Updated: Jun 27, 2021
Standing out in today’s competitive music landscape isn’t easy. There are a ton of DAW’s (Digital audio workstations) like Protools, Ableton, Logic, FL Studio, Studio One, Cubase, GarageBand and Reason. Not to mention another dozen or so that are also readily used to create music. Each have benefits and challenges, and have developed reputations within certain genres. In reality, each DAW can get you where you need to go sonically speaking. Here are 5 things you can do to make your songs sound better, upping your chances of landing those BIG placements.
1. Templates and Presets - A good way to harness inspiration quickly is to always start from a template. Usually for me (I use Protools primarily), is start with a quick drum kit pre-loaded, a piano, and a synth I like. They are instruments that I am familiar with, so even if the drum kit is not right for the song, I can easily find one that is right, so as to not impede the flow of creativity. What’s also cool, is that most DAWs allow you to save cool plugin chains for quick and easy recalls in the future. Make the technology your friend. Document the parts, and swap the sounds later.
2. Time - Spend time getting it right. Making music should not be a race. As you get better, you will be able to build your songs faster and more accurately. In the meantime, use the time to discover new sounds inside you DAW of choice. Each DAW has their own unique features, and built in tools to help you find your sound. Even without spending a ton of money on expensive plugins and instruments, stock plugins can be inspiring and spark creativity.
3. Stay in your lane - What makes you special? Do that as much as possible!! You don’t have to be the producer, engineer, artist, programmer, mixer, AND mastering person. Stick to what you are good at, and maximize it to the fullest. If the technical side is weaker for you, find someone who can contribute. Maybe the music is your specialty, but your lyrics and/or melody need help. In my experience, it is almost impossible to be amazing at everything (although my mother would disagree. She thinks I am great!). But for every you…there is someone searching for that same missing link in their music. Connect with communities like MDIIO and find your tribe. Create and collaborate #collabcreate
4. There is no think…only do - It is easy to get bogged down in auditioning Kick and snare sounds for hours. Don Was (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Was) once famously said "No one bought a record for the snare sound." Inspiration can come and go within moments. Always be ready to catch the lightining when it strikes. Keep the creativity moving, constantly refine as you go…remember, no one is going to hear it until YOU ARE ready! Write fast, Edit later. Usually I record every thing I can think of, and then discard/edit 70% of it before I finish a song. That goes for everything…production, lyrics, melodies and sounds.
5. Experimentation - Because you have given yourself time and space, don’t be afraid to dig in to unfamiliar sounds and plugins. Try new things…for every 9 bad ideas, you might come up with 1 absolute bit of magic. That’s what might make your song special. Often times it’s the last thing that’s the best thing, but unless you clear the creative energy, you may never have gotten to that special moment.
Bonus: Step away from your creativity for a sec. Sometimes thinking and pushing too hard chasing that magic can also be frustrating and uncreative. Take a break. Step away. Go for walk. Take a nap. Stop thinking too hard. It’s amazing to see what happens when you give yourself a break musically, mentally and spiritually.
Bonus #2: Constantly bounce mixes and listen a lot. Also, make sure to properly name your bounces. A trick I like to use is "Track Name - D.M.YR_Version. It is easier to reference it that way. And every time you make a bounce, save it as a new copy of your sessions. It’s amazing how sometimes the earliest mixes have all the magic. It will be easier to go backwards if you have THAT version saved.
If you have any ideas for future columns, please email me at Justin@mdiio.com. Let’s chat!