We all know how exciting it is when you come to the end of the writing process and you’ve finally got a shiny new beat coming together. You just want to get it on Soundcloud and start firing it off to all the labels, ready to kickstart your new career as a superstar. But have you made sure everything is taken care of? It’s easy to forget some essential touches when you’re still buzzing with the fun of producing. So here’s a checklist of things to remember before you can finally call your track done!
Reference It Against Other Tracks
You’ve probably been doing this as you go along, but it’s important to do it right at the end of the process too. Pick a track that’s in the same world as yours, and compare the sound of each – is it similarly bright? Does the kick have enough oomph, is the melody prominent enough or have you hidden it behind a load of FX? Obviously you don’t have to copy anything – you just need to be sure that if your track sounds notably different, it’s because you want it that way and not because you messed up!
Get A Friend Round To Check It
Possibly the best way to really trick yourself into listening to a track objectively is to get a mate round and play it to them. They don’t even need to be a fellow producer, you’ll just suddenly find that you notice problems that you didn’t hear before. If you find yourself saying things like “It really gets going in a minute”, then you’re apologising for it – go back and make it get going sooner! If you’ve never tried this method, give it a whirl; it’s surprising how effective it can be to get a new perspective.
The Grotbox Test
Yes, that is the correct technical term. A ‘grotbox’ is any small, crummy stereo with smallish speakers, of the sort that you probably had (or still have) as a teenager. These things usually have no bass, not much in the way of treble, and will probably honk terribly in the midrange. But you’ll notice that commerically released stuff always sounds quite decent on such a rig. This is because if you can make something sound good on one of these babies, it will sound good on pretty much any sound system out there. So dig out your old CD player, burn your freshly minted track onto a CD and give it a spin. You might need to do two or three versions while you tweak the mixdown, but since these are what a lot of people will be listening on, it’s worth it in the long run!
See If It Works In Mono
These days you can get all sorts of great plug-ins to give you more space and width in your mixdowns, more thickness in your synths, clever reverbs that sound like nothing else out there. But they often have to indulge in some trickery with the stereo signal to do it – and sometimes that can create phase issues. So put a utility plugin on the master output and flick the whole mix into mono occasionally, to make sure everything still sounds OK. Some club soundsystems (and especially in bars) are still in mono even now, and you wouldn’t want your vocal samples to disappear simply because you forgot to check it in mono! On a related note, try to make sure your low end is in mono too – vinyl lathes can’t cut stereo below about 300 Hz, which means your kicks, basses and possible some portion of synths and snares should be dealt with occasionally. Mastering engineers can usually sort this issue out by just mono-ing the entire mixdown below 300Hz, but it’s better that you do it yourself, so that you don’t get any unexpected results.
Listen To The Final Bounce!
This might sound obvious, but listen to the track all the way through before you send it off. It’s not entirely unknown for DAWs to glitch when bouncing a track down, or (probably more likely) you set the marker points slightly wrongly and miss a fraction of a second at the start or end of the track. Indeed, there are plenty of possibilities for user error, from leaving a sound in the mix that’s not supposed to be there, to a bum note that you mean to fix and never get around to, or forgetting to set the output on your limiter back up to 0dB. So be sure to give the track a once-over with fresh ears – even if you’re already sick of hearing it….
These are just a few things to make sure of before you start sending that new track off to DJs and labels. Obviously, the most important thing is to be sure that you’ve written a great track, but you did that first, right? So make sure you take care of these simple points, and it should all be plain sailing from here….
Categories: Basic Production