10 ways to become a better music producer (without spending any money)

Everyone was all smiles until the precariously placed laptop fell on the floor.
Everyone was all smiles until the precariously placed laptop fell on the floor. (Image credit: Ronnie Kaufman/Corbis)

Anyone can start making music on a computer, but once you've grasped the basics of recording, editing and mixing you may start to wonder where you can go next.

We're here to help as we offer ten suggestions for any budding PC- or Mac-based muso who wants to improve their skills.

1. Learn your gear

It's all too easy to believe that your music will magically start to sound loads better if you just add one more plugin to your arsenal. In most cases, though, you'll benefit far more from simply getting more out of what you already have, and that means learning your gear inside out. The chances are that you've only scratched the surface of what your current tools can do.

2. Find your own style

It's common to want to make tunes that sound like the ones you enjoy listening to, but don't be satisfied with being a copycat producer.

Take inspiration from your heroes, certainly, but remember that, if you want to stand out, you're going to need to find your own voice. This doesn't mean that you have to invent a whole new genre, but try to put your own spin on existing sounds.

3. Collaborate with others

Making computer music can be a solitary experience - even more so during the pandemic - but it doesn't have to be.

Why not try working with other like-minded musos? You can get some mates round to your studio, exchange project files via the internet or even take part in a real-time online jam session. Making music with other people is fun, and it can often lead to much more interesting results.

4. Learn to play an instrument

One of the great things about making music on a computer is that you don't have to be a virtuoso musician, but if you do learn to play an instrument, you might find that you become an even better producer.

Having a better understanding of how music works will enable you to create better beats, basslines, chord progressions and melodies.

5. Finish something

If you're anything like us, you'll have a relatively short attention span, so you might find that you end up constantly flicking between various different projects but never actually completing any of them.

It's fine if working like this scratches your creative itch, but we think you'll feel a lot more satisfied if you can actually declare something 'finished' and play it to friends.

6. Keep enjoying yourself

Never forget why you started making music in the first place: for fun.

The truth is that, unless you happen to be very talented and/or very lucky, you're not going to make a living out of this particular hobby - but that's not really what it's all about, is it?

Making music should always be enjoyable; if it isn't, ask yourself why and do something about it.

7. Get a SoundCloud account

SoundCloud is a great place for musicians (both pro and amateur) to upload their work. Listeners can comment on what they hear, so if you do put a track or two up there, you'll hopefully get some constructive feedback.

It's also common for people to upload demos and half-finished tracks so that others can suggest where they might be taken next.

8. Don't stop learning

Even if you have a reasonable understanding of how computer music-making works and have learnt enough to enable you to finish a track or two, you should always keep honing your skills.

Check out the monthly editions our sister magazines Future Music and Computer Music - and, of course, MusicRadar - for all the tutorials and advice you could wish for.

9. Don't get stuck in a rut

If you find that every track you make is starting to sound the same or that the process of making music is becoming formulaic, it's time to shake things up a bit. Try working in a completely different way or making a tune that's in a style that you haven't considered before - even if the results aren't great, this gear-shift might be all you need to get the creative juices flowing again.

10. Break the rules

Ultimately, you'll know better than anyone else if you're doing things right with your music making. Although there are general guidelines that you can follow, many producers have succeeded precisely because they've trusted their instincts and broken the rules. Remember: if it sounds right, it is right!