As technology continues to grow increasingly popular in the realm of music production – it’s arguably the most important tool for anyone creating their own studio or production company – it’s unsurprising that many producers enter into the field without any true, in-depth knowledge of instruments. You can produce music without having played an instrument because essentially your ears and experience with various production software and materials are truly all you need. Some may say that knowledge of a musical instrument isn’t necessary.
It is essential, however, to have a basic working knowledge of how instruments work and how to place them, particularly when mixing. Playing an instrument can give producers an extreme advantage in this area. Having this knowledge is helpful in capturing the true essence of the music. If you understand how to play an instrument yourself, you’ll be able to better communicate with musicians, produce more well-rounded sounds, have an easier production process, and ultimately gain more opportunities as a producer in the industry.
To be frank – would you be a choreographer if you didn’t know how to dance? It’s something that can be done but it seems almost silly to not know the essence of the craft yourself. Though the answer seems easy, people don’t always seek to add more to their plate – since it isn’t completely necessary to learn an instrument, producers often choose to get by without it.
A working, base-level understanding of the chords, scales, and music theory is something that every producer should have. Is there really a way to better understand the instruments and sounds you work with than knowing how to create one or more of those sounds yourself? While it’s not totally necessary to know an instrument in order to produce well – in fact, there are producers out there with great production and musical knowledge that may not know how to play – but the benefits of picking up and studying an instrument definitely outweigh any of the reasons not to.
As a music producer, when you have played or know how to play an instrument, the biggest benefit to your work is that it speeds up the process of production. A quicker production process ultimately making things easier. It also allows your business the time to take on more tasks or clients. If you played an instrument yourself, you’d already know a multitude of musical theory terms and phrases that will assist in the creation of the sound that an artist might desire, such as asking for more crescendo, playing something more allegro and less staccato, or having the sound at forte. These terms may seem foreign if you do not have any knowledge of music theory. Musicians, however, know these terms inside and out, and using them while in production will provide a smoother experience overall for both you and the musician that is playing and/or singing.
Consider, at the very least, educating yourself with some music theory terms to aid you in your production process. There are chords and basic rhythms to study that come highly recommended for anyone hoping to produce. Going into the business without any musical knowledge is not beneficial for your business or your credibility. Not to mention that the majority of those looking for producers would prefer someone who knows “musician-speak.” If you don’t have a working knowledge of music, it can in a sense “handicap” you from being able to relate to your musicians and cripple your business.
When you take the time to learn a new instrument, you will actually be learning the most effective and optimized way to produce a sound. Because you have studied the instrument yourself, you can work easily and confidently with a musician to produce the “right” sound that will encompass what the song needs, pulling forth the right emotions from the instrument. Consider taking piano lessons to help with crafting your skills. When a pianist then wants to use you as their producer in the studio, you will understand what techniques go into creating a particular sound. Your ear will be fine-tuned to listening for certain notes or effects, and you’ll know when and where things need to be tweaked or changed. By taking your own lessons, you will be able to create a song that will sell versus one that won’t, which is the ultimate goal during production.
The key here is knowing the how and where to find that better sound and bring it out in production. Production software can only do so much for you; without knowledge and understanding of an instrument, it is a much more difficult process to master. If you know how to play even one instrument that you plan on using in production, it is going to greatly improve your creation process.
If you were to learn an instrument as a music producer, it can have numerous advantages for your business. If you own your own business, it is almost always something that you want to grow, and taking smart steps past just the beginning basics of your music knowledge can only aid in that journey.
Think about it from the musician or agent’s perspective: if someone were to look into your studio or want to incorporate you as their producer, is a good working (or even mastery) knowledge of an instrument going to appeal to someone more than a producer who doesn’t know how to play anything? The musician is already going to assume you know how to use your production software well as a producer. So think of the advantages you will obtain when you can add an instrument to your credibility. This is especially helpful for someone who is new to producing because it adds an edge that other producers might not possess – it puts you ahead of those who don’t know how to play an instrument.
You allow yourself more advantages in the world of music as well. To look at another example: If you decide to take on guitar lessons, you’re bound to meet other musicians who are studying guitar as well or possibly working on writing their own music that they’d like produced. If that musician has hopes of creating an album, that requires a need for you – the producer. Since you have had the opportunity to establish a connection early on by learning the instrument alongside them, you will have created a new business connection and you’ll be familiar with their talent and their training. If, in turn, the musician knows that you know the instrument as well, it gives you that added benefit of trust.
If you’re working to produce a piece of music with multiple instruments and one of the musicians can’t make it or comes down sick, you have the ability to step in to assist. Playing an instrument gives you more opportunities because you can be paid as both a musician and producer, and if the musicians are in a pinch, it’s a great way to market yourself and open up doors for other possibilities to play in similar situations.
It can be a comfort and provide peace of mind to know that if you were stuck in some sort of situation like this, or something similar like only having so many hours in a studio to record and needing another set of hands on an instrument, you could take over and get the piece done!
Enhance Skills/Better Position
This may seem obvious, but any music producer who takes on the task of learning one or more instruments will enhance their music skills overall. If the business opportunity doesn’t appeal to you, focus on how this opportunity can help you to become more well-rounded as a producer and in the music business in general. It can even benefit your brain in ways you may not have realized.
Even if you’re not interested in growing your business in a new direction or taking on more musicians or clients to produce, you can further your own self and be in a better position for your business than those who never bothered to learn an instrument.
There are definite exceptions where a producer can get away with not having excess instrumental knowledge – for example, if the “instruments” being used for what they’re producing aren’t actual instruments. This type of music genre encompasses more digital or produced sounds, with a focus on pre-recorded drum beats for hip-hop, or electronica type sounds for techno or club music. In these instances, a producer needs to have a focus on using software, such as sequence MIDI and editing audio, and these genres are better suited for someone who does not have music theory knowledge.
But, on the other hand, not having extensive instrumental knowledge also limits a producer’s abilities. At any point in your career if you’re producing or recording a solo instrument, such as piano or guitar, and you are trying to embrace and utilize the right sound, it will be necessary to actually take the time to think about how the instrument is played and what it should sound like in order to develop that particular instrument the right way within a piece of music.
When you pick up and learn to master an instrument, the ultimate results would be an increase in business growth, generation of more revenue, and from there, recommendations and testimonials to your knowledge as a producer, which will increase your value. The main goal is knowing where you want to get to during the creation process, and understanding enough about the production process to achieve a final sound. As a music producer, you should definitely consider learning an instrument.
Given these reasons and after considering the numerous benefits for learning an instrument as a music producer, why wouldn’t you consider it?