There is a big jump from laying down your ideas in the DAW to the finished track. Most producers undergo many hours of processing and polishing before they feel comfortable publishing the song. This can lead to ear fatigue and poor judgement because you are so used to the elements that they cannot be mixed properly. This article outlines some of the steps employed by producers around the world to ensure they output the quality they need.
Arrange The Structure
One big mistake to avoid is a lack of song structure. When you are laying down the ideas of a song, you may have different sections far apart from each other in the project. Have an idea of the arrangement you want before you work too hard on each section individually. If you focus on different sections totally independent from each other then you are going to find they won’t transition into each other easily when you finally get to arranging the track.
An easy way to force yourself into this habit is to create a track at the top of your project with MIDI items highlighting the arrangement that you want to follow. then you can easily build your track around this template. One of the best ways to learn song arrangement in the genres you like is to analyse templates by artists you love. You can also load their songs into your DAW and add locators/markers on the timeline at each section change, this gives you a great way to follow successful arrangements.
Arrange The Instrumentation
An easy way to get caught in a musical trap is to forget the other type of arrangement – instrument arrangement. If you become good at arranging your instruments, you won’t need to mix as hard to get the track sounding good. For example, if you layer multiple synth sounds covering a wide frequency range, you can get a thicker, beefier sound, than if you were to heavily EQ a single synth instance. To get a better understanding of this, we can think of an orchestra. Back before Ableton (or any DAW for that matter), music had to be arranged with people playing instruments. Violins were backed up by violas and cellos, playing the lower frequencies and covering a wider frequency range. If your track is sounding a bit thin, almost guaranteed if you are new to production, it is much better to fix it at the arrangement stage than to bass boost and over compress later. Sure, either path will lead to a broad frequency coverage, but the arrangement option leaves the track intact for much more subtle mixing techniques which don’t ruin the song.
Take a Break
This one is an essential part of rounding up your track. Once you are ready to switch into the mixing stage, you need to take a break. You are now familiar with the song, and every frequency associated with it. You may have been playing it loud on your speakers or headphones and so your ears may be used to loud volumes. When you listen to loud sounds, your ear has protective mechanisms to stop damage, these include your eardrum relaxing and becoming less sensitive to sound. It is a wise move to avoid mixing in this state since you will not be able to mix as objectively with impaired hearing. Grab yourself a drink, go for a walk, even just for 20 minutes to give yourself a break from the music. This will allow you to get back to the music with a more fresh pair of ears. This is an important point to follow, and perhaps the hardest in this list for the sole reason that the urge to continue will be strong. We are all here because we work hard at our craft, and sometimes taking a break is the last thing we want to do when we are on a roll, but it is important.The best thing to do would be to wait a day or two before you move on to the mixing stage, this will allow more time to rest your ears, and also time to get the song out of your head. In that time you could work on promotional material and artwork for your upcoming release, so it is not wasted time.Of course, there is a better fix for this issue…
Grab Some Professional Studio Time
This is by far the best course of action and the benefits go further than you think. Not only are you getting your song mixed and mastered by a pro, on pro gear, in a pro environment, you have a great opportunity to learn. When you are sitting down with an expert in their studio, you will be able to see how they do it. One of the best ways to learn is by watching and this is a perfect opportunity. If you want your tracks released to labels, the demand for high quality is essential, especially considering the competitive nature of the industry. To really get that edge, it is vital that you polish your tracks professionally and this is a great route to go, because it will be the boost you need, until you can confidently do it yourself.
At Skapade, we offer these services both in person and remotely so we can cater to the production needs of any producer. This is the perfect time to ask questions and gain some additional learning while a service is being provided. The best course of action is to get as involved in these kind of services as possible. Bring a notepad, ask questions, learn exactly what is going on.
When you see how a professional approaches these things, you will then be Ableton produce future tracks in that direction, and with all the advice you have learned from them.