“We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain.” – Stephen Hawking
The internet boasts some pretty incredible tools meant to progress your output as a music producer, improve the quality of the music you’re making, spark some creativity and even help manage your marketing efforts.
The barrier to entry for pursuing any creative or business venture has arguably never been lower, but a shifting landscape also creates many new challenges. Inside of music production, the amount of affordable or free tools at our disposal is nothing short of remarkable.
What used to take a team of workers days or even weeks to create can now, in many cases, be created by one person in a fraction of the time. As a music producer, you might not only be asked to be a mixing engineer, a mastering engineer, a composer, and a sound designer (which are daunting on their own), but also a marketer, copywriter, graphic designer, web developer, manager, lawyer, and a business owner.
The list of responsibilities represents a huge challenge — while a lot of these tasks can eventually be delegated to a team down the road, that simply isn’t an option for someone starting out on a tight, bootstrapped budget.
And so, here are 65 of my favourite tools that I’ve used over the past 10 years to help me create music, manage my projects, tame distractions, improve my creativity, and generally make me a half-decent, relatively-productive human being.
CREATIVITY, COMPOSITION & EAR TRAINING
1. Hook Pad
Hookpad is an intelligent musical sketchpad that helps you create amazing chord progressions and melodies. The only downside to this that it is web-based.
2. Sound Gym
The ultimate ear training gamification. I once spent an entire day playing this – it’s that addictive. And while you don’t need to obsess over it to see benefits in your ear training, this is a very powerful, helpful and affordable tool.
Significantly better for workflow purposes than something like Hooktheory, the Unison Midi Chord Pack gives you ready-to-use midi in every single key, complete with major and minor chords, 7ths, 9ths, inversions, borrowed chords and advanced progressions. If music theory isn’t your strong suit (or even if it is) this tool is an absolute game-changer.
The best part? This pack normally sells for $67, but you can grab it for only $17 for being a Hyperbits reader! Still not sold? Watch me make a chord progression in under 1 minute here.
An EQ ear training app for audio engineers, producers and musicians that uses tones, noise and frequency-altered music loops (including songs from your own music library) to help you train your ears and develop more acute listening and frequency recognition skills so you can mix, record and produce like a pro.
This is a super fun, sleep tool that turns your keyboard into a fully loaded sample player with rich, beautiful, bright and textured samples.
I might be biased, but when it comes to songwriting, I grew up using this rhyming dictionary. It’s nothing special, but the fact that this rhyming tool even exists should always help strike.
An affordable way to master your music using an online tool. Is it a substitute for the real thing and learning how to master music yourself? We don’t think so, but it can be a good placeholder as you progress in the mastering audio skillset.
Easily search samples by key, BPM or style with an affordable monthly membership. On top of that, you can rent-to-own plugins which can really help artists get started when a budget is a huge factor.
There are so many useful tools here including a hearing test, a voice generator, time stretcher and sweep generator.
10. Online Sequencer
An effective online sequencer to compose in midi if you don’t have access to your DAW and inspiration strikes (which happens to us all the time).
11. Audio Check
Calibrate your studio. Test your stereo image. Test your hearing, speakers, headphones, digital-to-analog converters… and so much more.
12. Beatport Charts
This is a great tool to help you find songs in a particular key. Also amazing for sampling sounds that are in the key of the track you’re working on.
An amazing place to piece together and hire some of the world’s best mixing & mastering engineers, singers, songwriters, producers and studio musicians. I’ve used this service several times to have vocalists sing short, quick toplines – solely for the purpose of creating custom vocal chop loops.
14. Sweep Sine Tone
Sweep tone generator for testing your monitors and room acoustics.
15. Tap Tempo
If for some reason you can’t find the BPM of a song, simply do it the old school way. Tap along to the track and this little app will spit out the BPM. I’m surprised how often I’ve used this.
16. Phonic Mind
An affordable tool that can remove vocals from any song (and it actually works). A great way to create instrumentals for any reason – from mashups to referencing for the mixing process.
Connect with influential people in the industry without having to build up years of contacts. According to their site, it’s affordable and you get feedback from the pro’s, including A&Rs, bloggers, company managers, industry professional, label manager etc.
A beautiful, easy to use drum machine that allows you to export what you’ve created as WAV files. This can be a great method to change things up if creativity is lacking for whatever reason.
19. Web Synths
This is actually a beautiful web based synth with frequent updates and changes that get released via their Facebook page.
20. Circle of Fifths
A visual representation of the relationship between the 12 notes on the chromatic scale. Keeping this handy can go a very long way when it comes to composing. Eventually, you might not need it, but for starting out, it’s essential.
The best place online to share your music without having to sign up for anything! It’s like a lightweight Soundcloud without the fees, meant for quick and easy public sharing. Students use this tool in the Hyperbits Masterclass all the time.
A text document that is literally a cheat sheet for anything you might need to know inside of music theory. Even if you don’t end up using this little (huge) thing on a consistent basis, it’s worth downloading to read through a few times.
PRODUCTIVITY & FOCUS
Make no mistake, there is a war raging right now for your attention. Everything from the apps you download, to the software you’re using, to the advertisements taking over your Facebook feed, is literally being created with the intention of being addictive.
And these days, while a lot of people are complaining about this, I’d like to take a different approach – an approach of extreme ownership over your individual life. Your attention is your currency. What you choose to give a fuck about determines how your day-to-day life unfolds.
So now, more than ever, your focus isn’t just necessary to get things done, it’s mandatory. How you navigate your monkey brain and the digital economy at large will directly impact your productivity and the work you actually want to get done.
Mark Manson said this better than I’ll ever be able to, so let’s quote him before we get into the actual tools and apps that can help with arguably the most important aspect of my professional life: productivity and focus.
“You are constantly bombarded with messages to give a fuck about everything, all the time. Give a fuck about a new TV. Give a fuck about having a better vacation than your coworkers. Give a fuck about buying that new lawn ornament. Give a fuck about having the right kind of selfie stick. Why? My guess: because giving a fuck about more stuff is good for business.” – Mark Manson
If you’re passionate about almost anything in life, you’ll want to start by minimizing distractions. Turning off your Facebook newsfeed is how it starts. Trust me, you won’t miss it.
24. Win the Day
An awesome Chrome extension for habit tracking. In the Hyperbits Masterclass, we talk a lot about the importance of real deadlines. Anything you do to instill consistent habits will directly affect your overall output and progress by and large. Win the Day is our favorite app for this.
You can stay focused and present with this app. It’s similar to Win the Day in that it is pegged for habit tracking, but this app takes a more gamification approach. Funny how the potential answer to avoiding distraction is to gamify your habit tracking…but hey – whatever works!
A Chrome extension that gives you a combination of 4-5 features every time you open a new tab: a beautiful picture, the time, a quote, the temperature, and a reminder to focus on one big thing for the day (which you can customize). I’ve found this extension to be strangely awesome, comforting and enjoyable. Everyone is always asking about it!
I’m a terrible speller, and my grammar is fairly sub-optimal (especially because I tend to write in a more conversationalist style). Grammarly is like spell check from Microsoft Word, except it also helps with grammar and will appear on anything you are doing on the internet. Writing that email to a record label? Reaching out to vocalists? Composing a bio in Evernote? Whatever you’re doing – it’s best to keep it clean and professional, and Grammarly helps with that like no other. I consider this a must-have tool.
Want to actually see where your time is going? How much time are you really spending working with your DAW open? Or are you just jumping off to Reddit all the time? The free version of this app will get the job done and help you become more aware of your own habits and impulsive behaviors.
Choose up to 12 habits per day that you’d like to implement into your daily life and track the progress. A super powerful tool and another way to gamify some positive changes you are trying to make in your life.
This is by far my favorite project management tool I’ve ever used. I still love good old fashioned to-do lists, but unfortunately (or fortunately) there are simply too many moving parts in my life and business to not warrant using something like Trello. It’s free and super simple to use and honestly, it’s aesthetically pleasing as fuck to work with.
This is the most popular online project management tool out there and while extensive and powerful, the task-based approach is most likely overkill (or at least I felt it was for me). I’d still recommend it because the alternative of not using project management software is pretty unacceptable if you ask me.
Improve focus + boost your productivity by mixing sounds from the world. I absolutely love this web-based tool. Not feeling the music your neighbors are playing? Not feeling the construction outside your window? Is it simply too quiet? Mix in some ambient forest and ocean sounds and you’ll get honed in on your tasks in no time. This one is strangely comforting.
The first of 3 meditation apps we are listing here. Does it have anything to do with music production? No. Does it have everything to do with self-acceptance, focus, clarity of mind, and creativity? Yes.
Another amazing meditation app. This is by far our favorite when it comes to getting started with meditation, but the membership does feel a bit pricey at $12.99 per month. Start with the free version and consider upgrading from there. I’m fairly certain that using this app consistently for over 2 years (and meditating almost every) rewired my approach to life, changed my priorities, and made me a hell of a lot more self-aware.
Another meditation app alternative. I haven’t actually used this one for any prolonged period of time (aside from a few one-off tries), but I firmly believe in meditation and this is one of the most popular and highly reviewed apps out there so I figured it was worth including.
GRAPHICS & IMAGES
Let’s face it – high quality graphics and images aren’t easy to consistently create, even if you are a graphic designer. Luckily, these tools and photo depositories are awesome. And they are all free and easy to use.
A free, mini Photoshop with plenty of templates that span across the majority of dimensions and sizes needed for social media. I honestly can’t recommend this tool enough. As someone who was somewhat of a photoshop snob at one point, Canva has resulted in a significant uptick in productivity when it comes to creating high-quality graphics & images. You do NOT need to be a graphic designer to use this tool.
I’ve been using this site forever. If you are in need of high-quality cover art or album artwork, the first place I’ll start is with some general inspiration. Album cover rules will get ideas flowing in a hurry, and hey, ideas are everything.
This is just the first of three free photo libraries we love to use. The internet is awesome right? Use these photos at will, for whatever you’d like.
Another free, massive photo library. Thank us later.
One more free photo library (this is probably our favorite one – why not save the best for last?).
Graduating from making your own artwork in Canva? Or simply want to work with someone who is better at graphic design than you’ll ever be? Fiverr is great for freelance work on demand for graphics, recording voice-overs, or whatever you might need someone’s expertise for. A slightly better, more professional alternative is Upwork. I’ve had better luck there, but it does tend to attract better quality workers which are a bit more expensive.
This is an app that uses Google’s high-quality filters. My favorite is the high definition filter – it gets the job done for landscape photos every time.
Another photo editing app, not quite as good as Snapseed, but close. Worth checking out if you truly enjoy the option of additional filters. If not, stick with Snapseed + Instagram.
EMAIL MARKETING & WEBSITE MANAGEMENT
The numbers are officially in – email is still a more effective medium than social media according to Agency Analytics 2017 industry reports. I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s true. For starters, more people have email than Facebook (by 2x). Also, people still use email more often per day than social media. On top of that, according to Agency Analytics, email marketing campaigns outperform social media marketing campaigns with an average ROI of 122% versus 28%, respectively. That’s extremelysignificant.
To keep things simple: email isn’t dead. In fact, it’s thriving. And you have to participate if you want to be relevant, regardless what you are trying to build: an artist brand, a business or anything in between. This means collecting emails to grow and nurture your fanbase at all costs as it will help your bottom line in everything – from merch sales to hard ticket sales, to music sales, to offering your services.
And by the way – if you don’t have a website to push traffic to, it’s time to get one. Social media is like leasing a car – you don’t actually own the property or contacts (ie. the fans), and you’re subject to rules and algorithms inside whatever social media platform you’re using. You can take back control with these tools.
A powerful and tried/tested email management service. It’s free to use under 2000 contacts, but prices increase in a hurry. I would recommend Mailchimp as a solid starting point, but I’d move on once you start to collect a lot of emails.
45. Email Octopus
Email Octopus runs through Amazon Web Services which means one big thing for me and you – low prices. In fact, it’s only $15 for 10,000 subscribers a month. In the email marketing world that is dirt cheap!
Touted by Heroic.Academyas the best option in the market, MailBlast is arguably one of the most affordable email marketing platforms out there. It also runs using Amazon Web Services and for just $15 a month, you can set up email automation to 15,000 subscribers.
Another solid service with some beautiful email templates. We recommend keeping email design pretty simplistic, but another great feature is the email lead-generation forms that you can publish and use to collect more leads. Pricing is slightly more expensive than Email Octopus or Mail Blast, but it’s still very competitive.
48. Send in Blue
Another affordable email management tool that is all about offering competitive pricing as you scale. Think 40,000 contacts for only $30 per month with unlimited sending. Again, in the email marketing world, this type of pricing is unheard of!
This little email app can actually help you stay on top of those manual outreaches to labels, A&Rs, as well as blogs/curators by tracking email opens and activities from your contacts.
A very underrated tool that allows you to find anyone’s email address. Access is everything.
A nifty, clean little widget which offers fans a simple way to preview your music and download it in exchange for joining your email list or tweeting a message. This is a great way to build social engagement or grow your email list.
If you need a starter website, this is the best place to start. If you have a few images, you can create a beautiful site in under an hour – it really is that easy. Eventually, you might want some more custom options – but when it comes to getting started, Squarespace is in a field of its own.
Once you’ve graduated beyond the limitations of a Squarespace website, you’ll want to shift over to something more open source like WordPress. If you are half decent at code or tech stuff, you can modify literally thousands and thousands of themes to your liking, or install plugins for virtually everything you could ever want. Find a place to host your website and you’ll be good to go!
Ever wonder how websites are going about creating those enticing pop-ups that are great at collecting email addresses, in return for some sort of value? Yea, they are using apps like Sumo, not coding it from scratch. Another amazingly simple but powerful tool.
Want to actually chat with people on your website in real time? Drift is free to use and can do just that. It comes packaged as a powerful widget that you can install on almost any website.
Originally published @ hyperbitsmusic.com
Check out their other articles: 20lessons in music production I wish I knew when I started