Is it necessary to study electronic music production if you want to become a professional artist or DJ? I get this question quite often so let’s discuss it in this episode. There are many ways to learn electronic music. From university programs to small private schools and masterclasses, from private coaching lessons to self-learning and online tutorials. I’m going to discuss the different types of studying electronic music production and we’ll find out what might be the best option for you.
My strange path to becoming a professional in the electronic music industry
If you’ve read the bio on my website, you probably have a good overview of my background. What you don’t know yet is that I’ve never studied music production or sound engineering. Despite that, I’m giving masterclasses and tutorials at Catalyst (formerly dBs Berlin), one of the most progressive creative universities around the globe. I must admit that it’s a bit strange when I have to tell my students that I’m a complete autodidact.
Even if I’m quite proud of being an established mixing and mastering engineer for electronic music (100% self-taught), I wouldn’t say that this is the best path for everybody. Honestly, when I look at my students, I even get a bit jealous sometimes. They have amazing opportunities thanks to their course and are in direct contact with some of the best music pros in the world.
Hard work, passion, and great mentors
I wasn’t alone, of course. Many great mentors have helped me on my journey. From my jazz-guitar teacher when I was 14 to one of the biggest mastering engineers in Europe (thanks, Ludwig Maier). These people have shared valuable insights with me, corrected me when I was wrong and pushed me in the right direction.
But I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t put 100% dedication into honing this craft. I’ve read hundreds of books and articles during sleepless nights. I’m also definitely past my 10.000 hours of deliberate practice. I’ve taken online courses to improve my skills but I’ve also learned many lessons directly on the job. The hard way, sometimes…
Before going full-time into electronic music, I’ve played in a band for ten years, including hundreds of shows all across Europe. That experience, together with my studio skills, has led to finding a proper record label for my first electronic music productions.
So, that’s my story so far. But what about you? Let’s discuss your options.
5 ways to learn electronic music production
You don’t necessarily have to study electronic music to become a professional artist (or engineer, booking agent, whatever). It’s just one of many options. I’m going to show you five ways to learn electronic music production and discuss the pros and cons of each.
1. Electronic music production degree courses at universities
You can study electronic music bachelor and master’s degrees at a large variety of institutes. These courses usually cover aspects of music theory, sound design, music technology, as well as music & culture topics. Some of them also include live performance classes and give you a bit of background knowledge about the music industry.
Electronic music production degree courses are different from the other ways of education because they provide a big picture overview as well as very focused classes on specific topics. Moreover, you can be sure that your teachers have to run through a tough application process. This obviously doesn’t guarantee that the teaching will be great, but it’s at least a good indicator.
Studying electronic music at a university usually takes a couple of years, depending on what degree you’re aiming for. Speaking of degrees and grades: Nobody cares about that in the industry. Literally, no one. So if you decide to study electronic music, don’t do it because they give you some degree at the end of the course.
One of the greatest aspects is that you’re part of a community. The feeling of being surrounded by other people with similar hopes, dreams, fears, and problems is a big plus. You can build genuine connections with other students who might, in the future, be among the most influential people in the scene.
It’s a serious investment
The downside of the university-path is that the course fees are usually quite high and you need to invest 1-3 years more or less full-time. Even if your weekly classes take only around 12 hours total, you’re still going to invest much more time than that. Assignments and projects, practical but also in written form.
If you have trouble deciding which university to pick, I suggest visiting the space and planning a drop-in where you can feel what the classes are like. I would, personally, pick a university with a more progressive approach that focuses on practical experimentation instead of calculating decibel-changes with pen and paper.
Regarding the costs: Try to apply for fellowships and look for universities in other countries. Sometimes this can make it possible. Especially in the US, but also in many other places, the fees can become a serious risk for your future financial health. You can, of course, apply for student loans. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you remember that you’ll have to pay them back. So sit down and make a proper plan before committing to that.
- You can really immerse yourself in your studies over a long period of time and go deep if you like.
- You’re part of a community that supports each other, including students but also teachers.
- The quality of education is often very high and spans from big picture lessons to really detailed topics.
- The course fees are quite high in most places and might be a threat to your financial health in the future.
- You don’t get as much individual attention as in 1 on 1 coaching.
- You have to carefully assess your choice because not every university offers the type of education (and vibe) you’re looking for.
Who is it for
Studying electronic music in a university course is for people who have the time and financial possibilities to immerse themselves in a subject for a couple of years. It’s perfect for you if you want to become part of a like-minded artist community. This type of education resonates with people who need personal interaction with a teacher, but don’t need too much 1 on 1 attention.
2. Short courses for electronic music production at private institutes
If you don’t have the time (or money) for a university degree, you can decide to take short courses at universities or private institutes. Depending on the subject, they take from one to twelve weeks. Many universities and institutes offer summer courses that you can attend between semesters.
The advantage of these courses is that they’re quite condensed and to the point. On the other hand, they don’t allow for deep exploration and can sometimes be a bit shallow. You’re going to meet a lot of like-minded people and there’s the potential to build deeper relationships with some of them.
These courses are typically great if you want to get an overview of a subject, e.g. how to finish more songs or how to run a basic recording studio. In this example, you might be learning about how sound works in rooms, the basic functions of an analog console, different types of microphones and cables, and some standard recording techniques for acoustic and electric instruments. You’re most likely not going to learn the depths of advanced production techniques; the same goes for mixing and mastering.
If I were to choose this option, I would make sure to get information about the people who will deliver the course. Not all private institutions (and not all universities) have first-class teaching-staff. Moreover, there have been some scam accusations in the past with private institutes, most famously Dubspot.
- Short courses can provide a good overview of one area of music production.
- They are interactive and you get a bit of community vibe.
- It’s a less expensive and time-consuming option than a full university degree.
- You won’t dive deep into a subject, compared to a university degree or 1 on 1 coaching.
- Make sure you do proper research about the staff and institute beforehand so you’re really getting what you pay for.
- You don’t get a lot of 1 on 1 attention.
Who is it for
Short courses in electronic music are perfect for people who want to expand their knowledge and skills in a certain area without the commitment of a complete university course. If you don’t expect to dive super deep and enjoy being surrounded by people with the same passion, this might be a good option for you.
3. Electronic music masterclasses & weekend-workshops
If you want to learn about one specific area of electronic music production and go really deep, masterclasses and weekend-workshops might be perfect for you.
Usually, these kinds of workshops are being delivered by small institutes or professional producers and engineers, who enjoy sharing their knowledge and expertise with others. What’s special about these masterclasses is that you get a detailed look into the workflow of someone else. This can open your mind to many new possibilities for the way you work yourself.
Moreover, these workshops are usually restricted to a very small set of attendants. This means you will get the chance to ask many questions and there will be enough time to discuss details. So if you ever wanted to find out how to find and set-up your perfect Eurorack modular system, go find a masterclass for that.
For beginners, I’d say that these types of workshops aren’t the best solution. You might be better off with a short-course or even an online course to get started. As an intermediate or even as a seasoned pro, masterclasses are a great option to push your limits.
- You can go really deep into one specific area.
- Usually, a very experienced professional is going to deliver the workshop and you can have a look at his or her workflow.
- You will get more 1 on 1 attention than with university degrees or short-courses.
- You need to have a certain level of experience to really reap the benefits of masterclasses and in-depth workshops.
- The seats are very limited and it might be hard to find the right workshop in your area.
- You are going to pay a relatively high fee for a short amount of time and you might have to pay for travel as well since you want to learn from a specific person.
Who is it for
Masterclasses and weekend-workshops are for electronic music producers who already have a decent level of skills and knowledge but want to grow beyond their limits. If you’re curious to learn about the workflow of someone else and be able to ask all the questions you’ve had in mind for a long time, then this is for you.
4. Coaching and private lessons
All other forms of electronic music education included the presence of other people besides you and the teacher. But there’s also the option of hiring a coach for 1 on 1 sessions. I’ve started offering coaching last year and it has been a blast so far.
The difference between this way of education and all other forms is that you get to work specifically on your unique pain points and struggles. Do you want to improve your sound design? Do you want to play more and better shows? Maybe you’re struggling with confidence in your skills? Or you simply want to revamp your social media strategy and artist branding. Whatever issues are holding you back, you have the chance to address them in coaching sessions or private lessons.
Jakob Gille, one of my friends here in Berlin, for example, is offering composition lessons specifically for electronic music producers. Others specialize in teaching Ableton or other DAWs. My coaching revolves around mixing and mastering but also all the stuff I’m talking about in this blog.
I also pay for coaching by the way, since I believe that we must never stop growing and I definitely need someone to uncover my blind spots, just like everybody else does.
While I’m a big fan of coaching, I must admit that it also has some downsides. You don’t benefit from a community (unless it’s some form of group-coaching) and you need to be willing to put a lot of work into it as well. The job of a coach isn’t to lay out an easy path for you. It’s you who has to do the heavy lifting, in the end, your coach is only there to guide you.
- You can focus specifically on your struggles and pain points.
- It doesn’t get more personalized than that, pure 1 on 1 attention.
- You’re going to learn a lot about yourself and unlock your true potential in the most effective way.
- You have to find someone who is specializing in your area of interest.
- There’s no community, just you and your coach.
- You’re going to have to work a lot on your own and implement the things you’ve been talking about in your coaching sessions.
Who is it for
Coaching can be a powerful weapon if you want to unlock your potential to the fullest. If you don’t necessarily need a community but enjoy 1 on 1 attention and working on details with an experienced coach, then this perfect for you.
5. Self-learning and online courses for electronic music production
First of all, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being an autodidact. Many great artists have never seen a university from the inside and some of them have purely learned their craft by spending countless hours in the studio.
I think we’re living in a great time because the information you need is available at a very low cost. If you put in the work, you can improve a lot simply by reading the right books, practicing, watching tutorials and online courses, and practicing even more.
That being said, information overload is a real problem. Good luck trying to find useful tutorials on YouTube and NOT clicking on that video with the cat wearing a dog costume, fighting with a vacuum cleaner. Not gonna happen, my friend… Also, speaking as an experienced professional, some of the tutorials on YouTube are nothing but garbage. I would even go further and say: It’s dangerous to implement some of these tips. There’s a reason why some people make money as YouTubers, not as music producers or sound engineers. Get my point?
From my experience, it makes a lot of sense to pay for good quality online courses and put in the work to implement the things, not just watch videos. Self-learning only works if you’re truly dedicated to pushing yourself again and again. Personally, I believe you should at least combine it with occasional 1 on 1 coaching or masterclasses because it’s easy to get trapped in your own perspective.
- There’s enough fantastic information available to learn most of the things you need to learn.
- You can schedule the time as you want, which might be the best option for your circumstances in life.
- It’s by far the most cost-effective way of learning electronic music production.
- You’re on your own which often leaves you with a lot of questions.
- The information overload can make it difficult to find the gems in a sea of noise and mediocre quality content.
- You might not challenge yourself enough or get trapped in your own perspective without knowing it.
Who is it for
This way of learning electronic music production is for people with a great work ethic who are willing to at least spend money on good online courses and other educational products. If you have a demanding day job and/or family life, this might be the best option. Still, I recommend combining this with occasional 1 on 1 coaching sessions and masterclasses.
Conclusion: Your way of learning electronic music production
As you’ve learned here, there isn’t just “one way” of learning electronic music production. It comes down to your preferences, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. But one thing is for sure: You need to constantly challenge yourself if you want to grow. So don’t underestimate the return on investment if you pay for a course or hire a coach. You’re most likely going to grow a lot thanks to that investment.
Putting it into action: Electronic music education
Let’s now find out how you can get started with this.
1. Sketch out your strengths and weaknesses.
- First, focus on music production, composition, arrangement, mixing, and mastering.
- Then, take a look at your “soft-skills”, from branding to negotiating, etc.
2. Asses your budget (time and money) and learning preferences by using the pro/con list above.
- Do you enjoy a learning-community or are you more into 1 on 1 lessons?
- Are you already experienced or do you need some foundational help?
3. Make a strategic plan on how to invest in your self-growth as a music producer
- Decide which option you’re going to take on this year.
- Even after that, keep challenging yourself with one or several forms of music education.
That’s it for this episode. Now I’d love to hear from you what forms of electronic music education have you tried out? What has worked best for you?
Let me know in the comments, I read everything.