10 Music Production Tips: Dubspot Instructors – Nalepa, Shadetek, Selway, Badawi, Wyatt

Here at Dubspot HQ we are always buzzing with tips and tricks that come from our staff, instructors and students. No matter how experienced you are, there’s always room to improve and we relish these moments to learn from talented people. While we are always posting fresh videos on techniques and tips, this week we are taking a new approach to sharing our wealth of knowledge. We approached ten instructors from our staff and asked them each to submit one tip to help producers make their creations sound better. We hope these tips get you moving and we’d also love to hear your tips (or music) in the comments section below. And of course – if you like what you learn below please check out the classes we offer with these people in our NYC location as well as online!

Steve Nalepa: Less is more. Using fewer elements will leave more space in your mix, just make sure each individual part sounds as excellent as it possibly can. Keep an eye out for competing frequencies and resolve this either through EQ or by arrangement choices, perhaps dropping some elements out. Once you’ve created your song, go through it and see if you can subtract. Sometimes it is hard to let go of a particular part you are fond of, but if it better serves the song, then do it. Have an idea in mind on where you want the song to go, then take it there.

Matt Cellitti: I try to render everything I do as soon as I’m done working on it. I have the problem where I can always start something, but never finish anything anymore.  So at the end of the writing session, I simply render it before turning it off and I actually accomplish this by using Wiretap Studio to quickly make a scratch recording.  After that, I either burn it to a CD or put it on my Android to listen in the car.

Because I travel a lot for work, I spend a lot of time in the car.  Oddly enough, this is where I get TONS of ideas for music/tracks/samples/songs – right when I’m sitting in downtown Chicago traffic, not moving for an hour ; ).  By having fresh song ideas always available, I can listen to them in the car and make notes about what to do when I get back to the studio.  Just speak your ideas into the old trusty Evernote app so you can look them up when you get back to the studio. Good ol’ technology!

Heinrich Zwahlen: Always check your mixes in a different room on a different system..one that you know well from listening to other music. Dont bother develloping a song structure unless you have some strong sounding ideas..write with the final sounds that you like, dont think about substituting them later.

Thavius Beck: If you add an element to your song, make sure it can be properly heard. This may sound obvious, but I have worked with so many people who just needed to turn up a background sound or EQ it so it wasn’t buried in the mix, and the difference it makes can be huge.  Sometimes it’s turning something up, sometimes it’s EQing, sometimes it’s panning, sometimes it’s adding a certain effect… If you put it in the song, chances are you wanted people to hear it, so make sure that they can.

Matt Shadetek: Break your process into two parts: Action (or creation) and Reflection (or editing).  Never do both at the same time.  Act, create some parts, add some things to your work in progress and try not to question yourself or reflect on where it’s going or whether it’s good enough.  Promise to yourself that you’ll reflect and edit later and that nothing will escape your studio without first being edited and having it’s tires kicked.  This is a way to distance yourself from your inner critical voice while you are in the act of creating.  Many people get stuck half way through because the work is starting to take shape and they started editing and questioning it and became paralyzed.  Run like hell for the finish line and reflect when the work is done.

John Selway: For better sounding digital mixes, remember to check the input and output signal levels at every point, between every device, track, plug-in, etc.  Avoid clipping (no red meters) and leave headroom.  I like to have an average level between -12dB and -6dB on each of my mixer tracks, with the occasional higher peaks.  Master level should never peak over 0dB.  If you want your sound to be saturated/compressed, use effects intended for that purpose rather than nailing your levels in the red.

Daniel Wyatt: Once the composition/production is pretty much together and you enter the mixing stage, it’s a great practice to import a current commercially released track into your session to use as an A/B reference.  You want to create a unique output that in your mix sesson that skips the master fader — in case you have some mix buss compression or limiting.  In Ableton we use the external output.  Next you want to key map the reference track, so that you can elegantly switch between your mix and the reference track in solo mode.  If you have a good mix buss compression setting on your mix, the relative volumes should not be too far off.  If not, feel free to lower the reference track a bit, to compare mix quality, not just loudness.  This practice will help you correct any oversights you might have in your mix, and ensure that if a DJ plays your track people won’t stop dancing!

Raz Mesinai: Here’s a tip for getting an even-sounding mix: Always mix right below your usual listening level. If you can hear all the elements in a track when listening quietly you are sure that the sounds have the right amount of presence in your mix. When listening loud you can of course hear sounds better, but have no real perspective as to whether they will come through on other systems.

Martin Perna: Here are two ways to use a cassette recorder to give your mix more texture.
(1) Plug in a cassette deck, or portable tape recorder to the output jack of your computer. Mix your drums down to audiocassette, then re-import them back into the session and mix down from there as you normally would. Using audio cassette for drums can give you a real tight compression and vintage sound that you’re looking for but can’t get from any plug-ins or other outboard gear. (2) If you’re using a tape recorder with a built-in mic, use that mic as a redundant or secondary mic for recording vocals, drums, or other instruments, and mix it in accordingly with the tracks picked up by your main mic or mics. You’ll get some interesting results that can thicken and build up the texture of the mix.

Evan Sutton: Plan your structure. Imposing a structure on a production can take even the simplest ideas into song territory. After you’ve got an initial idea or loop, take some time to plan out the structure of your production. Decide exactly how long it will be, how long each individual section will be, and how many of each section you will have. This is a great opportunity to steal ideas from other productions you love.

Set up markers (both Logic and Ableton Live have great marker systems that you can rename) so that you can easily jump between sections, and always know exactly where you are in the song. Once this is finished, you can start playing connect the dots with your piece. You’ll be able to work more efficiently and systematically, since you’ll have a better idea of where your song is going to go. It will also ensure that anything you add will be moving you closer to the goal line of having a finished production. The last thing that this technique will enable you to do is work before you’re inspired. We’re not all lucky enough to have home run ideas flowing out of our eyeballs all of the time. If you have a planned piece, you can always find something to do, no matter what.

Also – finish your productions. My friend and fellow Dubspotter, Matt Shadetek, said it best: If you never finish your songs, you never get good at the latter parts of the production process, like adding small details and finishing mixes. Do you want to be 40 when you release your first record?

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Our instructors are more than talented musicians, more than human software manuals and more than insightful critics; they are mentors, genuinely interested in seeing students develop and grow as artists. Their collective experience spans many fields, continents and years. They are the heart of your Dubspot experience. For more information on our talented staff please check out our Instructors page to learn more about the unique people who work for Dubspot. For information on classes at Dubspot please check our NYC Courses and Online School for course listings.

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  • spence
  • 6/27/2011

I love all your posts i cant put them down, links upon links, ive been reading for hours!

  • Jacken
  • 6/27/2011

Great tips!

  • djxgroove
  • 6/27/2011

como siempre, cosas nuevas siempre encuentro cuando vengo por aqui

  • 5 Ableton Live Tips from Dubspot Instructors – Pt 1: Thavius, DJ Kiva, Hatsis, Cellitti, DJ Ceiba | Dubspot Blog
  • 6/27/2011

[...] to improve. In the spirit of constant improvement and sharing, we’re continuing our free tips from dubspot instructors series. In the first installment of our new 5 Ableton Live Tips from Dubspot [...]

  • alfonrock
  • 6/27/2011

Damn. I just sold my casette recorder.