I was recently asked this question: “What, in your opinion are the most common mistakes that most beginners make when producing electronic music?”
As owner of the netlabel QED Records (currently-inactive), I’ve listened to hundreds of submissions from newbie producers who need a platform for getting their bedroom tunes heard. And I’ve encountered these top two mistakes frequently — often working with the artist to revise and improve upon their work. But also, having to place my foot down, when needed, and saying: “This isn’t any good. Try again.”
The top two mistakes really boil down to: a lack of hearing the big audio picture, and an unbridled desire to make things louder.
No.1 Mistake: Forgetting the Bass
Composition-wise, the most common mistake is forgetting to put the bass, and in connection with this, not giving the listener a full spectrum of audio frequencies to enjoy.
Now I don’t mean that every track needs a slapping electric bass guitar on it, or even some synth bass doing 16th note patterns. I’m saying that every track needs some sort of bass frequency. Something on the low end to balance out the melodies in the higher register.
It can be a single note synth pad just sustaining underneath the main theme. Or it can be some funky wah-wah bass a la Flea. It can be a simple pattern, or it can be complex.
More often than not, I’ve heard downtempo electronic tracks that possess a beautiful melody on single piano notes, coupled with a drum loop. And while that may work for a verse, or a section of your song, having it play the ENTIRE song through is boring. Our ears want completeness. Our ears want to hear the entire spectrum of frequencies in a piece of music: from high to low.
This is the reason any bare bones rock band will have guitar, drums, and a bass — because unless you’re The White Stripes, or the Black Keys, or any other of these groups who do it on purpose, then you want to give your listener a sound that is full and covers:
- the high frequencies (your melody, high-hats, cymbals, snare drums),
- your middle frequencies (back-up vocals, rhythm instruments, synth pads, tom-toms) and
- your low frequencies (bass, kick drum, really low piano).
No.2 Mistake: Making it Too Loud
Look, I know you want to make a banging EDM tune every now and then, but if your output is too loud, it clips.
See that red meter on the side of your virtual (or analog) mixer? If it’s always in the red, that means your output is too loud, that it’s clipping.
Which means it’s distorted. Which means it sounds ugly. And not just to me. Try burning the tune onto a CD-R and then playing it at max volume in a dance club and you’ll hear what I mean. It will sound like it’s blaring out of a cheap speaker that’s busted.
Ironically, you can avoid all of that ugly distortion by making your overall volume quieter as you create your tune, so that none of your signal clips. Only at the end should you apply some sort of audio wizardry in order to compress and finalize your tune — a process known as mastering. (Which you can read about all over the web.)
So rein in that desire to make things loud, loud, loud, while creating the tune and instead keep all volume levels under control so that when you apply your final step of compressing and mastering, your tune can be boosted to a louder overall volume without any distortion.
How about you? What do you think are the top mistakes that newbie producers can avoid? Hit the comments.