93 Top Tips From Industry Music Producers
What advice would an experienced music producer give to aspiring music producers?
We were curious to find out so we sent out requests to music producers who runs their own studios and do serious work. We’re talking about real people who produces music for a living. We didn’t interview wannabe producers so rest assured, the tips here are coming from people who have the experience.
We hope you’ll find this list of music production & business tips helpful for you to kickstart your career or perhaps kick it up a further notch. We believe the best way to shortcut your career success is to learn from the mistakes people have done before so you don’t repeat it. So without further ado, we present you the top 93 tips we have gathered from a total of 20 music producers.
Benson Chiang – Music Producer, Educator, Product Specialist (Vogelogue)
- Doesn’t matter what equipment you use, earphones or microphones. As long as you are familiar with how your equipment respond to the overall frequency range, you can still make good mixes with even a 10$ earphone.
- Master equalization. Know your frequencies.
- Avoid using loops as it is. Try to process it, chop it around, mix & match.
- Don’t shy away from scale, chord suggestion VST or arpeggiator. They will amaze you in times. Experiment with it, tweak it, make a suggested chords or lead even more articulated.
- Invest your Mula on a single great piece of hardware, instead of spending it on a lot of cheap gears.
Must Have Gears:
Maschine is one of the must have for producers. With their latest 2.0 software updates, it is a very good tool for idea experimentation. Not to miss, the free production suite of instrument & effects VST bundled along including the famous Massive soft synth.
Grant Norwood – Music Producer & Audio Engineer (Shook one Music * Essential Records)
- Get it right at the SOURCE! Mixing & Mastering audio is about taking a good quality recording, and fitting it in your mix and stereo field. You want your un-processed audio signal to sit in the mix as comfortably as possible. It is a general rule that the less amount of processing done to a piece of audio, the better. This might involve moving around mics to find the best placement for recording, or maybe tweaking oscillators and pitch to get the exact frequency range you desire. The goal is to get your starting audio right at the source of recording.
- Use a spectrum meter to get an exact idea of what frequencies you already have filled in, and which ones your song may still need to fill in the rest of the stereo field. Make it a habit to throw a spectrum meter on each channel, and monitor your frequency placement. This is especially useful when trying to fit your kick & sub bass together nicely.
- Create your own custom drum, and sample folders. Good practice is to start layering up your own drum samples, and export, and organize them for future use. This saves a lot of time in the long run, and gives you great, useable sounds right off the start! I like to use my drum sampler (Maschine) to do this, but you can just as easily stack, and export your drum sounds from within your DAW of choice. The most important part is organizing your sounds in folders, so that you may quickly and easily navigate through them in the future.
- Drums sounding a bit offset? Zoom all the way to the grid! Most of the time, there is a few milliseconds gap, or lead up to where the actual drum hit takes place. Dragging your drum sounds a few milliseconds to the left can make a huge difference in the overall groove of the track, and can even fix some minor phase issues.
- Use parallel processing. Most of the time, when you want to add more compression or reverb to a channel, you will attain much better results when you create a parallel track with these effects, and subtly mix in this second channel with the first one. This allows your sound to still retain it’s original punch, while also having the new FX elements mixed in nicely. For more advanced parallel processing, try applying the parallel effects to a limited frequency range. (For example, only apply a parallel reverb above 1-2.5Khz)
Must Have Gear:
- Drum Machine (I like the Native Instruments Maschine)
- MIDI keyboard
- Lexicon Reverbs
- Izotope Ozone 6 (for mastering)
- Waves S1 Stereo Imager
Gregg Buchwalter – Old Boots Recording Studio
- Learn how to listen to everything. Practice listening and picking out the key, the tempo, the different instruments and more by ear.
- DO NOT try to be hip and fresh. By the time yours music is released, the trend over and something new is getting the attention. Remember, people have the attention span of a flea.
- Listen and learn from classical recordings-point, counterpoint, themes, rebuttals, peaks, valleys & moods.
- Let the artist be themselves, every “Manipulated artist” eventually will return to their longing, so get there faster by listening the artist. If the artist has no clue and needs your guidance, by all means, help them to shine where shine the brightest, i.e. dont make a rocker into a crooner, rapper into a rocker,or a soul singer into a booty dancer. Let them shine where they shine the brightest.
- Practice your instrument if you play any.
Must Have Gears:
i. MCI 2 inch 24 track tape recorder/reproducer, fitted with 16 track heads, formerly owned AND operated by the Great Ray Charles
ii. Universal Audio 2-610, 1176’s, Daking mic pre IV, Daking Compressors, Art pro vla limiters, tube condensor mic by Rode, Shure sm 57, 58 beta 58, Okatvia 319 fet condensor,Joe Meek Fet condenser.
iii. Ludwig drums, Hammond B-3 w/ Leslie, guitars, amps I built for guitars, Lexicon units….All the real deal stuff you guys are emulating.
Steve Stroud – Owner & Music Producer (Big Cloud Productions)
- Communicate effectively with your client. Talk to them in depth and make sure you know exactly what it is they’re aiming for. It’s no use spending hours making them sound like The Beatles, if who they really want to sound like is The Sex Pistols.
- Be open minded. Your client won’t always have the same opinions as you on instrumentation, arrangements, mixing etc, but remember, it’s their song. Try and find a way to make you both happy.
- Obviously, work really hard, take your work seriously, but it’s OK to enjoy yourself whilst doing this. It’s the best job in the world, lighten up! Put the client at ease. No one performs at their best with an uptight producer looking bored or growling at them.
- You probably need less gain, less compression and less reverb than you think!
- Have a watertight filing, storage and backup system in place for your sessions. Any of your clients could call you up in 3 years time wanting to remix something. Make sure it’s all still there waiting for them as they left it.
Must have gears:
For Vocals: Neumann Mic used with decent preamps
For Guitars: If you’ve got a Fender with single coils and a Gibson with humbuckers, you can cover a lot of sonic ground.
Rob Bee – Voiceover Producer & Audio Engineer
- Know your gear. It’s always nice buying new pieces of kit for your set-up, but it’s more important to know the kit you already have like the back of your hand. That way you know you’re getting value for money from your purchases.
- Get it right on the way in. ‘We can fix it in the mix’ is a dreadful way of working. Yes there are powerful tools at our disposal to rectify mistakes, but we make our job easier if we can get it right straight away rather than having to break out the audio first aid kit every job we do.
- Be personable. We are in charge of the mood in our studios. If we want to produce a quality product our direction and interaction with the client is just as important as our technical knowledge. We have to make the performers as comfortable in the recording environment as possible, so that they can relax into giving a stellar performance. Occasionally we may need an angry performance so we do our best to piss them off, but that’s an exception and order should be restored as soon as possible so we can maintain a healthy work environment.
- Keep your sessions organised. Filing is dull. But a well organised session is a real blessing when you have to revisit it years down the line. If other engineers/producers need to access your sessions and they are haphazard and messy, you will get a reputation for bad workmanship, if your sessions are clear and labelled you will be a hero.
- Continue to learn. There is so much to know, and particularly with the rate of change in technology, that we should never think we know enough. We should continue to stare wide-eyed at the audio world and soak it all up. We need to be passionate about what we do or we should be shelf-stacking in a supermarket.
Must Have Gears:
Mike Russell – Creative Director (music Radio Creative)
- When editing speech it often sounds better to cut words mid-way through. (See video below)
- Parametric Equalizer in Adobe Audition is like a periscope for audio. You can pop audio frequencies up and down to find what you want to keep and what you don’t.
- Always use the Fraunhofer encoder when saving mp3 files. It’s much better than the LAME encoder.
- Play your audio on multiple speakers to hear how it will sound to listeners in multiple environments. e.g. Studio monitors, studio headphones, earbuds, kitchen hi-fi and your car stereo.
- You can roll off below around 100 Hz on speech. Human speech doesn’t hit these low frequencies and, in doing so, you can cut out distracting bass rumble.
Cutting words mid-way through in Adobe Audition
Must Have Gears:
Brainiac Beats – Music Producer, DJ, Audio Engineer
Production credits: Stalley, Kid Frost, Joell Ortiz, Inspectah Deck, ChinoXL, Serius Jones, AG (DITC), Vinny Cha$e, Emilio Rojas, Black Dave, Afu-ra, St.Laz, Cesar Comanche, Qwel, Euphrates, El Gant, Pete G, Noah Jones, SFDK, Lirico, Toteking, Capaz, Elphomega, Duo Kie, Juaninacka and many more.
- Don’t follow any rules, just create your art freely. In my opinion that’s when the best stuff comes out.
- Develop a talented artist you can potentially grow with.
- Listen to loads of music, even learn how to DJ. All that will help to evolve your ear and musical taste as well as knowing what moves the crowd.
- Collaborate with other musicians/producers/songwriters.
- Study the game, how it works, the admin steps you need to do things professionally etc.
Must Have Gears:
My ears (Editor’s note: That’s all this man really needs! :D)
Peter Juul Kristensen – Music Producer & Mix Engineer (clear Music Production)
- Be nice, open and very service minded.
It’s not your record – it’s the artists. You are working on a new one next week, they are not. This might be the only record they ever make? It might be their last record – or first? To you it’s just another record. But for God sake: Don’t treat it like just another record.
- Put in the vocal early.
Put in the main instrument, (often a vocal) in the mix very soon when mixing. I often start with kick, bass and vocal. Then go from there. The vocal is half the song – so when mixing I try to spend half the time I spend on the song, mixing the vocal. Sound logical right?
- Always record.
There’s no such thing as a sound check. Always be in record. Don’t use the shittiest mic you can find for the cue-vocal, record it as if it were “the one”. It just might be, and after all, it’s only (cheaper and cheaper) hard disk place you fill up. When dubbing in the old tape days, you actually had to make a conscious decision about “going over” a previous take. Not now.
- Mix with a small scaled mastering chain on your mix buss.
I don’t have a full fledged mastering chain on my mix bus, but the closer you are to the final master, the finer adjustments you can make, knowing that you will instantly hear how you mix sound once it’s mastered. Don’t make a mix, and then put a multi band compressor on it at the very end.
- Learn all you can about (clear) music production and then forget the whole thing again! If it sounds right it is right.
Must Have Gears:
My Yamaha NS-10s. Everything else, is pretty much replaceable. For you it could be another pair of monitors. For me it’s my NS-10s.
Luke – Musician, Composer, Sound Engineer
- To make good recordings: you need a room with good acoustics.
- You have to know how to place microphones and know what microphones to use in different recording scenarios. (ie There are a few microphones which cost cheaper but better than some expensive microphones. Brush up on your microphone techniques)
- Be good at using at least 1 complete channel strip (preamp, comp, eq)
- For mixing: you have to learn the frequencies of instruments and know their power utilities. Without knowing their frequencies, you’ll be simply mixing in the dark.
- For the mastering, EQ-ing is also the fundamentals of mastering.
Mike Schoonmaker – Mastering Engineer (Gigantic Mastering)
- The single most important part of mastering is that you’re happy with your mix BEFORE you send it to your Mastering Engineer.
- Low End – We all love low end, but you’ve got to keep it in check. If you don’t have a sub in your studio to hear frequencies sub-80hz clearly, remember to take a listen in your car and or check an analyzer to make sure you’re not pushing the low end to make up for what your monitors can’t reproduce.
- Always listen to your mixes or masters in several different places where you listen to music on a regular basis… Such as your car, your favorite headphones, home stereo setup or those little white earbuds you listen to while out and about.
- When looking for a mastering engineer – get several ‘sample masters’ from different engineers before you decide on who to use for an Album. Blind tests with these masters is always a great way to concentrate on what you’re hearing, rather than who it is and what it will cost.
- Communication is key. Have a question about a mix, or instrument in the track your mixing? Ask and move on until you have an answer, rather than presume and spend time later fixing something that could have been avoided.
Must Have Gears:
As much as I love my analogue gear, I must say that 100% the most often used thing in my studio is Pro-Q2, an EQ plugin from FabFilter. It’s great for mixing or mastering, and just has oh-so-many options. It’s Mid-Side mode for mastering is key, as well it’s variable phase modes. (Find the Pro-Q2 at Plugin Boutique at really affordable rates
Nick Lewis – Mastering Engineer (Brighton Mastering)
- If it sounds good, it is good. Doesn’t matter how you got there. End of discussion.
- Knowing your theory will help you make it sound good. Understand what a compressor does. Know your frequency ranges. Learn why you would choose one compressor over another.
- Accurate monitoring is important. But no monitoring is 100% accurate. Monitoring you know well is the most important. I honestly don’t know what anything sounds like until I’ve heard it on my speakers in my room.
- Follow the Occam’s Razor. Chances are, if you’re chucking a hundred plug-ins at something, you’re taking a wrong turn. Try stripping everything back and seeing what you can do with just an EQ and a compressor.
- It’s better to know a few processors really well than have a hundred you barely know at all. Every processor – analogue or digital – takes time to get to know. Don’t be a gearslut.
Isaac Cotec – Ableton certified Trainer
- Take your time – When you first start making music the sounds in your head, and the sounds you can actually make will be different. It’s important to know your skill will develop over time. During this have patients with your self. You will get there, just take your time for each step along the way. Eventually what you want to hear and what you make will sync up.
- Simplicity is the key – A lot of producers start throwing sound effects and stack samples in their tracks. Having a simple and amazing foundation is more important than clicks and whistles. First write a simple and good track, then add layers only after a solid foundation.
- Develop your style not a genre – I think too many musicians get caught up with making a song exactly like other songs in a genre. Try to develop the sound and story you want. After you have made that, see what genre it fits.
- Learn an Instrument – Staying in the box will only get you so far. At some point in your career it is crucial to learn an instrument. The reason is that it teaches you a lot about just playing around and coming up with new ideas a lot faster than writing it in a DAW. I suggest any new producer should pick up at least one instrument as quick as possible.
- Learn the basics – So many producers are making great songs, but never learned what a compressor is. They just slap one on and see how it changes. By learning the very basics you will have many more tools to play with. Take time to learn compression, reverb, midi editing, volume mixing, and the basics. Like really learn it. This will be huge in the long run.
Casie Lane – DJ/Producer & Head Cheerleader at The Deejaypreneur
- Find people to collaborate with in all processes of your career; remixing, promotion, creating events and building a sustainable business. Nobody can battle this world alone.
- Set up a fan-gate for free downloads to most your music. The old business model of getting signed to a label and making money is out the door. There is a new currency on the web and that is having an engaging tribe of people who are passionate about what you create. I HIGHLY recommend ToneDen.io, they are simply the best hands down.
- Find or start a promotion network on Soundcloud and/or YouTube. The exponential power of a network trumps any old promotional tactic.
- Learn the basics of visual brand strategies or find someone who is really damn good at it to do it for you. First impressions, especially with artwork like logos and release artwork can either work for you or against you when a potential listener comes across your music. Seeing is believing, hearing is feeling. They won’t give your music a chance if the artwork is wack.
- Become clear on who your target demographic is when planning your promotional strategy.
Tom Stoneman – Senior Global Campaign Manager at NetApp
- Listen and respect everyone who has done this professionally for more than 10 years. They know something that will help you and you should want to learn it. Learn everything you can about mixing, arranging, mastering, and technique from these people. Experienced producers who had the perseverance and drive to do this for 10+ years deserves respect and is able to throw out a golden nugget or two.
- Don’t listen to anyone but yourself and your client when it comes to the music. No one knows more about what you want than the two of you.
- Learn everything you can about music from the best musicians you can access. Reading, writing, software synths, instrumentation, arranging…all of it.
- Never dismiss other music genres or periods. Ever! You should try producing different music genres even though you’re really aiming to go into one genre only. This will broaden your musical sense and ideas.
- Always try to work with and around the best talent you can find. You’ll rise to your best level.
Neil Collins – Music Producer, Audio Engineer & CEO of AAA Sound Design
- Communication is key – Always communicate with your client as often as possible. Nobody wants to be waiting on your response for too long particularly if you are working online. Wether its sending an email or picking up the phone if you think its been too long between conversations it probably has.
- This is a controversial one but I would say always charge. A key difference between an amateur and professional engineer is pay. Here I am not talking about studio work, assisting in a studio can often be better than any physical money. What I am talking about is taking on a professional project. If you don’t think you are ready to charge you arent ready to offer your services.
- Don’t overcomplicate – Be it plug ins, mic placement, vocal takes. Keep it simple. A good example of this is drum track seperation. I used to spend hours gating all the individual elements of the kit until I had the pleasure of watching a renowned engineer record / mix. He didn’t gate anything and the drums sounded epic. If it sounds good it sounds good.
- Be nice – No one wants to work with an arrogant engineer, they want you to be approachable and part of their team, don’t make the session uncomfortable for everyone.
- Enjoy it – If you’re getting paid to make music there is nothing to be miserable about
Must Have Gears:
My Coles 4038s, great on almost anything
Doug – Founder & Site-Owner of MidiLifestyle.com
- Don’t abuse compressors!
Compressors are the #1 tool that beginners tend to misuse. If the sole reason you are throwing a compressor on a track is to make your bass louder, DON’T. Use the volume knob instead. It will save your mix.
- When you’re mixing a track, throw an EQ on the master channel and solo the lows, mids, and highs individually.
Listen to how frequency sounds and make sure nothing sounds too harsh or too cloudy. Doing this will allow you to hear small details that you wouldn’t of heard if all of the frequencies were playing at the same time.
- Keep mud out of your mix by using EQs
Most of the time, instruments other than kicks and basses don’t need a low end. You can use an EQ to cut out the low-end. Typically the 40-100Hz range is where the most mud will occur.
- Try to make your low-end as mono as possible
Another surefire way to get mud in your mixes is to have reverb and spacial effects on your low-end. Try to avoid this as much as possible. My favorite mastering plugin, iZotope Ozone, has an excellent imager feature that allows you to make the lows completely mono.
- When you’re frustrated, take a break
There’s a lot of creative blocks that could happen when producing. If you are having a tough time creating the perfect melody — if you just can’t write a good bassline — if you simply can’t get an instrument to sit right in the mix — take a break! I guarantee when you walk back to your DAW with a clear mind, all of those frustrations will go away.
Must Have Gears:
- A trusty 88-key keyboard – Great for messing around and coming up with ideas when I’m stuck
- A bunch of crappy speakers – It might seem odd, but having a bunch of consumer-grade speakers lying around helps you make sure your mix translates well on other sound systems.
- Ableton Live– I’ve tried a ton of DAWs. Nothing beats Ableton:) Once you try it, you’re hooked.
- Massive, Sylenth1, FM8, Absynth – Of course there are a lot of other awesome synths, but these 4 are my favorite.
Nyonyxx – Ghost Producer, Audio Engineer , EDM Music Marketing
- Keep it SIMPLE in the low end of your mix. For most dance tracks, you want either.
a. The kick to hold the ENTIRE bottom end ( sub kick with long tail )
b. The kick to hold the SNAP of the bottom end ( Snappy kick with additional sub bass line.
You want ONE element to have a long, dense release in the sub range, DO NOT try to have a dense kick drum ( long release) and a heavy sub bass line, they will not fit.
- When creating a sub bass patch, go with a single OSC sine/ triangle/ sqaure/ saw etc. You do not need to have multi osc’s to get a killer sub bass line.
Remember, sub bass is all about FEEL not textures. Your usually better off, cutting your “bass” patch around 60-100 hz , and adding a sub bass below this ( I love 35-45 hz). The reason being, you will want DIFFERENT ADSR settings on your sub bass compared to your bass ( 75hz to 350 hz ) etc
- It’s going to take YEARS to be able to “hear” what’s going on in the mix, don’t worry if your not learning uber fast, it simply takes time to tell that the mix needs ( more volume at 1.2khz) etc.You will learn this over time with practice.
- In the modern climate of EDM music, in order to get your tracks “heard” by big labels your going to need.
a. A Large Fan Base
b. Solid Social Media Stats
c. Above or ” pro” level tracks.
Sadly, labels will 100% judge your “value” based not only on your music ( which must be top notch) but by your online power. Remember, labels are trying to SELL music,the more customers YOU can reach the more they are likely to grab you.
- Don’t think even for a second you will ever be “found”
– There are 300,000 tracks uploaded to SoundCloud daily, yes daily.
– You need to PROACTIVELY market your music. If you don’t know how, you need to learn.
– Long gone are the days when “great tracks” will find their way, there is simply not how the game works now adays.
– Luckily, 99% of artists on the web will just “hope for the best” if you put in as much time learning your craft as you do marketing your craft, you will be one step closer to your dreams.
– I’ve seen dozens of people ” make it” if they can do it, you can do.
Must Have Gears:
The best studio..Is a studio you know inside and out !
Ben Lindell – Producer & Mixing Engineer
- Think of every session, every mix, every production as practice. Working with audio is just playing an instrument, the more time you can dedicate to experimenting, learning, and sharing the faster you’ll start hearing results you want to hear.
- Don’t be afraid to get weird – Too often producers and artists want to play it safe and not go too weird. If you listen at what stands out on the radio or blogs it’s always the songs with the most personality and something peculiar. Stay weird, some people will love you for it, some will hate it but regardless you made them notice and that’s important these days.
Must Have Gears:
Reuben Chng – Music Producer, Composer & Entrepreneur
- Your studio is a business. I’ve often see many studios (even my own) become a place where people hangout and chill. Although that might seem cool and some people claiming ideas usually come from relaxed occasions like that, I strongly suggest you to take your studio time seriously and work hard.
- Tell people you’re a producer. There are many talented aspiring music producers who are sometimes too afraid to call themselves music producers. You have to start calling yourself a music producer though. The next time people ask you about what you do for a living, tell them you’re a music producer. You’ll find yourself landing more gigs and work I promise.
- Learn how to fly before you can even walk. I sometimes feel afraid of taking on music projects which I’m not familiar with or don’t have confidence in. But guess what, no matter how insecure, afraid or doubtful about myself I was feeling, I usually finish the project great. I even learnt and improved myself faster through those projects when I was forced to deliver. So grab on projects you’ll never done before. You might doubt your skills but I can guarantee that you’ll learn the fastest in those situations.
- If you’re a heavy VST/MIDI programming music producer like me, I suggest taking the time to learn some sampling. Mixing real recorded samples or loops with MIDI tracks always sounds better than having it your music piece only composed with VST instruments or only with loops & samples.
- The writer’s block is an excuse. Many times when people don’t know how to start or continue with a song arrangement, they’ll blame it on their ‘writer’s block’. The writer’s block is in fact actually fear. We fear making mistakes and disappointing our clients. But look at great composers like John Williams. No matter how uninspired or busy he is, he makes sure he writes/composes something everyday. Artists don’t wait for inspiration, they find it.
Must Have Gears:
i. A MIDI Controller – I like simple MIDI controllers without the pads and knobs. I’m currently rocking on a Samson Graphite 49 but I don’t use the knobs, sliders and pads.
ii. Native Instruments Komplete – As a music producer/composer who does a lot of composing in the box, Native Instruments have changed my life.
iii. Rode NT1-A – Simple and honest microphone. Recorded many vocal recordings and voice overs with this microphone. Still my favourite after many years.
What are some tips you would add to this list? Let us know in the comment section below.