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3 Tips for Producing Music Faster

It’s increasingly common for those who want to add an edge to their DJing to get into production at some level, either to add completely new originals into the mix or just to have a few nice edits at your disposal. The most common beginner problem for DJs entering the production marketplace is usually the time consumption required to produce; unlike DJing, it requires long periods of time with little reward before anything decent comes out. So here’s a set of tips to help you separate out your production processes and make the time you spend more effective and efficient.

KEEP ‘EM SEPARATED 

In the process of production, it can become easy (if not a subconscious action) to get caught up in the minute details of a track: if you’re not careful, you wind up spending excruciating hours on a kick drum or synth line, only to come out of the process confused, uninspired, and exhausted. The easiest way to fix this mental exhaustion is to split your production into three distinct processes and stick to this division of labor religiously!

First: Creation This is where you let loose on a track; be as creative as you can be with sound design, instrumentation, orchestration, structural elements and experimental sonic textures. Instead of worrying about how the sounds are meshing, focus instead on the general thematic and structural elements of the track. Ask yourself:

  • What do you want the mood to be?
  • What sort of tempo and energy level do you want to evoke?
  • What sounds do you want to make prominent and noticeable?

During this entire process, see if you can manage to leave the volume faders as they are: you might redline a little (or a lot), but you’ll be surprised at how fast the track comes together when you’re not sweating the small stuff.

Second: Mixdown This section can be easily blended with the creative process if you’re not careful, so be sure to catch yourself when you find that you’re tweaking small details in the mix during the creative process. Once you’ve finished the track itself, give it a couple hours – or even a couple days – sit down with fresh ears, and just fix everything you notice. There are literally hundreds of different techniques to mixdown that aren’t coverable here, but your core focus should be 3 things: levels, EQ, and compression. If you master those components, you’re well on your way.

Finally: Mastering If you’re doing your own mastering, which is inadvisable for important releases but fine for a quick edit or club track, then repeat the steps before mixdown (take a few days off, fix everything you notice), but bounce the track so you don’t tempt yourself into adjusting the mix and the master at the same time.

Keeping your processes separate is crucial to creating a sustainable and enjoyable workflow. While not an exhaustive list, this table might help guide you through which process occurs when.

CREATE A MOOD, NOT A GENRE

It’s a frequent problem that new producers end up emulating their favorite producers or exploring the tropes of their genre to the point where their sound becomes derivative. This is mostly a product of a problematic approach to production: instead of trying to emulate a certain sound, tempo, or genre, aim for pure expressivity. It might seem daunting at first, but a much easier way of channeling your inspiration without your work sounding too derivative is to attempt to convey a feeling rather than a “sound.” An easy way of doing this is matching the rhythmic and sonic elements of your track to fit the “mood,” by incorporating things like trills or legato to give a sense of either momentum or lethargy to your tracks. Take a look at the effect of rhythmic changes in otherwise similar songs:

In the track above, the emphasis of the plucks during the main section reinforces the power of the kickdrum and emphasizes the 16th notes of each bar with nothing on the upbeat or any syncopation, giving it a plodding, marching quality.

As opposed to the earlier track, the producer has instead opted to emphasize the upbeat with sparse instrumentation on the downbeat. This gives what many colloquially refer to as a “bouncy” or “swung” feeling, and it adds a lot of momentum to a relatively minimalist track. In short, how you approach the downbeat of your track (many times the kickdrum) will fundamentally alter how your listeners perceive your track; use this as a tool for creativity, instead of trying to imitate a genre’s sound or tropes.

Quick Tip: Use triplets to provide an off-kilter, momentous feeling. They’re criminally underused by most producers.

SHUT YOURSELF OFF

Comparing your track to another, studio-quality track, otherwise known as “A/Bing,” can be useful to measure relative loudness and punch. But the effects of this can be disastrous if you do it too often or infeffectively.

Never A/B during the creative process; the result is a heightened awareness of the flaws of your track, which can leave you disillusioned and uninterested. When A/Bing to mix, drag the volume of the comparison track until it’s equal to (or below) the peak of your track. Loudness is hugely influential in terms of your perception of quality, and listening to an incredibly loud studio track versus your unmastered mix will distort your perception of the mix in general. Even during the mixdown, it’s best not to keep referencing a track, as even if the two are at similar amplitude (meaning volume) they might not have the same “loudness” (a psychological phenomenon).

Here’s an example: listen to these two sounds, then try and guess which one is louder.

If you guessed the second example, you’re in the same boat as most other people, but the trick is that these sounds are at the exact same amplitude (dB level). Which frequencies are emphasized, a key part of mastering, adds a huge but indiscernable amount to the way we perceive loudness. This is a basic, but potent realization: countless producers get discouraged or spend endless time tweaking because their song doesn’t sound as “loud” as a club track they’re listening to, even though they’re pushing compressors and limiters to their peak. Instead, ease off the volume, work on the mix, and hand the mastering over to someone else who can punch it up later.

Quick Tip: Bring the volume of your reference track down by around 12 dB when comparing; that way, it will be significantly quieter than your own track, and you’ll be forced to only pay attention to the mix, and not the effects of the punchy mastering.

DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF

It’s totally natural to find yourself hitting a wall – nobody has an endless supply of wisdom and creativity. The best thing you can do is try to remember why you started making the track, or even started making music at all, in the first place: to have fun.

It’s easy to get swept up in the glut of competition and market saturation and think that you constantly have to be innovating beyond people and making the next hit track, but in all actuality, you’re better off doing something that you enjoy; don’t worry about other people’s tracks, don’t worry about how you think you sound, just start messing about. You’ll be shocked at how easy it can be to make something you enjoy again.

Read Next: How To Destroy Producer’s Writers Block

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  • Babs B

    …and not emulating their favorite producers! Yes, good tips. Your sound needs to be unique! Nobody wants to listen to a bunch of music that all sounds the same!!!

    http://www.babsbeatproductions.com

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  • Jazzy

    Real producing is making the song, what you call ‘producing’ is polishing.
    A great song on a simple fourtrack is still a great song.
    The most important thing is to produce a better dan mediocre song.
    Mixing and mastering is far overrated.
    I am in the learning process of capturing my music and it is big fun.
    I do everything on my own and I track in a DAW as well in an MTR exchanging according to my needs. It’s a wonderful world with endless possibilities, a playgarden to get some things done. The nowadays affordable DAW’s en MTR’s are a true gift of God with outstanding quality. But sometimes I get the impression that mixing and mastering and ‘producing’ is the most important thing by far, but it will never make a mediocre song better, only ‘better’sounding but ‘better’ is very relative here.
    If I make a song I don’t need anyone telling me what I or my song need.
    In the best case producing makes a pearl shine a little more.

  • Chris Conforti

    This is a great article. Everything you said was dead on. I especially liked what you said about volume and how loudness has a direct relationship to the perceived quality of the track. I can certainly relate to that. The moment I learned to properly use compression, overdrive and EQ to cut out bad frequencies, my productions began to sound 100 times better and began to have that polished feel they were always missing. Its funny how you can remove those elements and listen to a track and it will sound so bland and as soon as you incorporate them the track almost sounds completely different, sometimes almost unrecognizable. And for those who commented below about how producing faster isn’t important you show your inexperience. When you improve your workflow and spend less time BSing with stuff that is isn’t important and when you can quickly locate the sounds/instruments/fx that you need for your composition you increase your level of creativity because genius comes in a flash and often in the time it takes you to prepare your tracks that idea can be lost. That is why many great productions are done in an extremely short amount of time because the faster you put your concept down the more likely it will reflect the initial idea from your mind.

  • SiKNAS

    I wish i could go back and tell myself this when i started producing.

  • Keeb

    Flat out, the most useful article I’ve read on here in months. Bravo.

  • Any Techtoolians fancy providing some feedback on my latest track?

    https://soundcloud.com/1000-cutts/spectural-twang-1000-cutts

  • Royal Vasquez

    YES!!! love articles like this one THANK YOU!

  • Chauffe

    Sweet Article… KEEP WRITING PRODUCTION STUFF… Pretty Please 🙂

  • Genjutsushi

    This is a great article… i like the workflow advice, and in particular, like Crispy, “create a mood not a genre”. However, i often use ‘genre’ arrangements and map out an entire track in a ‘classic’ dance format – 64 bars intro, breakdown, drop etc. This means that while it may sound generic and derivative when listened to on its own, when youre using the track in a mix, all the elements for that ‘mood’ are there as raw material for you to chop and rearrange. Particularly using cue points in Traktor, sample decks, or even Ableton, it becomes easy to chop your track around and make it fit the mix youre doing.

  • Kutmaster TeeOh

    “If you guessed the second example, you’re in the same boat as most other people, but the trick is that these sounds are at the exact same amplitude (dB level). ”

    -Yes at the peak but the difference between the lowest point and the highest is greater in track 2. So the contrast in low to high will be greater. The peak amplitude is the same but the 2nd track is perceived louder.

  • DISCVR

    really great article. this is the reason why i habitually come here.

  • DJ Boudreaux

    Beautiful advice. Quentino’s Epic is too classic. Heard it live once :OO xD

  • PaddyDJ

    I’ve just started to produce music when there were the first articles about music production on DJ TechTools. I’ve been DJing alot too over years and that’s why I started to produce music on my own because DJing was not enough for me anymore. I am experiencing really almost everything that it is written about in your articles and it’s good too see that I’m not alone with all that messing around. So in most aspects I agree with everything you say in this article.Just one thing, there have been nights when I was totally down, when I had zero creativity and I was completely messed up by trying to get the sound as I wanted it. AND this is what gave me more power to wanting to explore how to f***ing get the sound the way that I wanted it. You got to be strong, but its not wrong to really end up in a disaster because that’s how you learn. Sometimes you really have to come to this level and when u find out how it’s really done, then u get pushed by ur success very heavily. Today I do all the steps from draft to mastering in one way cuz as longer ur working and trying, you will notice that u will really understand what’s exactly happening when your creating music from the beginning to the final steps. U will more and more build your own system to get where you want cuz u understand it yourself then. I for example have never looked at any tutorials or something, I’ve just tried to listen very carefully to what’s happening in every track and i was trying to project it into my software visually in my mind to learn from things that caught my ears, no matter if it was a special rhythm or a special structure or sound.
    I for myself didnt finalize many of my projects at first, I was just creating and learning from that – short and very intense snippets because they are the most diffcult parts of a song to create, it’s pretty easy to get quiet and smooth after that. If you understand everything step by step without wanting to create final projects at the beginning, then there will be a time, when you know that you’re ready to do what you ever did want to do. And that will be the time where u get back to that point, that u started with when u decided to produce music, when u thought ‘I WILL BE KICKING ASS!’.
    It’s a hard way to get there, but sometime it will be like u have an idea and the next night u play that track in a club and know people will freak out.

    • PaddyDJ

      What I forgot to say…
      To know that ur ready, you should always compare a lot. Not only with professionals, but compare your sound using a lot of different sound systems. That’s how u can learn a lot about mastering. That’s what I did like 9898232387 times. Use so-called ‘soundgoodizers’ and ‘WOW-Effects’ on your tracks and other tracks and listen to the effects. Turn up the Bass completely in your car until it’s completely overdriven on your and the other track. Watch the mids how fast they will distort and how much the Highs of your track will destroy ur ears 😀 and then get to work!

    • Nick Perloff

      All good points – there’s definitely room for producers to mess around and try to copy their favorite sounds. But let that stay in the creative stage/sound design part! Keep it out of the final product, says I.

    • DJ_ForcedHand

      There was a time (in the ’90s) that I was studio qualified to produce music and I did so on my computer with Studio Vision A/V, my KORG 01/w and my E-Mu ESi-32. I really tried to crank out some tracks for several years, but when I found myself comparing what I did to the Pros, I just got more and more depressed with that I considered “failures.” I was overly-critical of my own stuff, decided it was too simple, then I over-complicated it and decided one day to delete everything, and walk away from music production… I decided to become a DJ instead.

      At this time I was fortunate enough to have a sister who was pretty deeply entrenched into the “Rave scene” and I learned soooo much doing 1-on-1 training from some pretty big name DJs back then (at the after-parties). I’d say all those years of production and tutorship from the DJs helped me become a better DJ in my scene, but now that I have a different understanding of how each element works in a song and I have the gear to help me express what I want to express, I figured this is a great time to re-explore music production again. Thankfully, the digital realm of DJing (Controllerism) is pushing me to face my demons again.

  • Andrew Cizek

    Thank you for reminding me why I check this site habitually. Quality article~

  • MarkQuest

    great advice & another awesome article from DJTT – I can’t wait to put it into action! Reminded me of a quote from Richard Branson: “When you’re first thinking through an idea it’s important not to get bogged down in complexity. Thinking simply & clearly, is hard to do”
    Great work guys – we’ll see in 7 days how much it helps 🙂

  • 2delta

    while i do agree to some extent. what i have found great success in, is if you separate sound design, and composition. you kind of touched on it, “not getting too stuck on how something sounds” but its a great idea to take time to make patches and build kits. then when you have an idea, you just pull out your sounds and go. nothing to hold you back composition wise. then once you have all your ideas down, then you can tweak some more

  • Anonymous

    Great stuff in this article! I have a question though. How does one go about setting up a reference track in a DAW? I use Ableton so I bring in my reference track into an audio track and when I want to reference it I turn off every thing on the master track and listen to it. I’m not sure if there’s a better way, hence this post. Anyone do it differently?

    • typeomega

      thats the easiest way but you can also save the track as wav. then load to traktor (or whatever you use), just make sure you have auto gain off. also doing this can allow you to get your intros and outros locked in. your tracks will get played more if DJ’s have a easy time mixing them. having a grate sounding tracks is awesome but you wont get any plays if they cant be mixed without train-wrecking

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for the tip, it makes a lot of sense. Thanks again!

  • Namik_One

    as usual, awesome read. great tips, i find myself doing mix-down and mastering techniques during the creative process and like the articles said i got super discouraged and overwhelmed. im happy someone goes thru the same thing and helped me realize what i can do to stop. thnks alot

  • Crispy

    “Create a mood, not a genre.” Excellent advice. There needs to be more of this in the electronic world. Too much same-same, not enough feeling.

  • Lylax

    wow I am inspired. thank you guys

  • Argonaut Wasp

    Great article – How would you suggest budgeting your time? While all three aspects are unique and exciting, it is the process of finishing an idea that can be problematic for me.

    • Nick Perloff

      I think it depends what/who you’re producing the track for – if you’re just getting started and want to have fun, spend the most time on your sound design and song elements. This is where not “sweating the small stuff” really comes in – just make whatever you think might sound good. Don’t worry about finishing an idea at first, just put some elements together. Making a song is like a muscle – it has to be trained frequently for efficiency and quality to come naturally!

  • Kore-G

    Thanks so much! I love this article and I think it will help me with my music a lot!

  • Anonymous

    Great article. I hope to see more high quality articles like this throughout the summer. Keep up the good work 🙂

  • typeomega

    i don’t know about not mixing some of the things, i frequently EQ and quantize during the sound design process to make sure my beats are tight and so i don’t create to many samples that will need the same frequency range to sound good.but i can see where that could be stifling to someone just getting antiquated with sound design. but i still think its a good practice to have. also for beginners i would brake down the first part even further keeping sound design and sample selection separate from melodic progression and song structure.going so far as even doing all of you sound design in the first 32 to 64 bars and letting all the samples play at once even if they wont actually overlap when you design the songs structure. kind of building a sample library for that individual tune so no matter how you arrange them it will have a good chance to sounds good. other than that pretty solid advice

  • pepehouse

    This is the third article I see about producing music “faster” in about a month, haven’t seen any on producing good or even better or honest music, tough times this ones.

    • Nick Perloff

      Teaching people how to be honest with their work is near impossible – we hope that by teaching people how to go about getting their ideas out there faster, they’ll have more time to think about unique expression and less time about finishing tracks.

    • Nick Perloff

      Teaching people how to be honest with their work is near impossible – we hope that by teaching people how to go about getting their ideas out there faster, they’ll have more time to think about unique expression and less time about finishing tracks.

      • pepehouse

        Right…and we leave in a perfect world and everything is pink…just
        look at the amount of new “unique expression” tracks that have shown at
        Beatport only this week….thousands! And just about a 5% of them are worth…..we
        don’t need to go faster….we need to think about what the hell we are
        doing with the music and with the whole world as well if you ask me.

        • Fuckoff

          Nobody asked you…

          • Truth Hurts

            🙂

        • Anonymous

          I thought it was easy to understand that he meant that in order to keep your creative process exciting and productive you have to segment your workflow. I totally understood what he meant,since last week, I came upon the same conclusions. That if I start mixing and programming the first ideas, I lose the spark, the ideas start losing focus. It’s not about speed for speed’s sake.

          • Dumo

            Even Avicii said the same thing when Future Music Mag visited him in his studio. He said that whenever he’s producing a track, he focuses more on getting his idea/theme into the track as soon as possible. He doesn’t worry too much about bass clashes, eqing and all that technical stuff. He only does that once the entire track structure has been laid out. On the other hand, Hardwell in an interview said that he does his own mixing alongside the creation process. I guess everybody has what works for them. But for most upcoming producers who still have a long way to go, I believe that Avicii’s method would be most beneficial. At least, for me

        • squeri

          say what you want, but after 6 years of producing dance music all of my best tracks were done in one or two days. All of my most frustrating and disappointing tracks were produced over the course of weeks or months. I dont know if you yourself produce or not, but I feel that most producers who have been at it for a decent amount of time can definitely relate to this.

          • Aaron Zilch

            Sounds like a workflow/philosophical issue. I actually agree that getting the “sketch” of a track out as quickly as possible while inspiration is flowing is a good move. But then the process of refining, tweaking, and experimenting ( and getting the opinion of some trusted “fresh ears” ) is key to creating something with real depth. There is a reason for the pattern of the “Sophmore Slump” where promising debut records are followed by rushed, unfocused material. It’s not that the bands had more songs to choose from for the first record, it’s that those songs had been rehearsed and performed for sometimes years previously, and had benefited from the time and space to mature. Try this: Write that song in a day in Arrangement but DO NOT RENDER IT. Bring it into Session, chopped to give some flexibility in structure and voicing, plus set up for whatever effects or parameter tweaking you would perform live. Practice playing the song ( and the others you gradually add to your “set list” ) everyday, or whatever your schedule allows. I think that maybe less days a week but with at least 2 or 3 run throughs might be ideal. Do some live performances of the material and see how it flies. Feel free to make any changes to sounds or whatever else seems necessary through those experiences. Then find someone with a fresh set of ears to either mix, or master, or both. No matter how badass you are at those tasks, as the songwriter the proper objectivity is nearly impossible. You’ve been painting leaves on trees and need someone to look at the forest and be able to tell you that possibly the intricately designed oak you thought was the centerpiece is actually blocking the light from the far more interesting saplings.

            Just my 23 sense…

        • ? O§?R?§ ?

          Bro…did you even read this article? See – ‘Creating a Mood, Not a Genre’. And go create that wonderfully, perfect world music for everyone 😉

      • Aaron Zilch

        There is far too much focus though on indulging the lack of patience in production neophytes. I always tell newbies that the focus on getting as much up on soundcloud as fast as possible is not the way I work or train. If they get frustrated or loose focus so easily maybe they should stick to DJing, rather than trying to create the image of a producer as a shortcut to getting more attention/gigs. Their time would probably be better spent “crate digging” and practicing their DJ skills.

    • SynthEtiX

      If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far in my life, its that quality COMES FROM quantity. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at the overall process. Some people (like me) sometimes over think processes; you can’t be afraid to mess up. So tips like these are great confidence and skill boosters.

      • pepehouse

        QUALITY DOESN’T COME FROM QUANTITY they have been always opposite my
        friend, it comes from time and dedication and a desire to do things well
        not fast which again have been almost always opposite.

        • paradeez

          and with time, wouldnt you generally produce quantity?
          no one can teach you how to create quality music, thats why its an art
          there are tons of people who produce a high quantity of mediocre music before they hit one of high quality. its the experience you gain from all of those attempts that allows you to eventually produce something great, or better

        • SynthEtiX

          like you said, “it comes from time and dedication” which is exactly my point. The more tracks you produce, the better you will get in the long run. You have to make mistakes in order to learn from them. Also keep in mind that I wasn’t referring to posting your tracks on beatport or releasing them in general. I’m referring to Quality coming from large amounts of practice.

        • Anonymous

          THAT’S NOT WHAT THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT!! Listen to Zomby for example. I heard a guy say the other day that he thought his tracks sounded like they’re not finished. That’s his style, he does short ditties, sweet nostalgic lofi tracks. And I would bet that sometimes he will spend only an hour on a track. Does that make him less of an artist???? I’d like to hear the tracks you make that took forever. I bet it’s not better than what Zomby would do in 25 minutes since he knows when to stop. You probably don’t .

          • Dumo

            you might be right but do you know how much time Zomboy put in his beginner stages before he’s finally achieved this status. The fact is, as you get better, it takes less time for you to create things. This is because, you already know your stuff, as opposed to learning everything by trial-and-error. Hardwell produced Spaceman in 4 hours only!!! But he also said that when he first started, he’d spend countless hours trying to master his craft. All those countless hours is what makes it possible to spend less time in the production process now.

        • Hexspa

          There had been a study which shows that quantity does indeed lead to quality, at least in the short term (unfamiliar skills).

      • Anonymous

        same for me. As soon as I start spending too much time on a track, it loses something. I’m not saying that I don’t spend a lot of time on tracks but sometimes it’s better. You have to know when to stop. Sometimes a snare doesn’t need 3 other layered snares to sound good. Or a melody sounds good without being harmonized. It doesn’t have anything to do with dedication or hard work.

    • Andrew Cizek

      Well, the best way to get better at production is to, well, produce. And produce. And then after that, keep producing. So if you’re producing more work faster, it follows that you will improve faster.

      • pepehouse

        You both mistake velocity with dedication and passion, if you produce whatever thing in a hurry you’ll never do it properly without having time to care about the details or mature an idea to convert it in a good idea neither learn to do things as they should be done with dedication and patience.

        • Anonymous

          that article is not about details!!! Actually it is about details. It’s about being more disciplined hence more productive hence working faster. If you can’t understand that, you’re a bit slow.

        • ? O§?R?§ ?

          I don’t remember this article being titled – “Produce everything in under 10mins, attempt to release it, then blast on YouTube, Facebook, and Soundcloud.” Learning to build a workflow, unique sound and general productivity (which derives directly from the word ‘PRODUCTION’!..go figure) Is something quite hard to do, coming from someone who has worked “dedicatedly and passionately” for years. If you don’t have any productivity tips here to help your fellow peers here bro, then quite criticizing this article. How many amazingly, well-focused, “mature” tracks have you produced?

  • Phil Bass

    THANK YOU 🙂

  • MisterMudcap

    Came expecting three tips, instead got way more than that! THanks techtools, time for me to hit the studio and start putting this stuff into action