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5 Ways To Improve Your Music

Posted by William Rankin on

Our friends at Get That Pro Sound have put together some basic production tips that I wish I’d taken on board earlier with my music. Make the effort to try something new or different with how you approach your productions every now and again – it may make things more difficult at first, but it’s the best way to improve.

Here are 5 things to try – pretty simple, but often remarkably challenging to remember when you’re caught up in that moment of creative inspiration:

1. Parallel compression

Using compression effectively is fairly easy once you get your head around the principles of what it does to your signals, and it’s the simplest way to give your sounds some of that elusive pro punch.

Getting punchy drums is really key in any genre these days, be it rock, techno, dubstep or drum & bass. Parallel compression is one technique that can help here. It sounds complicated but it’s not – you simply duplicate your drum track (or any other type of track), and then heavily compress the duplicate, leaving the original uncompressed. When you play them back together, you get the powerful ‘breathing’ dynamic sound of the compressed version, whilst still retaining the detail, brightness and clarity of the uncompressed version. The best of both worlds…

2. Correct and ‘incorrect’ uses of reverb

Generally speaking, you would normally set up maybe two or three different reverbs as send effects (FX Channels in Cubase, Aux Channels everywhere else) when you start a project, and as you create and mix, route some of your individual tracks to one or another of these. I believe it’s important to always leave at least one sound completely free of reverb though, to give a sense of where the ‘front’ of the mix is.

However, things can get much more interesting when you use reverb plugins as inserts on your channels. My favourite trick for creating really haunting ambience pads and hit effects is to insert a reverb on a channel, bring up a huge ‘cathedral’ or ‘church’ preset and set the wet/dry balance within the reverb plugin to 100% wet. You’ll be surprised how you can turn really uninteresting source samples into cinematic gems.

3. Set up your speakers correctly

You can spend all the money you have on great sounding gear, but if it isn’t set up correctly in a half-decently prepared room you may as well not have bothered. This is because you can only operate your gear effectively based on what you can hear in your particular listening space – so if your speakers are bunched up in a corner of the room, you’ll probably find the bass is boosted quite significantly. This is great, until you come to mix your music based on this bass-enhanced sound – when you play your mix back somewhere else, you’ll probably find that there’s no bass at all because you compensated for the ‘colouration’ of your room sound/speaker setup.

Get your speakers as far away from the corners and walls as you can (within reason) and try to position them so that there is an exactly equal distance between the left speaker, right speaker, and where-ever your head is when you’re listening/mixing (making an equilateral triangle).

4. Get minimal – Less Is More

It’s easy to get carried away when you’re inspired, and it’s great to explore every idea you get for a particular track. However, the flip side of this is you then have to know how to edit your ideas and only incorporate the best ones into the final mix.

In the end this comes down partly to experience – knowing what will sound good because its worked for you before. But more fundamentally it comes down to having a clear idea of what you want the track to do,why you’re making it in the first place. Once you work this out, and it can be tough sometimes to realise what the real reason is, you’ll find it becomes obvious what should stay and what should be left on the virtual cutting room floor.

A good rule to work by if you’re not sure then, is “if in doubt, leave it out”. Always work towards creating more space in your mix, and make the few elements that are already there even better rather than piling on more stuff. Clutter and a lack of focus is a sure-fire sign of an amateur mix. If you don’t agree, listen to your favourite music and count how many different elements there are going on at any one time. See?

5. Compare & contrast

I’ve found the best way to set this up usefully is to have a couple of my favourite artist reference tracks actually running on their own ‘Reference’ track within my sequencer, that I can solo on and off with one click – that way, I can make super-quick A/B comparisons between my mix and the ball-park sound that I’m trying to stear it towards. Remember, always start with the goal in mind…

Just make sure when you do this that you don’t inadvertently or otherwise produce a really good rip-off / cover version of your reference track instead of your own original idea!

Full article and more tips, head to Get That Pro Sound