The role of a music producer has often been compared to that of a film director in the movie industry. While it is partially true, nowadays, a music producer is not only “directing” the song; often, they’re also writing a script, performing, recording, editing, publishing and promoting it.

Imagine a movie director doing all of these things by themselves. It sounds overwhelming, to say the least. Although some indie directors have had a go at it, the technological revolution has impacted music production on a much bigger scale, scaling down the workplace of a producer from a recording studio to basically a laptop.

Evolution of music production

The definition of music production has developed several times since the first known audio recording of a French folk song was made in 1860. The commercialization of music prompted by the technological advancement and popularity of radio stations after World War II led the way to the emergence of record labels.

Nonetheless, what music production means today is entirely different from how it was perceived even in the 1960s and 70s when the biggest record labels started taking control of the music market. Back then, the main role of the music producer was to produce, direct, and promote music made by others. The producer worked with record labels and was given a budget to produce a song or an album in a recording studio.

The labels would sign promising artists and put money into promoting them. The artists depended utterly on the mercy of the record labels, and the primary role of the producer was to oversee the production process, bring the vision into reality, manage the budget, and make sure the recording was ready to be put out in the world.

The major record labels still exist (in case you didn’t notice), but the extent of their influence in the industry has diminished as a result of the way music producers work has evolved.

The accessibility of the Internet and streaming services revolutionized the way we listen to and experience music. It may be argued that the most significant change in the role of the music producer is that in 2023, you don’t need a music studio and expensive gear to produce tracks and albums.

There are just a few things that are absolutely necessary to produce music, and you don’t need to spend a fortune to get them. Music production is more democratized and accessible than ever: this is why many people are trying their luck in the ever-evolving, intricate, and yet highly satisfying world of music production. If you’re reading my article, you’re probably one of us.

Now, let’s focus on what it means to be a music producer in the early 2020s and how to produce music at a high level.

What exactly does a music producer do in 2023?

The music production of today can include basically anything from writing and recording a song through mixing and mastering to promoting and publishing it. It’s a holistic process that involves multilayer tasks, from ideation to delivering a complete track to the public. It can vary depending on the genre, setup, and scale of your project, and not every music producer will work precisely in the same way.

In the traditional sense, the music producer working from a recording studio will still coordinate the creative process, offer recommendations, and direct a team of artists, technicians, and engineers. They can work as artists’ managers or perform some A&R tasks.

Hip-hop and R&B producers are generally responsible for designing instrumental beats for the MCs to rap over. In EDM, it is common for even the biggest artists to produce their own music, which is why the terms’ producer’ and ‘artist’ are frequently used interchangeably in some music fields.

While self-producing music first became popular amongst EDM artists, today, many musicians specializing in more traditional genres, like rock or songwriting, opt to self-publish their works.

Many music producers also compose music (especially if they publish their own tracks). Nonetheless, music composition and production are unique disciplines, and although music production can also involve writing and composing, it’s not always part of the production process.

What tools do you need to start producing music (at a high level)?

Once upon a time, to produce a song, you had to go to a studio and work with a range of specific and expensive tools to produce high-quality sounds. In 2023, If you have a laptop, Internet connection, and a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), you can produce music from almost anywhere. Sometimes, it still blows my mind to think that a piece of software replaced the whole studio setup.

There are many tools (software and hardware) that can make the production process smoother and more hassle-free. Some of them are more useful than others, and many you can do without. The bare minimum home studio doesn’t need to cost more than a few hundred bucks. Let’s start with the necessary equipment that you can always add to, depending on your budget. 


DAW is an all-rounder that can record, mix, and master audio. It also allows you to compose and arrange tracks. While DAWs can be used for any audio-related content, such as soundtracks, podcasts, and sound effects, if you want to produce music, it is a must.

There are many great DAWs available, and most of them will do an excellent job, so it’s really up to your taste which one you will go for. Last year, I wrote an extensive review of the ten best DAWs available on the market, so if you’re planning to get one, be sure to check it out.

To produce music using a DAW, you will need digital assets, such as plugins, effects, samples, MIDI, and others.

Plugins are software that adds specific characteristics, like tone and texture, to your mix. Your DAW comes with pre-installed plugins to start with, but there are many websites where you can get plugins, also for free. Once you develop your palette as a producer, you will start experimenting with different sounds and effects and eventually build your plugin library.

There are two main types of plugins:

  • VIs (Virtual Instruments) create sounds (samplers, drum machines, synths) or virtual emulations of traditional instruments like pianos or strings.
  • VSTs (Virtual Studio Technology) are assets that process sounds, such as compressors, delays, reverbs, distortions, or modulation plugins.

You should consider that plugins are available in different formats, and not all plugins will work with every DAW. High-quality or multiple instances of plugins can also be CPU-intensive and slow down your workflow.

Samples are collections of pre-recorded or AI-generated snippets of sounds that you can use to create tracks. Plugins will allow you to manipulate the sample sounds to create your unique sounds. There are tons of websites offering free and paid sample packs. I wrote recently about the best sample packs available in 2023 to help you narrow down your research. 


The central hardware you will use for music production is your computer. While almost any device, desktop or laptop, will work with a DAW, you should make sure your machine can make the most of your portable recording studio.

Music production software can drain your CPU fast, so consider an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor or equivalent. You should also look at a minimum of 16 GB of RAM and 500GB SSD. While lower specs may also work, you will probably find yourself annoyed by the constant slowdowns and other hindrances pretty soon. 

Your computer is essentially your recording studio, and while you may not want to get a high-end gadget, the device you choose will impact the whole production process. Extra tip – some software is compatible with certain device types; for example, Logic Pro X works with Mac only, so check if your device and your choice of software are compatible before you make the investment.

You can produce music and never play a physical instrument in your life. However, if your plan is to include real-life recordings of instruments and vocals in your workflow, you will need an audio interface.

Thanks to an audio interface, you can connect your microphone and instruments and record music directly in your DAW. This hardware device allows you to accurately capture and manipulate vocals and instrumental sounds to suit personal preferences. There are many different types of audio interfaces available out there, and the USB audio interface is the most common for home studios. While you should do your research before choosing one that works for you, our roundup of the best USB audio interfaces in 2023 should make the selection process easier.

The final piece of equipment on my list is an audio output device that will let you appreciate the results of your creative endeavours. When producing music, you will need to listen to your creations, sometimes multiple times, and good-quality headphones or studio monitors are a must-have.

Headphones are generally more affordable and allow you to create a noise-free environment, which could be a deal-breaker when working from a home studio. Studio monitors are loudspeakers designed for music production: they provide a clearer, more authentic sound experience compared to traditional speakers, so, for example, a flat frequency response will help you make the right mixing decisions.

How to produce a song step by step

Let’s take a look at all the aspects of music production you should consider (and potentially master) to get it right. 

Songwriting and composition are the base of the creative process. While not all producers write and compose songs, having an understanding of how the song is structured and what makes the melody, tone, and lyrics work is a must for producers and artists alike.

Arranging a song is perhaps as important as composing it. As a producer, you have to be able to understand the importance of each part, such as selecting instruments, using vocals, and structuring a song to achieve the desired feel.

During the process, you’ll have to listen to the song multiple times to adjust the parts that don’t feel right. While there are structured guides on how to arrange a song, you should trust your trained ear; if it sounds right, it probably is right. As a music producer, you’ll have to make tough decisions, and trusting your guts can often be your best choice. 

Sound design is the part that defines your music and gives it a unique feel and recognizable vibe. Sound design can be anything from selecting instruments, adding new layers, or applying effects. It gives you endless possibilities to experiment with the sound. This is when all the digital tools, like plugins and samples, come in handy.

A crucial skill to learn is to know when to stop. Most likely, you will never feel that the song is finished, so you have to identify when is the right time to stop making minor adjustments to a song and just publish it.

During mixing, you take the raw tracks and mix them to achieve a balanced, well-defined, and overall complete sonic experience. You achieve it by using EQ, compression, adjusting levels, and adding effects.

Mixing in itself is a whole world involving both artistic and scientific elements, and it requires time to learn well. If you are a newbie in the business, I recommend you start by watching tutorials like these by Izotope and others to get up to speed.

Mastering is the final step in the production process before you actually release the song. Mastering a song involves adding compression, EQ, limiters, automation, and other effects to ensure it sounds good on all audio systems and formats, meeting industry standards for commercial success.

Recording studios traditionally work with mastering engineers specializing in this type of service. If the fee of the mastering engineer is outside your budget, you can use one of the available online automated mastering services. You can find my top list of free online mastering services here.

Final notes

Equipment-wise, everything you will need to produce high-quality, immersive tracks and albums is listed above. Choosing the right tools and understanding the parts of the process is just the tip of the iceberg, but it will put you in a position to start using what you already know and learn new skills and techniques along the way.

Music production is a complex, multidimensional discipline that requires in-depth knowledge of various angles. Luckily, in the age of information, you don’t need to learn all the tricks yourself. There are multiple YouTube channels focused on music production that will provide industry tips to help you accelerate your music production journey. In fact, there are so many it is hard to choose the best ones to follow, but I would suggest you check out Adam Neely for nerdy music theory tips, ARTFX to get an insight into DNB, KARRA for equipment reviews, songwriting, and recording tutorials and my personal favourite, Rick Beato’s break downs of the world’s most successful songs and what makes them great.

The most important part when you start your career as a music producer is to keep producing and releasing music. Brian Eno, ambient music guru and producer of U2, Talking Heads, and David Bowie, said: “Stop thinking about artworks as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.” Each song you make is a new experience that takes you closer to being a great producer.

Good luck!