10 Electronic Music Production Tips – What The Pros Know

By | January 10, 2015

In this post, you’ll find 10 electronic music production tips you should know if you are willing to step up your music production game. Some of them are advanced, yet all of them essential. Keep on reading to find out what the pros know…

  1. Tune your kick drum1-bassdrum

Always tune your kick drum to the key of your song, or other notes in a musical scale. If you do this, your music will sound better, trust me.

The kick drum could be tuned to the first, fourth or fifth scale degrees for best effect. Why? Because the first degree is the tonic and the fourth and fifth form a very harmonically rich interval in relation to the tonic.

In order to avoid confusion, let’s have a look at an example:

In the key of A, we could write a song in A-major. The following notes are included in the A-major scale:

A B C# D E F# G#

Now, these notes are the seven scale degrees in an A-major scale. We can easily count from the beginning to find our notes for tuning the kick drum:

A = tonic (first degree)

D = subdominant (fourth degree)

E = dominant (fifth degree)

Now we know which notes are the best to tune a kick drum into in an A-major scale. They also apply to A-minor scale as well because the fourth and fifth degree notes stay the same.

In short, tuning the kick drum will have a positive effect on the tonality of your song. I recommend you learn to do it, because once you get the grasp of it, it’ll become second nature.

If you don’t tune the kick drum, it will “fight” especially with the bass in a very unpleasing, non-musical way.

Have tuning your kick drum become a routine in your music production.

  1. Tune the rest of your drums

2-drumkitJust like the kick drum, tune all other drums as well. You’d be amazed how big of an effect this has on the overall musicality of your song.

You can use the whole musical scale to find different “flavors” for the rest of the drums. In our example, the A-major scale.

For example, the high hat could sit on the tonic, toms on the third, snare on the fifth, and a ride cymbal on the seventh degree.

You can even form intervals and chords by tuning different drums into different notes. Think about that.

This is a very powerful technique in music production and while quite advanced, it is well worth learning.

  1. Place instruments in different octaves

3-octaves

Octaves are easily visualized by a piano

By placing different instruments in different octaves in the frequency spectrum, you’ll make your music breathe and at the same time not make it cluttered.

In a way, you’ll already be “mixing” while you do this and your actual mix will fall into place with no effort.

For example: The kick and bass will take care of the lowest frequencies, while a piano will create power and presence in the low-mids and midrange. A guitar will take care of the upper midrange and the cymbals will create a satisfying high-end to your song.

In this example we have covered at least six different frequency ranges, and a certain instrument dominating each.

Of course, instruments will overlap but just by assigning instruments to their own little spaces in the musical octaves or the frequency spectrum, each and every one of them will be heard clearly in the context of a song.

  1. Think about the low end

When creating the low end “home” to your tracks, you need to think about the relationship between the kick drum and bass. Which one do you want to dominate?

Which should dominate the low end - kick or bass?

Which should dominate the low end – kick or bass?

In a real world example, you could have a shorter, punchy kick together with sustained bass, which is often the scenario in pop and rock music.

In  another example, you could have a long, decaying 808 kick with little additional bass instruments, to have a humongous low end. This production method is popular in dance and hip hop music.

In electronic dance music, such as house, very often both the kick and bass are big. They can be made to “avoid” each other by good songwriting, arrangement and mixing techniques, such as side chain compression.

In the end, a lot of the low end problems can and should be overcome by clever arrangement and simply not making the low end instruments fight with each other.

  1. Use a sampler to fine-tune performances

5-adsr

The ADSR envelope

What I mean by this is you can use the sampler to your advantage in making great drum and melody patterns, or anything you could imagine.

The most important functions in a sampler would have to be the ADSR envelope, which stands for attack, decay, sustain and release. If you have quite a good hi-hat pulled in your sampler, you could take that “good” and make it great.

If the hi-hat feels too loose, pull down the sustain and release and adjust the decay to achieve the right kind of “tightness” for it. If it’s too sharp, create a bit of an attack curve to soften in up a bit.

In addition to the envelopes, you can easily naturalize a performance by using the velocity functions inside a sampler.

You can also tune your samples with the sampler’s tune functions.

Basically, you can take a “dull” sample, and make it a full blown musical performance by using the sampler as a modulating and creative tool.

Of course, you would still have to perform with whatever you have loaded in your sampler to actually make a musical piece from it. By performing I mean recording a MIDI performance or creating the notes in the MIDI editor.

  1. Resample your material

    6-recycle

    Recycle your trash – and your audio!

Exactly what it says. Take your carefully-crafted samples and recycle them through a sampler or a processor once again, to evolve your sounds even more.

Keep resampling your audio and you’ll notice you need less and less source material in your tracks.

The beauty of resampling is, there is no end to it. You can sample the same source sound again and again and transform it into any direction each time.

For best effect, use different kinds of samplers and processors to mangle your audio beyond recognition. Be the mad scientist of your own sound.

  1. Print MIDI to audio

This is a big one. Whenever you are satisfied with a MIDI performance you have made, transform it into an audio file. When working with big projects, you’ll save up tons of CPU.

Also, since audio is permanent, processors such as compressors tend to work better with it. Sometimes if you have complicated synth sounds coming out of a software synthesizer, you really can’t predict how the sound will “act”.

Personally I try to print all my MIDI performances to audio as fast as I can. I might have a creative day with multiple MIDI instruments, and at the end of the day, I switch off the creative mode and just print them all to audio.

  1. Use the stereo field

Go wild with your stereo effects. Don’t listen to people preaching about mono too much. The stereo field is a wonderful thing, and sounds awesome.

Pan things around, create stereo delays and reverbs. Just play around with stereo! Your tracks will get so much wider and bigger if you take advantage of stereo sound.

Think about the stereo field as a baseball court

Think about the stereo field as a baseball court

Listen to your favorite tracks and see what they did with stereo, you could easily pick up a trick or two from them.

One of my favorite stereo tricks is the Haas effect.

  1. …But keep certain things mono

Of course, certain things are best kept in the middle, such as kick drum and sub bass. Bass instruments in general sound good in mono, but there are no hard rules, as stereo bass could sound really awesome as well.

You could think of mono as a creative effect too. Parts of a song could be made completely mono, for a nice effect – then “exploding” back to stereo. Use your imagination.

  1. Learn your DAW inside out

    The DAW is your teacher

    The DAW is your teacher

Last but not least, learn what your DAW can do. When you do, you know what you can do with it. When you learn your DAW, you will understand how it works and develop methods to get things done with it.

Learn all the audio and MIDI editing functions because they take you a long way. Learn how the mixer works. Learn how to record. Perhaps most importantly, learn the shortcuts!

Seriously, if you learn how to navigate your DAW using only shortcuts, your workflow speed will multiply exponentially. Less clicking, more intuition.

In the end, the more you make music, the better you will get in knowing your DAW.

Sometimes you might not be aware of the full capabilities of your DAW. I recommend you go to YouTube and watch an introduction video or review of your particular DAW and see if you have missed something.


 

I hope these tips have been a useful read, and maybe you have learned something new about music production. Feel free to drop me a question or comment below, and I’ll get back to you.

Do you have a tip to share? Leave them below and let’s discuss.

-JP

4 thoughts on “10 Electronic Music Production Tips – What The Pros Know

  1. Patrick

    A lot of good information. Well organized. My daughter is learning to play the guitar. She is teaching herself, some of this information my help her. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. JP Post author

      Hi Patrick. Good to hear your daughter has picked up the guitar. I hope she can learn something new on my website.

      Reply
  2. Zylo

    Wow. I had no idea there were so many things you could do to improve your sound. My drum “career” began and ended with playing “I Ran” by Flock of Seagulls years ago, but always thought about picking it up again. Great article!

    Reply
    1. JP Post author

      Hey Zylo, thanks for the comment. Yeah, the music production wormhole is indeed a deep one. Good luck with your drumming in case you decide to pick it up again!

      Reply

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