10 Powerful Secrets of Music Production
Here’s one for all you music producers, recording engineers, mix engineers, and home studio buffs! It’s time for us to dive into some insider tips and tricks that’ll help you level up your music production game. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just getting started, our list of 10 powerful secrets of music production covers essential knowledge for anyone with any aspirations as a music producer in the music industry.
Table of Contents
Secrets Of Music Production
At first glance some of our secrets of music production look like music production fundamentals. If that is true, that is not all that they are. The secret, or lesser known knowledge, relates to the perspective taken, the application of knowledge or technique, or it might be the level of importance that sets it apart.
Our 10 powerful secrets of music production help you to notice the importance of information, view that information from a particular perspective, and ultimately lets you organize and boost your understanding. If it helps you notice something important, it might just be that detail that helps your production move to the next level.
Let’s give you some immediate value by breaking down the secrets of music production into subjects and relevance that you can take and apply away.
The Power of Pre-Production
Let’s kick things off with the first of our secrets of music production: Pre-Production. Before you even hit ‘record,’ make sure you’ve got everything sorted. We’re talking about sorting out the song structure, and musical arrangements, plus having a crystal-clear vision of what the final track should sound like. Even if the track does develop during production, having a strong vision of the full production before you get started, your track will progress faster and with more certainty.
This is especially important if studio time is a factor and you are trying to keep costs down. Studio engineers and any session musicians are expensive, never mind additional time for equipment rental. Having a clear vision for the end product will help keep you on track and help you avoid going down potentially expensive dead ends. Pre-production is your blueprint; don’t underestimate it!
Get Your Gear Right
The second of our secrets of music production: Getting Your Gear Right. It’s tempting to buy all the shiny new gear, but you should ask yourself if you really need it. It is normally far more useful to focus on quality over quantity. A few good pieces of equipment can take you a long way. Learn how to maximize what you’ve got, and you’ll find that even basic gear can work wonders. Learning to stretch what you have to the limits can be a highly valuable exercise.
Understanding the limitations of your gear will potentially reduce your shopping bill. With a stable set up and the right gear to achieve the result you are aiming for, you are well prepared for your recording sessions
Know Thy DAW
The third of our secrets of music production is to: Know Your DAW. Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) are your bread and butter. Whether you’re using Ableton, Pro Tools, Studio One, Cubase, Cakewalk, or FL Studio, the trick is to really know your DAW inside-out.
Learn those shortcuts, explore the hidden features, complete the official tutorials, compare notes with fellow DAW users (and with other music producers), and, of course, personalize your workflow.
A personalized workflow is often overlooked. The faster you work, the more you can focus on being creative. Focusing on the mechanics of achieving tasks will break your creative flow. It is like stumbling on uneven ground when you try to run. It takes you out of the flow and you have to rebuild your momentum. The more intuitive your interactions with your DAW, the less you have to focus on how you achieve something. Instead, your brainpower is increasingly focused on the creative aspect of tasks, not the mechanics.
Make Templates Your Bestie
The fourth of the secrets of music production is: DAW Templates. Got a go-to drum setup or a vocal chain that slays? Save it as a template. Templates streamline your workflow. They make sure that you’re not reinventing the wheel every time you start a new project.
Your template can contain common track ordering, naming conventions, track color schemes, buss effects, and more. It’s like having a kickstart to awesomeness right from the get go!
Nail the Art of Layering
The fifth of the secrets of music production is: Track Layering. Layering is one of the coolest tricks in the book. Use it to create rich, textured sounds that pop out of the speakers. Think about stacking vocals, layering synths, or doubling up those guitars. But remember, it’s not about quantity; it’s about quality. Learning to layer effectively is key.
Choose sounds that complement each other, not muddy up the mix. Take control of how your frequencies stack to promote clarity and reduce hot frequencies in your mix. Align your timings to create crisp recordings.
Layering is your friend
Get That Pocket Groove
The sixth of our secrets of music production is: Playing In The Pocket. In music, timing is everything. Playing in the pocket or in the groove just means playing tightly in time with each other and staying in-groove by not overplaying. The pocket can be in one of 3 places:
- Ahead of the beat (pushing the beat)
- On the beat
- Behind the beat (dragging the beat)
Where you find the pocket, the groove that works best for a song, will depend on the song.
In a setting with real instruments, decided before recording, drums and bass most commonly find the pocket for a song. The rest of the instrumentation then fits in with this groove.
With electronic instruments (or with real instruments after recording), you can create a pocket groove by slightly shifting tracks forward or backward in time, relative to metronome timing.
You might have to experiment to find This creates a natural, human feel that just vibes well. It might sound small, but in the grand scheme, it’s a game-changer.
Use Reference Tracks
The seventh of our secrets of music production is: Reference Tracks. One of the best ways to keep your mix in check is to use reference tracks. Their use is often overlooked by indies, but they are a major factor in achieving a specific sound.
Reference tracks are professionally mixed and mastered tracks that you can use to A/B compare with your own mixes. It’s like having a pro sitting next to you, telling you how to get that polished sound.
When using reference tracks during mixing, make sure to level-match for accurate comparisons. Reference tracks are already mastered so they will sound louder than your unmastered tracks. This means that you will have to compensate for this to avoid boosting too many frequencies or over-compressing in order to achieve the loudness of the mastered reference track. After setting up your static mix, drop the loudness of your reference track to match the LU of the track being mixed.
To level match:
- Gain stage your audio
- Set your level balance
- Reduce the loudness of your reference to match your mixdown LU
Now you can directly compare your mix with the reference track.
High-Pass is Your Friend
High Pass Filtering is the eigth of the secrets of music production. High-pass filtering isn’t just for kicks and bass. Just look at the audio spectrum for almost all mixes. Low frequencies and low-mid frequencies dominate the spectrum. When you increase track volumes it is often the low-frequency content that adds together to create hot frequencies in your mix, muddying the overall sound and jamming up your mix.
Use a high pass filter to clean up the low-end muck on other tracks like guitars, vocals, and even some synths. This clears up room for your bass and kick to really shine and it gives your other tracks headroom allowing your mix to be lively without bursting levels.
It’s like musical Feng Shui for your mix!
Automate, Automate, Automate!
The ninth of our secrets of music production is: Automation. Static mixes are boring. B-o-r-i-n-g!
Automation brings your mix to life. Fade in some reverb, pan those drums, or slowly bring up the intensity of a synth pad. Automate groups of instruments and effects allowing the producer to be much more creative with their mix. You can pack so much creativity into your mix. By making the most of automation you really can fine tune the details of a mix and really make your song sparkle.
With automation, you can add dynamics and movement, making your track more engaging from start to finish.
Trust Your Ears
Finally, the tenth of our secrets of music production is often overlooked. Don’t forget the most powerful tool you have: Your Ears.
Sometimes the meters and graphs can throw you off. Sound meters are useful guides but let your ears decide. Train your ears and learn to build trust in what your ears tell you.
Take care of your ears. That means general care of your ears and being aware of your ears within a session. They get tired and when they are tired they make mistakes. Take regular breaks during recording, mixing, and production sessions. Listen at different volumes, and check your mix on various sound systems.
Different listening environments are more or less tiring to your ears. For example, with headphones, there are 3 different types (I don’t mean in-ear headphones or ear buds!). I mean:
- Open Back Headphones (Control Room Use – Least tiring, least colored sound, highest spill/leakage)
- Closed Back Headphones (Live Room Use – Most tiring, most colored sound, least spill/leakage)
- Semi-Open Back Headphones (Often chosen as the best of both worlds for studios on a budget)
Listening to loud mixes is more tiring than listening to mid volume. Listening too quiet can have you straining your ears to hear which is mentally tiring. Listening to repetitive phrases and frequencies can make you ear-blind! You start missing things and your ears lie to you causing you to skew a mix. If you can’t get a mix to sound good, your ears are probably tired. Give them a break!
If your ears are well taken care of, if they are well rested, then if it sounds good, it probably is good.
Alright folks, that’s a wrap on our list of 10 powerful secrets of music production. Hopefully you will find them to be useful and awesome secrets of music production! Remember, rules are meant to be bent, so feel free to get creative and put your own spin on these tips. Create your own secrets of music production. Discover that unique combination that makes your music production stand out and polishes your song to show it off at it’s absolute best. Keep experimenting, trust your ears, and above all, have fun with it! Keep those beats coming, and let’s make some musical magic.
Who knows? Soon you will have a few secrets of music production of your own that you will be willing to share! 🎶
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