What Is The Hardest Part of Music Production?

Producing music is a very difficult task. It’s not just one single skill you need to know. The process requires you to have many different, unique skills, and combine them all together to make a song.

In this article, we’ll explore the different areas of music production that make it such a hard thing to do.

The Most Challenging Thing

The hardest thing in music production is not mixing, or mastering, or arrangement, or anything technical. The hardest part is finishing a track. Many, if not most, promising songs are thrown away into the recycle folder because the producer cannot figure out how to finish off the idea.

This is also a very common reason why a lot of budding producers just give up the entire thing altogether. They fill up their hard drive with unfinished projects. They think to themselves “Look at all this junk that I can’t finish. Maybe music production isn’t for me”. And they give up on their passion and dream, to go somewhere else.

In the future, I’ll be writing an article explaining in detail why it’s so hard for producers to finish their tracks, and how to actually get them done. Keep an eye out for it!

The rest of this article will focus on some other challenging aspects of music production. These are concepts that often cause a lot of frustration and headaches, and can take a while to really learn and understand!

Arrangement

Arrangement has to do with the structuring of a song. It relates to the different sections in a track, and how they come together to form a full song.

As a music producer, songwriting is a vital skill, and arrangement is often a very challenging part of the process.

Producers are often very adept at creating 4 or 8 bar loops, that they spend hours and hours perfecting every small detail. But when it comes to arranging that small loop into a full track, it can leave them bewildered. Where do you even start? What structure should I go for? Should the chorus come before the verse, or the verse before the chorus?

It can also be difficult to learn arrangement, too. The word ‘arrangement’ can mean many different things, depending on who you talk to. This can cause a lot of confusion if you type the word into Google or YouTube, hoping to find some helpful tutorials to guide you through it. The results that come up can vary a lot.

Sound Design

Sound design is the process of creating new sounds to use in the production of a track. It can involve recording real-life sounds, using synthesizers, and other virtual instruments.

This is such a challenging aspect of music production because there are so many complex and hard-to-understand concepts you need to learn. Things such as learning how synthesis works and how to layer sounds together, can really puzzle a lot of people. They’re not easy or simple concepts to grasp.

For example, there are many different types of synthesis that a synthesizer can use. Types such as granular or additive. These are complex things that can really boggle the mind trying to understand.

Layering is another part of sound design that can be hard to grasp at first. Putting different sounds together to create one bigger sound might seem easy at first glance, but try it without properly understanding the frequency spectrum and stereo field. You’ll soon find it can be a deceptively monumental task.

Mixing

Mixing is the process of taking the different elements of a track, such as the drums and vocals, and ‘blending’ them together to create one, cohesive unit. This is where the producer makes sure that nothing is too loud or quiet, and nothing sticks out too much.

So many producers talk about mixing as the ultimate obstacle, holding them back from creating truly quality tracks. As you can see above, I didn’t rate mixing as the most challenging thing in music production, but it’s definitely up there. Just give it a quick Google search, and you’ll find no shortage of producers struggling with this phase of the production process.

It’s such a difficult thing to do because there are so many things going on, and so many concepts you need to understand, to achieve a high-quality mix. Add on top of those things to annoyance of ear fatigue, and you have a recipe for headaches.

Some of these concepts include equalization, compression, saturation, distortion, sidechaining, and much more. These are all things that are complex in their own right, and need time dedicated to learning each on their own. They are all things that can take a long time to really get an understanding of.

Ear fatigue is probably the most annoying thing in the mixing process. After listening to the same track over and over again, looking specifically for problems and issues to solve, your ears will get tired. Your brain will start to play tricks on you. Some elements will sound louder than others, even though they aren’t. Ear fatigue takes away your objectivity. It forces you to take regular breaks, otherwise you risk both ruining the mix AND damaging your hearing.

Mastering

Mastering is a particularly tricky process to get right. So tricky in fact, that there are dedicated ‘mastering engineers’ making a career from doing it for other people!

Mastering is the process of taking a finished mix of a song, and getting it ‘release-ready’. The mix is already finished; now it needs the final polish on top. This most often involves using a limiter to increase the mix to ‘commercial loudness’, but other, more complex techniques are also used to increase loudness and make tiny, slight improvements to the overall track.

A good master can’t improve a bad mix. However, a bad master can ruin a good mix. For this reason, mastering has to be done carefully and precisely, which is what can make it so difficult. You don’t want to overdo the compression on the limiter, or add too much saturation, as this would ‘squash’ the mix and completely ruin the dynamics of the song.

Finding (Good) Vocals

For producers who don’t have a dedicated singer (like most bands do), finding good vocals/vocalists can be a nightmare. Even more, it can be a costly nightmare.

Bad vocals are a dime a dozen. They can be found on many websites, and are most often free of charge. But who wants bad vocals for their track?

If you want a good vocalist to write custom vocals for your song, it can cost a pretty penny. And by pretty penny, I mean anywhere from hundreds of dollars, to thousands of dollars for a more professional vocal track.

You can buy pre-made vocal acapellas on websites that sell them, such as Voclio or Vokaal. A singer makes the vocal track, and puts it on the website for you to buy. However, while these tend to be a bit cheaper than hiring a vocalist, pre-made vocals can also cost a lot of money. They also have special rules of copyright when you buy them, so make sure to look at what you’re allowed to do with the vocal before you purchase it. Sometimes, the copyright rules are very limiting.

Fortunately, finding the acapella tracks to a song you want to remix can potentially be a lot easier. Famous tracks that are in the charts often have their acapellas leaked onto sites like YouTube, which you can download and make a remix from. However, I do not recommend releasing these remixes commercially on a platform like Spotify or iTunes (anywhere you can earn money from it), for copyright reasons. These acapellas are copyrighted.

It is also worth mentioning there are quite a few remix contests being held throughout the year, on various music production websites. These contests often provide vocal tracks. Give them a look, although be careful of copyright here, too.

Final Thoughts

Overall, music production is a very difficult thing to do, because there are so many complex areas that need to be understood. These areas can be challenging for even the most experienced producers.

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