How Do DJs Produce Music? Guide for Aspiring Producer DJs


You may be a DJ, a hobby DJ or even a professional DJ, and music production might of peaked your interest. That’s a logical angle to consider pursuing and achieving, especially if music is your passion, why not cover all aspects of music creativity.

Here are the steps to learn and know how to produce music.

  1. Learn basic music theory e.g. chords, song structure, syncopation
  2. Learn how to use DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) e.g. Ableton
  3. Learn sound design and how VST plugins create sounds
  4. Get to grips with mixing down music projects
  5. Understand how to master and finalise music
  6. Practice creating music on a consistent daily basis
  7. Create remixes to start off with
  8. Create original music and release it
  9. Work with other artists and DJs to create music

Many successful DJs are also music producers, some are just DJs and aren’t even music producers who are just as successful. However, for you DJs out there looking to get stuck in with music production, this guide will provide you with the golden pathway to kick start the next musical chapter in your life.

DJs Starting Out in Music Production

Music production can be quite a deep topic with a fair few substantial areas to learn.

  • Music theory
  • Sound design
  • DAW (Digital Audio Workstations)
  • Composition
  • Mixing & mastering

Music production is certainly a transferable area in which DJs can get into as there are many benefits for DJs in doing so.

It’s possible to learn at your own pace, e.g. watching YouTube videos and reading other websites that provide free ‘How to’ guides, but coming from experience this angle can be a longer time consuming process.

If time is of the essence and you love learning quickly but in a structured way, then consider taking an online course or get a tutor. Music production courses are a great platform to get your started and most certainly direct you in the right direction. You’ll gain the right knowledge, workflow and range of skills to become a music producer.

Don’t think you’ll stop learning. Music production is an area that you’ll always learn something new, even if it’s from reading about new VST plugins to learning from technical “hacks” from other experienced music producers.

The two points below are most certainly two strong prerequisites to have in mind before pursuing music production.

  • Having a continuous learning mindset is required.
  • Contributing to learning on a consistent daily basis will set you apart from other aspiring DJs.

Learning Online Yourself

Here are some top learning resources that I can recommend and have massively helped me out in my music production journey to date.

Learning Online via a Course (recommended)

Having spent a good chunk of my life learning music production, I’ve come across some courses that have steered me in the right direction. Check out these courses if you looking to invest in your music production future. They will certainly help get you there quicker, especially if you put in consistent work and effort.

Courses I’ve personally taken are featured below. Plus I’d recommend exploring a course at A Level or college if you’ve got the opportunity to, courses at this level of education can really help you early on. I’d imagine courses at A Level or College have massively progressed in quality now.

Other courses that I’ve explored taking but can recommend you taking a look for yourself.

Continuous Learning

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What ever skill level you get to with learning music production (or with any skill in life) is to make sure you keep learning.

For me personally I prefer learning from others that are successful and have made multiple hit music records.

Here are some great resources that you can use too, including podcasts, streams from Twitch and YouTube channels that take the best bits from other live streams too.

Topics to Learn Music Production

Ok, let’s go into more detail into each area and expand on what you can expect to learn. These are the areas in which you will need to progress within to get right into music production.

Music theory

Music theory is an essential part of music production. A lot of years producing I wasn’t as well polished at music theory as I should of been, so I bit the bullet and started learning. And boy did my music improve. It’s never too late to learn, and sometimes you’ll find gaining knowledge gives you the boost you need.

Music theory is essentially learning about chords and how to create them in your compositions and arrangements when creating music in your DAWs.

Key areas involve:

  • The major scale
  • The minor scale
  • Chords
  • Octaves
  • Intervals
  • Circle of fifths

If you want to read a bit more into this, here’s an intro into the topics above plus more areas too: https://www.edmprod.com/music-theory-the-tldr-version/.

If you want your music to sound epic with amazing sound chords, basslines and melodies for your specific genre, then make sure you hone in on your learning of music theory.

Sound design

Sound design is the process of creating your own unique sounds through different methods such as recording, sampling and manipulating sounds.

VSTs

You can use VST plugins to generate sounds to then manipulate them to gain the sound you want.

Recording

Or record sounds with a microphone and then manipulate those sounds to also achieve the sound you desire.

Sampling

You can get hold of audio files from either of the above processes to then further edit sounds to how you’d prefer them. You can also use sample packs to achieve this too.

Want to learn more? Check out this article on The 3 R’s of Sound Design by Aden at EDMProd.

DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations)

DAWs are the software that you use to compose, create sounds, layer sounds and generally add FX, Mix and Master your music.

You’ll see later on in this article, there are quite a few DAWs to choose from, each with their own look and feel. Picking one does come down to personal preference, and from experience creative workflow is one of my biggest deciders on choosing a DAW.

Composition & Arrangement

These two areas are very important when creating music. You will need to know this to start building sections of your music projects.

Especially important to know this when creating specific types of music in a genre e.g. House, Drum and Bass, Hip Hip. Each genre will have varying degrees of arrangements which is why it’s important to learn composition and arrangement.

Mixing & Mastering

Mixing is the part where you will become accustomed to using the volume faders, EQ, panning left and right plus using techniques such as compression to help control the quality and crispness of your music projects.

Mastering, is the final icing on the cake, it’s making sure you’ve got the best balance in EQ, stereo width, tone and optimal volume of sound. The purpose is to make sure your music is “radio ready” and that your music production quality is on par with other music out there in the realms of say Spotify, Apple music etc.

The Creative Angle – Remixes, Collabs, Original Production

Remixes & Collabs

A fair amount of DJs start out by remixing other tracks by re-editing existing songs and then allowing them to play remixes in their DJ sets.

Other DJs play it from another angle by collaborating with other artists whereby they utilise their expertise and also artist name to gain exposure for themselves.

Original Production

James Hype amounted to even more fame when he started working on remixes of his own, which help boost his DJing career and subsequently his “brand” name.

Since, James Hype has now entered the realm of music production, and has even mentioned in an interview on YouTube that creating ‘original’ music tracks is another level deeper than just remixing music tracks. Now he’s making and producing music with the likes of Craig David.

Your angle?

So, think about the creative angle in which you want to take as a DJ / Music producer. It’s a good way to dip your toes into music production by remixing music and also mashing up acapellas on top of other music instrumental tracks.

Then you can build up to creating your own original music and consider collaborations with other DJs too.

Which Music Production Software

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Below are the top and most well known DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) in music production.

There are plenty out there on the market and it’s up to you on which one you pick.

You could try out a few in the early days of music production, or you could simply find a course that provides specific modules or course structure surrounding a particular DAW e.g. Ableton.

In my experience of music production I’ve used Cubase, Reason, Logic, and Ableton (all in historical order). I’ve found that Ableton is probably the most user friendly of them all and pretty quick to learn and get going.

If you’re quite good at picking up how to use software in general then that will put you in good stead. If you’re not, then see some free basic learning modules here from some of the DAW brands and independant websites.

Effects, Samples & VSTs

Once you’ve committed to a DAW, it’s very likely that the software will come with some built-in plugins such as synthesizers and samples to start creating and crafting sounds.

You’ll also get a host of effects plugins that you can use to embellish your sounds with, effects including; reverb, delay, echo, stereo width, EQ, auto panning, auto filters etc.

If you’re not happy with the samples, effects and VSTs that are built-in, then you can easily buy or rent-to-own synths and a whole range of of plug-ins, including:

Top plugins that I’ve got hold of outside of the DAW that I use (Ableton Live) include:

  • Massive
  • Serum
  • Kontakt

What to Expect in Your Music Production Journey

As I mentioned earlier, a course I’ve taken with EDMprod. On their blog they also provide a lot of value to help producers new to the game and existing producers improve further.

In your learning journey you’ll certainly have an epic journey. Here are the stages that EDMprod talk about in their article below.

Feel free to read it below to get a more in-depth understanding of you journey ahead as a new music producer.

  1. Learn your DAW (inside and out)
  2. Exponential Learning
  3. The Dip
  4. Proficiency
  5. Mastery

Resource: https://www.edmprod.com/5-stages-electronic-music-producer/

Benefits of Creating Music as a DJ

If you’re a DJ and still considering dipping your toe into the swimming pool that is ‘Music Production’, then I’ve listed out some benefits of creating music and being a DJ at the same time.

1. One music hit can boost your DJ / Producer name

If you’re into music, then you’ve probably come across a DJ that’s had a “hit” track.

DJ Marky is one of those DJs that I become aware of after releasing a track called LK.

From my perspective anyway, DJ Marky has had a much bigger and greater DJing success in the UK and Europe from releasing hits like LK and many more under his belt.

2. Building up a following online quicker

If one your goals is to build a following to help you progress as a DJ then producing music can help increase the chances of growing your following more over time.

Especially with a lot of use of Spotify, YouTube and Soundcloud, it’s so easy to tap into the audiences that are active on those platforms to benefit your online following. If you have a website and social media profiles then it makes sense to make sure you’re promoting links where you’re publishing your music. The same goes for your DJ mixes too.

3. Can lead to promoters trusting you, and lead to more DJ gigs

When promoters are seeing your name next to a “hit” record, then it’s certainly going to help you gain leverage when trying to get DJ sets.

All promoters are seeking to achieve is maximising ticket sales and footfall through the door of the venue they’re promoting.

Making music helps give you that extra recognition and provides another vote of confidence that you are a good DJ in which a promoter should put on their line up.

4. You can promote your DJ / Producer name in DJ sets

A lot of DJs play tracks that they love and those tracks that are popular. When you create tracks that get added into DJ sets (and your own tracks too) it helps you out two-fold.

Not only are you promoting your music to gain more listens (more streaming revenue) you’re also gaining more exposure of you DJ Producer name too.

5. Networking opportunities in the music industry

Creating music allows you to network and work with other DJs and producers on projects. Maybe even DJ events too.

This is a great way to help you get your name out there even further by collaborating and piggy backing off other artists own success.

Related Questions

How do DJs create Music?

DJs create music by using a DAW with VST plugins to craft a song structure and final music project. Once a music project is mixed, mastered and exported via the DAW as a .WAV or .MP3 file, DJs are ready to play their music live in their DJ sets.

What Programs do DJs use to make music?

Popular programs, also know as DAWs, include Ableton, Logic, Cubase, FL Studio. Audacity is another free software that can allow DJs to edit music quite easily.

Does DJing help with music production?

DJing skills help contribute to music production by way of knowledge or music structure, effects, tempo / pitch and harmonic key of music. Knowing which music reacts well on the dance floor for certain genres of music can help DJs when producing music e.g. rhythms, FX build ups, sounds of bass / chords etc.

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