• Philip Marsden

10 Quick Production Tips | #9

1. Thicken your vocals with formant shifting

Want a thicker vocal sound without recording harmonies? Try some layering some formant shifted vocals. This is a technique I used on Mia Pembroke’s “Make You Famous”. In the chorus there’s one main lead vocals, two doubles and two formant shifted tracks (which are copies of the lead). One is formant shifted up high and panned slightly right, the other down low and panned slightly left. This creates a nice, thick pop vocal sound. Listen to the track from 2:35 to hear what I mean.

2. Low end balance is crucial

I listen to tons of mixes every week and the most common issue I come across is the low end. Poorly balanced bass frequencies can cause a ton of problems, so put a lot of care into them when you’re mixing, making sure they’re clear and not too loud or too quiet. If you’re not in a treated room, use headphones to make sure you can hear it properly and reference professional mixes as much as possible!

3. You don’t need NS-10s or Mixcubes

Don’t get me wrong, I use a mono mixcube and it is really handy to be able to quickly switch to a more lo-fi sound, but if you’re just starting out you don’t need it. They provide a representation of what AM radio sounds like, which was really useful 30 years ago when that was where most people listened to music, but not anymore. You’d be way better off referencing on Apple Earbuds and a cheap bluetooth speaker if you’re doing it for translation purposes.

4. Don’t compress things for the sake of it

Whenever you decide to compress a sound in your mix, make sure you’re being intentional, don’t just do it because you think you should. Do it to counteract a problem or get a certain sound; there has to be a purpose.

5. Your limiter is not a volume knob

Tons of producers use a limiter on their master channel just to make sure their track sounds loud all of the time, some even start producing with one on there. This is a recipe for disaster and it’s totally skewing your perception of what you’re hearing from the get-go, affecting the tone of every single sound that passes through it. It’s okay for your production or your mix to be quiet, it isn’t the finished product and it’s not meant to be as loud as a commercial release yet. If you mix without a limiter and focus on getting a sense of perceived loudness before your mix is hit by compression, you’ll get a much, much better final product at the mastering stage. Limit for tone, not for volume.

6. Backup everything then back it up again

Okay so this isn’t as exciting as some tips, but it might just be the most useful. You don’t know how painful it can be to lose an entire project that you’ve poured all of your energy into until it happens. Backup your projects constantly and make sure it never happens. You’ll thank yourself for it one day!

7. The pomodoro technique

The pomodoro technique is a productivity trick, in which you work in 25 minute stints, with a 5 minute break at the end of each. This is great for avoiding ear fatigue and making sure you’re keeping rested throughout the production process. It’s a great way to get yourself into a creative flow if you’re not feeling particularly motivated. For example, if I find myself procrastinating or I’m unwilling to get a task done, I say “right, if I can do just 25 minutes with no distractions, that’s a win.” I’ll put my phone in another room and crack on. Then before I know it, I’m in the swing of things and have worked for way longer than the simple 25 minutes I set out to do. There are tons of apps to help with this technique!

8. Use octaves

Using octaves in your production can be really helpful in a ton of different ways. Maybe your bass synth isn’t cutting through enough? A high octave layered on top will help with that. Or maybe your guitar riff just sounds a bit too thin? Copy it, pitch it down and octave and subtly blend with the original tone.

9. The law of diminishing returns

There is a point at which you start over-producing things. Try to be conscious of when this is happening and when you’re no longer being intentional. At some point you need to trust your gut and call a song finished so that you can release it a move forward!

10. Free Plugin - Cableguys PanCake

Finally, here’s a free plugin that I’m loving! It’s called PanCake and it’s made by the wonderful people at Cableguys. It’s great for adding wacky panning patterns to elements of your production. Check it out and download it here!

Read the previous instalment here.

Want to get better at producing vocals? Download my free guide - Vocal Production Start to Finish