When I first started making music, it sounded like crap. I was absolutely mystified with the quality and loudness of professionally produced music. "HOW DOES IT SOUND SO GOOD?!" I would ask myself, "AND HOW CAN I MAKE MY MUSIC SOUND LIKE THAT?!" Riddled with questions that had no perceivable answer, I experimented. I thought maybe if I added more instruments or found a few really cool sounding synths, I could fix the quality. But no. That just made it worse. Eventually, after much musical flailing and cringe-worthy tracks, I joined soundcloud and started connecting with a group of artists who supported each other. I heard terms like 'mastering', 'sidechaining', 'stereo wideness', etc. I pretended to know what those words meant, but honestly, I was clueless.
I've been teaching myself how to produce professional sounding music for almost three years now, and I'm learning more with every song I release. With all this learning, I feel like it's time to do some teaching. I'm going to share a few of the things I've learned and hopefully you'll be able to learn something from my experiences!
Drakonic, a brilliant dubstep producer, once said to me, “Always remember that making a professional sounding track is 80% mixing and 20% mastering.” At the time, I didn’t really think much of it, but what he said is so true! Mastering is nearly useless if you are starting with a terrible mix. I don’t have time to elaborate on my mixing knowledge and techniques in this post, but here’s a few simple tips to get you started. Mixing is not simply adjusting the gain of each track to find the perfect balance, though that is a major part of it. Mixing is also about the EQ, compression, stereo wideness, and sound of each track. Each instrument lives in a frequency range and if you don’t limit that frequency range to what you specifically need to hear, then things can get muddy or convoluted really quickly.
"Always remember that making a professional sounding track is 80% mixing and 20% mastering." —Drakonic
Now, there's not too much I can tell you about mastering because it really depends on your personal preference and the genre you're working with. But here's a list of main things you need to learn how to use (given in the order that I use them in): Match EQ, Compressor, Multipressor, Channel EQ, Adaptive Limiter (BrickWall limiter), and Limiter. Mastering just those tools takes years of experience.
I've been having to do a lot more mixing and mastering than normal lately since I'm working on my album. I've been spending countless hours refining every single song, over and over and over and over... It gets pretty tiresome when you've spent days mastering one song and you just can't get the sound you want...Though it's frustrating at points, I've learned to really enjoy mixing and mastering. It's one of my favorite aspects of music. Yes, I may hate a specific track here and there, but overall, the art of making a song even more epic and lively than it already was, is really satisfying. When you run into a problem, don't get discouraged; use that problem as an opportunity to learn more about mixing and mastering! Throughout the past weeks, I've been striving to get the perfect EQ and the perfect punch and the perfect loudness. It's been frustrating at times, but I've learned so much about mixing and mastering! The time spent figuring out how to resolve problems is invaluable! There are things I would've never known about compressors, EQs, and limiters had I not struggled through the problems I came up against. If you are ever unsatisfied with how one of your tracks sounds, don't give up trying. The more you experiment, the more you'll learn and the easier it will be next time! If you get frustrated, leave it be and come back to it with a fresh mind the next day. Don't let mixing and mastering become something you dread, look at it as a learning experience! There will be a point at which you find what works and you'll be so glad you pushed through the frustration! I really can't say that there's any one way to mix and master. Everyone has to develop their own style and sound. I know it can be overwhelming (trust me, I still get overwhelmed sometimes) but just take it slowly, one step at a time, and you'll start to understand what you're doing. Experiment, be patient, and make some awesome music!