A long, long time ago, at the age of 18, I had a dream. I wanted to produce and release my own music. Twenty-four years later, I finally did it. Don’t struggle so long for yourself and discover how you can make great music way faster.
“One day, I’ll release my own music!”
That was my big dream when I was a teenager. DJs like Tiësto, System F, and The Prodigy were rocking the charts, and I wanted just that. I bought my first synthesizer, a Roland MC-303. And I started making music.
Success followed quite soon. I sent a demo to a publisher, and they soon released a remix of one of my trance-trance tracks. That remix is still on YouTube, and having it released felt great. But I wanted my own productions to be released as well.
Last week – 24 years after buying my first synth – it finally happened.
Do you want to struggle for years before your own tracks are finally release-worthy? If not, then read my Top 10 essential tips to produce music faster, better, and more wisely.
All aboard? Now, buckle up and get ready to optimize your music production workflow.
1. Don’t worry about EQ and compression.
EQ, compression and mastering, it’s all indispensable for professional sounding tracks. But don’t worry too much while you’re composing. And certainly not when you are in the flow.
Forget about the technicalities and concentrate on the music itself. The most crucial step is to try and come up with an arrangement as soon as possible. Finishing the musical structure of your project helps to finish entire songs much faster.
The longer you spend on a song, the faster you get bored. So, don’t forget to make great music first. After that, allow yourself to focus on mixing and mastering.
Compressing and EQ-ing are allowed, of course, while composing. But do it globally to see how it sounds and if it works. And fine-tune later on.
2. Make decisions quickly.
Finishing tracks is hard work, especially if you do it in your free time from work or school. Therefore, be strict with yourself and make choices quickly. Does something sound good? Keep it. Are you in doubt? Then don’t tinker endlessly, but try something different. Or continue with another part of your song.
You can render virtual instruments in all popular DAWs. Doing so saves CPU resources, and it’s also useful when arranging. Create rendered “building blocks” and use them for a basic arrangement. If you freeze instrument tracks, you can always return to the original instrument-version.
Audio rendering is also ideal for your final mix. By converting all MIDI tracks to audio tracks, you limit yourself. It indicates that the composing-stage is done. Now, move on to making that rendered audio track sound as good as you can.
3. Finish every song!
I admit this tip is easier said than done. But it’s a good endeavor to finish every song. The finished product doesn’t have to be perfect, but you will learn something new from every completed track.
You will keep growing as a producer. And finishing a track always feels great.
4. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Perfectionism is the enemy when you want to finish songs. For years, I thought every mix should sound at least as good as the current number one on Beatport.
That is a ridiculous way of thinking, and I was way too hard on myself.
Over the past two decades, I’ve also watched hundreds (and maybe thousands) of hours of producing courses and YouTube-tutorials. I’ve learned something from some of them. But all this knowledge limited me because I often thought something ‘should’ be done in a certain way.
The result: my tracks sounded over-produced and lacked spontaneity.
Since I realized this, I trust my ears more. And I only do what sounds good. With this approach, I finish track faster, and I keep improving myself as a producer. And that immediately leads to tip number five.
5. Trust your ears more than your eyes.
Digital audio workstations are incredibly useful. But they have a significant disadvantage: a DAW can lead you into making music with your eyes instead of your ears.
Press a chord on a piano, and you will immediately hear whether it sounds good or not. Record that same chord into your DAW, and you’ll almost automatically press Quantize or fine-tune the velocity values. However, that original recorded version might have been just perfect in all its human-like non-perfection.
The limitless editing and fine-tuning possibilities in a DAW are often useful. But in the end, it’s all about the music. And your fans won’t see your sequencer if they go crazy on your track.
What often helps me is this. Grab a pen and notepad, start your track, turn off your screen and write down everything you notice. Make these “ear-guided” adjustments and do the same next time – once again with fresh ears. Repeat this process until you are satisfied with the track.
6. Use track muting to carve out the arrangement.
Arranging is one of the most challenging parts of producing. You can often come up with a solid music idea in minutes. But, making a complete track out of it is an entirely different story.
Fortunately, there are some tricks to help with this issue.
Make a 16-bar loop and put all your parts together. Now mute the parts, one at a time, and see what happens. Mix and match different tracks until you’re happy with the first sixteen bars. Repeat this approach for the next section and keep on going through the entire arrangement.
Popular DAWs allow you to mute and unmute MIDI and audio clips with a shortcut key. This way, you can quickly mute tracks in real-time, as if you were “playing” the arrangement.
Can’t figure out a nice arrangement at all? Then drag an existing track into your DAW as a reference track. Compare the two and try to find out why the reference track works. How is it build up? How loud is the kick? And what happens in the break?
With a reference track, you’ll get instant inspiration. But be careful: the idea is to get inspired. Not to rip off the complete song.
7. Take small steps.
When you’re cooking, it’s best to be patient. If you simply throw all the ingredients into a pan simultaneously, the meal won’t taste good. The same goes for producing.
Do you want your mix to sound loud? Then throw a compressor on every track and boost the volume. Sometimes that works. But it’s more likely that your song will sound flat and lifeless. Small steps often work better.
Take it slow and build up your mix gradually. You can create your desired sound in small steps.
Busses are ideal for adding volume without squashing everything. I always create them for:
- Low percussion
- High percussion
- Acoustic instruments
You can then use effects on each of those buses and, eventually, the master channel. Apply subtle bus compression or light distortion. That way, you’ll sculpt your sound gradually, and your tracks will sound more professional and coherent.
8. Act like an artist.
For almost 20 years, I was busy making music, but I didn’t feel like an artist. I also didn’t send demos because I thought my music wasn’t that good.
However, at some point, I decided that I’ve waited long enough.
I came up with a catchy artist name, started working on artwork, and suddenly it started to look like something. Making music was no longer without obligation, and I began believing in myself.
I sent my first ever demo in fifteen years and received an answer the next day. “Your tracks sound great, and we want to release them.” Cool!
9. Create your signature sound.
There is an awful lot of good music out there. But there are also many interchangeable tracks. It is smart to listen and learn from pro-producers. But if you want to stand out, you also have to do something different.
Try to create a signature sound as soon as possible.
For example, use original samples, program synths by yourself, or force yourself not to use ready-made loops. You will make it a bit harder for yourself.
But it will give your music a unique “selling point.” And a copy is always less valuable than the original.
10. Make music with the gear you have
More, more, more! If you want, you can download hundreds, no, thousands of free and paid plugins. But does it make your music sound better?
You don’t need much for professional productions. I swear by a good reverb, delay, compressor, limiter, and multiband compressor, and I know exactly how they work. I also have some additional plugins to give my sound something extra, but they aren’t indispensable.
Bargains are fun, and people always want something new. There is even a name for it: the shiny object syndrome. If you aren’t careful, you will waste hours and hours on hunting bargains. At the same time, you can make music as well.
What do you prefer?
Use these tips to make better music.
It took me 24 years to release my first 100% own EP. And I made all the mistakes mentioned in this article.
Be smarter than me, and take advantage of the tips in this article. Then you’ll make great music faster, better, and more easily. Guaranteed.