In 2006 I had aspirations of becoming a music producer. At the time, most of my peers were messing around with a software program by the name of Fruity Loots. I had no musical background whatsoever, and I couldn’t play any instruments or sing for that matter.
After watching a friend making beats from scratch, I was inspired and I thought “I can also do that”. My friend didn’t have a musical background either! So I was like “if he can do it, I can also do it”!
I don’t know now, but at the time most bedroom producers were not formally trained and just relied on their ears for coming up with those sounds. I was fascinated by the idea of creating my own music. There more I thought about it, the more I became obsessed with the idea of producing music.
It was a struggle though, I won’t lie. I did eventually get myself a copy of Fruity Loops but for a novice like myself, I was having a tough time trying to learn all that stuff. To be honest, I was not convinced about my beating making abilities and people around didn’t make things any easier for me. It would take me a few hours to produce a beat I would get the usual response “yeah it’s good, it’s okay, I like it” but I think they were scared to tell me truth.
But fortunately just two years into this music thing, I came across someone in my neighborhood who happened to be an artist. He heard that I was a “producer” so he requested some beats. To cut the long story short, I ran into him a week later and I asked “What do you think of my beats?” and he was said, “Your beats lack something”. He couldn’t really explain it in a musical context but deep down I knew he was right.
In a way, I was actually relieved that at least somebody was honest enough to give me the feedback that I was looking for. So I took his constructive criticism like a man and I went to work, improved my craft and in no time, I was producing some really cool sounds.
Maybe you might be in a similar situation or perhaps you have aspirations of becoming a music producer. If that is the case, I wrote this post for you.
This is not your typical “How to be a producer in South Africa” type of blog post. But I want to tell you about the two crucial skills that you need as an aspiring music producer.
If you have these two skills, then everything else will follow. That’s just how it is.
So without wasting any more time, let’s dive in.
1. Piano Knowledge
When I was young, there was a grand piano at my grandmother’s house (It’s still there) but I just didn’t bother to learn how to play it. I was always into music, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it (I don’t know why). That was a big mistake which I would later regret.
Listen up, guys. If you want to be a good music producer, learning how to the piano is crucial. There’s no way around it.
Of course, there are other instruments like your guitar, flutes, drums but the keyboard (or midi controller) is what you see in most recording studios right?
And there’s a good reason for that.
Most music production software programs are built around the piano (MIDI). The acronym is short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. And most beats are programmed anyway using keyboards.
The Piano is the foundation phase for learning music in general.
Don’t get wrong, I’m not saying that you should be a classical pianist. But learning the basics is a must. This will give you an understanding of things like chord progressions and scales. The knowledge is vital for creating your own melodies and sounds from scratch.
In South Africa, Soul Candi offers a music production course via Boston College. The course covers music theory and audio engineering basics.
Those skills will come in handy the day you start working with other artists.
However, if funds are tight, there is another way.
You can buy yourself an inexpensive keyboard, and start taking private lessons with a skilled pianist.
Private lessons don’t have to expensive.
You can find someone that is willing to teach you on a weekly basis and negotiate a fee. This might turn out to be cheaper than enrolling in a college full-time.
Another option is learning all this free of charge (except for data) on YouTube. But you should purchase an electronic keyboard first in order to practice.
2. The ability to come up with ideas
It’s not enough to have the knowledge or the ability to play an instrument. There’s so much talent and competition that you have to come up against.
In marketing, there is a term known as Unique Selling Point or Proposition.
What makes you different?
What makes you stand out from the crowd?
At some point, you have to answer that question. Because let’s be honest, it’s so easy to sound like everybody else and be content.
Coming up with ideas doesn’t necessarily mean that you should create the “best” music per se. There is no such thing.
For example, Amapiano which was made popular by the likes of Kabza de Small is a sub-genre of kwaito music. But Amapiano also falls under the house music genre. There has been an on-going debate on who actually came up with this Amapiano sound.
But whoever came up with it knew what they were doing.
You don’t have to like the genre but there are lessons to be learned here.
There’s also a new sub-genre in South African Hip Hop, known as Mzonkonko. Makwa Beats is the pioneer of this sub-genre.
Even though it hasn’t caught fire, but you can’t fault Makwa for being sounding original.
If you are serious about producing music, it is not enough to obsess about the equipment, production software, et cetera.
Tools of the trade are important too but your music knowledge and ideas will make the difference.
The foundation phase is vital because you have to know what you’re doing in the first place. Be inspired, learn something from other genres, artists and be open-minded.
Hopefully, you will also find your identity and add value in this tough industry!