This guide looks at the five stages of music production. Learning how to manage them will help you navigate the music production process and increase workflow.
5 Stages of Music Production
Every music producer will have their own particular music production process. You’ll develop your own music production process as you practice your craft. However, you’ll find similar processes or stages music producers go through to finish tracks.
Making music involves creative and technical approaches. And, each requires a different mindset. With practice, you’ll learn how to move between the creative and technical mindsets throughout the music production process. The ability to prioritize the two mindsets will help you work more efficiently without losing momentum.
This guide looks at the fundamental stages of the music production process. It gives you an overview of the tasks involved in making music. Learning how to manage them will help you navigate the production stages and increase workflow.
Here are the five stages of the music production process.
The composition stage is the process of generating musical ideas. The composition process involves creating melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic ideas. Choices made in this stage define a songs genre, vibe, and style.
Creating your main melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic ideas at the beginning is crucial. Once you establish the main musical ideas, the songs take shape around them. It also becomes difficult to change the core ideas of a song without affecting other elements later on.
Main Ideas to Focus on During the Composition Stage:
- Decide on the songs key, tempo, and time-signature.
- Select basic instruments and sound presets to use as placeholders before the sound design stage. Focusing on sound design or scrolling through preset banks at this stage slows workflow.
- Create the main chord progression, melody, counter-melody, bassline, and motifs.
- Build a basic beat that supports your melodic and harmonic ideas.
- Select or create harmonic layers that complement and support one another.
- Create variations of your chord progression, bassline, melody, and motifs for later use if needed.
- Develop ideas for the intro, verse, bridge, chorus, breakdown, and outro.
- Record or find a vocal recording that works with your core musical ideas if you plan on using vocals.
The composition stage is about experimenting with ideas to develop the core elements of your song. Try not to get bogged down with technical aspects like sound design and mixing. The goal is to work fast and generate fundamental elements that work together musically.
Music arrangement is the art of taking your musical ideas and laying them out along a timeline to build a final piece of music. When working in Ableton Live, the Arrangement View provides a space to arrange, edit, and finish songs.
The arrangement stage is where you assemble the song structure. You’ll develop the intro, verses, bridge, choruses, breakdowns, and outro. It also involves adding and subtracting different instruments throughout the song to build or reduce tension.
Moreover, a well-arranged song should catch the listeners attention, keep their attention, and evoke emotion. It should also create a sense of flow and momentum. Last, the arrangement must appeal to both the listeners and DJs. A song that’s hard to mix can reduce its appeal and impact.
Check Your Musical Arrangement For:
- Song structure: Ensure your mix has clearly defined sections such as an intro, verses, choruses, bridges, breaks, and outro.
- Busy sections: Are there sections of the mix that sound too busy? Check areas where the sounds are clashing or masking each other.
- Empty space: Are there areas in the mix with silence or empty space? Unused space can sound less interesting and dull.
- Transitions and fills: Does the mix transition well from one section to the next? Ensure the transitions are smooth and effective. Also, check if there’s too much or little energy and tension during buildups. Last, ensure the transitions don’t sound awkward when bringing in or dropping elements.
- Variation: Are there changes occurring every 8 or 16 bars? Ensure the song progresses and doesn’t sound static or boring.
- Movement: Do any parts sound repetitive and stagnant? You can add movement to elements with automation, auto-panning, or modulation to make them more interesting.
- Harmonic structure: Do all the elements sound good together? Are any elements clashing? Ensure the combination of parts sound pleasing, have their own space, and make sense when played together.
- Dynamics: Does the mix have loud and soft parts? Does the mix vary in energy and intensity? Is there tension and release? These areas play a crucial role in evoking emotion, energy, and movement.
- Cohesiveness: Does the entire mix sound complete and cohesive? Ensure all the sections make sense and flow.
- Duration: Is the mix too long or short? Check for sections that can be cut or shortened. Long, repetitive sections will lose the listeners attention.
Remember to keep things simple. Too much going on at the same time can sound jarring and confusing. Also, a cluttered mix causes elements to compete for space. Last, achieving a defined arrangement will make the mixing stage easier.
3. Sound Design and Production
The art of sound design is a cornerstone of electronic music production. The sound design stage involves synthesis, sampling, and sound manipulation using effects and production techniques.
The Sound Design Process
During the sound design process, you’ll create original sounds with various instruments, choose and edit synth presets, make sample choices, manipulate samples, layer sounds, use a combination of effects and editing techniques, and more.
It’s generally easier to work on sound design after arranging all the parts. Having the parts arranged first helps you hear everything in context. It’s also easier to make sound choices when all the parts play together.
Working on sound design after arrangement will also reduce the chance of replacing sounds that no longer work in the mix. Your sound choices may not sound good after arrangement if you work on sound design early in the music production process.
Moreover, sound design is an area that can bog down a music producers workflow. The sound design process can also take hours, days, and even weeks. For this reason, many music producers work on sound design in separate sessions. Some find it more enjoyable without the limitations of an arranged song.
The Production Process
The production process is the final stage before focusing on mixing. It may consist of various techniques, such as:
- Filling in the arrangement with sound effects, transition effects, fills, and other ear candy.
- Editing samples in creative ways. For example, reversing audio, stretching audio, chopping up samples, pitching sounds, applying creative effects, and more.
- Creatively using audio effects like filtering, delay, reverb, chorus, saturation, etc.
- Applying automation and modulation to control instruments and sound effects.
- Fixing issues that will cause problems in the mixing stage. For example, adding fades to audio clips to remove clicks or pops, adjusting the timing or quantization of tracks, and anything else problematic.
- Making final creative decisions and preparing for the mixing stage. For example, deleting unnecessary tracks, making final arrangement tweaks, bouncing MIDI tracks to audio, creating stems for mixing, etc.
Sound design and production is the final stage before mixing. Make sure everything sounds good before moving to the mixing stage. It will be frustrating if you have to stop mixing to fix something missed during the previous stages.
Audio mixing is the process of combining multiple layers of audio to make one final track. The mixdown process makes sure all the parts in a song sound good together.
Mixing involves balancing levels, panning sounds, equalizing, compressing, harmonics enhancing, fixing problems, and adding various effects. Mixing also involves automation, editing sounds in creative ways, and giving instruments their own space in the mix. The goal is to sculpt a balanced and unified arrangement ready for mastering.
Moreover, the mixing stage is where you take off your creative hat and put on your technical hat. Knowing how to mix is an art form that requires practice and knowledge. There are numerous mixing techniques and tools. Knowing which tools to use and why your using them is vital!
Creating a Three Dimensional Mix
Professional mixes also create the illusion of three dimensions: width, depth, and height. Placing sounds in their own space also gives your mix greater perceptual volume, clarity, and fullness. For example:
Width refers to the stereo field and the panning placement of sounds in the mix. Panning elements left and right in the mix creates stereo width.
Depth refers to the front and back placement of sounds in the mix. For example, elements that are louder, brighter, or dry sound upfront in the mix. Conversely, sounds that are quieter, duller, or processed with time-based effects like reverb sound further back in the mix.
Height refers to the high and low frequencies in the mix. Our ears perceive higher tones as coming from above, and lower tones coming from below. Think of high-frequency content as “up” and low-frequency content as “down.” It also represents the tonal balance of the overall mix.
Mixing throughout the previous stages is ok. However, your final mixdown should come before mastering. This is your last chance to address any issues and get everything sounding great.
Read: 5 Ways to Increase Perceived Loudness. This guide outlines five methods musicians use to boost the perceived loudness of sounds and achieve a more balanced mix.
Audio mastering is the final step in the music production process. It’s the post-production process of taking an audio mix or album and preparing it for distribution.
The mastering stage involves a series of subtle audio processes including equalization, compression, saturation, stereo enhancement, and limiting. The purpose of mastering is to balance the stereo mix, make all the elements sound cohesive, and to reach commercial loudness. It also ensures playback optimization across all speaker systems and media formats.