This post is written in response to Zac Citron’s popular post entitled, “72 Music Production Tips I Wish I Knew When I Started“. However, there are differences. As you will see, I have expanded on many of Zac’s points and I have added some of my own tips in. Therefore, you will find more meat and potatoes. See if you can find the tips I have added in. If you can, let us know which you think they are in the comments section below…
Krannaken’s 80 Music Production Tips for New Producers…
Tip #1: Trust Your Taste
You need to make the music that you love. When I started messing with FL Studio, I wanted to make trance music. Trance music got me into this game in the first place. I have spent hours at a time blasting trance music on my stereo ever since the days of William Orbit’s version of Adagio for Strings.
Therefore, it was trance that I wanted to make and I have ended up doing just that. Right now, I make psytrance especially – because it sounds great and it is a lot of fun. Making death metal would have been bad because I don’t really like death metal. I love trance music.
Tip #2: Don’t Consider Pop Music to be Inferior. It is Pop For a Reason
Popular music is not just about image and screaming teenage girls. Popular music is popular because it is pleasant to listen to. Therefore, don’t put it down. Sex appeal is only part of the story. If the music sounds good, it will naturally do well. How do you think people like Elton John and Cliff Richard have done so well. Teenagers may not appreciate them as people, but they are damn good musicians.
Tip #3: Don’t Be Afraid to Use Loops. They do not make you a “fake” artist.
The skill in making music is not only in the writing of midi patterns. It also comes down to how well you can use loops. Furthermore, it is also about the music. If the music sounds great and you are happy with it, that is great. The skill is as much about the arrangement as it is about writing midi. The song below is one of mine and it relies heavily on loops and samples…
Tip #4: Don’t Be Afraid to Use Samples Either
Even the best artists are using samples. Where do you think the sounds come from? In all my music I use both sample drum hits and sample FX – just like any other trance music producer. In fact, the vast majority of music uses both sample percussion. Music that uses a lot of FX are also using samples. Therefore, you should be using samples too.
Tip #5: A drink goes well with the creative flow…
Lager especially goes well with the creative process. In Zac Citron’s post, he is applying this to coffee. Coffee is ok. It will keep you awake and focused. However, a lager or two really help in the creative process.
Tip #6: If you have a lot of emotion or are going through tough times, you will write better music
I have been through some tough shit. When I was going through these experiences I found that music production was the best way to let out my emotions. If you also study a lot of the better musicians, you will find that they were going through tough times too.
Tip #7: Steer Clear of Cannabis and Other Recreational Drugs
Using such drugs just makes you a complete dick. It does not mean you are a better musician – just a bigger dickhead. Therefore, don’t consider them to be what real musicians do. Real musicians focus on music and not on drugs.
Tip #8: You Have Three Options: Headphones, Monitors or Spectral Analysis
This all depends on a few things. These include money, how well sound travels in your property, ear health and how widespread do you require your frequency range.
Headphones are more personal. You will have more of a spatial feel with headphones. However, headphones have more impact on your ears and if you use them all the time, you will find your ears waxing up quickly.
Monitors are great if you want to have a fuller understanding of the music at different frequency ranges. However, you will not be popular with your neighbours if you play them too loudly. Please check tip #8 for advice on this.
Have you ever wondered how some great musicians today are also deaf? Everhald is partially deaf in one ear although he can also make some great music. See the track immediately below for Everhald’s work. They could get this from spectral analysis. Basically spectral analysis is a graph that constantly moves with the music. This shows you how well the track is doing across all of the spectral frequencies. Therefore, you will know where to cut and where you need to improve sound.
Tip #9: Use Cushions in Your Home Studio
This tip is especially important if you are using studio monitors. They don’t only aid in keeping sound confined to your home studio. They also enable your recording equipment sound better. This is because they soak up the sound. Therefore, sound cannot carry. You will also have a recording that is free of unwanted echoes. If you want to use reverb, use the plugin. The plugins will sound better than your room.
Tip #10: Invest in Ear Training Software
I will give you two options here. You can pay once and get TrainYourEars which is basically all you need. However, if you want to train different aspects of how you hear sound, you should invest in Soundgym. TYE specialise in hearing different frequency ranges However, Soundgym will train you in things like spatial awareness with panning, and many other different aspects of how you hear sound.
Tip #11: Your Mixing Skills Need Time to Perfect
You are not going to be a brilliant mixer straight away. You will make mistakes. However, it is only through making mistakes that you will become a proficient music mixer.
Tip #12: Your Mastering Skills Need Time to Perfect Too
You are not going to be a great mastering engineer first time around too. These skills will take time to perfect.
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Tip #13: Download LoopCloud and Buy the Best Samples
See my post on LoopCloud 5 for more in-depth information. However, what LoopCloud is is anorganiser and library where you can keep loops and samples. I use FX and percussive samples in every track so I always use LoopCloud. You can also upgrade inside of LoopCloud for more good stuff.
Tip #14: Give All Music a Chance
Just because you want to make hip-hop, trance or techno, does not mean that you should disregard other genres completely. I know this is slightly contradicting tip #1. However, we are not saying that you should totally forget about other genres or your primary genre. For me, my primary genre will always be trance, but this does not mean that I can’t implement elements of drum’n’base, techno, rock or classical music even. Using these elements within your primary genre only makes you a better musician.
Tip #15: Nobody Gives a Shit About Who You Are
People don’t care about you. All people want to know is whether they like your music. We did a promotion earlier this year for The Crystal and had over a thousand people check it out. However, most of these people don’t listen to us anymore. However, we still have a higher number of listeners now than we had before. This just goes to show that if you spread your music widely enough you will end up with more fans…real fans.
Tip #16: Don’t Worry About Being Too Repetitive With Your Hooks
Your hooks are why people listen to your music in the first place. Therefore, don’t worry about using them. More people will remember them.
Tip #17: Don’t Be Afraid To Experiment With Delay
If you don’t experiment with delay, you might be missing out on something that will make your music sound better. As Deadmau5 always says, “Most of my time is spent goofing around”. Why don’t you just goof around and experiment with your delay.
Tip #18: Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment With Reverb
Just as with delay, if you don’t use reverb, you may be missing out on something good.
Tip #19: Don’t Be Afraid to Use Stock Plugins
Stock plugins are the ones that come with your DAW. Many people will invest in other plugins of all different functions. However, you should not forget about stock plugins. Every DAW makes its own stock plugins for a reason. They would not include them in the final product if they were that terrible. They would be a liability. Therefore, do not be afraid to use them.
Tip #20: Give Your Ears A Break
Ear fatigue is a real issue in the music production world. You need to give your ears a break now and again. It is important that you take a break for 10 minutes every hour or 5 minutes every half an hour. More high intensity music will need more rest time.
Tip #21: Do You Make Music For The Love of Making Music or Money?
If you don’t enjoy music, why are you doing this? Sorry, this should have been tip #1. However, the importance of enjoying what you do has to always come first. Money is just a by-product.
Tip #22: There is More to Music Than Selling CD’s and Vinyl
Do you ever wonder where your local doctor gets his music from when you are on hold? Do you wonder where your phone’s default ringtones come from? They all come from production music libraries. In fact, production music libraries have the biggest market for your music. Therefore, you should be aiming at writing music for this purpose.
Please see this article on production music libraries for more information. It includes a list of production music libraries that are listed with the PRS (performing rights society) in the United Kingdom.
Tip #23: Do You Enjoy the Music You Make?
Your enjoyment of the music you make is of paramount importance. If I don’t like trance why do I make trance? It stands to reason that you should actively listen to and appreciate the genre of music that you make.
Tip #24: Put a Business Plan Into Place If You Plan to Make Money With Your Music
It is a well known saying in the business and marketing world that if you plan, you plan to fail. A good business plan can tell you…
- What other music your fans listen to
- How much your fans expect to pay
- Where your fans live in the world or in your region
- The age groups that your fans represent
- What elements of your tracks do your fans like best
- …and a whole lot more.
Tip #25: Put a Marketing Plan Into Place If You Intend to Sell More Music and Reach More Fans
The information you gained in your business plan should tell you what your best strategy is regarding your marketing plan. However, we advise that you allocate a percentage of your profit to advertising and marketing your music online.
You should also know which websites your fans are more active on. Are they more active on Facebook? If so, you should retarget them. Retargeting is big business today. It is basically targeting people who have already expressed an interest and bought your music or merchandise.
Tip #26: Free Shouldn’t Literally Mean Free
Never do anything for no benefit to yourself. If you want to collect an email address, you can give stuff away for free. However, never give anything away for no reason.
We give our stems away for an email address. It is fine for us to do this because we can keep in contact with fans. We can write to these fans with future offers, and insightful and valuable information.
Tip #27: Think About What Devices People Will Listen On
Although you might like to play your music on your studio monitors, most people will listen to your music on mobile. Therefore you need to consider how well your music is heard by the fans.
In the United States, 44% of all music is played on mobile. That is just in the U.S. If you consider the world as a whole, you will find that 75% of people listen to music on a mobile device.
Tip #28: Why Do Your Fans Listen to Your Music?
Just as you looked at your business and marketing plans in tips 24 and 25, you need to consider why these people listen to your music. Do they like you more than your music? Are they listening to your hooks? Do they listen because you have great percussion, beautiful synths, or because you play your guitars loud? You need to cater for these people when you are making your music in the first place.
Tip #29: Always Be Open to Learning Music Theory
Although this isn’t especially essential, it is very useful. If you have some understanding of music theory, you can make much better music and you will understand how melody, bass, rhythm, harmony, etc, fit together and you will be able to impress yourself as much as anybody else.
Tip #30: Don’t Compare Yourself to Professional Artists
Many professionals have been able to play incredible music for many years. You cannot compare yourself with them after just a short time of making your music. However, that is only half the reason why you should not compare yourself to professional musicians.
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The other reason is that you need to find your own unique music. If people want to listen to music that sounds like Armin Van Buuren, they will listen to Armin – not you. If people want to listen to Whitesnake, they will listen to Whitesnake not you. In their view, your music is just a cheap copy. Therefore, you need to find your own sound and sound like you. If you do that, people will listen to you because they want to listen to you.
Tip #31: Always Aim to Make Quality Music
Always adopt a forever student outlook. Even Jimi Hendrix was a student of the guitar in his day and even Joe Satriani is a student of the guitar today. These guys will be the first to admit that.
Some sites for learning more about making music include…
- JamPlay for guitar
- PianoForAll for piano
- Sonic Academy for music production
Tip #32: Never Trash Your Earlier Work
The biggest reason that you should never trash your earlier work is that you won’t realize how good you are when you are good. This is because if you have your first few tracks to hand, you can compare your music now with the music you had back then. Therefore, you will feel great when you know you can write great music.
Tip #33: It doesn’t matter what DAW you use
Different people prefer different DAWs. Personally, I love using FL Studio and Everhald’s favorite DAW is Cubase. There are countless other DAWs out there. You just have to find one that you are happy with.
Tip #34: An instrument doing a pattern on its own might not sound great, but it could be awesome in the track
You might not like a pattern of one of your instruments by itself. However, it could sound great when played with the other instruments. Therefore, make sure you play it in your mix before you delete it. This will also give you an idea of what you can do to improve your track.
Tip #35: The Sound of Your Music is the Only Thing That Matters
You might not be the most skilled musician in the world, but only one musician can claim that. Therefore, don’t worry about how your track is made. You just need to write something that appeals to you.
Tip #36: You Can Make Great Music With Free Software
You don’t need to spend money to make great music. A lot of great music can be made with totally free software.
Here in the UK, we say, “the bad workman blames his tools”. Therefore, it is down to the work of the musician and not the software they are using.
Tip #37: Get Yourself a New Plugin, Softtsynth or Sample Pack Occasionally
Why not treat yourself to something new occasionally. This can add more direction to your music as well as sound great in your music.
Tip #38: Delete Any Software That You Don’t Use
This applies to anything at all on the computer that you don’t use. However, be careful you don’t delete anything that is critical. Therefore, just aim to delete software that you are familiar with if you have no use for it. This also goes for any content files that you don’t use.
It is a good idea to store music tracks on an external hard-drive. These can be purchased fairly inexpensively on Amazon.
Tip #39: If You Don’t Use It Sell It
I have had several bits of kit that I haven’t been able to use in my music. My biggest advice for you if you have technology that you don’t use is to put it on eBay. This is because if you don’t use it, you are wasting your money. Therefore, get something back and sell it.
Tip #40: Always Check What People Have to Say About Technology Before You Buy It
If you buy your stuff online, you need to check out reviews before you make the purchase. Are people saying great things about the product? Does the product have a high rating star-wise? For instance, if you adopt a policy where you only invest in products that have a rating of above 4.5 stars on Amazon you can’t go far wrong.
In his post, Mr Citron classifies technology in the following categories.
- Solid enough for pro use. Consumer level pricing.
- “Pro” which is marginally better than number 2.
He states that tier 2 is sufficient and that the rest should be ignored.
My personal advice is that if you can afford better equipment, get it.
Tip #41: Never Get Upset or Angry About Change
Change in things like the music industry and music streaming just brings new opportunities. There has never been a better time for new and aspiring musicians to put their music out there and get a name for themselves. That includes you.
Tip #42: It is Never Too Late to Start
I was 18 when I first picked up a guitar. My family thought I was tone deaf and that there wasn’t a musical note in my body. Moving on a few years, I am now the most musical person in my family and in my extended family. This includes my wife’s family, our uncles, aunts, and cousins. Furthermore, I am also studying for a degree in music at university.
Tip #43: Start Building Your Following Today
Start with this post that I wrote a while ago and apply it to your music career. You will build a great following very easily.
Tip #44: Don’t Worry About the Current Size of Your Social Media Channels
If your current followers are true friends, or even if they just like your music, they will share your content. When they share your content, other people will also see it and you have every chance of attracting new followers.
Tip #45: Compression is overrated
Seriously, this is true.
Tip #46: EQ is overrated
The only time you need EQ is when you have two identical notes that are played by two different instruments. It is important to get your instruments both playing and not clashing.
As Zac Citron puts it, “Clarification: Compression and EQ are nothing more than hammers in your toolbox. Learn how to wield them. Use them to get the job done.”
Tip #47: Most Technical Aspects of Music Production Are Overrated
At this stage, you are just setting out to sounds something that sounds good – or even half good. Therefore, don’t worry about all those technical aspects of music production. However, it is good to get into the habit of mastering your own music, but at this stage don’t worry too much about it.
Tip #48: If you’re sitting on unreleased music for two or more years consider licensing it
Just as I said in tip 22, there is more to music than the charts. Releasing music for the charts is a stupid idea. There is a much bigger market in production music libraries – or even in just making samples and loops for other music producers.
Top 49: Vocals are just optional
If you can’t write vocals, don’t worry. I can’t write vocals. That is why all of our music is instrumental. Plus instrumental music (also known as study music) is more popular with listeners because they are not as much of a distraction as music with vocals.
Here is an exercise for you…
- Sit down with a book and start reading
- Play music with vocals. Do you see that the vocals distract you from what you are reading?
- Now, switch the music from vocals to instrumental. You are welcome to play the playlist below if you like. Do you see the difference?
Tip #50: Always Focus on Providing Value
This is true in every area of life. You need to focus on value first. If you can provide value to others, there is far more chance that they will provide value to you in return.
As an artist, one thing you can do is just to add other artists to your playlists. This is simple, easy and totally free of charge. All of the top music channels will provide you with the option of building your own playlists.
If you are unsure of this, you can just share other artist’s tracks. It’s as easy as that.
Tip #51: Networking is Vital to Your Success
Networking is all about communication with other musicians, producers and music industry professionals. There are a number of benefits to networking. This post that I wrote recently, highlights the benefits of networking.
Networking can be done online or offline. Each has its own advantages as well as disadvantages. If you are more introvert, you can network perfectly well on sites like SoundCloud.
If you don’t like the idea of sitting at home, staring at four walls and want to get out and meet people, then you can also network offline.
Tip #52: Ignore Conventional Standards Such as Track or Song Length
Although a radio station may prefer a track that is three minutes, they may well be happy to play your track too. Why do you think that Mike Oldfield got the exposure he did with Tubular Bells. It was because Tubular Bells was popular. The track itself was half an hour long. Do you seriously consider that radio stations thought that they shouldn’t play it because it was too long? No! They loved the track as much as anyone else. It was fantastic music and Mike Oldfield was a hero in his own right. He was a very skilled hero at that!
Tubular Bells also took up one whole side of a record. Yes, we are talking about the early 70s and vinyl was King in those days.
Tip #53: This is Music. Rules Don’t Exist
As a part of my degree work last Semester, I had to teach someone how to play or do something musically. I taught my wife how to use FL Studio. She would often ask me, “Is this the right way to do something or other”? The thing is that in music there is no right or wrong.
Just as Deadmau5 says, “90% of my time is spent just goofing around!” We are as much students as anyone else. We are constantly eager and inquisitive to find something new and to do something different to anything that has been done before.
Tip #54: Always number and/or Name Your Tracks
You don’t have to worry about naming or numbering your tracks. If nothing immediately springs to mind just number it with the date. For instance, if today is 25th December 2019, you would number it 251219. Therefore, you can always get back to it at a later date to continue wo0rk on it.
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Tip #55: Never ever export a song and call it “final.” That’s a slippery slope.
You can always change something. A track can always be improved. If you think it is the very best you can get it, you should work on some remixes of the same track. This is excellent experience for you and you may make something that will provide you with a legacy that can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Tip ’56: Always Title a Track After Its Purpose
If your track is a remix, title it “mix” if it is for someone name it after that person. For instance, this week I am going to do some work for Sergey so I will name it “ForSergey”
Tip #57: Music Is Escapism
When you are going through tough times, music will help you to escape from the reality of those times you are going through. Furthermore, most of the biggest artists you can mention have gone through hard times. That is why they write such great music.
Tip #58: Your Studio Monitors Can Deteriorate Over Time
Remember that just like any other technology, your studio monitors are going to deteriorate over time and you will constantly need to keep a budget to purchase new technology.
Tip #59 The Only Difference Between Digital and Analog Equipment is Physical
The only difference between analog and digital equipment is that you can touch analog equipment. They both require the same kind of skill so forget about analog being the real deal. In many cases it is better to use digital equipment.
- Digital equipment can’t be stolen in a robbery
- If you have a flood or fire, you won’t lose digital equipment. Just download it again when you get your computer set up.
- Modeling digital sound can be just as complex and require just as much skill as analog.
Tip #60: Analog Can Be More Useful in the Creative Workflow
Having a midi keyboard with knobs, wheels, and faders can aid productivity and be really useful in the artistic workflow.
Tip #61: If Your Family Love Your Music…
Share it with them.
Tip #62: Give Family and Friends Your Music For Christmas
If you don’t have a lot of money, you can get your CD printed with your best tracks on it and give it to family and friends for Christmas presents. You can get a CD with your music and even a note to your loved ones for less than $2 each. Your friends and family cannot get this from anywhere else. Plus, if you can send a message printed on the inlay card, this could actually be worth something in time.
Tip #63: You know your friends genuinely enjoy your music…
If they listen to your music alone more than twice. Therefore, you have fans!
Tip #64: When You Save Work, Always Number Each Save Separately
If you stuff up on your music, you can get back to the last good copy more easily if you have it saved and numbered.
Tip 65: Never Play Your Music Too Loudly
As a musician, your ears are your most important tool. Therefore, you need to look after them. You must keep the volume on either your studio monitors or your headphones to a reasonable volume. Never blast music loudly. At the same time, you need to keep the volume as low as possible and at a volume where you can clearly hear your music.
Tip #66: The Optimum Sound For Your Mix is 0db
Always use Voxengo’s SPAN whether you have headphones, monitors…whatever. This will enable you to keep your recording volume to the best level. This is 0db. Go through your track and if the meter on SPAN goes above 0db, the meter will go red. At that point, you need to use EQ to cut back on the frequencies that are too loud.
Tip #67: Make Sure You Have Equal Levels of Bass and Treble
If you use Voxengo SPAN or any other spectral analyzer for that matter, make sure that frequencies are level. On SPAN, you will find the bass section on the left and treble on the right. You need to make sure those levels are as level as possible. This will give your track a superior sound.
Tip #68: Back up your music.
Personally, I use Google Drive, but Dropbox is just as useful. However, it is also important to back up your files on an external hard-drive. If you can do the former and save them on a cloud server, you will not lose your work – unless you go over your storage limits. However, if you think you are getting close to the limit, you need to go through and delete anything that you don’t need.
Tip #69: Never Let Money Stop Your Creative Progress
It is vital that you use free plugins, services – everything you can. Therefore, you will not incur any issues in not being able to pay for anything.
Tip #70: If Possible You Should Get an Appl;e Mac Rather Than a PC
You will always find that the professional artists use Apple Mac’s rather than PC’s. The main reason for this is that Mac’s are more powerful. Your music will be much smoother on a Mac.
A PC will often crackle and stutter if it is struggling. This can have negative impacts on your music. Therefore, a Mac is the way to go if you can afford it.
Tip #71: It May Take a While to Get the Right Sound, But Keep Working at it
Getting that right sound may take some time, but keep going and you will get there.
Tip #72: Set Yourself An Ongoing Goal and Stick to it
Professional artists always set themselves a goal for creating new material. For instance, if you want to make library music, writing one new track a week for six years, you may find yourself earning upwards of $100,000 per year on royalties. These are royalties only.
As well as finance, another great reason for sticking to such a goal is that your music will constantly improve. I can’t believe the quality of the latest stuff we have written when compared to earlier stuff. The standard is much higher now. That is how it will be if you can stick to a target like one track a week for six years.
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Tip 73: Don’t Worry If You Can’t Sing
Singing is totally optional and as we have already discussed: Instrumental music is far more of an option as it does not distract people from whatever they are doing.
Tip #74: Use the Formula Set Out in Our Previous Post When Releasing New Music
When you release a track, it is important that you use the guide we have set out in this blog post. You will then find some success. Your Spotify listeners will grow and you will become a known artist in your genre.
Tip #75: When to Use a Visual Art Designer
If you are not confident in your graphic design skills, you should get a graphic designer. For our music, we have designed our own album art, but we have also outsourced our artwork where we could…
Here is artwork we have done ourselves with RelayThat, but here is some artwork we have outsourced. Which is your favorite?
Tip #76: Always Pay For Visual Art
If the work is good you should at least tip the artist. We paid the artist of our Breakthrough EP something like £25 for this design. We believe it is well worth the price
Tip #77: Unsure of Yourself? Lacking in Confidence?
If you are unsure of yourself, just keep going. Spend more time in the studio and remember that practice makes perfect.
Tip #78: Not Enjoying Your Music Today?
Go and do something else. If you are not enjoying it, how do you expect other people to? Just as with any artform, enjoyment is only generated by an artist who is enjoying themselves.
Tip #79: How Well Can You Play The Keyboard?
As a musician, your piano keyboard is the most versatile instrument. Therefore, you should spend more time learning to play a piano and count it as your primary instrument.
Tip #80: Don’t Discount Other Instruments
I would take on a wager to learn any instrument at all. Today, I play guitar, keyboard, harmonica and the bodhran. Why don’t you take on the challenge of learning to play a new instrument starting today?
This has been the longest blog post I have ever written. From this week onwards we are only going to be posting a blog post on a Wednesday. This is so that we can put more focus into marketing our posts and bringing you the most incredible value you could ask for. I hope this post has represented that value well. Any comments? Please leave them below.