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Monday, June 24, 2013

How Do I Get Better at Composing, Mixing, or Producing Music?

Earlier today, I was asked this simple, yet common question. "How do I get better at my music?" The person then went on to say, "I keep putting a lot of time into making my songs, but they all end up sounding the same in their horrible quality." I responded with six simple steps you should follow if you are so lost you don't know where to start, and they can probably benefit a lot of other people as well, so let me go more in-depth for you!

1) Ask questions - OK, check. That is what he was doing. Good! Don't stop. Find musicians you trust and ask them how they have gotten better at their craft, whether it be writing, arranging, mixing, editing, singing, beat-making, composing, mastering, etc.


  • What you shouldn't do during this step - only find famous composers or writers or singers or producers and ask them to critique you and help you get better. Some may have articles or blogs you can read, but you are wasting everyone's time if you only go straight to the top. Especially if your trade is relatively new to you, you probably wouldn't even understand a word they said.
2) Visit forums and do research - Forums are great places to ask those questions, but two things on research to start. First, a lot of musicians tend to get lazy and want to become better or be noticed without doing the extremely hard work of learning their art themselves. That rarely works. Even the famous musicians who are uneducated traditionally still put countless hours into practice, figuring out what they are good at, and building relationships with others in the industry, and so on. Second, if you don't like something or if everything begins to sound the same, why keep doing it? If you don't understand compression, research compressors and compression techniques. If you want more exciting arrangements, research arranging and dynamics. Though there is a lot of junk online from people who know less than you do, there are still great articles and videos out there about anything you want to know. A few places I visited when I first started taking music seriously include, www.soundonsound.com, audio.tutsplus.com, and the forums at www.gearslutz.com. Pensado's Place (http://www.youtube.com/show/pensadosplace) has invaluable mixing information on YouTube.

  • What not to do here - annoy people. Simply put, forums have rules, and they want them to be followed. Make sure you check to see if your question has been asked before creating a new thread, don't be surprised or hurt if no one wants to listen to all of your music, and DO NOT SPAM with unrelated talk or advertising. Follow those simple rules, and most people will be willing to help you out.
3) Get better equipment - So this is probably out of order logically, but if you are making music in one of the old versions of Fruity Loops, have a $50 USB mic, and don't own any non-factory sample libraries, your music isn't going to sound as good as you want, regardless of how good you are. However, if you are not good with what you have, learn it until you outgrow it. Then, upgrade.

  • Don't? - Buy things you don't understand yet, over-upgrade, assume better equipment will fix your problems if you yourself haven't learned what you need to know.
4) TAKE CLASSES - In short, you can't know what you don't know if you don't even know it exists. Words cannot describe how much traditional theory classes will make your writing and arranging more accessible. If you play an instrument, you will probably need help to master it, unless you are a 6 year-old prodigy. Classes are even offered online if you don't live in a great area for music. If you know great musicians, however, see if you can watch them and observe how they do what they do.

  • Hmm - don't limit yourself, but don't overload either. Figure out what you like the best and what you are good at. Put the most time and money into just producing or just composing or just singer/songwriting, and do everything else as a hobby.
5) Be ready to dedicate time and money - I just said upgrade equipment and take classes, didn't I? Perhaps this should have been number 3 ;) Music is incredibly expensive. Make lots of friends. They will let you borrow gear, especially if you have things they would like to borrow in return. There are costs in other places, so be prepared. Eventually, you will have to have a network of connections, and in order to meet people, you can expect a decent amount of travel if you don't live in a good area for conventions and other events.

6) Set specific goals for improvement - this is the best piece of advice for a starting point. When I first started making my own music, I only remade other people's songs to get a feel for the art. Because I had a few beats and ideas from cheap recordings, I then turned them into functioning pieces. By the time I became serious, I knew exactly what goals to set for each project: "Today, I'm going to work on making an orchestral piece with a great percussion arrangement," "Today, I will practice eq-ing the bass better," etc. Then, utilize the above resources to figure out how to accomplish those goals.

All in all, if you do the same thing over and over again, you won't grow, so, while it may be uncomfortable or even frightening, you have to step outside of the boundaries that confine you to mediocrity if you want to succeed in art. Often times, success is spelled R-I-S-K. Take risks. Try new things. Good luck!

If you haven't been there already, be sure to check out my newest website at www.natecombsmedia.com for music demos and more!

Also, a bit of shameless advertising. If you love to read, especially about fantasy, fight-clubs, dragons, mystery, action, adventure, vampires, werewolves, sirens, and more, check out my wife, Teshelle Combs, and her newest novel, "Core." It continues to rise on Amazon's best sellers lists, especially in the category of Sci-Fi/Fantasy in print, where it maintains a top 10 status, along with books like "Harry Potter" and "The Hunger Games." Visit her site at www.teshellecombs.com or the book directly on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Core-Teshelle-Combs/dp/1484115570.

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