The Songwriters’ Intro to Music Production

It’s only natural for many songwriters to crossover into the world of music production. Anyone who’s fully capable of recording, producing & writing music is someone that can be highly effective as a music industry professional. Whether they’re working on their own music, producing and writing for others, or they’re just a part of the session – a songwriter/producer combo is an excellent role to fill.

The problem that many songwriters face when trying to make their way into the producer role comes from a technical standpoint; they just don’t know how the hardware or software affects the sound of the music. Certain parts of the process come down to personal preference and practice. Just like any engineer or producer, a songwriter needs to put in the hours to learn what works and what doesn’t.

Rather than focusing on that part of the recording process today, I want to spend some time highlighting where songwriters are already uniquely positioned to lead a session as a producer. In some ways, knowing these core parts of the music recording process gives these songwriters the upper hand over their non-writing competition. Knowing what makes a good song usually makes you a better producer than those with a more technical background.

Here’s where you’ve already got an advantage in the industry:

The Lyrics

A songwriter’s bread and butter are their lyrics. Often, a song can get signed to a publishing deal on the lyrics alone – the label could realistically change the entire production behind those lyrics to something stylistically completely different.

Could you imagine writing a hip hop track and having it turned completely upside down into a country song? It may sound extreme, but from a business perspective the labels are looking to sign anything that’s going to sell.

Now imagine being that same songwriter with enough credibility and experience to write the song and the entire production around it so your vision can be realized. This is the goal of every aspiring songwriter turned producer. These same labels looking to shake things up are just as interested in complete, turnkey projects. If you can provide a polished, professionally produced mix, they’re going to pay some serious attention.

As a producer, I can’t tell you how to write your lyrics – you’re already the professional there. Keep writing music that people are going to find interesting and original and you’ll do just fine in the lyrics department.

The Arrangement

Before moving into production, a songwriter should already be intimately familiar with how a song’s arrangement can drastically change the tone and vibe of a song. The arrangement creates the dynamic tension of the song and the production rises and falls with the chord changes as it builds. Pair a sad lyric with an upbeat key or a happy lyric with minor chords. Craft an arrangement that builds and builds, then end with a soft, acoustic outro. Your options are endless.

For many singer/songwriters this starts with a simple melody and the chord progression they choose to pair it with. Start with the instrument you’re strongest with already. If you’re writing your songs with an acoustic guitar, track that first. Create a starting point for the rest of your arrangement to build from.

If you’re comfortable on a piano, you’ll find yourself right at home as a producer. Using a DAW and some virtual instruments, you can record bass, drums, strings, and so much more right in the box using a keyboard. I’ve seen many great piano players go on to create some huge productions completely in the box.

Even if you don’t keep your virtual instruments or all of the production sounds you’ve programmed, you’ll be able to create all of the arrangement right in your session and bring in live players to add to the authenticity of your song.

The Style

Perhaps there are no greater masters of style than producers, but musicians and songwriters definitely have an ear for what does and does not fit within a song. Stylistically, you wouldn’t put an indie drum sample in with a metal mix. Similarly, you’re not going to have a black metal screamer on a Top 40 pop track. There are just some boundaries that you can’t cross without breaking the authenticity of the song.

But great songwriters and producers are able to blur the lines effectively. They find the production sounds that can cross genres without offending the listener. They know how to make something sound complex while retaining the core of the song. A great production is something that can be both simple and complex at the same time. It’s something that is compelling to the listener, holding their attention.

A style can be as simple as having a steady beat with tight compression and a clean voice, or it can be fuzzed out, riff heavy & distorted. A song with a gritty looped sample and tightly gated reverb can instantly pull the listener into retro-soaked nostalgia. Experiment with your styles but trust your experience to get you the right sound in the end – it’s what you’ve trained to do.

The Producer’s Handbook

If you keep these three elements of a production close to the core of each song you work on, you’ll be in a great position as you transition into your producer role. From there, the only thing left to do is to learn the technical side & build up your aptitude in the studio.

If you’re ready to take that step in your music production career, come check out the JST VIP section of our site. We’ve got all kinds of resources for the aspiring producer – eBooks, courses, cheat sheets & more – all in one, low-cost monthly membership.

Join today!