By Justin Gray (Songwriter/Producer/Founder www.wearemdiio.com) Do you hate listening to your music, thinking it sounds like crap? How come everybody else’s stuff sounds better than yours? In most cases they have the same tools but what is their secret? There is a better than good chance that you’re ruining the soup by adding too many ingredients. It’s so easy to add, but it’s 10 times more difficult to subtract. The best productions tend to be simple, and easy to digest for the listener. A friend of mine once said that "as the person making music, it is your responsibility to make sure that the listener hears what you mean for them to hear." What does this mean? Don’t confuse people? Imagine a great production is like a conversation between friends. The singer, the melody, the keyboard player, the guitarist and the bassist all have point of view. If they are all speaking at each other nobody gets a word in. But like great conversation, the marriage of point and counterpoint allows the music to connect. Here are five quick things that you can do to max out your mix, put the bounce in your bounce, out do your output.
Production - Awful production can ruin an exceptional song. Exceptional production can make an awful song feel amazing. Try and visualize auditorily how you expect your song to sound when finished. Definitely leave time to experiment with sounds and creative ideas, but if you have a basis for where you think it’s going to go right at the start, it makes your experimentation much more focused and meaningful. Delete - Capture every single moment of inspiration when putting music together. Record it ALL!! But never fall too in love with any parts specifically. Constantly re-evaluate the importance of a part or sound. Do it often as the music is coming together. As great as it may have been at the time, if an idea does not add, enhance, or even if it’s just neutral, delete it. Every unnecessary instrument or element that gets deleted actually creates space for the star of the show. Let’s be honest…it’s the beat, the lyric and the melody. The rest are side players. Let the listener hear what you were trying to say. Funny anecdote. I was mixing a record with Chris Lord-Alge. When I went in and listened to the master's work I noted to him that this guitar part we had slaved over for hours was barely audible. His response…"No one will care about that guitar part." At the time I was offended. Over time…turns out he was right. Space - Sometimes there are creative ideas that make it into your productions that are meant to be felt and not necessarily heard. A common mistake for a lot of producers and songwriters is to add four kick drums, three snares, a drum loop, two high hats, and a kazoo. But you don’t need that much! Pairing down to one or two kick drums, a snare, and just less in general will actually open up a ton more space for things like your vocals to cut through. This goes for songwriters. You don’t need to over-write your top-lines and melodies. Any listener can only handle so much information. Think about Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C Minor…don’t know it? Look it up. You will. No one cares about the 2nd cello part…everything serves the melody. And really only the first 10 seconds matter. Grab them fast. In 200+ years, nothing has changed. Beethoven wrote some bangers! Fur Elise…you can name that tune in 3 notes. Monitoring - Everybody loves loudspeakers. It is a ton of fun to produce your music in an environment where you can really immerse yourself in a sonic bath. Feel that bass! Let the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. But when it comes down to mix-time, listening loud and mixing loud will not serve any benefit. Effective mixing volumes should not exceed 60 to 70 DB at the loudest. The louder you listen, the less information you can discern to help you make good sonic choices. There’s something called ear compression, or the Fletcher Munson Curve. In other words the louder it is, the less you actually can hear. Master Bus - The common misconception is that the louder your song the better it is. I’m not talking about studio/speaker volume, I’m talking about the actual output of your audio file. Did you ever wonder why music from the 70s and 80s sounds so good? It’s because there were no volume wars yet. Some music could just stand alone as an experience. Plus, recording to tape only had so much headroom. Hit it too hard, and it would sound like crap. Your songs do not have to be loud. A good trick as you are preparing to bounce your mix, is to just take all of the levels of everything down in proximity to your master bus. It gives the effects chain on your master bus a break, and allows for a lot more space to open up. Don’t worry it’s still going to be loud. The less you push the bus compressors and eq’s, the more bass and lovely goodness your bounce will be. Bonus Tip! Presets: Lean on the presets. Always start there. Knowing and having worked with many famous mixers (some of whom have been MDIIO Mentors), I can assure you, they have actually designed those presets specifically based on their workflows in their studios. You don’t have to start from scratch. Borrow and tweak. You will get to the end faster and better. And most DAW’s come with exceptionally good built in plugins. You don’t have to break the bank to sound good. The Coda: Getting good at mixing takes time. It doesn’t happen instantly, but when focused, it will have a meaningful impact and how your song is being experienced by the intended listener. When you sit back and listen, ask yourself… if I were to remove every single element except for a piano (or guitar) and a vocal, is this song a hit? Does it move me? If it does, every production and mixing decision should serve the sole purpose of supporting the narrative of the song. Every song tells a story…what does yours say? See you next week. And until then, keep writing them hits! Justin@mdiio.com