5 Music Production Habits You Need To Stop NOW

You might not be an avid church-goer, but still you probably know that around this time of year, people start talking about giving things up for Lent. Like chocolate, booze, or standing around in doorways trying to remember what you came into the room for. It's not a bad idea, and it can apply especially to music production, where people get so stuck in their ways, they end up with all sorts of bad habits that don't help creativity at all – but that are so easy to adopt.

So, here we present to you five bad music production habits that you should give up, at least until Easter – but preferably for good!

1. The Endless Loop Tinkering

You've got some drums, a decent bassline, a synth and a vocal sample. It's a four-bar loop. A great four-bar loop in fact: when this thing's finished it's going to be great. You run the loop for a little while, muting and un-muting different sections to get an idea of how it's going to work. Yep, this is going to be a banger. But you're not feeling in the right frame of mind to arrange it just now. Next time you come back to it, you play the loop some more. It's definitely going to be a banger.

Does any of this sound familiar? Got a hard drive full of great loops but relatively few finished tracks? Join the club. The uncomfortable truth is that 'loop tinkering' is usually the most fun part. Actually hacking that loop out into a good 5 minute arrangement is the difficult bit – the real work. But clearly, finishing your tunes is essential if you're going to get anything released. So stop tinkering, and as soon as it sounds good to go, start arranging. It might feel too early, but there's nothing you can't change later on if you need to. Just get on and track out the tune!

2. Doing Everything The Same Way


You probably have a few tricks up your sleeve that always work – whether that's certain chords, processes or whatever. But for sheer inspiration, it's hard to beat the novelty of trying something new. Sitting down to look at the same template or blank screen every time can be a real vibe killer, and can subtly push you down the same creative roads that you always use. So try to do things differently where possible; start a tune by sampling an old record, hitting some pots and pans to get some crazy found sounds, borrow a synth or guitar pedal off a friend, take your computer somewhere odd and work on headphones. You'll often find that trying a new technique, idea, or bit of hardware will give you at least one tune, just from the fresh perspective that it offers. If you get one good idea out of it, then that's a result – and next time try something else!

3. Mixing Without Listening

Don't just give this one up for Lent – this is a habit many producers, both veteran and novice, fall into that should be given up for good! It's common, though, and comes about when people spend too much time reading forums or going by routine, and not enough time trusting their ears and thinking about what they really want to achieve.

We're talking about when people start automatically putting compressors on every channel without thinking about what they want that compressor to actually do; or side-chaining everything in sight, or assuming that their new mastering limiter will magically fix everything. You should only use a plugin if you know what you want to do with it, and why you want that to happen. If you can't decide whether it's improving the mix – or even if it's doing anything at all – then get rid of it; it will only make things more complicated in the long run.

If all of this means that you end up using hardly any plugins for a while, because you're not terribly well versed in engineering, then that's even better. You can concentrate on actually writing music, and just deal with the mixdown issues as they come up.

4. Monitoring Too Loud


Apologies if this sounds like your mum, but seriously - turn that racket down! There are a lot of strong arguments for monitoring at a low level where possible. For a start, and most importantly, louder levels are more wearing to the ears. The consequence of this is that as a studio session drags on, you'll tend to EQ more and more treble into the mix to compensate for your tired ears giving you errant signals. You'll also get an inaccurate picture of the frequency balance anyway; we won't go into the details of the Fletcher-Munson graphs here, but the short version is that the ear's frequency response changes as the volume of the sound changes.

Keeping the volumes down swerves this issue altogether. Psychologically it's easier to mix at low volumes too; if you're being battered by a huge sound, it can be difficult to look objectively at the mixdown because you're practically inside it. Turn it right down and it's much easier to see if a hi-hat is too loud, or whether that synth is audible in the mix. And on top of all this, keeping the volumes lower will help keep your neighbours sweet too! Of course, sometimes you need a decent helping of bass and noise to get into the groove of what you're doing – just remember to keep turning it back down so that you don't tire out or even damage your ears.

5. Getting Technical Before You've Written The Music

This one is kind of a cousin of 'Mixing Without Listening', but it's a naughty habit that should go straight in the bin. Not least because it's a sneaky one that can affect experienced producers even more than the novices. As your production knowledge grows, so does your tendency to "just throw a quick multi-band on here..... maybe a spot of Mid/Side processing on that pad...."

This is fine if you've otherwise finished the track and just are doing some final tweaks. But if you're still getting the beat together, then this kind of thing is at best a distraction, and at worst a complete waste of your time. Why bother with all that fine tuning if you're not even sure whether this is the right bass sound? There's no use spending ages honing something that you later delete. So set yourself limits - a few minutes on each sound, then move on. This way, you don't risk losing the musical vibe while you stop writing every few minutes, and you don't waste precious studio time!

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