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Music Production: 10 Tips For Improving Your Mixdowns
1. Get Good Samples
Ever heard the expression "You can't polish a turd"? Well, it applies to music production as well. If you start off with amazing samples instead of trying to make bad samples sound good, then you will most likely come out with cleaner sounds and an over-all better song.
There are plenty of websites, companies, and artists that offer free or low price quality sample packs. Check out a few of the ones listed below.
2. Avoid Over Compression
Compressors are very useful tools when working on your mixdowns. However, it is very easy to over-compress. Before adding compression to something, ask yourself if it really needs compression, or if you are just doing it because you can. Is there a better way to achieve the same goal?
3. EQ Everything
Add an EQ to every single piece of your song. No matter what it is, chances are there are some frequencies that you don't need. This helps keep your mix clear of clutter and prevents overlapping frequencies that could lead to "muddiness". Some common frequency tips that work for most sounds are to cut out everything below 20Hz, as most sound systems won't be able to pick up those frequencies, and cut out everything at around 20,000Hz, as anything above that tends to be ear piercing. It's also a good idea to add an EQ as the first effect on a track and an EQ after all of the effects, as some effects can add or remove frequencies.
4. Subtractive EQing
Try getting into the habit of using subtractive EQing whenever possible. What is subtractive EQing? Subtractive EQing is the process of only cutting out frequencies rather than boosting frequencies (Additive EQing). Having many pieces of your track that have frequencies boosted rather than subtracted may add too much color to your mix and leave you listening to more EQing than actual signal. Using subtractive EQing will generally leave you with cleaner sounds and less overlapping of frequencies.
5. Use Audio Instead Of MIDI
Rendering your midi clips to audio instead of leaving them in midi will allow you to edit them more easily, with the ability to chop them up and add a whole new set of effects to them. Rendering sounds to audio also allows you to visualize your sounds and see how they interact with each other, and it saves CPU. This tip doesn't work for everyone, as it's a hassle if you want to change the original sound of the sample, and it requires a great deal of trust that it sounds how you want it to, but for the people that do use it, they usually claim to have extremely good results.
For some people, visual aids are extremely effective tools. Try finding plugins that show visual representations of the effects they add to your sounds so you can see how your effects change the wave form. After all, music is just a bunch of sound waves.
7. Get Organized
Try to organize your project to be as neat as possible. Try organizing it so all of the drum sounds are next to each other, all of the bass pieces are next to each other, vocal samples, synths, etc. The cleaner and more organized your project is, the easier it's going to be to make sure everything is how it is supposed to be. Most DAWs come with the option to color code tracks or clips, try experimenting with this feature to see if it works for you.
8. Less Is More
This tip pretty much works exactly as it sounds. The smaller amount of effects and changes you can make to something to achieve your goal, the better.
9. Sounds Systems
After you feel like you have your mixdown as clean as you can get it, try listening to your song on as many different sound systems (of varying qualities) as you can, monitors, car speakers, laptop speakers, iPod, etc. The goal is to make your song sound as good as you possibly can on all different types of sound systems before you send it off for mastering. Your song may sound amazing on one sound system, but listen to it on another and you may realize that something is too quiet, or something is too prominent. Try to find the best balance possible between all of the different sound systems at your disposal.
10. Take Advice Only If It Works For You
It's always a good idea to take advice from other producers that you look up to, but only if it works for you. Remember, everyone works differently, just because something works for them doesn't mean it's going to work for you. If something sounds off or just feels weird, stop doing it.