Top 5 Music Production Epiphanies
Sometimes, every now and then you hit a music production epiphany. Something that hits you in the face and makes you think "wow, yeah now that MAKES SENSE to me' you try it and it's just what you needed to level up your music production game to the next notch.
We share the top 5 Epiphanies most exoerienced producers talk of through their career.
Less is more
It seems easy to assume you need layers and layers for a bigger, fuller production but very often when it comes to music production less really is more.
Typically the most successful tracks are the ones with the simplest approach, be it tonally, melodically or structurally. As humans we like consistency, assumption of expectation and interest. We also like it when that expectation is messed with, as long as the outcome was positive.
How do we build this into our tracks?
Avoid over complication and try using less, instead focussing on the quality of that sound or layer,
Build interest into your structure not via 50 layers. Start dropping elements leading up towards a pattern or melody change or structure expectation.
Technically speaking, Making sure you're meeting most or all the right frequency spectrum needs to achieve the FULL sound without needing 50 layers. Creatively some of the best melodies are the simplest, just with variations on the original theme.
Here's a great example of that - Eric Prydz Pjanoo
Arpy repititions at the start build interest and anticipation. Simple but catchy piano riff gives initial rhythm, substance and meaning to the track. Bassline is a simple down then up question and answer approach further building on the rhythm and expectation. The track then keeps you engaged by careful structural arrangement, nothing more. Simple but effective.
Monitors and acoustics
Boring right? They don't add to your creativity, you can't play them, they don't inspire you, they look dull and to top it all off they cost a lot.
But they are the window to what your production should sound like.
Let's be clear, when you're starting out with nothing you need to have some means of production/musical output before you invest in monitors otherwise you just bought too large expensive paper weights. But once you have the means of outputting your musical ideas to work further on then your next purchase needs to be good monitors. Why? Simple.
It'll let you hear what you're really doing.
It'll let you better hear the changes you make to all those dials, knobs and switches on every piece of gear.
It'll allow you to hear subtle effects of compression and careful EQ changes
It'll avoid you falling into bad mix habits
It'll avoid you having that "omg this sounds s**t" point the moment you play it on another system.
It'll allow you to passively and actively train your ears better.
It'll allow you to better judge all of the above.
Acoustic treatment will further enhance your abilities on all of the above. I still remember the first studio I treated properly and sat down in to load up some projects I had been working on. In an instant I could tell I had been putting too much reverb on everything because now I could REALLY hear the reverb. You think you're hearing something but you're not until you hear it on correct monitors, correctly setup with correct acoustics - everything up till that point is a best guess.
Use yours ears, trust your ears
This ties in with everything on this list, and is something that comes with experience but get to the point where you believe in what you're hearing.
Here's a true story. . .
In my formative years I walked into a local music shop intending to buy headphones to supplement my mobile sound design rig, requiring headphones as neutral as possible. I demoed many and had settled on two pairs from a pro audio manufacturer, the two pairs were of the same model range just priced / specced differently.
To me the cheaper (£130) ones sounded flatter, more balanced, more natural. The £180 ones sounded slightly hyped in the bass and slightly scooped in the mid.
With a mix of pressures like my girlfriend waiting for me to make a decision, the store assistant staring at me on listening tests to my own (and society induced) belief that the more expensive ones must be better I purchased the more expensive ones despite my gut feel.
6 months later I sold them. I couldn't get on with them, just never sounded as accurate as I expected. Out of my own curiosity I performed some research and found both models frequency graphs. On paper it was the less expensive pair which were the flattest! My ears were correct!! I had convinced myself I had to be wrong because they were cheaper and telling myself it must have been the test environment and poor source device (smartphone).
From that point on I learnt I should not just trust my ears but believe in them to make correct decisions too. You'll need to reference them as you would anything else to keep them true but believe in your ears.
If it sounds good it really is good
Plenty of experts, commentators, professionals, armchair amateurs, guides, books, videos etcetera will say things with confidence such as "never use a reverb tail longer than 6 seconds" "Never use a limiter on every track", "Never have your bassline in stereo"
Well here's something... do what YOU want, because if it sounds good then it is good. The music production industry is filled with conventionalists and traditionalists - so be unconventional.
CONTRAST! Contrast between wet and dry, loud and soft, short and long.
Good music is the interplay and the contrast between elements. Think of it as balance. If I have a glorious lead drenched in reverb then I need something drier to balance that out and add contrast, otherwise it sounds like all the sounds are lost in the depth of the mix with no 'up front' material.
Using instruments or synths with lots of lazy attack and long release? Then contrast and balance that with snappy short decay elements like the bass or the hats. Balance, balance and BALANCE.
So there you have it. Take a short cut to the front of the queue and learn from other producers experiences here.