September 6, 2017 — We surveyed 45 expert music producers in search of the best tips… and the response we got was incredible. Our panel sent us hundreds of music production tips!
The toughest part was narrowing them down to only 121, and then organizing the tips into the sections you see below. (Actually, we received so many awesome tips, we were able to create “bonus” articles for the experts’ music production plugin recommendations, their best synthesis and sound design tips, and their best drum programming and beat making tips.)
Thanks again to all of the experts who contributed… and thank you for reading. Whether you’re a professional music producer or a complete newbie, we’re confident you can find something below to immediately apply to your own music.
Click here to view the entire list of our expert contributors, including links to their social media profiles.
Table of Contents
Click on a link to jump to a particular section of music production tips. Otherwise, keep scrolling and get ready!
- Music Production Advice for Beginners
- Music Production Philosophy
- Common Mistakes When Producing Music
- Creating Melodies
- Synthesis & Sound Design
- Drum Programming & Beat Making
- MIDI & VST/AUs
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Music Production Advice for Beginners
What’s your best advice for a beginner who’s just starting out in music production and wants to develop their skills?
- Take a basic music production class! Also don’t be afraid to start with a simpler DAW. I started out in GarageBand & then transitioned over to Logic easily. — Alex Marie Brinkley, AlexMarieBrinkley.com
- Finish as many projects as you can. Listen to each one after it’s finished and find the things you want to improve when you make the next track. It’s much better for learning than endlessly tweaking and questioning things while you’re in the midst of a project and end up not finishing the song instead. Also, listen to songs you like that are similar to yours and focus on the arrangement rather than the mixing aspects. — Cristofer Odqvist, Magnetic Sound
- Identify your favorite songs, figure out precisely why you like them and what you love about them, doing this helps you know your tastes better and gives you direction as far as what to work on. — Ark Patrol, ArkPatrol.net
- Two things. First, don’t rush out and buy every piece of software and hardware! There are plenty of legitimate freeware products that will suit you just fine. Second, understanding frequencies will help you out to no end. I spent years making tracks which were too ‘brittle’, ‘flimsy’, ‘boomy’ or ‘muddy’ because I was ignorant to just how vital understanding frequencies are. — Lee TNB, The New Beatmaker
- Choose only one Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and learn the basics such as audio editing, applying effects and tracking. DAWs are complex machines and you will naturally develop as you work. Just focus on one DAW to begin with and then you can use multiple DAWs (if you want to) once you are more advanced. All DAWs are excellent tools and choosing one is a personal choice. For low price and excellent built in plugins, Logic Pro is a winner. — Aubrey Whitfield, AubreyWhitfield.com
- Build a self-learning habit. Any time you get stuck or don’t know how to do something, get in the habit of Google’ing to find the answer, watching YouTube videos, however you have to do it. With enough practice at this, you’ll never think of a cool thing you want to try in a DAW and say “oh but I can’t cause I don’t know how to do that”, you’ll be comfortable and fast at breaking through any wall that is simply about not being sure how something works. — Marc Plotkin, MarcPlotkin.com
- It kills me when I see friends in music limbo because their track isn’t “perfect.” Finish it to the best of your current ability and move on to a new one. It’s how you’ll be able to follow your progress and a few tracks down the road you’ll notice how far you’ve come. — Kate, K808
- Don’t sweat if you can’t afford the “it” synths. Make it a game and stretch yourself creatively. See how much you can do with one plug-in and 8 tracks. Limits will always inspire more creativity than a bank of presets. — Jeff Caylor, JeffCaylor.com
- Develop your own sound/style immediately. If you’re having trouble finding your own sound here’s a good starting point. Study the current production techniques in your genre that make it special. Learn how to emulate those techniques like your favorite producers. After you’ve mastered that, start experimenting on how to put your own spin on each individual technique. The goal is to be relevant while also being a trendsetter. Be different. Be dope. — SoundOracle, SoundOracle.com
- Listening is key: Listen, listen, listen!! Listening is the single most important element for anyone starting out in mixing and production. When you hear how the greats are able to implement their sound, start tweaking and figuring out your own formula to creating a great product! — Chris Adams, Von Joie Music Group
- Nothing beats actual practice. No matter how bad your first projects turn out, just focus on 1 or 2 things to improve and move on to the next. Rinse and repeat enough times and you’ll be a pro. — Phil Ber, PhilBer.com
- Start with creating the drum beats for your projects. Set a 5 minute drum beat and use that as a metronome base to record in the right time. Structure is a very important thing to get effective workflows .An Intro, verse, chorus, bridge, solo, outro must all fit in your 5 minute window. Use references of the style of music you want to wok with. Produce a cover song with all his parts( Intro, verse, chorus, bridge, solo, outro) to get the point. Nowadays no one wants to hear 7 min. of sounds. If you are lucky they will listen the first 30 sec. So, try always to make outstanding intros for your songs. Think first which instrument(guitar, voice etc, etc…) will be featured and work around it. — Luis A. Amery Rey Tuesta, AmeryReyTuesta.com
Music Production Philosophy
Do you have a music production philosophy? Or, could you explain how you look at “the art of music production”?
- Be yourself is my mindset, since the scene today in most genres is oversatured you need some way to stand out. It feels like too many people safecard their music and therefore not representing their true style of music. — Bjorn Akesson, BjornAkesson.com
- Go where your creativity and your heart lead you. Don’t follow current trends cause you’re already too late for that. Don’t confine yourself to existing “rules”. Very few producers get big recreating what’s already written … write your own path. — DJ Jounce, DJJounce.com
- I try to let the tracks create themselves by not forcing anything that’s not there. I use my intuition to guide my production and always remember that it’s going to suck until it doesn’t suck. Keep tweaking and playing with ideas until the right one hits. — KELLR, KELLR Music
- There’s no musical genre: everything’s contaminated; there are no rules. Before starting a production I usually talk with the artist, I want to know his/her ideas, references, what’s “behind” the song itself. This really helps a lot when you have to enhance someone else’s art. — Alex Trecarichi, AlexTrecarichi.it
- My “Music Production Philosophy” is convert your thoughts, feelings, emotions and situations into sounds, the only way to make your music alive, original, true. When we have to “tell” a story with sounds and music, it’s important to keep ourselves inside what we are creating, it can help to have a stronger point of view and a direction through it. — Mauro “Kenji” Serra, Music Producer
- Yes. More I work on production the more I realize is all about the song and arrangement. If you get that part right then you’re 3/4 of the way there. Work on the front end to get the sounds and recording of them right so you don’t have to sweat it on the backend. — Diona Devincenzi, DionaDevincenzi.com
- While how I produce any given record can vary wildly based on the style and/or the specific musicians involved, producing always has a mantra: “Serve the song.” The producer’s job is to design and execute an aural landscape which enhances the drama of the storytelling in the melody and lyrics. If you can have confidence in the song, it will tell you what it needs. — Ben Rubin, BenRubin.com
Common Mistakes When Producing Music
What is the single most common music production mistake? How can it be avoided?
- Perfectionism. Don’t be too precious. It’s very easy to feel stuck when you’re listening to the same track over and over. If a track isn’t quite there don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from other producer friends. They may hear something that you haven’t or be able to suggest a track for reference. Sometimes letting someone else hear your work can give it a nudge in a direction that you may not have taken on your own. — Kurt Martinez, KurtMartinez.co.uk
- The most common mistake is not focusing on the creatively important part of a track/song. All the technical things (loudness, stereo imaging, arrangement, sound design, etc..) are there to serve the creative purpose (melody, rhythm, emotion, vibe, energy, etc..). What is the creative purpose of the track? Is this translating to the listener? Can I enhance the listener’s experience of this? These are the questions to ask. — Adam Pollard, Multiplier
- People tend not to A/B their music while writing. I think this is a necessary evil. One the one hand, it might color your idea on how you want your track to sound in terms of sound design or structure, but it’ll also keep your song in line with commercial standards. If your track sounds too quiet, too bassy, to hyped, you’ll know right away! — Noah Neiman, NoahNeiman.com
- Sometimes artist and producers alike can get so hung up on a sound that they fail to realize that what was actually created ended up being better. Likewise I often feel that a lot of what we view as “genius” is really just someone realizing that a “mistake” was actually something that made the song/production a lot better. — Ashton Price, Morph Productions
- I’d have to say the most common mistake is focusing on production over music. I good creative song will always beat a well produced generic song. I highly recommend learning music theory and an instrument. — Brett Edwards, DJBrettEdwards.com
- Over-compression. Ask yourself, “Does this source need compression?” and, “What effect am I trying to achieve with compression?” before you move forward. — Matthew Tryba, MatthewTryba.com
- It’s so easy to keep putting more and more cool sounds, more drones, arpeggiated lines, etc. Space is key. Leave some room for the track to breathe! When you start to attenuate things so 8,000 sounds fit together, the whole sonic product suffers and the listener’s ear becomes overwhelmed and fatigued. Plan ahead what your arrangement is going to be in order to allow the main theme to push through. — Luke Denton, LukeDenton.com
- Over-limiting/clipping/compressing to where tracks are distorted. Over-compression may make individual parts seem louder, but the overall mix becomes flat and lifeless. Way to avoid is before mixing start by turning every channel down until it peaks -10 to -15 db — Jimmy Deer, JimmyDeer.com
What’s your best tip or technique for arrangement?
- Learn music theory! Chord structure is important, so having that background will help tremendously.. — Alex Marie Brinkley, AlexMarieBrinkley.com
- Play from your heart. I am a classically trained musician so I like to sit down at a piano and play until something feels right. If you aren’t familiar with music theory, learn the basics and mess with scales. It will go a long way and save you a lot of time and frustration! — Chris Varvaro, pursound
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- Start with what you’re most familiar with. If that’s a drumline vs a melody, or a drop vs a verse, do it first. I’m almost always more fit to know where and how to progress a track when I’ve already finished what I do best/heard in my head first. — Ben Walker, Subtact
- Pull one of your favourite artists’ songs into your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Use the marker function to highlight moments like ‘intro’, ‘drum drop’, ‘bassline’ ‘chorus’ ‘counter melody starts’, etc. Remove the song from the DAW and you now have a template to stop creative block or descending into a meandering sonic doodle lacking structure. — Lee TNB, The New Beatmaker
- Organization is everything. Music is made of sequences, and each sequence can usually be divided into smaller ones. The repetition of these sequences allows us to almost guess what’s coming next in a piece of music and sometimes it makes you dance. Organize these sequences and build them in a way that it stands out from other productions. You’ll find that there are certain areas, between two major sequences/parts, where you can improvise instead of doing something traditional. Play with breaks and rhythm, without compromising the flow or vibe of your song. — The Strange Algorithm Series, TSASProject.com
- Keep everything simple. Don’t over complicate your mixes with 50 instruments playing at once, or a complex drum beat that distracts from the vocals. Think about what is best for the song. Often, modern records are very simple. Make sure that your production is dynamic and takes the listener on a journey. Your pre-chorus should bring in new instruments to prepare the listener for the chorus and then BANG, the chorus should be full of power and impact. — Aubrey Whitfield, AubreyWhitfield.com
- Decide what the focus is. So often arrangements or mixes have amazing featured parts but if there is too much happening the listener won’t know where to focus. Decide who the stars of the arrangement will be, and understand you’ll have to have even very cool other parts, sit below the stars. — Marc Plotkin, MarcPlotkin.com
- Changing subtle things every 2 bars or so is a safe and easy way to keep your track from growing stale, especially if you want to go after TV placements. — Kate, K808
- Simplify the process. Start with the melody and chords (lets say vocals and guitar) and build the arrangement from there. As you add new harmonies try adding them 1-2 notes at a time to make sure that each new harmony (or note) fits on top of the basic chords you already have. Make sure that your arrangement covers the whole spectrum (lows, mids and highs) and if try not to have different instruments overlapping on the same octave, each element should play on its own range. — Idan Altman, IdanAltman.com
- Before you start a project go to your music references and get an idea about what instruments are played in the songs. Two guitars played the same time can go nice, but it can also spoil the whole project. So try to build in your mind two different sounds with the same instrument. The mind is a never ending ideas producer. So, don’t get crazy with all those ideas. Let’s make your motto “the beauty in the simple” (Vocals)Try always to create melodies with your voice and not with instruments. Put some passion on it! Feel it! If you are not a good singer, go and ask to somebody else who can do it for your own sake. Good luck! — Luis A. Amery Rey Tuesta, AmeryReyTuesta.com
- Copy arrangements from commercially released reference tracks. Use either locator markers in your DAWs arrangement, or use one long, empty MIDI clip (or region), split it up, and rename the segments to sketch out the flow of the song. Use names like “intro, verse, buildup, chorus, drop, outro,” etc. – whatever terms fit the style you’re creating. — Paul Laski, P-LASK
- If you get stuck, copy. 95% of music out there has exactly the same arrangement structure (verse-chorus-etc.) so don’t feel bad about picking a song whose arrangement you like and copying it. You don’t even have to copy it exactly and can just use it as a reference point. At the end of the day, even if you’re using someone else’s arrangement structure, your own parts will make the song unique. — Thomas Glendinning, ELPHNT
- Less is more. Sometimes all you need is a great vocal and piano arrangement. Don’t buy into the hype of creating 100 tracks but rather let each track have a purpose. — James Nagel, JamesNagel.com
- Simple… Intro 4-8 Bars, Hook 4-8 Bars, Verse 8-16 Bars — Cairo Dyvine, CDyvine Muzik Group
What’s your best piece of advice for creating melodies?
- Study what you like by actually re-creating them. You may be surprised how simple or complex some things are. You’ll start to learn how many or few notes there are, the rhythmic patterns, the pitch changes, and the patterns of progressions. Study music theory to learn scales & chords. — DJ Jounce, DJJounce.com
- I find that bringing tonal elements out of a non-musical sounds can create very interesting melodic content. Using eq, reverb, resonators, granular synthesis, timestretching, pitching, etc on random sounds (foley or otherwise) can often lead to discovering hidden melodies within. — Nolan Petruska, Frequent
- Do them in your head first while singing along to the foundation of the track then figure out how to play it on the keyboard or draw it in. BONUS TIP: sometimes melodies that you think are instrument melodies should really be vocal melodies so pay attention to what sound/instrument/vocal would be best suited for the melody. — KELLR, KELLR Music
- Think first, imagine and only then play. If you don’t know what to do and you play without plans, it’s dangerous as you may be keen to re-do always the same movements and progressions; a good starting point could be really important in your composing process. — Mauro “Kenji” Serra, Music Producer
- Write a hook that is simple, clear and memorable to the general audience, where the listener can hear it once and remember it. Get to that hook early, don’t meander around setting it up and use it often. My rule is that if I can’t hear the hook by one minute into the song, it needs to be rearranged. — Alex Salzman, AlexSalzman.com
- Play around with the rhythms and phrasing. Sometimes just shifting a beat can make the melodies really interesting. Experiment with starting on the 2nd beat of the bar or 3rd or on the upbeats for verses… it can create some good contrast particularly if your chorus happens on beat 1. Make sure the melodies aren’t too rangy for the singer…. (unless you’re writing for a singer who is rangy). — Diona Devincenzi, DionaDevincenzi.com
- Make a chorus always stronger and higher than verse. Verse should never competitive with chorus. Longer and higher notes at the begin of the chorus will make it greater and simpler to perceive and remember. — Lukas Drozd, OZD Studio
- If you’re having trouble composing a melody, having some lyrics, even if they’re placeholders, can really help lock in the rhythm and get something on paper. Get something, anything down so you can start refining. Have patience. And keep coming back, it can’t go any faster. — Ben Rubin, BenRubin.com
What’s your best technique or advice for remixing a song?
- Don’t use too many of the original stems. I tend to only use the vocal or the main theme of the original. If you use a lot of the original sounds, you’re essentially just recreating the original. Not good! — Noah Neiman, NoahNeiman.com
- Usually I strip it down to a click and vocal and mess around till I find a new musical theme for the song than was originally there. I’ll then take that and base my remix around the new theme. — Ashton Price, Morph Productions
- I have a few different approaches to remixing songs, but the main one is to learn how to play the song yourself with whatever instrument you play. Then start writing from scratch using the original melodies, but with your own take on it. Once you have a basic idea going, you can start to incorporate the original stems. — Brett Edwards, DJBrettEdwards.com
- Don’t be afraid of referencing other productions and remixes. This really helps when you are stuck as you can adopt an idea from another song and expand on the technique to make it your own. — Matthew Tryba, MatthewTryba.com
- Make templates and presets to help your workflow. No two projects will ever be the same but it always helps to have a starting point. My ‘go to’ plugins will already be in place along with any panning, particularly on drums, guitars and any backing vocals. Having a template saves time and keeps you efficient, especially with clients in the room. I have one template for recording and editing and another for mixing. — Kurt Martinez, KurtMartinez.co.uk
- Inject your own personality. The best remixes expand on a song… they don’t just slap it into a template (like, say, 128bpm “4 to the floor” house music). They take the original and put a unique, interesting spin on it that could only have ever come from the new artist. Here’s a corollary: if your remix sounds like any old remix, you need to inject more of your own personality. — John Lavido, JohnLavido.com
- Learning about music theory, from Rikky Rooksby on song chords, Levine’s Jazz Theory, William Russo on Composing, Rufus Reid on bass lines, massively enables better production and remixing. Say you receive a vocal to remix, if the first note you hear in the melody is a G, well, that could be the fifth of a C chord and so you accompany this vocal with a C chord, we all know that one, or it could be the ninth of an F chord, a minor third of an E chord, or a major third of an E flat, a minor seventh of an A chord, a major seventh of an A flat, before we even mention what “quality of any of those chords” (IE major, minor, dominant, sus, altered, augmented, diminished,etc) . All of these possibilities open up. And whether it’s Kendrick Lamar, or Kerri Chandler, electronic music of a certain soulful historical context is made by people who share in this r&b, blues, and jazz theory legacy. You don’t have to be at a conservatory or be a master at reading sheet music, you just have to start somewhere and keep going and never stop. — QB Smith, QBSmith.com
- Adhere to the original track’s intention. Listen to the drums and bass. Was it pulling back on the beat, leaning forward, adding energy? Don’t just stick a premeditated beat or bass line on top. Slowly add each piece to the track, and be willing to change your mind if it gets too bold (or not bold enough!). — Luke Denton, LukeDenton.com
- Try things that seem like they wouldn’t work — can spark some interesting ideas. Don’t go with what you usually do. — Jimmy Deer, JimmyDeer.com
What’s your best tip or technique for using compression in music production?
- DO NOT OVER DO IT! Less is more. Seriously. Do not throw a compressor on a channel just for the sake of compressing. Listen to your source sound and think to yourself “if I compress this, will it add value to my mix? Or will it just make my mix sound squashed and harsh?” — Chris Varvaro, pursound
- Sidechaining intelligently. Using a sidechain linked to a lead element can be a huge benefit to the mixdown, because everything else, (as if automated) ducks under the presence of what you want to be standing out. This has infinite applications! — Ben Walker, Subtact
- Only use compression when absolutely necessary and then use it lightly. Unwarranted Compression reduces the brightness and dimension of a sound. Excessive compression reduces the depth of field and compromises the width of stereo elements, and is often responsible for amateur, flat sounding mixes. — Rick Snoman, Dance Music Production
- It ultimately depends on the genre of the music, but personally, I focus most on using compression to thicken the sound but vehemently defend the track’s internal dynamic range. So often the compressors that build up sound the most (aka loudest) have the side effect of flattening the dynamic range of the track. Don’t fall into this trap. If you’ve made music that uses dynamics to tell a song’s story or build momentum, then even a great-sounding compressor that cuts those dynamics off can be sabotaging the meaning the music’s very purpose and intent. — Marc Plotkin, MarcPlotkin.com
- There are so many reasons I use a compressor in my productions. Sometimes it’s to tame a dynamic part but sometimes it’s to emphasize attack or decay. Sometimes it’s to add color. Sometimes it’s to gel parts together. Get familiar with the many uses of compression and don’t be afraid to chain several together in series. And leave it off if it doesn’t sound better! — Jeff Caylor, JeffCaylor.com
- My biggest tip for compression is to avoid over compression. I like to use parallel compression. Parallel compression allows you to compress extremely and then use a wet dry knob to dial-in just the right amount. If you’re sounds start to sound like they’re pumping, then that’s a sign that you are over compressing. — SoundOracle, SoundOracle.com
- Let compression work FOR you, not AGAINST you. Compression is a great tool, when done correctly. This goes back to the natural state or sound of the element. You want to make sure that you are not compressing to the point where the highs in the mix are not audible. Continue to work this and figure out a formula and sound that works for you. — Chris Adams, Von Joie Music Group
- Compression is the swiss army knife of music production. It is used for so many different things and can mess up a track in so many different ways. Before applying compression, know what you are trying to do and the best settings to achieve that. Dial those settings in and play around a little until you get what you want with the lightest touch possible. — Phil Ber, PhilBer.com
- I don’t often mix vocals. But when using compression on my beats it’s pretty simple, higher ratios if you want that sound to punch and lower ratios if you want it to be more smooth or soothing on the ears. — James TenNapel, Syndrome
- Avoid compression as much as humanly possible. Pick samples and sounds that sound good already, and process them minimally. Compression, to me, is always a last resort. I employ it only if there is a dynamic problem that I know only a compressor can solve. While compression can be used in a myriad of creative ways, at it’s core it’s designed to turn volume down and back up over time. I’ve seen and heard FAR more producers ruin sounds with compressors than fix them. Experiment with compressors, and learn to use them in different ways. But don’t ever feel like you HAVE to use them to “finalize” a sound or a song. — Paul Laski, P-LASK
- Compression is mainly used to fix dynamics but there are a lot of factors to consider when doing that. First of all, does the track need compression? Listen to the tracks both separately and together and decide what’s sticking out (peaking too much) or what significant details you can’t hear. You can get all creative with a compressor, but there are also standard rules you need to understand in order to apply it and make your compression unique. It’s all about the threshold. The threshold is the point at which the compressor starts kicking in. The ratio is how much the amplitude will be reduced. For a ratio of 2:1, the amplitude will be reduced by a factor of 2. For example, for a threshold of -30 db, the compressor will start activating just there. If you select a ratio of 2:1, and you get a sound above -30 db that is, for example, -20 db, there’s a difference in the peaks of 10 db. Having a ratio of 2:1 means that the sound will rise only 5 db! (10/2=5). For vocals you can use two compressors, one to catch the subtle details with a light ratio (1.5:1, 2:1) and another one with either a slower or a faster attack and a high ratio (3:1, 4:1, 5:1, whatever you need there) to level the peaks. In general a slower attack provides a vintage sound and warmth. I’d usually go with a slower attack for higher ratios, but I recommend you experiment and get creative with it. — Florin Mitru, Kugelbleatz
- Automation, automation, automation. Do it before you compress and you’ll be surprised at how little compression you really need. — James Nagel, JamesNagel.com
Synthesis & Sound Design
What’s your best tip or technique for synthesis/sound design?
- Bounce to audio, especially in Ableton. It’s insane how much you can change a sound with warp modes alone. Also, running virtually anything through granulator 2 always results in some interesting stuff. — Nolan Petruska, Frequent
- Don’t worry too much about creating a library of sounds outside the context of a specific composition. Every sound lends itself to various compositional ideas and when there is synergy there might be magic. — Alex White, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
- Do separate sessions that are devoted solely to sound design. This helps you to focus solely on the music when you are producing and keeps you from getting bogged down in technical tweaking land. — Matthew Tryba, MatthewTryba.com
- Start with a preset, and tweak until you get what you want. It’s way faster (and way easier) to start with a decent preset, and tweak it until you get what you’re looking for. If you need to learn how to tweak synth patches, try Syntorial. — John Lavido, JohnLavido.com
- Layering is the key to achieving the professional sound. It can be used to make sounds richer and fatter but using the attack of one layer and release of another can add sonic variation to catch your listeners ears. Employ different ADSR parameters on each layer so that the sound continually morphs between the different layers. — Rick Snoman, Dance Music Production
- Make sure to utilize your EQ, a little bit of EQing can turn the most awful sound into something beautiful. Also, use plugins that aren’t meant for your instrument, for example use a plugin meant for guitar on a piano sample. Something cool could come out of it. — James TenNapel, Syndrome
- Learn about the 7 basic elements of a synthesizer and what they do; Oscillator, Pitch Envelope, Filter, Filter Envelope, Amplifier, Volume Envelope and LFO. Once you know how to use those elements really well designing any sound you want becomes easy. — Thomas Glendinning, ELPHNT
Our panel of experts had so many great synthesis and sound design tips that we couldn’t fit them all into this article. Click here to see our entire list of synthesis and sound design tips.
Drum Programming & Beat Making
What’s your best tip or technique for programming drums or making a beat?
- If you’re new to it, take a MIDI file from a VST drum plugin (Addictive Drums etc) and delete everything except the hihat (or kick drum or …), try to hear the whole groove in your head and play the rest of the drums with a MIDI controller. — Cristofer Odqvist, Magnetic Sound
- Using beats mode in Ableton on the gate function with transients selected will create rhythmic content out of any sound. I often find inspiring rhythms in random chunks of audio using this method. — Nolan Petruska, Frequent
- I actually like taking a beat that’s already out there, locking it into my DAW and then programming the kicks/snare the same. Then I program my own hat pattern and put all new music on top. I don’t know why that works so well but it does. — Ashton Price, Morph Productions
- Try to think like a drummer. I myself learned drums just for this reason. It’ll help you to create variances in volumes and timing, while still sounding tight and in sync with your track. Imagine a drum roll with each hit being the same volume. It’ll sound like a machine gun almost, but if you add variances in the volumes of each hit, it’ll start to sound like a real drummer. Apply this same mindset across all of your programming. — Brett Edwards, DJBrettEdwards.com
- Play the parts in realtime on keys/pads or v-drums for velocity and live feel, also move /vary hits slightly off-grid if they are perfectly quantized. — Jimmy Deer, JimmyDeer.com
- The more sparingly the kick is used, the more people anticipate it. Also, make the snare slightly mysterious. — Ark Patrol, ArkPatrol.net
- Polyrhythms and syncopation are your friend. From African beats to Frank Zappa, adding a second drum loop – eq’ing it so it sits ‘behind’ the main loop and / or nicely sidechaining it so it does not argue with your main loop, will add extra funk and groove to your beats. — Lee TNB, The New Beatmaker
- Tune your kick and toms so that they fit the key of the song and make set the amount of decay on your kick so that it works better with your bass, a shorter decay would be the safer way to go in this case. — Idan Altman, IdanAltman.com
Our panel of experts had so many great drum programming and beat making tips that we couldn’t fit them all into this article. Click here to see our entire list of drum programming and beat making tips.
MIDI & VST/AUs
What’s your #1 best tip or technique for working with MIDI or VST/AUs?
- When working in midi, keep the velocity in mind. Before throwing on a compressor to even things out, check if you have done what you can with velocity. Every note in a melody created with midi doesn’t need to be the same length as the other. Sometimes you need to vary the size. — Bjorn Akesson, BjornAkesson.com
- Pick one synth and learn it. They all pretty much do the same thing. Having hundreds of VSTs and not knowing how to use them isn’t as good as having one that you’re an expert at. — KELLR, KELLR Music
- Use a Dynamic EQ with MS mode and sidechain the Mid part on synths and guitars with the vocals on 2.5 kHz – 3.5 kHz to make the voice pop out the mix. — Alex Trecarichi, AlexTrecarichi.it
- Having worked with midi from literally day one of it’s availability to the public, my #1 advice is do not over-quantize everything, including velocity. Even in popular music, which tends to be all “”on the grid””, I like to humanize certain elements, like piano and orchestral instruments, and even sometimes rhythmic loops to give the song a feel. Tip: select the area you want to humanize and re-quantize to 1/64th notes with around 25% randomize settings, available in any DAW. Plug-ins: don’t solely rely on plug-ins, try to get the best sound while recording by trying different pics, different positions, etc. — Alex Salzman, AlexSalzman.com
- This is in regards to midi. Try and imagine you’re on stage performing the parts or in the audience and make your sounds and performance real and believable. Use an expression pedal. They are cheap but can be very helpful in making the instruments breathe a little more and sound more human. Don’t quantize too much unless you’re going for that kind of sound. — Diona Devincenzi, DionaDevincenzi.com
- If it’s possible keep your MIDI tracks unfreezed to be ready to make some fast improvements in key arrangements elements spontaneously during creative moment. Colourize your tracks to be able to quick find that element that you looking for. But also, remember that your MIDI tracks in wave form give you different possibilities to create sound (like reverse, cuting, fliping, stretching ect). Find the balance between them. — Lukas Drozd, OZD Studio
- Delay is your friend. It can be great for adding subtle depth or definitive rhythm to vocals and instruments. Using it while writing can really add an element of surprise into your composing regimen. My fave delay plugins: SoundToys EchoBoy, Slate Repeater, Waves H-Delay, IK Multimedia Tape Echo. — Ben Rubin, BenRubin.com
The Best Music Production Plugins
What’s your favorite plugin for music production right now? And why do you love it?
- Granulator 2 – because of its bottomless potential to create bizarre / unheard sounds with minimal effort. — Nolan Petruska, Frequent
- Magic A/B. I love it because it allows for easy referencing with my own tracks and other people’s tracks. — John Lavido, JohnLavido.com
- Sylenth1, because I love subtractive synthesis. I also like FM8 for PM Synthesis, but I use that for EDM more than for hip-hop. I use Sylenth1 in every beat and make my own sounds with it. — Florin Mitru, Kugelbleatz
- I’ve been almost exclusively using UA’s Neve 1073 pre amp plugin. It’s got a ton of vibe and is great for thickening up sounds recorded in a digital environment. — James Nagel, JamesNagel.com
- I have many, but Track God is my favorite because of it versatility and sound banks are incredible — Cairo Dyvine, CDyvine Muzik Group
- Kontakt Ultimate. Has so much variety and collections of awesome sound libraries. — Pedro Esparza, Music by Pedro Productions
We had so many great music production plugin suggestions that we couldn’t fit them all into this article. Click here to see our entire list of the best music production plugins.
Any other music production tips or advice?
- If you have a beat that is completely locked to the grid, tap in delays manually to get a bit of human feel to the groove. — Cristofer Odqvist, Magnetic Sound
- Use linear phase EQ when you duplicate a track and apply different processes (i.e. when you duplicate the bass track and filter it to add distortion) to avoid phase shifts. — Alex Trecarichi, AlexTrecarichi.it
- Divide your session with groups – Drums, Bass, Harmony, Vocals. Listen to them solo when you’ll have feeling that something is wrong in your song. That operation will push out your perception from previous background and will help to find elements which do bad job. — Lukas Drozd, OZD Studio
- This is getting lost in this day and age but make sure the key of the song suits the singer. It makes a huge difference for how the vocalist and thus the song is percieved. — Ashton Price, Morph Productions
- Limit your plug-in collection to what you need, not what you want. An over-abundance of plug-ins only serves to stifle your creativity because you end up distracted by multiple choices for processing. Limit and learn the tools you have and don’t plan on buying any more until you know your collection inside out. You’ll find you don’t need half of the gear you thought you did. — Rick Snoman, Dance Music Production
- Apparently the human ear can’t process more than 3 instruments at a time. A lot of top producers use this rule when producing by bringing in 3 instruments on each section. In modern records, a lot of producers also record ‘ear candy’ instruments every 3-5 seconds to keep the listener engaged. Some producers tend to think that lashing their mixes with 100 instruments is the way to go, but less is always more. So use your instruments creatively. — Aubrey Whitfield, AubreyWhitfield.com
- Experiment with using nontraditional sounds/instruments but using them in “traditional ways”. For example, instead of a snare sample, or an 808, try making a beat out of a parachute “whoosh” sound, try representing a guitar or piano triad-chord with a french horn, a voice, and a pitched bell sound to hit the same notes but in a way most people don’t normally hear. With that approach, you can still represent your song how you always wanted, but with different aesthetics than most people do. I did this a couple years ago on my EP, “Minor Faults” (http://hyperurl.co/plotkin) and had a ton of fun doing it. — Marc Plotkin, MarcPlotkin.com
- Stay inspired, keep listening to music recreationally and go to see movies so that you can really experience the soundtrack of the film. Don’t get to the point that you are only listening to music while working. — Idan Altman, IdanAltman.com
- Keep your toolset simple. A small number of good tools that you know really well is infinitely better than hundreds of tools that you don’t know how to use. — Thomas Glendinning, ELPHNT
- Learn frequencies. Every sound has to have its own place in the mix. — Cairo Dyvine, CDyvine Muzik Group
- Start simple, then build. Don’t try to overcomplicate something when first starting out. Lay out your track from beginning to end, then add extra layers and tracks once you have a full length track. — Pedro Esparza, Music by Pedro Productions
Any music production career advice you’d like to share?
- Be open to your client’s ideas. Even if they are not what you may envision, try to find ways to incorporate those ideas by improving on them. — Alex Salzman, AlexSalzman.com
- Well for me, it’s constantly a learning process. I’m always learning new ways of doing things and try and stay open to trying things. Also, don’t be fooled into the lust for gear. (speaking from experience here!) Work with what you’ve got and focus on the craft of songwriting and arrangement. — Diona Devincenzi, DionaDevincenzi.com
- Don’t be derivative. Listen to a broad spectrum of music and pay attention to the histories of electronic music – read, listen, talk to people. Electronic music is a relatively young field and its possible to hear from people who were pioneering and researching in this space. If you think about electronic music as a tree it is worth climbing lots of the branches not just the think ones in the middle (ie popular – is this analogy working? ). — Alex White, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
- Be yourself, be different — don’t just copy current trends! There is a sea of mediocre music out there–rise above through individuality and true, emotional expression — Jimmy Deer, JimmyDeer.com
- If you do look to make money, it’s not all about making a hot beat for a singer or rapper – many beatmakers end up waiting years to get paid, and even if successful, they can end up in legal battles to get paid (google will bring up tonnes of horror stories). Instead, perhaps look to hook up with a local filmmaker who wants soundtrack work, or with a local business to provide music to their set of promo videos. Is this glamorous? No, but it’s arguably more satisfying than waiting around for a vocalist to give you that ‘magic’, winning lottery ticket of a hit. — Lee TNB, The New Beatmaker
- Don’t let anyone fool you — mixes are subjective. You could ask 10 people you admire for their thoughts on your mix and they’ll all give you different notes. Thinking about the notes you agree with vs. the ones the ones you don’t is a great way to find your voice as a producer. — Kate, K808
- Don’t feel pressured into working on any music you don’t want to. Even if the listeners are asking for change, don’t change unless YOU want to. Once you start working on music you don’t enjoy, is when it turns from a fun hobby to just a chore or a job. — James TenNapel, Syndrome
What learning resource (book, article, website, podcast, etc.) would you recommend for someone who wants to learn more about music production?
- I have been reading a lot of articles on the Sound on Sound website recently, in particular their ‘Inside Track’ feature where they talk to producers and mix engineers involved in large scale releases over the last twelve months or so and deconstruct a single looking at the methods used to record and mix. I find these useful when I’m taking on a project with a sound I haven’t explored before, but I find it really interesting to hear how each producer or mixer approaches their work differently. — Kurt Martinez, KurtMartinez.co.uk
- My man Sam Matla puts on a great podcast called The EDM Prodcast. He interviews artists, producers and DJs, but also includes industry professsionals like Sebastien Linz from Revealed or Austin Kramer from Spotify. Be sure to check out my own (2!) interviews. — Noah Neiman, NoahNeiman.com
- I’d recommend Curtis Roads’ Composing Electronic Music: A New Aesthetic as a compelling survey of ideas and processes associated with electronic music. — Alex White, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
- I find YouTube to be an incredible resource in general. It’s great because you can learn new techniques and then hear before and after (usually) in the video to get a sense of what’s actually happening. This is much better than reading up on things, sometimes by people who have no clue what they’re talking about, and just assuming these techniques work. — Ashton Price, Morph Productions
- ADSR on YouTube is fantastic. Always really useful and spot on with their lessons. That is definitely one I’d recommend. — Brett Edwards, DJBrettEdwards.com
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