Below you'll find 10 music production techniques and strategies to help you improve your sound. Apply these techniques to transform your mixes from amateur to professional...
1 - Go Back to the Source...
In the beginning there was the audio sample, and the audio sample was good.
right, the old sound engineer's cliche of "sh*t in, sh*t out" applies when
it comes to the audio samples you use in your tracks. You make your life
a lot easier when you choose or design high quality sounds for your
productions from the get-go.
This may sound like common sense but it amazes me
how often I receive projects to mix that has samples with digital
distortion, clicks and pops or just plain nasty fidelity.
do you know you have a good sample? You use your ears, of course! If
it sounds good, it IS good. Yes, another production cliche, but there's a
reason why it's a cliche.
Solo your samples and make sure they contain
no distortion and that they sound good. Yes, you can throw glitter on a turd but all you end up with is a sparkling turd. OK, no more engineering cliches. I promise!
technique to improve your groove...
Take one snare hit, add some short reverb and bounce that
down to a new audio file.
Take the bounced file and reverse it and then
place it before one or more of your snare hits.
This sucks the listener
into your snare hits and can, when used right, improve your groove.
You can do this with any sound or instrument so don't limit yourself only to snares.
2 - Worship the holy trinity...
Great tracks, especially dance music tunes, rely on the groove. A
good groove forms the bed for the track to rest on, so it's essential to
get it right.
Your groove is driven by the interplay between
your kick, snare and hi-hat. Call them the holy trinity of groove and
worship them. Pay attention to how they interact and adjust the timing
and balance until your groove pops just right.
You can, for example, remove your grid snap in your DAW and nudge your individual MIDI note or audio drum hits slightly back or forth on your sequencer timeline. Play it by ear and adjust until you're satisfied with the groove.
It also pays to adjust the decay and release on individual drum hits in some cases. You can adjust the envelope of your audio samples or use the tools provided by a drum sampler VST such as NI Battery to achieve the same result.
You know you're on the money when you cannot help but move when playing back the track. Test it out on others if you get the chance!
3 - Respect the terrible twins...
Your kick and bass interplay and balance can make or break the low-end of your mix. Get this right and you're well on your way to a great tune.
sure your kick and bass don't clash in terms of EQ and arrangement. The
easiest way is to place the kick and bass hits on different beats so
they don't play at the same time. You can also make these two elements
gel by using EQ to adjust clashing frequencies in each.
Another common trick of the trade is of course to use side-chain compression to duck your
bass level down in the mix whenever the kick hits. You can use XFER's LFO Tool to achieve a similar effect without the more complex setup involved with side-chain compression.
This is a very important aspect of your mix so it's worth your while to spend some time to improve your knowledge and hone your skills.
4 - Keep it Zen...
Sensory overload is a real thing and you have limited space available in each of your mixes.
In other words, keep it simple. Too
many elements or different instruments at any moment in the song and you risk listener overwhelm.
You can also have too many tracks which fight for the same space in the frequency spectrum which results in masking of some sounds. Use your levels and EQ tools to get the balance and fit right.
want to be ruthless with your edits and arrangement so that your track
keeps the interest going while at the same time avoiding overwhelm in the
Cut everything that's not needed to convey the feeling and emotion of the track.
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5 - Use saturation...
We want it to sound more "warm", more "fat", more "analog"!
Saturation or coloring is one of the music production techniques
which allow you to increase the harmonic complexity of a sample or
track to fatten-up the sound. In other words, it helps you to add body to your mixes, when used
Run your individual audio tracks through a Saturation plug-in when you need to and apply harmonic distortion to individual tracks that lack body.
Be careful to not overdo it. Let your ears and good taste be your guide.
This article on Sound on Sound a great start if you want to deepen your knowledge of audio saturation. You'll find some of the most popular Saturation plug-ins listed here.
6 - Master gain staging...
A gain stage is a point in your audio signal-chain where you can adjust the signal level. This could be a fader in you DAW or an input or output level knob in your plug-in.
Gain staging is the process of adjusting your levels at each gain stage for optimum overall signal quality.
It's not rocket surgery! You want to make sure you
get your levels right through-out your processing chain to ensure audio
fidelity while avoiding digital distortion (bad, very bad) caused by
So, monitor your levels at each stage of your chain to make sure you have them as high as possible without going into the red.
Want to learn more? Try this article on SOS about DAW gain staging to get off to a good start.
7 - Use mix references...
It's too easy to lose context in your little production bubble when you
work on a track. Great reference tracks help you keep you in check
because you can compare your own sound to similar professional tracks.
A simple music production technique is to import the track into your session and A/B compare it with your own
mix. You can use a spectrum analyzer to check the energy at different
frequencies in your mix compared to the same frequencies in a similar
It's important to remember that most good
released tracks have been mastered so they may be much louder than your
own pre-mastered mix. Adjust the levels so they match to get a better
frame of reference.
8 - Add layers...
Kick too thin? Add another kick with better low-end and mix the two
kicks to create an uber-kick. Weak lead or pad sounds? Layer two or
three different synths together for better results.
You get the idea. Make your sounds more dense by the addition of complimentary sounds. You also can blend different layers together by using your EQ or by using parallel-compression to get it sounding full and tight.
This is one of the more important digital music production techniques to master as it can sound horrible when not done right, but it can transform your tracks when applied with care and attention.
You'll find some great tips for layering here.
Take your favorite
tracks from the genre you produce in and steal the structure.
will, by doing this over time, start to get a feel for what works and
what doesn't when it comes to track structure.
9 - Improve your arrangements...
Your track arrangement is probably the most important thing to get right if you want to achieve professional results. This is a skill you must master!
A bad arrangement will leave the listener bored to bits or overwhelmed.
The art of arrangement is to use tension, release and balance of
elements to create the feeling and emotion in your listener.
This is a huge subject and one worth your time and effort to master. Make it your mission to get your arrangement skills up to scratch. Find out what works and what doesn't.
This video gives you a good idea of how to work on your arrangement skills...