I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve grown as a producer and came up with some tips that I would have loved to know when I first started out producing. I’ll be using a lot of music jargon/technobabble, but if you don’t know what it means, it’s time to google some key words. You’ll need their definitions on your journey.
TOO MUCH REVERB MAKES YOUR MIX MUDDY – Reverb has always been one of my favorite effects to use and you’ll hear it in every single one of my tracks. Every DAW I’ve ever used has native reverb plugins… A few of them have something called convolution reverbs, which allow you to put your audio in a real or simulated acoustical space. I highly recommend using these, as they give your tracks a better sense of location. Yes, reverb is a powerful tool… but you must remember that with great power comes great responsibility. You MUST NOT abuse your power to use reverb! I habitually committed reverb abuse on my older tracks, and as a fellow producer once put it, they sounded as if they were “produced behind a bar in Tijuana.” No matter what kind of reverb you’re using, it generally shouldn’t be affecting 100% the audio from the channel strip you’ve placed it on. It should be more around 15% to 20%. This gives it the presence that it needs without the mud. This is a general rule for other effects such as phaser, flanger, or chorus. I usually have an EQ before my reverb to do what I speak of in Tip #2 and a second EQ to manage any noise that is created by the application of the reverb.
CUT UNNECESSARY FREQUENCIES - Just about every sample or instrument has useless frequencies that can make your mix sound like shit. In order to keep your mix clean, you should get in the habit of cutting out those frequencies… Basically, you’re photoshopping your audio! haha Well…audioshopping, but you get what I mean! You should always use a Parametric EQ. It gives you the most flexibility and control over the way you are shaping your sound. Based on the genres that you produce in, you’ll end up learning specific techniques that help you produce something that fans of the genre will recognize as legitimate. If you’re curious about techniques for your genre, just go onYoutube and search “[genre] production techniques”. Your sounds will not always sound as full as they did before you started cutting out frequencies, but that’s okay. This might even be ideal in most circumstances. The way that I approach mixing is to turn my instruments and samples into “puzzle-pieces” that fit into each other. Another way to look at it is that you’re making room for the more dominant instruments or sounds. There are many creative techniques to achieve this that are much more advanced than EQing and you’ll learn those in time as well.
KEY YOUR DRUM SAMPLES – A song can sound good without this, but I believe they can sound amazing with it. You might even already be doing it without realizing by choosing samples that sound better in the key your song is in. If you know your samples well and pitch them so that they don’t clash with your key, your entire track will benefit. You should be doing this if you want to produce good Trap or Trance. There are some genres where this doesn’t matter so much, but try it out and see if it helps your productions out. Be aware that the note on your keyboard might not correspond to the key on your sample. Use a tuner or some other method to figure out what note your sample is playing it, and then pitch it until it’s playing the right note.
AVOID MIXING WHILE YOU’RE COMPOSING – It’s tempting as hell to start making everything sound nice while you’re sketching out ideas for a new track, but let me just say this; it’s better to have a well-composed track that needs some mixing than a mixed idea that’s lost its inspiration. You need to work quickly to put your idea in front of you. As a writer, I’ve learned that this is the best way to write… Write everything first, then start looking for things to remove or change. Mixing should always be done with fresh ears. Come back to a track after a couple days of not hearing it and then attempt to start adding effects,automations, and mixing.
LEARN THE KEYBOARD - Learning how to play piano or keyboard is going to help you out a lot. One major way is that it will help you understand some music theory, which is not essential, but makes things easier. You can easily throw together some chords and a melody if you understand how music works. I don’t mean that you need a classical understanding or a fancy music teacher… You just need to immerse yourself in the sound at some kind of bare form. Any instrument will benefit you really. I actually write a lot of my tracks on guitar just playing around in my room. Then, when I have something good going, I’ll take that to the DAW and convert it into a song. The reason why I say you should learn keyboard is because just about EVERY DAW supports MIDI Instruments. MIDI, which is short for Music Instrument Digital Interface, is a technology that allows you to control your DAW (and the synthesizers that lay within) directly with a physical instrument, as opposed to clicking and drawing notes with a mouse. This also allows someone who can play even simple things to record MIDI data live, which means you can hit record and just play, saving plenty of time. Once you’ve recorded a chord progression, you can easily play a lead over that, creating your awesome melody.
LEARN MORE THAN ONE DAW - My interest in audio engineering was first developed as I learned to manipulate audio clips in Sony Vegas (I was unaware of Sony ACID at the time). Eventually, that hobby turned into recording my own music in my bedroom under a project called Safe Sacrifice. Before taking on a second DAW, I recommend learning your first one thoroughly as doing so gives you the ability to “translate” what you know from the first DAW to the second. My first DAW was FL Studio, way back when it was Fruity Loops. I learned Logic when I started taking classes at San Diego Miramar College’s recording studio, years later. Learning how Logic worked unlocked entire new perspectives on how to use FL Studio. It influenced the way that I set up my mixer channels and arrange my playlist, and also made me much more comfortable to use MIDI instruments to control parameters.