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  • Philip Marsden

10 Quick Production Tips | #1


1. You Don’t Need More Gear

Sure, that new guitar or flashy analogue gear might sound nice, but it isn’t going to make your music any better. Stop creating barriers for yourself and focus on making good music with the tools you have. Limiting yourself works wonders. I recently deleted all of my plugins except a very select few and my workflow, my ear and my sound has improved massively.



2. Record Some Automation Manually

On certain instruments, recording some live volume, panning or plugin automation can add a really nice human touch. This works especially well on sampled strings that are lacking the authenticity of a real string section.



3. You Can’t Polish a Turd

Never rely on fixing it in the mix. The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given for music production is “record like there is no mixing and mix like there is no mastering”.



4. Bigger Acoustic Guitars

Want a thicker, richer and more interesting acoustic guitar sound? Record two takes for the main rhythm. Pan one hard left and one hard right. You’ll get a nice wide sound. Next, consider a centre guitar, with the same chords and rhythm, but a different voicing, higher up the neck. Still need some more interest? Add a simple arpeggio over the top. You could even layer this with another an octave higher! Experiment, but try not to go overboard or your mix will sound too cluttered.



5. Use Bus Channels on Sets of Instruments

Route alike instruments through bus channels and use a touch of compression, eq or even a bit of reverb to give them a cohesive sound. I always have bus channels for Drums, Bass, Strings, Keys, Guitars, Lead Vocals and Backing Vocals. This also makes it super easy to adjust the level on a group of instruments.



6. Tune Your Drums

This isn’t always necessary, but tuning your drum samples (or even live drums) to the key of the song can help them to sit better within the mix.



7. Mix Bus Compression

This is often underused in amateur mixes. A small amount of compression across the whole track can give a “glueing” effect on the mix or create a subtle pumping effect that enhances the groove of your track. Start with a 2:1 ratio, 30ms attack and the quickest release setting, bring the threshold down until you have 1-2db of gain reduction and tweak the attack and release to taste. Be very careful not to over-compress, it’s easy to ruin your mix if you go too far.



8. Don’t Go Mad on the Reverb

I’m a sucker for reverb, but it’s easy to take it too far. Next time you’re using it, turn it up nice and loud to get the tone you’re after, then, turn the reverb channel all the way down and slowly start bringing it up until it sounds good. Once you’re there, bring it back down 1-2db. This little process works well with all creative effects!



9. Mix in Mono

I like to spend most of my time mixing in mono, or at least holding off on the panning for as long as possible. This way, you will be forced to use EQ more effectively when you’re trying to get separation between your tracks and it will sound even better when you do start panning!



10. Record Your Own Samples

Pick up a microphone or even just your smartphone and see what interesting sounds you can find around the house. Record them and mangle them with effects in your DAW to create truly unique drum parts and ambient layers.


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