Hey everyone, this week we've got a guest article coming from a former student of mine. Since Jaidyn started out on his journey into making music relatively recently compared to myself, I asked him to write an article on the most important things he's learnt in the last year (since he finished studying at SAE) in the hope that it might help people that are just beginning to get a leg up. I have myself covered extensively a bunch of stuff that I wish I knew as I was starting out, but Jaidyn has a different perspective and set of experiences he brings to the table in addressing this subject. You can find out more about Jaidyn and listen to some of his music as part of different aliases below.
Five Things i've learnt in the last year by Jaidyn Green
1. Learn your effects properly
I know this sounds like a an obvious statement to make, but hear me out. Every good producer uses effects like equalization (EQ), reverb, compression, etc. But a lot of producers do everything just by ear, and just mess around with knobs until “something cool happens”, but they don’t learn what each parameter of an effect does. More often than not, you’re more likely to get your desired result if you know what you want to accomplish, and how you go about doing it, rather than just messing around. So spend some time learning your effects, such as learning what the Threshold and Ratio on a compressor do, and how to use it effectively; rather than just turning knobs until your kick drum is ‘super phat’. Learn when to cut, notch, boost etc. when using an EQ, to get the optimal result from the audio you are tinkering with.
I’m not saying to never “mess around” with effects though, but it is beneficial to your production to learn what each parameter does, to not only improve your productions, but also your workflow. The way I learnt to do this is by watching videos, reading about it in books, or online, and most importantly – analysing it myself. Get a sample from somewhere, perhaps a drum loop from your favourite sample pack, and sit there and critically listen to what the effect is doing to the audio. Listen to how as you push the threshold on your compressor, how the audio becomes more uniform, but you start to lose dynamic range. Which brings me to my next point...
2. Be sparing in your effects
Time and time again, producers will send me a track give critique on, and by far the most common mistakes I hear, are when they try and use an effect too heavily. Whether it is compression, delay, distortion, reverb. Sometimes less is more.
When using a compressor on your kick drum, there is no need to have a -44dB threshold, with a 10:1 ratio. That isn’t going to make your kick ‘loud’ or ‘phat’, all that is going to do is ruin the dynamics of your kick and make it sound hollow and dead. Use it sparingly, or even better, don’t use one at all. Rather than relying on heavy compression to fatten your kick, use some light saturation, EQ it effectively, EQ and sidechain the rest of the mix to allow the kick to shine through.
Same goes for reverb, reverb is a great thing. Reverb is used to give something a sense of ‘room’, to make it sound like it is in a space, rather than in a vacuum, where no sound reflects off anything. Go easy on it though, don’t drown everything in reverb, use it to compliment the track. Perhaps try using effects busses, and buss the reverb on the audio, rather than applying it straight on the effect – this can allow for a bit more control, in my opinion anyway.
3. Less is more
As a mix engineer, I do mixing for other producers. Something I see a lot of producer try and do is have too much clutter in their tracks. 7 layers of a singular synth, 7 different kinds of risers, and 19 layers of hats and percussion, aren’t always necessary to make the next festival banger. Keep it simple! Sometimes, one layer of a well synthesized patch, or a well-chosen sample, is better than several layers of mediocre patches and samples.
This isn’t always the case, as certain genres (i’m looking at you, IDM) are completely driven by an insane amount of layers within their tracks.
For an example of how simple can be effective, listen to Horus by Slumberjack. Very simplistic in idea and layering, but immaculately executed in production. Having done a masterclass with them, they gave the point that they “rarely have more than 3 things going on at once” - Drums, lead, bass, and perhaps some effects. A song that has 20 layers which are perfectly executed, trumps a song with 120 layers which sounds messy and cluttered. When executed correctly, like Madeon and Mr Bill, more can be more, though. Just mess around until you find the perfect medium of being simple and catchy, but not too simple that listeners lose interest.
4. Use reference tracks
The fastest way to improve your production is to listen to artists who have work at the industry standard. For me, I listen to Virtual Riot, Muzzy and Skrillex, when referencing the quality of my work. When I say “reference the quality of my work”, I don’t mean whether my track is a “banger” like the other producers’ songs, I mean to listen to my own work critically against theirs, checking my synthesis, mixing, master, etc.
A tip I heard a while ago which is a great thing to remember: don’t be disheartened if you can hear that other people can produce better than you. In fact, rejoice over the fact you can hear what you need to improve on. The fact you hear what you need to improve on shows you have the potential to be as good, if not better than those who you listen to. Those who are ignorant to the fact that other producers may do things better than they do, are those who will stay in the same rut their entire music career.
5. Keep on producing
In my opinion, this is by far the most important tip I could give anyone. Even if it’s just for 5-10 minute, try and produce each day. Set yourself a challenge; each week try and develop a new idea, and work on it for that week. As time goes on, you can see a gradual progression of quality in your tracks; but you’ll never see that progression if you don’t keep working at it. Try and strive to finish every song you start, but even if you don’t, that’s okay – I know I certainly don’t finish everything. But developing new ideas is how you develop as an artist, instead of just another producer.
Think outside the box when you produce, try something new. Start a project and produce a genre you’ve never produced before. Close your eyes and randomly select some effects and see what you can do with them. Strive to re-invent, rather than just create another generic hit like everyone else. Strive to not only create a number one hit, but to be renowned as a number one artist. Shoot for the stars!
Never give up and strive for greatness – put your heart and soul into your production, and people will notice. Don’t produce just to make a hit, produce because you love it. Develop and enhance your passion for all music, and watch yourself grow.