The Only Rule Is There Are No Rules

Let me first start off by saying in no way, shape, or form am I a professional music producer. As a matter of fact, I’m a long way from it. I say this to let you know that nothing I say here is concrete information that you must follow if you want to be successful. On the contrary, it is simply advice for you to use and then decide whether or not it was helpful for you. In music, there are no rules. Remember that one guy that said you should only cut on EQs and never boost? Yeah, he’s wrong. You are the creator, you determine how you want things to sound and how you want to go about getting it to sound that way. At the end of the day, if it sounds good, it sounds good.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions.

Production 101

Maybe you aren’t a visual learner. Maybe you just don’t like the way I explain things. Let me introduce you to my friend Seamless. Seamless is a producer who has loads and loads of videos on YouTube explaining music production and more advanced techniques.

If you would like to watch more, his YouTube channel is SeamlessR.

Mobile Melodies: How To Save Ideas On The Go

Sometimes you come up with a melody or other idea for a track but, for whatever reason, aren’t able to access your computer at that moment. The worst thing that can happen is that you forget it. Here are some tips to save your ideas while afk:

  • Constantly remind yourself of the idea until you get to your computer
  • Hum the melody into your iPhone microphone and save it as a memo
  • Get a free piano app and play it in there enough for you to remember it later
  • Lastly, run for the computer and hope you don’t lose it 

VST’s: Think Outside The Box

When you get your first DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), you might notice that it doesn’t come with a lot of internal plugins, or maybe you just want to see what else is out there. Well, with the help of VST’s (Virtual Studio Technology), you now have a seemingly infinite number of virtual instruments at your disposal. Browse away at websites such as Plugin Boutique until you find a few that you like and enjoy your new toys. My personal favorite include Sylenth1, Nexus, TruePianos, and the FabFilter bundle of mixing plugins.

Reverb: The Art of Illusion

What a reverb plugin looks like.

Redline Reverb by 112dB.

So you’re making a song, but it sounds dull and flat. Things sound static and you’re having trouble placing things in the back of your mix. This is where reverb comes in handy. Reverb (short for reverberation) is the persistence of sound after a sound is produced. In layman’s terms, it is caused when you hear the sound waves bouncing off of walls or other objects, making the sound appear larger than it actually is. In digital audio, there are no walls to bounce off of. For that reason, a producer needs a reverb plugin. Through complex algorithms, a reverb plugin can create the illusion that the sound is in a space (such as a Large Hall as pictured above) that it actually isn’t. It’s a neat way to create space in your track as well as to make things sound as if they are further back in the mix.

Reference Tracks and How To Use Them

Reference tracks are a useful tool in making sure that your mixes sound professional. The basic use of a reference track is to it as a reference when comparing your track to it. The key to finding a reference track to compare yours to is to look for a track that has qualities that you want your track to have as well. If you want your track to have a powerful low end, try to find a track that has nice sub frequencies. The main thing to remember when using reference tracks is that they are just for reference, DO NOT COPY someone else’s track just because you think it sounds good.

If you can’t find a good website to listen to some tracks that you could potentially use as a reference, head on over to Beatport for a current list of the top EDM songs.

Panning: How to Get Your Mixes Wide

Vectorscope in Izotope Ozone 4.

Vectorscope in Izotope Ozone 4.

When most people think about panning in music terms, they think left and right. And while they’re not wrong, they’re also not completely right. Panning not only refers to sending audio signals left and right, but also down the middle and to the sides, also known as mono and stereo. This opens us up to the topic of mid-side processing which I won’t discuss any further in this post but possibly in the future. Typically when panning, you want every sound to have its own spot in the mix. That’s when you use the left and right features. However, if you want your mixes to be wider while still sounding good in mono, you’re going to need to pan things in stereo and mono. A good starting point is to spread your higher frequency things such as synths and some percussion to the sides and keep things that you want to be in the middle such as the kick and bass in mono.

Levels: Turn Down for What?

Volume meters on a Mixer.

Volume meters on a Mixer.

You’ve probably just read my basic guide to compression and you’re thinking to yourself, “Geez, this stuff is really hard.” Relax, because when it comes to levels, it’s as simple as A, B, C. Levels is simply the term that is used by audio people to refer to the volume of each individual track. It does take a trained ear to know where each instrument should sit in the mix, but I’d say the majority of people can tell when something is too loud or too quiet. I wish there was more I could talk about on this topic but it really is just that easy. Turn the meter up if you want it louder, and vice versa.

Compression: How Lowering Volumes Can Make Your Mixes Louder

A compressor in action.

A compressor in action.

Arguably one of the most difficult techniques in mixing to master is the art of compression. Compression in its simplest form is used to get a more uniform average volume of a sound in order to maximize headroom in a mix, which will allow you to make your mixes louder in the long run. Used correctly, compression will make your track sound fat and powerful while still keeping the overall mix tight. Used incorrectly, a compressor can crush the life of your track into a dull, soulless cacophony. There are 4 main elements that all compressors share: the Threshold, Ratio, Attack, and Release. The Threshold is simply the volume level at which the compressor kicks into action. Whenever an audio signal passes above the threshold level, it tells the compressor to begin compressing. The ratio determines how hard the compressor actually compresses the signal. A ratio of 2:1 means that for every 2 dbs of audio that pass over the threshold, only 1 db will be outputted after compression. The attack tells the compressor how soon to begin compressing the signal after it passes over the threshold setting. A fast attack setting helps you clamp down on aggressive transients while a slower attack setting can allow you to maintain the initial punch of a sound while still compressing the rest of the signal. Lastly, the release is how fast the compressor resets to 0 dbs of compression after it is done compressing the last piece of the audio signal. Compression is an art that takes a long time to learn, but once you master it, your mixes will be tighter, fatter, and overall better sounding than ever before.