of our building/song.

Cover Photo by Pinna college

To be continued.