4 Years ago I started my journey into the world of music production.
I thought making computer music would be easy….
I was wrong.
I thought my killer taste in music and melodic ideas would see me writing masterpieces within a few months. I thought learning the software was going to be the only hurdle. Now it seems insane and laughable when I say that out loud.
Learning the software was the easy part. Taking ideas and turning them into great songs is the hard part.
I’ve made so many mistakes since then, and learned so much.
I figured if I can help you realise the mistakes you are making then hopefully I can save you some time.
So here it is, a list of 29 Music Production Tips to help you become a better producer.
- Choose your samples and instruments wisely. Sound selection is the single most important quality of a professional mixdown. Pick sounds that work well together. Don’t be afraid to load up 100 different kick drums into your sampler and flick through them until you find one that sits perfectly in your track. Repeat this same process for as many sounds as possible.
- Focus on songwriting first and foremost. It can be tempting to switch to engineer mode and obsess over your mix, but remember, the average listener is only paying attention to the melody/vocals. There’s no point in getting a perfect mix if your song doesn’t drive any emotion for the listener. Spend some time reading up on music theory.
- The fastest way to improve is to write a ton of music. Sitting on YouTube all day watching tutorials won’t get you where you want to be. That’s not to say tutorials don’t help – they certainly do, but you need to put what you learn from them into practice. If you have 4 hours a day of free time, I would suggest spending at least 3.5hours making music and if needed, watch a short tutorial on whatever you want to learn.
- First impressions are important. Make sure your intro captures the listener and makes them want to listen through to the chorus/drop.
- It’s important to have fun. You will learn the most when you are in a creative flow and enjoying yourself. However, some days you might feel uninspired or frustrated with your music. Use these moments to focus on other aspects of music production, like sound design, learning music theory, remaking songs you like or organising your sample library. See our article on beating writers block for more ideas.
- Save referencing for the final stages. Setting out to write a song that sounds like another artist will put you in a creative block where you are constantly judging all your creative decisions. 9/10 times it just ends up in frustration. I prefer to use only use reference tracks once I have the main ideas of my track down.
- Try EQing 1-2db of 10-13kHz from harsher sounds like supersaws. It can help to focus the top end and really clean it up. This isn’t a hard and fast rule. Try it out and see if it improves your mixdowns.
- Try using saturation in place of limiters. They both limit peaks and reduce dynamic range but saturators add a nice warm character to the sound. It’s easy to overdo it – as a general rule, I like to push the saturator to a point where it audibly distorts the sound and then back off a few db. Remember to listen to the result and determine if you like the sound. If not, maybe a more transparent limiter is appropriate in your situation.
- EQ for distance. If you want to place an element at the back of a mix, it not only needs to be quieter than the upfront sounds, it also needs to have less top end. This is to emulate the way air absorbs high frequencies. Use a high shelf EQ to take out some of the high-end.
- You can generally compress the living SH!T out of background sounds like pads, ambiences, backing vocals etc. They don’t need dynamic range or big transients and this will create more headroom in your mix.
- When adding width to sounds, try to stay away from HAAS delays as they tend to create phasing issues and sound weird in mono. Instead, try to use really short room reverbs (10-30ms), dimension expanders, chorus, or unison.
- Another cool way to add width to sounds is to make a copy of the sound, soak it in 100% reverb with a really short decay (20-60ms), cut out the low end, and lightly mix it in. You can also get away with compressing it HARD to create more headroom in the mix.
- Gain staging is important and simple. Just watch the meters of each plugin as you set them up, and make sure nothing is in the red.
- When working on a mixdown, try to periodically turn your speakers way down to where you can only hear the main elements, work on the mix for a while like that, then turn them back up. Keep doing this to keep a fresh perspective of your mix. Make sure you never monitor louder than normal conversation level, save your ears from fatigue and hearing damage.
- Listen to your mixes on 3-4 different systems – monitors, headphones, earbuds, phone speakers, car stereo, etc. Compare your mix to professional tracks on each of the systems and take note of areas that need fixing. For example, your high end might be a lot harsher in the top end than your reference track when listening on the car stereo. Maybe you missed that on your studio monitors. Take note and fix it.
- If a track feels a bit empty, try adding something simple like very quiet white noise, crowd noise, ocean sounds or a high string in the background, and fill gaps with percussive samples. Make sure you aren’t drawing attention away from the main elements or it can go from empty to cluttered very quickly.
- Contrast is an important tool. You can make sounds appear big by placing them next to small sounds. Kind of like putting a short person next to a tall person. For example, if you want a huge bass drop, try turning down the build and taking out some low end right before the drop. Then bring back all the low end and volume on the drop. You can also automate the stereo width of the build to move towards mono right before the drop hits for even more contrast.
- Make friends in the music production community. Discord is a great place to make friends and share feedback on each other’s songs. The /r/edmproduction subreddit has a discord server which you can join by following this link: https://discord.gg/edmp
- Feedback is important but take everything with a pinch of salt. If you truly don’t agree with someones feedback, then don’t make an adjustment just because they said you should.
- Leave your ego out of it. If you are out there making tunes for the sole purpose of getting x plays or x likes, chances are, your song will end up sounding uninspired and boring. Create emotions, themes and stories, the play counts will follow.
- Branding and marketing are important – so learn all you can about them. But don’t get too caught up in pushing your music out to people until you are sure it sounds commercially up to standard.
- Learning to play the keyboard can really help you to get ideas down fast and write more natural-sounding melodic ideas. It’s definitely not a necessity but can be a huge help.
- Production is reduction. Often times I will finish writing a track, and go back in to see what I can remove. What doesn’t need to be there? What doesn’t serve a purpose? 9/10 times you can drastically improve a song by removing pointless elements.
- Whenever you make changes to a track, take a break, come back the next day and listen again. Your ears will be rested and give you a fresh perspective on your changes. Never release a track the same day you finish it.
- Experiment with unconventional sounds. Try using foley in place of your regular drum hits. Things like keys or coins can make awesome for awesome high hats. Take Burial’s Archangel. He sampled the popular game, Metal Gear Solid, and the sound of bullet shells hitting the ground as his hi-hats. Taking a sound out of context can often spark a huge bout of creativity and take you down unexplored paths.
- Use natural sounds to create atmospheres that fit the theme of your tracks. Writing something chill and relaxing? Try using forest sounds or running water for example.
- Mastering is the icing on the cake. When you’re ready to master a track it should already sound almost perfect. The mastering should just bring up the loudness and enhance characteristics. I once asked Direct of Monstercat about his mastering process. He told me his chain usually just consists of an invisible limiter to push the loudness of his track.
- I hate it when people tell you not to focus on visual mixing tools like spectrum analysers and vectorscopes. “Use your ears” they say. I think it’s insane to have these tools available and not take advantage of them. You shouldn’t rely on one or the other alone. These tools should be used synergistically with your ears. So yes you should definitely use your ears. But when your ears tell you something is wrong, you should take advantage of every tool you have available to find and fix these issues.
- Don’t take anyone’s advice too seriously. Not even the advice I’m giving you right now. It’s all based on my own subjective experiences. Music is an art form. Art progresses when people experiment outside of the norms. Keep an open mind, listen to advice, but don’t blindly follow it.
Looking for more tips and inspiration?
Check out these great tips from other producers and blogs: