Taking your recordings to the next level
Recording music has always straddled that fine line between being an art and a science. On one hand, you need to understand frequencies, stereo fields and have a fairly technical approach to making the tools work as you want them. On the other hand, music is a creative pursuit and, as such, requires an element of the unwritten magic to bring it all together.
It is for this reason that the greatest engineers don’t always make the best musicians, and vice versa. But, as a producer, you have to have feet on both sides of the line in order to produce truly great work.
We’ve put together a few advanced music production tips and ideas to give you a point in the right direction. For seasoned producers there may not be much you don’t know already. However, for those looking to try out new techniques in an effort to give their recording sessions a new twist, we hope the following music production tips (in no particular order) are useful.
Tip #1 – Trust in automation
If you’re not already employing some sort of automation in your workflow then you really need to pay attention here. Every DAW, from freeware like Reaper through to industry standard software packages like Pro Tools, will include some provision for the automation of basic tasks. You should really learn what it is, and how it can make your life easier, if you haven’t already done so.
Essentially, automation is the practice of programming into your DAW a series of actions you want it to carry out automatically. This may be the switching on and off of effects at certain junctures of the track. Or it could be altering the volume levels of individual elements throughout the song while you’re mixing.
There’s tonnes you can do with automation – including creatively – so take the time to learn how simple it is. Then you can spend all that time you’ve saved on other areas of the job.
Tip #2 – Arrange on the fly
While common knowledge dictates that you’ll already have the songs written and arranged by the time you come to record them, there is always room for a bit of adventure at the production stage.
By all means, record the song as you want it, but then perhaps have a think about ‘chopping’ it to pieces and trying things in a different order. If every track you have is verse/chorus/verse/chorus/middle 8/chorus then your listeners are gonna get pretty bored before long. Try chopping a verse in half, or duplicating certain parts in different orders.
You never know what you might stumble across. Do, however, keep in mind that at some point you may want to perform these tracks live…
Tip #3 – Mix comparatively
You’ll clearly have an idea of what kind of sound you want when it comes to record. You may even have an idea of how to get it. But a good little trick is to have reference tracks to hand.
It’s not unreasonable to say that whatever sound you have in mind may have already been done, or at least something close. Use this to your advantage. It isn’t cheating to load in a reference track of the sound in question to your DAW and use it to do A/B comparisons with your own tracks. You may not be able to get them exactly the same – and why would you want to. However, you’ll at least get yourself into the right areas to fine tune it afterwards.
Tip #4 – Warping for accuracy
Another handy trick up the sleeve of modern DAWs is the ability to alter a recorded sound. We don’t mean add effects, we literally mean taking a piece of audio and stretching it to do your bidding.
Ableton Live is a great tool here. Live offers superb tools to take a track which was ever so slightly out of time and ‘warp’ it so it becomes perfectly in time. The process is simple too; Live uses its internal algorithms to mark out certain transients in the audio. From here you simply mark a point slightly before the wonky note or beat, and a point after. Then move the relevant point until it is accurate.
This also works with pitch too; say your singer has belted out a near perfect chorus but just dips slightly flat on the high note. You can use the DAW to get you out of a sticky situation quickly and easily. A word of warning though; while you can get some interesting creative results using this with a heavy hand, it’s always best to get the recording right in the first place. Time and pitch correction are useful, but don’t rely on them too much.
Tip #5 – Restraint
Our final tip ties in with the last point of the previous one. Restraint is a wonderful thing when it comes to production. As musicians, producers, engineers and music nerds, having a well-stocked studio is akin to being in the biggest and best sweet shop in the world. But sometimes it pays to pare things back a bit.
Remember, just because you can add in a tonne of effects doesn’t mean you should. Don’t lose track of what you’re trying to achieve in the first place.
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.