Sep 202014

I’ve been kicking around the idea of making this kind of guide for a while. Why? Because every day on Reddit, I see 2-3 posts of the, “I want to get into EDM or EMP, but I only have 35 cents in my pocket right now. How do I do it?”

First, you need to get the right attitude towards doing this. It’s going to take a while to get good at it (I’m still not good), so you need to have your expectations set at the right level.

It’s Okay to Suck at First

Listen to Ira Glass, who is talking about producing news for radio, but this advice applies to everything. See? Even he sucked for a long time before he started to get good. So it’s okay for you to suck.

Now, I hope you’ve adjusted your expectations accordingly, so you don’t feel like you want to jump off of a building if nobody likes your first song, or even your first fifty.

It’s cool! We’ve all been there. That’s how we learn.

It helps if you focus on not sucking. (This is a great article to keep in mind.) But it’s hard to not suck at first, especially when you don’t know what you’re doing, so don’t beat yourself up too much.

The same guy who wrote the article on how to not suck wrote this excellent article that you need to engrave upon your soul. You really need to read this before you make the mistake of wasting a lot of time and money on stuff you don’t need.

Step 0: Now Get Some Knowledge (But don’t go overboard.)

Before you do anything, buy anything, whatever, go get some knowledge, but don’t bury yourself in it. Get enough so you know the basics, understand what you’re doing, then move on to making music. Don’t get caught on the hamster wheel of over-training. There’s a fine line between getting knowledge and never getting off the starting line.

This also goes for things like shopping for gear, talking on forums, etc. I’ve talked about this before with respect to Japanese– it’s the meta game. It fools you into thinking you’re doing X, but you’re not. You’re talking about X, you’re preparing for X, but you’re NOT doing X.

With that caution in mind:

Coursera has a bunch of free music classes. Look for the Berklee classes:

Or you can just take apart your favorite songs, and try to rebuild them yourself. Your call. I found the classes to be pretty useful.

Other resources:

  • Dave Conservatoire, which is kind of like Khan Academy for musicians.
  • Music Theory, the TL;DR version is a free/pay what you want PDF book.
  • has a lot of resources for learning theory on your phone or PC.
  • Hooktheory is another phone/PC app/book combo with some cool stuff in it, too. Hooktheory’s “Theorytab” is really useful for figuring out chord progressions from a lot of famous songs.
  • Kunst der Fuge will give you total access to all of its MIDI files and PDFs for a one-time 20 EUR fee. Analyze away, or just add the MIDI files to your chord progression database.
  • The Dance Music Manual is great if you want to get into EDM. It’s a brilliant book. Rick Snoman has forgotten more about producing than you’ll ever know. Yes, you have to spend money on it. But it’s not much money, and you’ll get a ton out of it. This is a good way to avoid sitting through 8,000 hours of videos.

There are some great YouTube channels out there, too. In no order I like:

  • ADSR Sounds for Reaktor and Massive in particular, but they do a good job on all Native Instruments software.
  • Sadowick for Ableton and general music production advice.
  • Seamless for FL Studio, IL’s plugins (like Harmor!), or Serum.
  • ArtFX for Massive and other plugins.
  • SonicState for witty banter, music production news, and reviews.
  • DubSpot for a variety of tutorials for a lot of DAWs
  • Point Blank Music School for all kinds of tutorials.
  • Tom Cosm knows a ton about Ableton.
  • ScanProAudio has some great Push tutorials, and a lot of other useful info.
  • Pensado’s Place, because he is a god of ProTools, and even if you don’t use PT, he knows so much about producing, it’ll make your head spin. Really good stuff.
  • ReasonExperts for Reason
  • TherSiteZ also for Reason (and his awesome voice!)
  • This video is part of a series on How Music Works. A good watch.
  • Part two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five of that series.

And many more!

Pick one or two primary sources, finish them, and then see what you want to do next. Use the YouTube videos as sources of inspiration.

While you’re at it, find someone to teach you piano or keyboard. If YouTube doesn’t do it for you, then check out your local community centers. You might find something cheap there.

I love the Older Beginner’s Piano Course. Book 1, Book 2.

And remember to make music!

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