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5 Mistakes Every Beginner Producer Makes (And How To Avoid Them)

In many ways, the trajectory for a DJ is simple: master technical fundamentals, get great at selecting music, and try and develop a unique style that’s all your own. While the trajectory for production is in some ways very similar, modern DAWs provide such a myriad of options that make it easy to fall into one of many pitfalls, especially when just starting out! Today we’re looking at 5 of the most common mistakes almost every beginner producer makes, and how to avoid them.

Beginner Producer Mistakes


When starting out, the impulse of the vast majority of producers is to grab at every extra plug-in and piece of tech they can get their hands on, and why not? Each product invariably markets itself as the be-all, end-all product that will immediately inject your tracks with fresh energy and life.

While it’s true that there are a lot of pieces of gear and plugins out there that (when used properly) are godsends, grabbing a handful of them and throwing them into your newest track won’t do anything but throw in a bunch of processing that’s too complex for you to handle.

It might be difficult, but instead of trying to use a million different tools to achieve the same effect, try becoming an expert in using a few: mastering one synth and one compressor will do far more for your workflow than half-understanding the functions of ten synths and twenty compressors, a mantra that’s been repeated by the likes of Skrillex, who made his entire Scary Monsters album with only Ableton’s onboard processors.


There’s perhaps nothing more infuriating in the world of production than lovingly mixing down a track, spending hours tweaking every knob, every parameter, automating down to the second, and then referencing it to a professional club track and watching your smile sink slowly as your track is absolutely pummeled by the thump of its professional counterpart. For a lot of producers, this is a massive source of frustration, and rightfully so, as it can feel like there’s absolutely nothing one can do to compete on the level of these thumping mixes.

The solution that a lot of beginning producers jump to is the notorious “brickwall” limiter, which is basically akin to using a butcher knife where you should use a scalpel. The reasoning often cited for this practice is usually something along the lines of  “Mastering techs use limiters, and they make loud tracks, so I should too.” Unfortunately this results in all kinds of negative and unanticipated effects, like pumping sounds, dynamics loss, and distortion. Ultimately, it’s better to take some time to learn a bit about the mastering process, or to save up to pay a mastering engineer, than to take the easy route and absolutely squash your tracks.


It seems increasingly that the production world is divided into those who view presets as the ultimate cheat, and those who view them as the only way to produce. While their ultimate purpose likely lies somewhere between those two opinions, it’s incredibly important to have a reasonable approach to presets (and by extension, samples and sample packs).

Many producers might cringe at the sound of a Nexus piano preset, it’s important to remember that the end goal of a producer should be satisfaction artistically with themselves and with the audience, which may or may not be comprised of people who can recognize presets. This isn’t necessarily license to go and write something like “KNAS,” but you should always keep an open mind to both samples and presets, if only as tools to compliment your sound and radically increase your efficiency.

An easy way to use presets and samples without losing the integrity of a track is to mix genres that traditionally aren’t related: for example, try using hip-hop synth samples in a techno track; you’ll find that the jarring presence of a sound from an entirely different sonic universe can produce some exciting and novel results.


Far too many producers confuse learning the ins and outs of a system with learning how to make a specific product. When starting out, the drive is somewhat clearly to make a track reminiscent of the track that got you into production in the first place, or at very least, the track you love at the moment. In a recent interview with DJTT, Lucky Date recommended emulating the sounds of a favorite artist as a great starting place for new producers.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong with having a fondness for a sound or style, but producing with a constant eye towards making one type of sound will stunt one’s growth as a producer and as a musician. Tutorial-hunting and remake attempts will only teach you the sound that is the end result of a process invisible to everyone but the original producer.

Instead, spend time reading and learning about general techniques of compression, EQing, and sound design; the end result will be a much richer production experience and a wealth of knowledge that’s applicable to a wide variety of production styles and changing tastes.


This is a simple thing to remember, but it’s lost on tons of producers starting out: there will be a point at which you are fairly comfortable with your production skills. Whenever that point may be, it’s crucial to remember that a production skillset isn’t the end goal, writing music is!

It’s fantastic to have a well-mixed track with plenty of perfectly synthesized sounds, but if it’s a boring track, no amount of clean mixdown will ever make it interesting. Think of the core principles of sound design as guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Once you’re relatively comfortable with understanding each of the features of your chosen DAW, try doing something unconventional or even technically “dumb,” like using a limiter on a single track, or heavy reverb on a bassline, or using a really wide imager on a synth line. These adjustments might not make your track better technically, but this sort of experimentation is almost always guaranteed to make your track more interesting.


Download a free printable PDF of these five mistakes – and hang it up in your studio as a reminder! (DJTT members only – signup just takes an email address)

Have you ever been trapped in one of these producer pitfalls – or know of any examples of producers who might be stuck in one of them right now? Chat with us in the comment section below. 

  • Tawanda Lackson Tembo

    Thank you for the perfect advise

  • AntoxaGray

    I agree with all points except the #1. The more plugins you learn, the more variety you will have in music.

    When people say “You can do everything i Serum” I silently disagree with them.

    Technically possible? Yes. Practical? No. Many plugins have different workflow and can give you different ideas. Lot of music created by accidentally pressed wrong button in some VST, and if you woked just in one VST, you wouldn’t get that accident.

  • markmimage

    6. Make sure your samples are in THE SAME KEY. Music still has to possess the core fundamentals – rhythm and harmony. It would be insanely ignorant to slap two things together and assume it will work. Check your keys. Don’t be that guy who produces a track without checking keys and every musician who knows music looks at you and says “you know NOTHING about music, do you?”

    Like Armand Van Helden and the whole crew at spinnin’ records who couldn’t even identify the vocals were in a different key before they went and released it.

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    YOUR ALL A BUNCH OF WEENIES… Don’t any of you know that your ALL RIGHT!! It just depends on what your doing? There is allot of music out there that requires sound design and most people probably do not consider it music… There is a supper load of music that uses a more musical stand point.. Like chord progression, composition, etc.. Its all LOVELY! NONE OF YOU ARE WRONG! IT JUST DEPENDS ON WHAT WORKS FOR YOU AND THAT YOUR ABLE TO SURVIVE AND FEED YOUR FAMILY FROM WHAT YOU LOVE TO DO.. WEATHER ITS MAKE A HIT POP TRACK OR BE A MUSICAL SCIENTIST LIKE THE FIRST CREATERS OF ELECTRONC SYNTHETIC SOUNDS LIKE THE THERAMIN.. (ps I don’t care about my grammatical errors…) good luck all of you are awesome and this is what forms the never ending evolution of music and creates new forms from this melting pot… IM coming to all of you from the ghetto concrete jungles of America… Land of The LOst – Earth is the city of Refuge..

  • James Harries

    In the old days if you used a preset everyone knew and it was corny,now there are so many how is anyone going to know if it’s off a Spunkface sampler or if you made it? The key question is, which is QUICKER in getting your track finished. For me it is programming sounds as listening to samples one after another is trying on the ears, it literally makes me want to kill myself! But you can’t say that to a noob as they don’t know how to program. Maybe there is a skill to choosing a preset quickly – having a library you know very well or having a small library.

  • Rahul Ranot

    i just can’t get my kick right either it sounds very muffled or very punchy i tried EQing
    but problem still remains and even if i get it right it sounds good in my system full of bass and a minimal required punch but in my headphones it sounds like i’m thorwing rocks at a wall…..please help it’s ruining my producing because everything is fine except this goddamn kick

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  • Laura

    I am no musical genius but have mastered the piano thanks to this program. The best part is it took less than 30 days!!

  • Cory Rimpson

    Just read a few of these comments and see so much of the division in #3. I think using presets are like suing anything it can work based on how responsible the person is using it, it can either aid or kill a project. I see no difference from people using presets and those using samples.


    hey i know people dont like seeing other producers use presets .but i think it doesnt matter
    what u use , it matters on how u use it . I use a lot of presets (becuase im new to this)
    and i am trying to learn some beats production as a begginer i use synplant to make random syths but i always like to tweak them with effects/maximus and it doesnt sound like
    a preset anymore
    i mean there are millions of songs out there
    not all million could make different kicks
    of course its necessary if u r pro to try to record ur own sounds and synths
    but out off all kicks already used if i use one used and tweaked to my perspective it never sounds like a preset
    like its really never been used before
    use maximus / nexus / sylenth 1 (a liitle because of it only .fxp file are hard for me to make) / massive
    and thats what ive been using lately to be honest
    and to be really honest (a liittle bit of soungoodlizer 😉 )

  • AN-ILL

    Most of my leads in the drops are vocals that are chopped and editted and such. I hardly use presets for my leads. I edit the chopped vocal, add effects etc. and create an own style.

  • calgarc

    I find a lot of producers use too much compression and sidechaining

  • Cristian Carvajal
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  • Realist

    I can play guitar well. I don’t have a clue how to build a guitar. Many guitarists don’t. It is not a required skill to be a successful guitarist and to write and play great music.

    Syths are a little different, but the principal remains. You don’t need to be able to program your own patches to be able to write a great riff.

    Focus on the music first and foremost. Sound design is a great skill and is more necessary in certain genres, but in this day and age of literally hundreds of soundbanks available for every synth, it isn’t necessary. It isn’t what’s going to make your music liked. It isn’t what’s going to make your music sell. Most of all, getting too caught up in sound design too early in your career will actually prevent you from getting anything finished.

    Write music. Finish songs. The rest will come.

  • Alex

    Hello, i like the article my question is more : how do i obtain clear and yet powerful bass ? I like being in the 100-300 Hz even for a melody not only my bass and i quickly obtain a muddy mix below … Somethings about layers, or phase ? Can you tell me more

  • Guest

    I would add a #6, which is ‘Finish everything you start’. Sometimes this might mean calling something that is crappy ‘done’ but accepting a track as finalized gives good mental space for moving on to the next thing, instead of forever spinning your wheels on the same piece.

  • paul

    I’m kind of stuck in a rut right now in have alot of potential but have a hard time expressing it and motivating myself. Does anybody have any tips I’ve mostly just ben trying to get myself intonation routine

  • Rich Richess

    I think the best thing for the beginners are the EDUCATION on the industry, take the fundamentals before.

  • Pri yon Joni

    “Obsess over the art, not the craft”. Tell that to the syncophobic DJs who think everything is about beat matching.

  • solon

    i just started producing in april i am new to logic pro, my problem is actually i don’t know how to make sounds, i play up in my head, i am only good with the drum and percussion arrangement is it because i don’t know how to play the piano thats why i can’t make there sounds?

    • John

      Coming from someone who’s in the same boat as you were in not too long ago, the answer is to give it time, watch videos on youtube about notes, circle of fifths, chords, inverse chords, the whole works. When I started I didn’t know anything about the piano but what I would do, (and this is just me) was I’d make a super basic 4 bar drum line, and use some ultra basic sounding presets. I usually find ones that set the mood at first, set up a basic 4 bar pad progression, and then just start hitting keys on my MIDI controller.

      I’d just hit keys for hours on end using pluck/keys/leads presets I found for Massive (because that’s all I had at the time). I watched a few videos on how to set up chords and whatnot until I realized something one day. As long as it sounds good to you, then it sounds good.

      Sit down with your basic drum line and pad and just start playing, and before you know it, you’ll have made a song. All I had for the longest time was only Massive and Izotope Alloy 2 and I’ve been making better quality music then any one of my friends simply because I would just spend hours, days on end hitting notes in a 4 bar phrase until I got something which had me nodding my head going, “this beat is DOPE”, then going through and doing all the EQ and compression, watching videos on how EQ and compression worked, and did it to like every instrument I had (EQ, not compression so much).

      Because as what one of the Rules stated, it’s not about what your hard or software is, it’s what you do with it. Now I’m signed and I’ve only known what a DAW was for a year now and have only halfway known what I’ve been doing for only 8 months.

      Don’t worry about making your own sounds at first, save all your favorite presets into a folder and use them, change them up more and more as you begin to understand the program that you’re using. You’ll begin to identify the basic structure of the sounds you wanna make, and then you’ll just start doing it yourself.

      Just hit keys and move around piano roll keys, it’ll come to you. And don’t forget to MAKE YOUR OWN SOUND!!!!!!!!!! Don’t try to copy anyone else’s sound. The beauty of music is that it’s yours to create. Just go off of what your fingers tell you, not what your mind tells you.

  • bleep eater

    Each to thyr own it all boils down to the expression of the inividual and remember its an art form so be artistic and have fun creating your own style

  • stoped reading after the word Skrillex

  • DJ AbsentKat

    I need some serious advice and help. My dream is to be at the head of EDC and other venues of the sort, Im 16 from Bradenton FL and im ready to put everything Iv got into my dream. My problem is that I have no idea where to start. I already know what style I want to focus most on, I draw inspiration from a range of producers such as DJ Fresh and Mitis. I need to know what it takes to get started. What equipment do I need? what soundboards and programs should I use? do I need my own speakers, lights, ect? I plan on playing Highschool parties, and Raves or rave-like scenes up until I finish highschool, and maybe a little after. Can someone help me out? I have absolutely no equipment as of now (3/31/14).

    • Score Deluxe

      look at youtube for dubspot and point blank … watch some videos 😉 i learned on logic DAW and switched 2-3 years ago to Ableton… i make electronic music and i am happy that i have changed… cubase might also a be a DAW…. try Ableton and watch some Beginner videos… only ask youtube and learn learn learn +++ the tools u are using … give urself time…. if u can find a mentor or and people in real life who make some music… some cheap monitors like the rokit5 a PC and ableton….
      start and watch the first tutorials …. AND HAVE FUN !

  • Sandz

    I find one of the most rewarding things is that final knob-turn in massive after I’ve started with just a sawtooth or whatever wave, and finished with a punchy bass or dynamic pad.

  • Rahul

    First of all getting the right sound will take a lot of time!

  • Rafael Setta

    I’m djing from 15 years now. But i’m still in the first steps of producing world…This article is excellent for a begginer like me…I am already making some tracks, showing them to some local producers and getting some feedback…But from time to time i get stuck in one of these pitfalls, and my confidence sometimes begin to fade…I know i can do a nice track but when you get blocked inside you, with a hundred of thoughts it’s difficult. Loud Hawk is right, at this time i have about 30 open projects on live…Working and improving it when i get a fresh mind or idea… Despite that, if one of you guys could give me a feedback about a track i’m doing it would be great…

  • TruthBoy

    Most DJs / Producers or people in general, do have the talent for certain things BUT if they don’t wonk on PERFECTING the craft, everything is useless. Art is already there, you have to work on PERFECTING your craft. As I’m doing right now. BeatsByJB

  • Anonymous

    The most important thing in any song of any genre is usually a good HOOK (or two). Make a killer hook and then build around it.

  • Hauke Frederik Pengel

    So Skrillex was only using only Ableton onboard processors (I would like to have a proof for that). I saw in a video that Avicii was (is?) only using presets. They both are making good music (no matter what your taste is, the music is obviously not bad) and they give concerts and stuff and making some money out of it. Conclusion: you either are a musician who knows how to make music with the stuff you have, or you collect a lot of gear and tools, discuss in forums, be a know-it-all and such but suck in making music 🙂

    • Robert

      definitely a danger of going down the rabbit hole, especially when browsing these tech-based pages

  • Guillermo Bustos Vadillo

    The problem I’m stuck with right now is the overall volume of the track. It sounds great but a little low, and if I turn up the volume of the tracks, it gets noisey and scratchy, in a bad way. Can’t seem to get around this one.

    • Anonymous

      Keep your track volume’s low. Bounce the master at least -3db. Then bring the master back into a new session and bring up the volume and do mastering.

      • Guillermo Bustos Vadillo

        Thank you!!! I will try this and see how it goes. Greetings from Chile!

        • Anonymous

          I send out my mastering to It’s not expensive and it’s well worth it. It’s run by Dj Misjah (X-Trax) from Holland.

  • D.J. Eulogy

    I occasionally use presets. I don’t over use them, nor do I under value them. If they will work with a specific song and/or track on a song that I am working on, I use them. If I am looking for something a little different, I make my own. There is nothing wrong with using them if they work for the song.

  • Nicholas

    Very helpful, as I am a beginning producer and only 12. I will keep this mind to keep me on the right track.

  • dj trouble

    as long as your not “biting” & calling it your own without giving credit I dont see a problem w/ using preset samples especially when you buy it. that makes it yours to use but although “buying skill doesnt make it valid” using something & recreating it to be your own sound is what djing 1st originated from

  • dimo p

    There are so many presets circulating around for most softs that even if you create a patch…someone else probably already did it for you…I mostly use trilogy for bass(no real soundcreation here) but i just love messin with my AN1X, waldorf pulse, etc for riffs n fx…plugin sunths are meant for presets..hardware synths for pure fun 🙂

  • Bart Poort

    I think of preset’s as starting points and they can actually learn a lot from it. I used to find a preset most similar to the sound I wanted and tweak all the bits that made it sound that way and remade a one more suitable for my track. A preset shouldn’t be used as the actual sound but rather a good starting point to help you on your way…

  • Nicholas Neill ( psytrance Dj

    I agree with the ” Less is More ” point, I have been producing for more than 3 years now, (still working on finding my own original style) and I have been through loads of plugins from funky to fat etc, and when one uses alot of different plugins & synths in every different production you end up having too many to really get to know how to maximize the potential of each synth or eventually I have gone with a select few fat sounding ones.
    For me Referencing from the pro’s is key and from there working on one kind of style/genre at a time and experimenting as much as you can, is the only way to get a real original sound that is your own….but still practice makes perfect and experimentation is key in today’s world of electronic music, and with all the advancements with digital synths and programs as well as analog & digital hardware synths, there are really ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES !! 🙂 peace

  • dj amir rezaeyan

    yeah i know , all your speaks all right’s i can say one of the important of this work producing is hard practice with one of the music creator application like that fl studio or like that ableton live for working live and on the important notice is that music composer have to listen many tracks in their field’s and try to creat music like’s music that created by onother person ! this way can help producer to learning technic’s and other ways …

    this work like that each works’s needed to hard practice to learning for to be came bigger producer

  • edgek8d

    Do you think that the difficulty in writing a tune, is linked to the quality of that tune?
    If that desire to be “authentic” means you can’t express yourself and produce
    the music that is in your heart and your head – then it is misguided. The END RESULT is the ONLY thing that counts. How you get there only matters to people who care about things other than the music. If you get to know things like Sylenth and Nexus, I hear presets everyday when I turn on Digitally Imported Radio. Even top pros use them. Are you better than them? IF I play a sweet guitar solo in the middle of a song with Eric Clapton’s guitar, is that cutting a corner using HIS guitar. It is MY music. When you are writing music and arranging, you can’t just stop and spend 2 hours building a lead synth or bass sound. I write with a Logic EXS24 piano, then when I get my notes down, and after I’ve developed all my rhythm section, I’ll shop presets to see what sounds good. Now, sometimes the preset is so bathed in effects it is unrecognizable, or the preset itself inspires me to make something similar or gives me an idea that I would have not otherwise had. MAKE MAKING MUSIC THE FOCUS! Trying to emulate one of your favorite tunes is a great idea. Because this will take you down a path you could have never imagined and halfway through you will have your own song, sounding nothing like the one you began making.

    • edgek8d

      Another trick I like to use as a decent amateur: If you come across a preset you like on one soft synth, look carefully at everything and try to recreate it in another soft synth. This is how I’ve learned a bit about synthesis and modulation

  • Robert Wulfman

    #6 Never post your stuff in the comment section of anything

    • Awesomer

      Right on man! Check out my stuff and let me know what you think!!!

      !!! AWESOMER !!!
      PS – The above comment is parody.

  • Sonlet

    Awesome article.

  • trprkpr

    i think people are saying the same thing about sound design even though it seems like there is some disagreement. Thinking of sound design a little more generally, if you’re using a sound (whether its a preset, sample, etc) and really altering or customizing it, i consider that to be using original sounds similarly to making your own synth patch from its raw default sound. Even if you use a bass patch preset pitched up as an ambient bell sound (just an example) that would be still be very different from using a massive wobble bass preset as the main element in your track. So ultimately i think its more how you use your sounds, the source is less important. At the same time many factory synth presets are not very useful, they are more just cool sound design exercises so endlessly scrolling through them isn’t really efficient as learning to make sounds you want yourself.


    When auditioning your sounds or tracks , if it makes you feel good … you’re on the right path !!!

  • Adam Arthur

    Some really great points here.. and as the definitive line between DJs and Producers is becoming more and more faint the need for knowledge is key. I am probably coming from the opposite end of the spectrum from most readers, being a producer for many years and now through necessity learning to DJ in order to perform (as the performance artist seems to be dying in the world of EDM), However, I like all producers old and new I have hit the same and other pitfalls.

    I agree with the “Less is More” concept, this is a constant struggle, especially with loop-based DAW’s its very easy to get “used” to your song. What was fresh, and exciting the first 200 times it looped, now sounds old and boring and you feel the need to add more to spice it up again when in reality if someone heard that original loop they would be excited just like you were. Same thing goes for the overall song, when you’ve listened to it for the 500th time to make sure it flows well and sounds as close as possible to the latest hot track its easy to get almost sick of it and its hard to resist the urge to go back and add to it or even redo it all. My best suggestion to this pitfall is to 1.) Don’t get stuck focusing on just one project, I like to keep 3-4 projects going at all times and switch between them frequently to keep the ideas fresh. 2.) Take breaks in general. We all have our deadlines but taking regular breaks keeps the track fresh to you. 3.) Don’t let yourself listen to your track more than necessary. Many times I will burn a WIP (Work in Progress) track to CD to listen to in the car, then bring it in to work, then listen on the way home and by the time I get back to producing I’m just tired of it and the only way it seems it can get better is with (more cowbell) adding more to it.

    The loudness pitfall is obviously a big one, especially with so many ready-made all-in-one mastering plugins now such as Izotopes OZone (which also ties into the preset argument) It’s easy to assume the best course of action is to throw your mastering plugin on the master channel and find the loudest preset available. However, in defense of the starting out producer there is very little clarity out there in this regard. I’ve watched hundreds of YouTube videos of producers dishing out what they think is the right way to do things, or giving extremely vague or misleading answers. I’ve been able to piece together what I know from all that I’ve read and watched but I’d be curious to know from the forum readers if they have any go to videos, books, articles, etc. that helped them find their sound. A couple books I would suggest is The Secrets of House Music Production from SampleMagic and Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio by Mike Senior. I know not all producers are looking to write house music, but the first book has a lot of general information for all genres and many tutorials on building synths, samples etc. in various plugins.Another great source for production information is the magazine Computer Music which not only has tutorials, but also artist interviews, plug in reviews and all magazines come with a DVD with samples and usually a light version of a featured plugin.

    As far as presets go, I go both ways, I think first off there are some great presets out there, however, when I do use a preset I try to use the more obscure sounds and not the cliche Modern Talking presets in Massive or the generic trance leads from Vanguard, or the Eric Prydz lead from Nexus. The are a ton of great presets out there that can add just the right sound to your mix and the web is also full (free and pay) of preset packs that might old just the sound your looking for. With that said, I do believe there is something special about producers creating their own sounds, and in some cases these self-made presets have set artists apart from the pack and left many scratching their heads how they created it. Another thing to keep in mind in regards to custom presets is that much of a custom preset doesn’t start and end with the plugin. Much of a original sound is a combination of handful of processes and effects. Such as Kill the Noise’ signature talking bass wouldn’t be possible with a synth plug-in alone and there is even a possibility that such a type of sound could be created using presets within each plugin in the chain (just a thought).

    In regards to points 4 and 5 in the article I’ll just say this. Music is an art, but in that same token people have made great careers performing other peoples music. As a producer you have to ask yourself if the point of getting into producing is to make music that matches what is currently hot right now and then move onto the next genre when it becomes popular, or are you in it to try to push yourself and the musical boundaries to create something unique and fresh? This question will definitely guide you in your musical career path.

  • Hmmm, I’m not sure about the whole presets thing. I use them from time to time, for one reason only – to get the arrangement finished.

    Often I’ll spend hours on a patch, and this will be in the middle of a song. I typically use presets just so I can get a rough sounding arrangement done and then I’ll re-do all the patches at the end. Why? Because it helps me be creative, it stops writer’s block. And I also don’t have a problem with leaving a preset in there if it works well…

    I know this is a cliché, but it’s the end products that count, really. If something sounds good, it sounds good. Plus – one single synth patch is not going to make your work unoriginal, I’m sorry but I completely disagree with that.

    Just my two cents!

  • Silas

    I even would go so far as to disagree with the “I sound like (favorite producer)..” mimicking is an incredibly constructive way to learn about music writing. Hunter S thompson, the famous american journalist started out literally rewriting his favorite books word for word. He rewrote classics like the Great Gatsby in an attempt to find out for himself how Fitzgerald used words the way he did. I personally have developed a production style of my own, through copying and experimenting in turn.

    • jay

      What people seem to forget is that there is no such thing as actual originality. Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy and if you take a bunch of copies and combine them together, it seems as if it creates something original but everything has to start somewhere. It’s just how humans work. Mother and father combine together and create a new baby, etc. I don’t really know how to correctly explain it but hopefully you get my point.

  • Robert Wulfman

    You forgot number 1. You don’t need tutorials, It’s better to learn from experience. That’s how everyone did it back in the day and they turned out fine. Just jump in and do it, eventually you’ll get better at it as long as you keep finishing tracks. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, it never will be.

  • schwa

    Louder is better, you just have to do it right. Dropping Sausage Fattener on your mix is bad. No headroom is bad. But, the human ear perceives louder as better, so you should learn the balance between balls-to-the-wall clipping loud and the good kind of loud.

    • Aria Stock Loc

      Yes, louder is better but only if the listener increases the volume on their computer. A track that’s inherently loud sounds horrible when played at lower volumes. SF is good if only used on a single drum on your whole track. Use it on anything more than that and it’ll sound horrible.

  • Brett Handersohn

    +1 on #5! Great article. I wonder if there would be a “market” for tutorials on music composition or youtube-films that try to capture the creative process? It’s all tech tech tech in most tutorials.

  • Robert

    I’ve tried relentlessly to find the interview with one of my favorite producers but I can’t find it at this moment (I think it was a Madeon interview).

    The tough thing for a lot of people (that was also mentioned in the DJTT Lucky Date) interview is that people want to be original, but it’s tough to learn without emulating.

    While you have to go for your own style, don’t forget that sometimes it’s okay to be cliché or for your chords to resolve predictably. Clichés are clichés for a reason.

    • Nick Perloff

      Definitely – and there’s nothing wrong with emulating, either, but you should treat the work that you do that emulates other artists as practice, not the final product. I think where a lot of producers lose their way is when they stop practicing “sound designing like producer x” and just start trying to be the producer they’re emulating.

      • Robert

        Agreed. Knowing how to write a chord progression is 10X more valuable than knowing how to manipulate synth settings.
        I’ll take a well written tune, using preset instruments that’s written well with a “Grand Piano” setting for the leads over something that has an amazing synth sound but isn’t a well developed melody or chord progression.

  • lol, Lern how to Master

  • JackEL
    • truth


  • Tarekith

    Great article!

  • Devon

    I’m sorry but i have a problem with number 2….A brick wall limiter is litterly all you need to make a track loud. If it isnt loud with that then you need to spend time working on your mixdown as this is what makes a track sound loud or good…not mastering. Hell tommytrash/zedd litterly just use a limiter on there masters (cant find source its on there twitters) for there early stuff

    In before people take my comment as me nocking the mastering process…not saying that a good master wont make your track pop even more but every mastering engineer in the world will tell you that a shit mix will make a shit master

    • Nick Perloff

      I don’t think what you’re saying is in opposition to my point in the article: bad in results in bad out. But there are a lot of producers who just half-heartedly do a mixdown and then slap a brickwall on it and marvel at how loud it is.
      About the “all you need to make a track loud” part, while it’s true that a limiter is pretty much the factor in the mastering chain that’s going to add loudness, multiband compression, maximization, RMS monitoring, a touch of param EQ’ing and sometimes even a touch of hi-passed mastering reverb are all tools in the mastering tech’s arsenal to make a track feel and sound “club-ready.” Hopefully they’re not just slapping a limiter on the track – we pay them for a whole lot more!

      • Devon

        maybe i wasnt phrasing what i was saying wrong. Your not wrong and i’m not going against anything in the article but i just feel like so many people are going to read this and feel ok that there track is quiet.

        The point i was trying to make with the latter part was more that, yes mastering engineers do alot and can pull off magic sometimes with a lot of techniques, but if your track doesn’t sound good with just a limiter odds are it wont sound good with more.

        I’m more saying that alot of people underestimate exactly how important a mixdown is…sorry if im not coming across right haha

  • Mad Zach

    I disagree with the presets thing… I think one of the most liberating skills to hone as a beginner producer is to learn how to make your own patches. Nothing is more boring than another person using the same massive patch… make your own tone! Its a bit like learning scales so you can actually understand how to solo vs. adding a pre-recorded solo to your song garageband style

    • Nick Perloff

      It’s definitely important when beginning to grasp the fundamentals of sound design; it really comes in handy when you’re trying to experiment and make some new and interesting sonic material. Nonetheless, it’s probably true that most producers are way too fixated on generating 100% of their own material, where preset sounds might be better – for example, it’s crazy laborious to try and generate a decent sounding piano with subtractive synthesis, whereas just grabbing a piano preset will do the job 95% of the time. I guess it’s all about moderation!

    • Nick Perloff

      It’s definitely important when beginning to grasp the fundamentals of sound design; it really comes in handy when you’re trying to experiment and make some new and interesting sonic material. Nonetheless, it’s probably true that most producers are way too fixated on generating 100% of their own material, where preset sounds might be better – for example, it’s crazy laborious to try and generate a decent sounding piano with subtractive synthesis, whereas just grabbing a piano preset will do the job 95% of the time. I guess it’s all about moderation!

      • Mad Zach

        actually piano and other “real instrument” patches are where I would agree with you, but then I’d usually use a multi-sampler :p good tips though!

        • b

          But tweaking presets can also lead to new it then still a preset? Just like you can radically change samples.
          I like to do both, tweak presets and create my own sounds.
          If you are getting what your after, it really does not matter what you use.

          • Yea I always encourage messing around with presets. Load ’em up and mess with all the knobs to see what does what, and how the contribute to the overall sound. Plus when you mess it up beyond recognition just re-select that same preset and you have it back to keep picking it apart

          • MisterNoMoreNiceguy

            This is what i tend to do! I am not particular good at sound design, something i may have some education in the future, but for now i most of the times just use pre mades and then i just twist them up!

    • The Loud Hawk

      Ofc man… I think one of the biggest mistakes beginners make is think they’re capable of doing something new. It takes years, doesn’t matter if you’re autistic, it takes a lot of time to go through your presets and vsts and to learn how to master a track. Most important thing about producing is consistency… make a LOT of music, even if you don’t like it, don’t make it public but make more and more, until you can make something decent, listen to your works in progress and leave them on hold, get back when you’re ready. Test EVERYTHING, fail, and then attempt not to do it again… it eventually becomes very liberating to get used to the creative process. It becomes addicting to produce, it’s fun and sometimes physically exhausting even more than mentally.

      • Rahul

        Absolutely true bro..i gone through all these things what you said..

        • The Loud Hawk

          i am not bro i am sis

          • ?SmartSynths l Free beats??

            @The Loud Hawk Damn, you spoke some real stuff! Gotta keep going at it.

      • Simplly_Addy

        Very very true buddy.I do that gets mentally one point you stagnate without knowing what to do next but the key is having and listening to a wide variety of genres and letting them all influence you to a point you can come out of that shell

        • James Harries


      • Babs B

        Yes, I like that man…test everything and produce consistently…or in my case constantly!!! They say practice make perfect…

        • The Loud Hawk

          I am not man i am a lady

      • Gordon Bennett

        Let’s hear your shit then sis – where is it?

      • Kris Clark

        This is exactly what I do just keep pushing out project after project regardless of the outcome 😀

      • Evgnbz

        this! im a beginner too and there is alot to learn about synths, presets are good representation of the resulting sound .

      • AntoxaGray

        Yo man I agree, that’s what I was thinking too.

    • Michael Medina

      Absolutely nothing wrong with using presets and I find that mixing sounds from different genres definitely adds uniqueness as well. I use them all the time and at the end, it’s what works best and sounds good to you. I’m more for using organic sounds (violins, orchestra instruments, etc) so there’s really no need for me to make anything out of scratch but I still have all the respect for the people that do. There are NO RULES in music 🙂

    • Coda

      Presets are like teachers. They start you on the path, and if you break them down you learn something. But if you limit yourself to all the grime sounds in Massive you’re going to be hurting in a world where its tough to differentiate your sound as it is. Good list. The most important to me is the Less > More. Don’t get too trigger happy people.

      • Mad Zach

        I think they’re more like an iPhone that gives you an immediate answer without the background of how to make your own conclusions, it could be a teacher, or an inhibitor depending on the user

        • eddietheperson

          Presets are great for getting ideas out, and for getting down a good bit of the music you are creating. We all know when we lay a track down we say ‘gotta change that synth’, but if you had to create a new patch for each track, at least for me, the idea would be gone before I got the fresh idea into some form. I agree, if you use all presets, your track is going to sound like what a preset is… something that has already been done/created. But also, I mean, none of us wrote the code to our daw, or help the engineers develop our computers/workstations, or our midi controllers and what not. So really, we are all using presets no matter what. It is how you use the tools we are given/create, not what your using. I have been working with computers for a long time now so I’m interested in, and am always trying to come up with new sounds, but there are a lot of people that don’t have the technical background. These people can still create masterpieces, and do it every day, learn the rules, then break them 😉

    • jlad00

      If you’re using an actual physical piano or a guitar, one could argue you’re using a preset (the only one) for that instrument. No one bitches about that…

      • Mad Zach

        but then there’s playing style, guitar type, tunings, string type. Plus a real instrument somehow can go so much further than a preset patch (of course depending on the patch)

        • LoopCat

          I guess you can change the parameters of the pre-set so it’s kind of like having a different guitar, stomp box etc.

          I think allot of the limitations on software and analogue synths is the way they are usually played with keys. Like you said a real instrument seems to go a lot further.. I think that is mostly due to the way its is played using keys or just mouse clicked.
          Keys are great for playing a across a large pitch range but strings on a guitar/bass can be allot more expressive and random.

          I don’t know if it’s possible to rig my guitar up to some of these soft synth engines but it’s something I would love to get into.

        • AntoxaGray

          But people dont use same 1 preset either. There are 50000000 different presets in different synths.

    • Aria Stock Loc

      Ah but that’s from a producer standpoint, not a musician. I’m both and I heavily modify presets so that they’re unrecognizable by others. I believe the most important thing about a track is its musical composition. Could a 4 year old write the song, or could only a skilled musician of Mozart-level write the track?

      • AVRANTES

        Mozart wrote music as a 4 year old…

        • Aria Stock Loc

          So did I but just like Mozart’s work as a 4 year old, they were simple tunes. He didn’t develop his musical ear until after thousands of hours of pracitse.

    • D3RKIN

      You can tweak your sounds and I will put out tracks! So much time is spend tweaking things rather than time spent on the track as a whole is a problem. I believe in a simplest form of producing, I add one new element every new track I make. If i spent all day tweaking sounds I would not have anything to show for it and you wouldn’t either. keep it simple and finish some tracks, the programs are so complex most of the time you will never know every aspect about a daw. I don’t know everything about the program I use but it also didn’t stop me from hitting Traxsource’s top 20. I’m not putting down the way you make tracks just think if you are starting keep it simple, and always keep learning.

      • Mad Zach

        At first, it might be a bit laborious, but I promise if you master the skills, it does not hold you back creatively because you truly understand how to make sounds. For example it is much faster to drum up the perfect bassline or pad than to sort through hundreds of presets.

    • genjutsushi

      I couldnt disagree more with you Zach – the essence of what ‘production’ is about is music. You can create amazing tunes with limited resources. Obsessing on the detail of a synth patch (as pointed out in the text) is a distraction from writing music. ALthough i agree – you should learn synthesis, just as Djs really should learn beatmatching to gain a better appreciation of rhythm.

      • Mad Zach

        I agree obsessing is never good, but a synth expert doesn’t need to obsess over a patch to make something original, it often times takes less time than sifting through hundreds of lame presets!

        • true there are like 1.000.000 massive patches out there and most of them are not that good 🙂

          • calgarc

            Massive never wowed me… If anything I use it with other plugins when doing sound design.

        • calgarc

          I have 2 signature sounds I created, from a mixture of presets, live instruments and my own patch. When I need a specific sound, I know exactly what patches to use the effects, eqs the works.

          Its good to save instrument racks of specific soubds you created.

      • biscuit

        Agree totally. Original sounds & patches only take the music so far. The best tracks are those with the best timing, rhythm and sequence of events – they tempt and tease in just the right way and at just the right times, and do it differently from the other famous guys out there

    • Dylan Anthony

      The first thing i did was spend a year learning how to program a synth before i really started to produce on a serious level. You have to keep in mind that presets are an awesome way to learn how to program a synth. It is vital to study presets. It is vital to learn at least 1 synth. I advocate zebra 2 for a first synth. NEVER give your self boundaries!!! If you get the sound your looking for go with that. There is a reason the 909 kick is still used in a ton of track today. Thats because its sound awesome!! If it fits what you need do it. Also presets may give you a starting place for you to build off of. Pick one with a basic timbre your looking for and change the filters and envelopes, add a log to something to create a whole new sound.

    • Anonymous

      personally there is nothing wrong with using presets 😀 now with me i do create my own presets and even program my own vst’s. but sound design is far more important the weather you use presets or not.

      i can take a preset from masive, but when combined with other presets and or instruments you can get that unique tone. for instance when i add some chilled guitarish leads to my tracks its almost always a combination of real guitar, some piano and plucked presets all grouped together with master fx to unify them as 1 sound

    • Mister36

      One person’s preset is another person’s sound design masterpiece…

      (Not that I’m pro-preset and/or anti-design, just that there’s nothing wrong with using presets if they’re used well and sound design on that level is not everyone’s cup of tea.)

    • Eric Des Marais

      Dude, that is like saying a guitarist should build a new guitar for every track. Sound design is not necessary to writing awesome music. Learning harmonic theory and how to orchestrate is much more useful to a beginner.

    • Anthony Gomulka

      I agree with you. When I started I considered using presets as “cheating” so I painfully learned how to design my own sounds. After I while I realized this really wasn’t the case, but I don’t regret having this mind set during my earlier years.

    • Tommy Boy

      Not everybody has to be an guru sound engineer. Some just want to make beats and music, like myself.

    • I use lots of presets, but for any given part I layer a few patches in parallel, apply lots of nasty filters/distortions in parallel, and often glitching and etc. So in the end it really sounds nothing like the presets it’s built from. Is that still a preset cop-out? IMO, no.

    • calgarc

      I use presets all the time.. I layer sounds to get the sound I want. preset or not it makes no difference to me. But I have also so programmed my own vst plugins and made hardware.

      Learning how to make patches is perfect for learning synthesis, and I do reccomend it too. 🙂

    • Tom Spander

      I kind of disagree. The thing is, it’s definitely necessary to understand what you’re doing. But nobody needs to create a sound from scratch every time they put in a new layer into a song. Sometimes I find a preset that sounds close to what I want, I look up what the preset consists of and change the things that I don’t yet like. Other times I create my own patches that I can use later. But making someone start from scratch all the time is too much imho

    • Dot Kom

      Besides, learning to make your owns sounds also lets you tweek and edit any presets to your own desire…. also gets you away from sounding like every other generic ass artist, especially if you automate and experiment, which will really get you some unique sounds.

    • So, you start from the ground up (INI) to eventually have a sound that sounds like one of the presets = wasted an hour (if not more) that you could’ve spent doing other stuff. 😀
      I don’t disagree with you though! (i’m kinda in the middle i’d say). I like presets as a foundation. Looking how that sound is created (filters, OSC’s, envelopes….) is a plus.
      a VST like Massive is rather exhausting with micro “menudiving”. So i like to start from a sound/preset that i like and manipulating that further and with some outside effects layers on top of that….so to that i say “nothing wrong with presets”. And especially because i paid for them! : ) But again, i like to tweak presets anyway.

    • Nobody

      Do you need to grow and process your own harvested food to be a (good) cook?

    • AntoxaGray

      Presets are good, because you would never in your life got idea to use Env1 for PadX, and Env2 for Env1 attack curve, and then 10 more other weird stuff in performance matrix.

      Besides that, nothing prevents you fron modifying preset if you dont like something about it. First need to learn of course what each parameter does.

  • Ryan

    Ok 1: “There’s perhaps nothing more infuriating in the world of production than lovingly mixing down a track, spending hours tweaking every knob, every parameter, automating down to the second, and then referencing it to a professional club track and watching your smile sink slowly as your track is absolutely pummeled by the thump of its professional counterpart.” Truer words have never been spoken.

    2: “An easy way to use presets and samples without losing the integrity of a track is to mix genres that traditionally aren’t related….” Great advice.

  • Anonymous

    I can’t thank you enough for talking about loudness. I wish this loud trend had never started. If you listen to some music from the 80s and 90s, there is so much room to breathe and yes it sounds quiet by comparison. Yet today too much music, even more traditional styles, are loud as hell and can sound bloody lifeless at times. Sadly, we will never go back to normalcy.

    • Jermz

      Music has been geting louder for a while…

      • Anonymous

        Yes I am well read on the “loudness wars.”

    • Nick Perloff

      It’s definitely been a problem for a while, but with the advent of DAWs that are pretty much accessible to anyone with a macbook and an internet connection, there are more producers now than ever that have very little knowledge when it comes to mixdown, and as a result the average loudness of tracks has definitely skyrocketed!

      • Yea… it’s been happening longer than the DAW rising. If memory serves you should be able to trace back around the time of dynamic processors.

  • Haven’t we all (including DJ’s) lusted over getting the new hardware and software/plugins?
    Many have a vast collection of stuff but there is that one that you always go back to and it’s almost always the most simplistic one.

  • Anonymous

    #2 can happen without you even realizing it, I used to throw distortion plugins on every channel when I first started because it made it sound ‘better’ when actually it was just louder…

  • Nice article, think i fell foul to all of these and many more. But as they say a expert is defined by making ever mistake possible.

  • Mr Strongg

    #3 and #4 were my favorites when i was new haha!

  • vermilion

    Good advice here, I’d be surprised if any producer just starting out hasn’t fallen foul of one if not all of those. Number 5 was definitely the one that got me, obsessed over technique for so long that it started to get me down. Forgot the number one reason you start doing this is to _make music_

    • David De Garie-Lamanque

      agreed…i have been feeling this way for a while…need to get inspiration again! a good way to do it for me is to listen to prog rock or metal, since it’s so outside the confines of electronic music conventions

  • anonymous-verybeginnerproducer

    im a very beginner producer and i didn’t understand the idea of synth presets. are they synth sounds, or a combination of a few tweaked synth features that makes a new sound (cutoff, fx, ADSR, LFO …)?

    • DJ Rob Ticho,Club mU

      They are pre programmed settings in the synthesizer which yield particular sounds. Example a “plucky bass guitar” preset will result in the settings programmed to sound like a plucky bass. This includes all the cuttoff, fx, ADSR, LFO, etc. Sometimes the presets are a great starting point to program a general sound and then you can manipulate the settings from there to get something more unique.

  • and by me i mean you

    great article, so simple but so effective