Producing Music - Where to start

Producing Music - Where to start

Producing is the construction of music. You have to make choices about the project as a whole and this will include things like EQ, panning, compression, lengths of the delay, when to delay, when to chop up the vocals, when to add guitar solos, how the song begins and ends, and everything else that happens in between. This is not an easy task, but it does have huge rewards that are long-lasting if you do it right.

What was that? Delay Delay Delay

To delay or not to delay, why is this a question? Delay is what makes the music come alive! Delay can be very tasteful and should be used to some degree on every mix. It can be subtle and very light, but it will give your mix that edge that kicks it up a notch.

Lexicon PSP 42

Delay comes in many forms and with even more parameters. Some delays have built in filters, while others have feedback control. No matter what delay you choose to use, experiment with the controls and get a feel for how the delay responds to the audio. Once you know how the delay impacts the audio, use it to blend the sound into the mix. You can also get creative with your delay tone by adding a distortion or a flanger effect. Make the delays stand apart from the original track and they will have more impact on the mix.

Analog Delay

If the delay has a sync feature, that can be useful if your music has a tempo map and sticks to the BPM grid. Quarter notes usually have the right amount of space and make a big impact on the empty pockets of the mix. If your mix is not on a tempo map or you're looking for a more organic sound, then turn off the sync feature and set the delay by hand. This technique is a great way to get a vintage sound for your mix. Some of the greatest mixes of the 70's have delays that were set by hand. Don't be afraid to try something new and set your own echo or delay.

Multiple mixes will always yield a better album

Multiple mixes of a song is a technique that I've developed over the many years of my career. Music tends to unfold differently every time you approach a mix. If you're using a program that allows you to save or save as multiple times, such as ProTools or logic, it's not a bad idea to try a new mix even if you think you nailed it the first time.

Here's how I like to set up my sessions. After I record, I like to save the session as just a raw track that hasn't been mixed. Then 'save as' the name of the track_mix1. This way I have a template to go back to when I want to create a new mix. You can repeat this process as many times as you like. I usually tend to think at least three mixes is a good reference point to determine whether or not you like a mix. Sometimes it's a good idea to try up to 10 mixes.

Try this, set up a timer and give yourself a time limit for the mix. Anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes should be enough time to get a good rough mix. When the timer goes off, save your mix session, close it, & open a new session.
After you feel that you've made enough versions of the mix, go back and review each of the mixes. You can bounce each of the mixes down as an MP3 file and put them on your phone or MP3 player. Then go for a run, take a drive, or head over to a friend's house and listen to your mixes outside of the studio. This will give you a reference point as to which mix is probably the best and/or if a few mixes should be worked on and handed to a client for review.

Try this technique on your next mix and see what happens. You may be surprised that the third or fourth mix is actually the one that you wind up keeping.

Taming the bass

Bass is the big monster in your mix that fills up a whole lot of your dBFS meter on the master buss. Bass can be a troublesome foe in your mixing quest, but do not fret! Bass has one big weakness, High-Pass Filters.  

High-Pass filters are mysterious to some mixing engineers, but not to us. High Pass filters can do wonders for a dense mix that has lots of different tracks. When your mix is too boomy or muddy, first try using some high pass filters on the tracks that don't necessarily need to have low bass frequencies. Rolling off the low end on vocal tracks will really help separate the vocals from the rest of the mix. This may also immediately shape up the low end of the entire mix. Go through each track and use your ears to attenuate the HP filter on each track for a more controlled bottom end to your mix. You may not even have to touch the bass track or the kick track.

Alternately, you should use Low Pass Filters on tracks that reside in the low end of the mix. Rolling off the high frequencies on the bass and kick tracks may open up more brilliance and space in your mix.  It's not too complicated, but it does take a little bit of practice to get used to using filters to control the low end of a mix. Be sure that you adjust the filters with the tracks playing in the mix. If you solo the track while you adjust the filters, you may not get the tone or control that you need when the tracks are put back into the mix. Soloing has it's place, but when you're trying to get tracks to fit together in a mix, it's best to adjust them while they're in the mix.