Music production is an entire universe, unlimited and full of challenges you need to face. You wanna be a music producer and you don’t know how to start, all you’ve done so far was figuring things out just by trial and error, then this article is for you. Here are “9 tips and tricks for music production”
I want to start by telling you that these steps apply to any genre and any D.A.W. and they are inspired from my personal workflow. They might work or not for you, maybe you’ll decide to implement at least some of them in your workflow. So let’s get started!
Please don’t be that type of guy, who doesn’t give a s**t about labeling or color coding. There’re people saying: “I have my own style of working, my messy project is in fact organised”. Let me tell you something: you’re lazy doing that and doesn’t help at all! Spend time organising your session, group instruments in chunks and color code them. Give short names to the tracks. If you want to insert more information, use the comment section in your DAW or a notepad. You can create your own template and modify it to fit your needs. This way you’ll spend less time doing that for the next project.
First thing first, check the phase correlation for multiple mic instruments, if you have any in your song. Let’s take for example a snare drum; usually a standard way of recording a snare drum is by placing two mics: one at the bottom one on the top. In your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) you need to zoom in on a single snare hit and take a look at the wave forms, you’ll notice that the wave forms might be out of phase (fig. 2); if that’s the case you need to drag the actual track of one of the mics to the left or to the right till you match the other mic (fig. 1) (I would advise you to consolidate the tracks before doing this process.). Another important aspect to keep in mind after you phase match the snare is to get it in phase with the other drum mics, such as overheads. This process can be applied on any multi-mic instrument.
You’re gonna be amazed of how little changes make so much difference in your track. Ask yourself this questions: is the vocal in tune?, is everything in sync?, are there strange noises that I need to get rid of: pops, clicks, hiss?, do I need to replace something? After you narrowed down all this questions and there’s nothing left, the mix can get started.
Use pitch correction plugins such as Melodyne, Antares or Vari-Audio from Cubase to tune the vocal. Move clips back and forward, use beat detective or warping techniques to get everything in sync. Spot the pop or the click and use an EQ in offline processing to remove the low end with a low cut filter. Use noise reduction plugins for hiss or buzz.
Depending on what D.A.W you use, you might have a clip gain function, an input gain somewhere on the mixer or at least a plug-in that has a volume knob on it. Free G from Sonalksis is a free alternative and I use it all the time throughout my projects. Before you start mixing verify the input signal for each track. Too quiet? raise the volume, if it’s too hot bring it down. The idea is to get a good headroom before you start mixing, so you won’t clip the plugins. Use a VU meter to check the levels, there’s a free one made by LSR audio plugins. Using this technique you’re not just freeing up headroom, you’ll also make the song sound better; how is that? you might ask. Plugins are designed to work with certain algorithms and most of them work the best at -12 dBFS. Don’t miss this opportunity of making your song sound great.
Let’s assume you’ve done all of the above, what’s the next step?
I’m gonna slap a compressor on the kick drum and then the snare…! Ok, Stop!
We, music producers, are like kids, we ain’t got patience at all! Start by adjusting faders and panning, take the time to listen critically and try to separate the instruments. Imagine yourself in an empty room with your eyes closed and you’ve got 3 friends: one would stand very close to you, one in the middle of the room and the other one in the very back of it. They would start talking one by one and you’ll instantly know their position; your brain translates the change in volume in distance, this is they way mixing works as well.
When you record live instruments, you’ll always end up by having rumble in your recording: the traffic from outside, your neighbour that decided he’s gonna clean his house today or maybe your own computer if you’re not using a vocal booth or another room.
You can minimize all this by using a low-cut (fig. 4) or a high-cut (fig. 3) filter. Just cut everything till you find that you didn’t removed anything from the instrument itself, of course if that’s a mix decision you can remove as much as you want. You can use this tools creatively as well, low-passing or high-passing a track gives a pretty interesting effect.
The word “master” sounds so scary for some people that it created a lot of myths in the music industry. There’s nothing wrong with slightly EQing your master fader, it gives a different effect doing that instead on individual tracks, it also speeds up the process a lot. Compression is used on the master as well; a 2:1 ratio and 1 to 3 dB reduction, won’t hurt anyone. This process may vary depending on you tastes.
I know this is hard! We love mixing so much that we forget to do it, or we just don’t want to. If you find yourself in this situation, use a timer on your phone, set it to ring once every 30 minutes; if you work with headphones then set it to 15. Take a break of 5 to 10 minutes, walk away and think about something completely different. When you’ll come back, your sound perception will be refreshed. I’m addicted to coffee and I’m not allowed to have it inside the studio, so I get out every 30 mins to have a few sips.
How many times you finished a track, just to find out in the end that it doesn’t even compare to commercial releases, or it doesn’t translate on a different set of speakers. Referencing would come in handy now! Take some tracks that you love in a similar style with the song you’re working on and import them in your session. Lower the volume of the songs to match your track, so you won’t be fooled by the volume change and listen critically to the low end, top end, snare, kick, anything that might help you in comparing your song. We don’t try to copy other mixes, we just wanna keep a reference point, so we don’t loose the perspective.
Mixing is not an easy task and it takes time ’till you’ll start mastering it, but your consistency will make a difference and will speed up the process. Don’t give up!, a s**t mix is a lesson learned, your time will come as well and I can’t wait to hear it on the radio.
I’m a guy who learns new things everyday and I’m far from perfection, but I wanna help other starting music producers to pass this level of uncertainty and confusion. Once I’ve been there as well!
You wanna share your own work? List it down in the comments.