Producing music can be challenging, especially when you’re just starting out. So it’s important to avoid common beginner mistakes to produce the best possible music. That said, we will discuss five of the most common beginner mistakes new producers make in the studio and how to avoid them.
1. Avoid excessive layering
If you have been watching tutorials, tips, and tricks on YouTube about music production, there’s probably one tip you are already very familiar with: layering. Whether you want to create a big anthem lead-synth or strengthen your bass, layering is the technique that gets you there.
However, you can layer too much—it’s one of the most common beginner mistakes producers make. Too many layers can lead to a “muddy” sound, where individual sounds are lost in the mix and become difficult to distinguish.
Depending on what kind of sound you’re going for and what you’re layering, anywhere from 2-5 layers should be sufficient in most cases. Of course, you also don’t need to layer everything, so going with no additional layers on a synth can also work. But definitely avoid stacking 14 different lead-synths on top of each other, thinking you’re going to create the fattest lead-synth the EDM world was missing out on.
2. Not using sidechain compression
This is a tip that many beginner producers don’t seem to be aware of, which is a shame because it can make such a big difference in the quality of your music. Sidechain compression is essential for creating space in your mix and making elements fit together better.
For those unfamiliar with sidechain compression, it is a technique where the signal of one track is used to trigger the compressor on another track. This results in the second track being compressed/lowered whenever the first track plays.
A typical example is using a kick drum to sidechain a bassline. When the kick hits, it will trigger the compressor on the bassline, resulting in the bass being compressed and ducked out of the way, making room for the kick to hit.
This is just one example of how sidechain compression can be used, but there are many other ways to utilize this technique. You’re definitely missing out if you’re not using sidechain compression in your music productions.
Also, note that sidechain compression is not the only way to sidechain elements in your productions. Using a compressor is a bit of an “old-school” but still a very viable method of sidechaining. However, you can use various sidechain plugins nowadays that make the process a bit easier and more visual.
3. EQ: Avoid boosting, try cutting instead
EQ is another essential tool for any music producer, yet it’s something that many beginner producers don’t seem to fully understand. One of the most common beginner mistakes when it comes to EQing is boosting frequencies.
While it may be tempting to reach for the EQ and start cranking up the highs or lows whenever you feel something is missing from a sound, this is usually not the best approach. In most cases, it’s better to start with cutting frequencies rather than boosting them.
Cutting frequencies will help create space in your mix and make individual sounds stand out more. It can also be helpful in taming problem frequencies that may clash with other sounds in your mix.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but generally, it’s a good idea to start with EQ cuts rather than boosts. For example, if you have a hi-hat and you feel like it needs a tad bit more highs, boost the highs. There’s nothing wrong with that.
However, as a beginner producer, you simply lack the ear for a balanced mix. This results in most beginners opening their EQ and start boosting highs and lows whenever possible since, naturally, that’s what sounds “good”, but that’s also how you end up with an unbalanced mix.
4. Way too many effects
It’s easy to get carried away with using effects in your music productions. After all, who doesn’t love a good reverb, delay, or cool distortion? While effects can definitely be used to enhance your music, it’s crucial to use them sparingly and only when they’re actually needed.
Too many effects will clutter your mix and make it sound muddy and unfocused. If you’re just starting out, it’s best to keep things simple and only use a few basic effects.
As you become more experienced, you’ll start to develop a better understanding of how different effects can be used to enhance your music. Until then, it’s best to stick with using only a few essential effects.
5. Using bad samples and presets
One of the biggest beginner mistakes new music producers make is using low-quality samples and presets—and as a beginner, it’s hard to justify spending money on a high-quality sample pack or a shiny new synth plugin.
While your DAWs stock samples and free sample packs on the internet have come a long way, the market of free samples and presets is still very saturated with low-quality sounds. And unfortunately, using low-quality sounds will make your music sound, well, low quality.
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These are five of the most common beginner mistakes that new music producers make. While there are definitely more than just five, these are some of the most important ones to avoid.
If you can avoid making these beginner mistakes, you’ll be well on your way to producing better-sounding music. And as always, the best way to improve is simply by practicing and getting experience. So get in the studio and start creating!