09-02-12 | Production Q&A #5

Well it’s taken a few weeks, but I’ve finally had enough people submit some questions that I can write up another Production Q&A. So, let’s get to #5 then:

1. Reverbs and delays are often used on aux channels to give some space and depth to a mix. Seeing as how you are not actually putting these effects on any one track, what is a good way to audition reverbs/delays for use as a send track?

Generally I’ve always found the easiest way to audition send effects like reverbs is turn up the send amount on my snare track while I try different reverb settings. More often than not, that’s one of the instruments I’m going to use a reverb on anyway, and since it’s typically a nice, short sound without a lot of tone (mostly noise), it’s easier to hear the actual reverb character. High hats can work well for this too, unless you have a really busy high hat pattern playing.

One downside of this method, is that it’s easy to get too used to the sound of that much reverb on that particular sound. So before you settle on a send amount, pull the send all the way down to zero and listen to the track without any of the reverb for a bit. Just to reset your ears a little bit. Then go back and adjust your actual send amounts on a track by track basis.

And keep in mind that a little bit of reverb can go a long way, you don’t always need to completely drench everything in the effect for it to do it’s job.

2. Is it better to worry about the mixdown while you’re working on a track, or focus on it after everything is written?

In general I don’t think there’s a right way or wrong way to approach this, I know people who are getting great mixdowns with both methods. I typically tell people who are just starting out to maybe wait until everything is written before they worry too much about the final mixdown though. It’s too easy when you’re writing a song to get wrapped up in any one sound, and when you’re focused on it that much, it’s hard to be subjective about the overall balance of all the sounds in the track.

I think the same advice applies if you’re getting close to the end of the writing process, and while you’re happy with all the elements in the song, something just doesn’t sound right or it lacks that cohesion you wanted. It can be worthwhile to save a new copy of the song, reset all your volume faders and remove all your dynamic effects (compression, EQ, etc). Then try doing the mixdown again from scratch, focusing first only on the volumes of everything, and then turning to dynamics processing if you hear a need for it.

But there’s nothing wrong with just making things sound good as you write the track too. Most people are probably doing this to some extent already, just so it doesn’t sound like crap while they’re working on the tune anyway. I think as you get more experience and learn how things from your studio translate in the real world, it gets easier to just mix as you go. I personally rarely go back and redo a mixdown at the end of the writing process in my own music these days, as I’m pretty comfortable with knowing how things will translate elsewhere (very handy in my line of work! ). It helps I don’t work really fast either, so there’s a lot of chances for me to come back to a song in progress with fresh ears and hear something that might be a bit off.

3. How can I get more people to give me feedback about my tracks? I post them everywhere but no one ever leaves any comments!

Well, everyone wants people to listen to their music, so you have to keep in mind you’re one of thousands of people posting a new song each day. A few general tips that might help:

– If you want people to spend their precious time listening to your song, than return the favor and proactively listen and comment on some of theirs first. It’s just common courtesy these days on most forums, if your first post is something like “hey let me know what you think of my new song!”, chances are no one is going to bother listening. Why should they take the time if you couldn’t?

– Sort of on that note, be a part of the community you’re trying to get feedback from. Don’t just post new songs and hope people will take time to comment, get to know people who frequent the forum. Spend time contributing in some way so people know who you are.

– Don’t resort to sneaky tactics to get comments, like misleading Subjects Titles, or false links. Those might work once, but it’s like crying wolf, people will remember that next time you post. Or my new favorite, people putting “Free Download!” in their subject lines. “Free” works great at getting people’s attention if you’re well known and there’s already a demand for your music. But if you’re a nobody (relatively speaking), it doesn’t mean anything to most people. They EXPECT an up-and-coming producer looking for comments is going to make the track available for free.

– Catchy artwork, or a funny tag line can go a long way at making your track standout to people. Do something to make them curious enough to listen, just avoid going overboard per my point above. And for heaven’s sake, if you’re giving out MP3′s, take the time to at least fill in all the ID3 tag info too!

4. What’s the most common mistake you see when people send you songs for mastering?

If I had to really narrow it down to one thing, I would say not proofing the mixdown file before they send it to me. Mistakes happen, and more than a few times I’ve had people realize after I’m done with the mastering that they had a part muted accidentally, or the song didn’t end in the right place (loop braces were set before the end of the song for instance), or maybe they mistakenly sent an earlier version of the song.

I try and spot the more obvious issues and bring them to the producer’s attention before I start the mastering, but I can’t know everything they intended with the song. Missing parts, or an effect that’s not turned on is a difficult thing to try and spot when you’re not involved in the creation of the song.

A lot of this just comes down to people rushing to get the track done, which is understandable when you’re excited about something new you created. But if possible, I definitely recommend people render their mixdown, and then wait a day (or more) before they send it for mastering. The next day, go back and listen to the mixdown file you made the day before (not the DAW project!) and make sure you’re totally happy with how things sound and that nothing is wrong.

It’s not easy to take that day off, but it would solve SOOOO many issues for people if they just took this one step. Even if you’re going to master it yourself, giving yourself the time to listen again with fresh ears before you start will definitely make any issues that much more obvious.

Well that about wraps it up for this Q&A then, thanks again to everyone that submitted questions. If anyone has anymore, please post them in the comments or send me an email and I’ll be happy to address them next time.


On a sort of related note, I posted this on my Facebook page earlier today, but thought might be worth posting here too:

On average lately, I get about 20-40 emails a day from people asking me to listen to their newest track and tell them what I think. I’m pretty accessible and love to help people when I can, but I hope people realize there is just no way I can listen to that many songs every single day and still find time to work on paying customer’s tracks (much less my own music, on the rare occasions I can find time for that anymore). Please try and understand if I don’t reply to you, or say that I don’t have the time. It’s not me being rude, it’s just the honest truth.

If you truly want my opinion, consider having even just one track mastered, as then I can spend the time working with you and answering your questions more fully. I love my job and I’m lucky to be in this position, but it still requires long hours and hard work everyday, just like all jobs do.

Thanks for your patience and understanding, as well as all your continued support!

Peace and beats,