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I remember when I started learning music production; I was always wondering when I’d be able to make dance floor bangers. When would I be able to produce music that sounds amazing? I have to admit, I was impatient and wanted to create amazing electronic music immediately! Now, 25+ years on, I’ve learned to produce music – though it’s not been a linear process, and I still want to learn more.
When we start learning a new skill, it is understandable that we want to know how long it will take to learn. Like learning an instrument, a new language, or how to drive, some skills take longer to acquire than others, and music production is one of them.
So, how long does it take to learn music production??
In this article, I’ve attempted to answer that question.
We’ll look at the importance of defining your goal; then look at research around the 10,000-hour & the 20-hour rule, research which shows how long it takes to learn a skill.
I then break down the production topics you’ll need to learn and allocate time to them. I combine this with the research to estimate how long it will take to learn music production.
This shows us that:
Learning the foundation of music production takes 160 hours.
Mastering music production takes 6 years + with 4 hours of practice a day.
Time taken to master music production depends on how much practice per day you invest.
Progress is linked to right type of practice.
Read on to find out more….
Table of Contents
Define what you want to learn.
Before we start, defining what we mean by “learn music production” is useful. Music production is a significant topic with many different sub-skills to learn within it. So, let’s get more specific:
- What is it you want to be able to do?
- How will you know when you have entirely learned music production?
- What’s your end goal?
- Is this a hobby, or do you want to go professional?
- Do you want to have fun making music, or do you want to release your music, pitch to labels, become a sound engineer, mastering engineer, perform, learn every music production topic, or start a career?
Write these answers down to help you formulate a goal and start planning towards it.
You can take many paths when you start your music production journey. Obviously, the more topics you wish to learn, the longer it will take you. For example, learning electronic music production has a slightly different production process than if you were producing rock music. Becoming a sound engineer is different from becoming a music producer. It can be hard to predict how long it will take without defining what you want to learn. So, get specific.
Let’s say you want to learn the foundations of music production. Foundations that will provide a solid overview of how to produce tracks, record vocals, and write your own music. How long would learning these basics of the music production process take?
Let’s look at some research to get an idea of time scales.
The 10,000 hour Rule
A body of research in cognitive psychology suggests it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate, guided practice to become an expert at something. Cognitive psychologist K Anders Ericsson researched how long it took for high-performing athletes, chess masters, and musicians to achieve superior performance. Malcolm Gladwell referenced this research in his best-selling book “Outliers,” which popularised the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to learn a new skill.
But 10,000 hours… that sounds like a lot, right!?
To put that into context and overwhelm you, 10,000 hours is 416 days or five years at a full-time job. Few of us can quit our jobs and practice 8 hours daily to become music producers. So maybe we can manage an hour of deliberate practice a day? Or maybe four?
Here’s a table showing how long it takes to spend 10,000 hours learning music production with different amounts of deliberate practice per day. Think about how many hours you can dedicate, and it will indicate how long it will take you to become a master at music production.
Amount of practice p/day
After 1 year
So to get to 10,000 hours of practice, we would need 6.8 years of 4-hour practice a day.
1 year = 1460 hours
(10,000 hrs / 1460hrs) = 6.8 years
Do not be deterred! …. this is not exactly true for learning a skill!
Remember, Ericsson was studying the best of the best, the most successful performers in their field. He found it took them 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become highly successful experts. Not that it took 10,000 hours to learn a new skill. Take comfort in the fact that other research suggests you can become good at music production much faster.
Enter the 20 hour rule…
The 20 Hour Rule
Not got 10,000 hours to master a skill? Then you’ll like what Josh Kaufman says in his book “The First 20 Hours,” which pushes back against the 10,000-hour rule.
In this book, he offers his systematic approach to rapid skill acquisition, i.e., how to learn any new skill as quickly as possible. He argues that you can acquire a skill and perform well by completing just 20 hours of focused, deliberate practice.
That’s 40 mins a day for 30 days.
Sound too good to be true?
Remember that this approach focuses on improving your skill acquisition – becoming faster at learning something. So, you can quickly become competent at the skill rather than become an expert (as the 10,000-hour rule states).
So, what does that mean for your music production journey?
It means you can learn a foundational level of music production quickly and excel quite rapidly, but the time it takes to become an expert will take much longer.
I pinched some slides from Josh Kaufman’s TED talk that help to visualize this idea:
Fig. A illustrates how long it takes to do a task before you’re good at it, showing that the time taken to perform a task decreases with practice. This is the case for many music production skills; as you begin learning to produce music, you will take longer to do tasks and understand concepts than you will after hours of practice.
And That’s OK!
You are in the learning gap towards getting better. The good news is that more significant improvements will be rapidly made when you start producing music. This is shown in the second graph.
Fig. B illustrates the concept of skill acquisition vs. time. For music students, this highlights the beginning of learning to produce music. It takes a period of time to stop being terrible and start to improve – this is the learning curve. That time, according to Josh, is 20 hours. During those 20 hours, great improvements are made! After that, incremental improvements take longer.
The book provides four main takeaways that we can apply to learning music production topics faster.
- Deconstruct the Skill
- Learn Enough to Self Correct
- Remove practice barriers
- Practice at least 20 hours
1. Deconstructing the Skill
Josh tells us to break down what we need to know. This is why we started to define our goal earlier. Now that your goal is defined, you can break it down into the music production topics you need to learn. Then, break those down into sub-topics and start practicing. I’ve outlined a foundation of music production topics below that will help.
2. Learn Enough to Self Correct
This will help you continue to do deliberate, guided practice. It will help if you have resources such as music production books or have enrolled in a course. These resources can provide you with the foundational knowledge to build upon. They will also help you deconstruct the skill – as it will be done for you with a course curriculum or the topics in a book—another great benefit of being on a course is if it provides feedback from tutors. This will help guide your self-correction.
3. Remove practice barriers
Make sure you can create time to practice being a music producer. Many barriers will emerge, such as time, money and emotional barriers. I really liked Josh’s TED talk quote:
“The major barrier to skill acquisition isn’t intellectual – it’s emotional”.
This highlights the barriers we can place on ourselves when we start producing music. So many aspiring music producers fall victim to shame, not feeling good enough, and being hyper-aware of their music sounding shit. Let me say here… your music will sound shit when you start out writing music – get comfortable with that, it’s OK. It’s all part of the process. 🙂
If you keep coming up against a particular emotional barrier, such as worrying your music isn’t good enough or your motivation being sapped by not getting anywhere – try reading about self-compassion. It’s hard to be vulnerable – and making music can tap into that sense of inadequacy. I found reading about self-compassion – and allowing myself to be shit at things highly liberating and surprisingly made me more productive. Two easy-to-read books I’d recommend are Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly & Kristen Neff’s Self Compassion.
4. Practice at least 20 hours
Commit to doing 20 hours of deliberate practice of your chosen topic, and you will see great improvements. Ensure you get feedback on your practice to gauge whether you are improving. For music producers, this can be as simple as joining a music community and sharing your work, sharing music with friends.
Related: The Best Ableton Courses Online
What Music production topics do I need to learn?
So now we know it can take 20 hours to learn a new skill.
But what skills do you need to learn to start producing music?
I’ve deconstructed music production into sub-topics below. It’s not a comprehensive list, as there are many more sub-topics to understand. This does, however, provide an overview of the production process. You’ll need to have a good understanding of all of these topics to be a music producer:
- Studio Setup & Hardware – 20 hours
- Learning a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) – 20 hours
- Training your ears – 20 hours
- Composition – 20 hours
- Sound Design – 20 hours
- Recording – 20 hours
- Mixing – 20 hours
- Mastering – 20 hours
If we apply the 20 hour rule to each topic, this totals 160 hours to get to a good level of competency.
It’s worth considering that within each of these topics there are more techniques and subjects that you could pursue – each adding another 20+ hours.
The Right Type of Practice
When we talk about practice, what do we mean?
This part is really important – and often overlooked. If you want to get better at producing music you need to practice. BUT.. the type of practice you do is important. It needs to be quality, guided, and deliberate practice! Ensuring you are doing the right type of practice will speed up how long it takes you to learn.
But what is the right type of practice?
Ericsson & Josh both refer to deliberate practice.
Ericsson described ‘deliberate practice’ as:
‘a highly structured activity, the explicit goal of which is to improve performance. Specific tasks are invented to overcome weaknesses, and performance is carefully monitored to provide cues for ways to improve it further’ (Ericsson et al., 1993, p. 368)
This is useful for us to know, as it doesn’t mean trying to learn music production alone, by ourselves; it involves other experts teaching and guiding us. It doesn’t mean just sitting down on an evening and playing around in your DAW; it involves a structured approach that involves expert feedback. The quality of practice is extremely important.
So, as you start producing music, make sure you are using a structured approach that has a feedback mechanism.
So…. how long does it take to learn to produce music!?
The length of time taken to learn music production will vary greatly on your goals. If you want to learn to be an expert music producer, at a professional level, you will require 10,000 hours of deliberate, structured practice to get there. The amount of time you can dedicate to this practice per day will affect how quickly it takes you to complete 10,000 hours. At a rate of 4hrs per day you can get there in 5+ years.
To get to a good level of producing music it will take you about 160 hours. This is based on understanding the basic concepts of producing music and taking 20 hours to get good at each new skill.
Learning music production is such a great skill to have, one that will fill you with hours of creative expression and fulfillment (most of the time ;). You are bound to enjoy making music so much that you’ll persevere through the hard times and continually get better, improving your overall sound as you go.
If you are looking for a music production course check, the following will be of use: