7 Music Production Mistakes That Make You Sound Amateur
It’s no secret that the music industry is saturated with aspiring artists and musicians. Standing out from the crowd with your recordings can be difficult, but there are a few key things you can do to make your music sound more professional.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at seven common music production mistakes that can make your songs sound amateurish. By avoiding these mistakes, you’ll be on your way to sounding like a pro.
#1 Overusing Plugins
Most Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) come stock with tons of plugins. The temptation when mixing is to insert way more plugins on a track than is needed.
This is often due to inexperience. When you don’t understand the reasoning behind your mix decisions, you blindly start inserting plugins. The problem with this is you begin to pull up plugins to fix issues caused by a plugin you used earlier in the chain.
Another way of easily overusing plugins is not understanding how to use the plugin.
For example, compression is often overused and misunderstood by novice mixers.
Compression has this way of making things seem louder. Louder always sounds better to our ears. However, louder also means the sound is more upfront and occupies more space in the stereo field. This leaves less room for other instruments and throws a mix off-balance.
Over-compression also has an obvious footprint that screams amateur. It can cause sounds to pump and breath, which can be very musical if done correctly, but more often creates unnatural movement in a sound that can distract a listener. Also, too much compression kills all dynamics and makes tracks sound flat and lifeless.
Equalization is another plugin that often gets abused by amateur mixers. You can’t go off “EQ Cheatsheets” that might get marketed to you by a “guru” because each sound comes with its own inherent sonic character. You need to be aware of musical elements in each part of the frequency range, but standardizing it across all sounds is a huge mistake.
You have to use your ears and know precisely what frequencies each sound needs more and less of.
Also, you can’t forget that you are trying to balance all tracks together to make a balanced whole.
This leads me to my next point…
#2 Mixing Tracks in Isolation
A beginner mistake that leads to poor-sounding productions is to mix tracks in isolation.
Each track is an ingredient, and when you “over-season” all tracks, you get a bad-tasting song.
Every track needs to work together. The only way you know what a specific track needs regarding processing is to hear it against the other sounds in the mix.
You might find that a particular track sounds awful solo’d but then fits into the groove perfectly when everything is playing together.
To illustrate this point, consider a track with an over-emphasis in the 3-5khz region of the EQ spectrum. This area brings harshness to a sound, but it can also create definition and articulation. The temptation in solo would be to reduce this area to make the sound more pleasing. However, If your overall mix is missing the emphasis in this area, then your mix will sound “off” and amateurish.
While it’s fun to enhance sounds in isolation, you need to learn how to make all the ingredients of the production work together. The only way to do this is to zoom out and see the whole, not just the parts.
#3 Poor Arrangement
Have you ever heard the phrase, “the song mixed itself”?
Often we associate this phrase with well-recorded tracks. However, this isn’t the case.
A song mixes itself when the music production has a solid arrangement. The songwriter and producer choose the right blend of instruments and layer them well to keep the song in forward motion.
Amateur-sounding productions often don’t spend enough time making good arrangement decisions. They are riddled with sounds and elements that don’t fit and clutter the production.
Pop music productions use very sophisticated arrangement techniques. The detail that goes into many of the songs you hear on the radio is astounding. However, there is a method to the madness that can help you make better arrangement decisions.
The stereo sound field can be simplified into center information and side information.
In most cases, the center includes all the most essential tracks of the music production. Good recordings feature three main elements at a time (anything more than this will distract the listener and make your production sound too busy).
These elements usually are:
- Lead Vocal or Lead Instrument
- Drums (Kick, Snare, Hat/Ride)
Any arrangement decision going into the center of the stereo field should be there to accentuate one of these three elements. If it doesn’t, cut it out!
For the sides, this is where textural elements live. These texture elements like reverb, delay, bloops, beeps, guitars, strings, pads, harmonies, to name a few, help make the production sound rich and full.
The sonics in the sides are often the details you miss on the first listen but pick up on repeat listens. They also support the track’s main elements, but they also help make sounds appear wider, deeper, and taller in the mix.
Music production is an art form, so these rules can be broken. However, as you record your next track, be mindful of the elements you add and listen to see if it supports or fights against your featured tracks.
Do this, and you will have better chances of your production sounding less amateur and more professional.
#4 Not Understanding Basic Music Theory
For lots of songwriters and musicians, it’s easy to ignore music theory.
I will be the first to admit that I used to think that learning Music Theory would somehow make me a worse songwriter. That it would somehow box me in and stifle my creativity.
This way of thinking will be super damaging to your music productions and increase your chances of making amateur-sounding recordings.
You see, music theory teaches you how to stack sounds in a music-pleasing way. It will help you choose instruments and sounds, craft catchy melodies, and write compelling transitions.
When you hear a professional recording that sounds huge, it’s because the producer understands how to leverage theory to add parts that complement and enhance the overall musical composition.
Learning music theory also teaches you how to use and manipulate the emotional power of music in ways that ensure you connect your musical message with the listener.
When you have a basic understanding of music theory, you will make informed and confident production decisions. Ones that will help you avoid having your production sound amateur.
#5 Lack of Technical Production Knowledge
Like music theory, there are some rules to production that, if ignored, will make your recording sound amateur.
Music is physics, and having a fundamental understanding of how music moves through the air and how the human body reacts to it will help you make better decisions.
For example, to make a song sound “big,” you need to have sounds that occupy the entire frequency range (20hz – 20khz). When sounds occupy these areas, the human body will feel music from their groin, all the way up above their head.
This is what gives the perception of “big.”
A professional producer will know how to manipulate the arrangement to make sections sound bigger and smaller.
If you want your chorus to extend without making things louder, you could make the verse have less low end. Then when the chorus hits, layer in sub-bass that won’t be heard but felt. It will give the perception of growth while also making the song have more movement. Since low frequency naturally sits in the groin, the listener will want to “move those hips.”
There are tons of other technical production techniques that can be used to enhance your song and make it sound less amateur. We could fill an entire article with them.
However, it’s essential to be aware that every decision you make for your audio productions should have a purpose.
#6 Not Using Reference Tracks
Using reference tracks is a great way to avoid having your music production sound amateurish.
An excellent reference track can help you out in every stage of production, from recording to mastering.
You can listen to a reference track to get ideas for arrangement, tones for recording, balancing a mix, and checking your final master.
When referencing tracks, you should use a plugin like Plugin Alliance’s Metric A/B so you can be sure to level-match and have quick A/B’ing.
Level matching is essential for referencing because louder always sounds better. To make informed decisions based on your reference, you need to hear your track and the reference at the same relative volume.
Also, humans have a short memory when it comes to sounds, so having an instant A/B will give you a more accurate picture of how you can improve your production.
Using a reference track is like having a blueprint for a professional-sounding track. Referencing often will keep you from making poor production decisions that can make your music sound amateur.
#7 Not Having a Team
Where most songwriters fail is by trying to be a one-person show.
If you’re serious about your music career, it’s essential to ensure that everything you release is of the highest quality.
This means hiring a team of experts who can help you navigate and execute the entire production process. It’s crucial that you stay in your lane as a songwriter and creator, and allow others’ talents to take you to the next level.
“I think it’s very important to connect with other people and give artists something fresh. The best way to do that is having a diverse team of producers and writers who all bring something different to the table.” – Rogét Chahayed (Producer for Drake)
Luckily, Supreme Tracks is here to help. We make networking with professionals easy and can connect you with a producer and mixing services to take your music to new heights.
So what are you waiting for? Work with a professional producer through Supreme Tracks today!