Four basic principles

1) If you don’t know why you need it, you don’t need it.

This applies to almost everything in making music – Whether it be a lyric, purchasing an instrument or other gear, a particular approach to processing audio, or choosing songs for an album. It’s shorthand for an approach towards a kind of minimalism – of not using anything more than necessary to achieve your goals.

Of course, this means you must know what your goals are. For example, you won’t know if distorted guitars are right for your song if you don’t have a clear idea of what your sonic palette is. You won’t know if that extra bridge section of the song is helping if you don’t know how long you want your song to be. 

This isn’t about a zen-style nothingness though, it’s about knowing what you need. To do this you need to be mindful of the barriers in your workflow. You need to know what it holding you back. You also need to know what is available outside your project or outside your studio that may be helpful. This requires an attitude of constantly evaluating your own work (including finished products and workflow) and being aware of outside opportunities (whether they be artists, studios, gear shops, workshops, courses, etc).

2) If you can’t hear it, you don’t need it.

This is a specialisation of the first point above, but intended to apply specifically to hearing the differences between gear. Rather than asking other people whether Compressor A is better than Compressor B, try them for yourself. If you can’t hear the difference, you should leave it at that. Trust your ears.

3) The volume fader is the most powerful tool available to you.

This should be your first port of call for finding the right balance between elements in a song. It sounds simple, but it’s true. Before you reach for any EQ, compression, saturation or anything else, reach for the volume fader. Use it to position the sound where you want it in the mix. This should get you about 50% towards a final mix. Then, think about adjusting the tone with EQ. Getting the volume and tone right should get you about 80%. Then, think about adjusting the dynamics with compression. Volume, tone and dynamics are the three main aspects of a mix. Of these, volume is the most powerful.

4) It took you longer to ask the question than it would have to try it for yourself.

This is primarily in response to questions about specific usage of tools or techniques. It’s actually quite quick to try something out for yourself. Plug it in, twiddle some controls, and pay attention to what you hear. If you don’t know what to listen for, reconsider your reasons for trying it. See the first tip (above). If you try it out and still can’t hear what you’re doing, see the second tip (above).

-Kim.

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  1. thanks for all the information you’ve posted for a while here, I’ve read it since i found this website a few months ago. it’s been helpful in guiding me, a newcomer, in making my music =)

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