Sometimes it seems as if producing music is a big secret. There are hundreds upon thousands of little tricks that can completely change the way that audio is processed. This is why these production secrets have become a necessity to the way that I produce music.
Often times, the best tricks are so subtle that the listener doesn’t even realize they are happening. Personally, I think this is super cool. So I’ve compiled a list of 5 production secrets that you need to know if you are going to be producing music.
5 Production Secrets You Need To Know
1. Subtle Sidechaining.
Typical sidechaining is anything but subtle. To sidechain a track, place a compressor on the channel and link it to the signal from a different track. Most often, the second track is the kick drum. When the kick hits, the audio level of the first track will drop drastically so that the kick can peek through, creating a pulsing effect.
Additionally, you can apply this to vocals as well! If you are having trouble hearing your lead line in the full mix, sidechaining is one solution. Sidechain melodic and chordal instruments to the lead vocal/instrument track. This will duck the volume on everything when the lead comes in, helping it to pop through the mix on denser passages.
This is not the only way to solve the problem of a muddy mix. Another way is to carve out space in the EQ on melodic instruments in order to hear the lead line in those frequencies better. If you want to better know how to do this, I suggest checking out this post.
Tip: Sidechaining is also commonly used in film when dialogue is being played over music
2. Double Kicks.
The kick can often get lost in the mix among everything else. Here’s one great solution to this:
If you are using an acoustic drum set, take your kick audio and convert the audio to a midi track. There are different ways to do this in different DAWS, but it is easiest in Ableton, Logic, and can also be done in Pro Tools.
Having an additional kick track with electronic drums allows you to pull in entirely different types of sounds to mix with your kick drum. The most common is to grab a solid 808 kick to give your drums more power.
If using electronic drums, create 2 tracks for your kick (you can also send your kick to 2 aux busses). EQ one to have a strong attack, and EQ the other to have a deep low frequency ring. This will increase the punch in your kick without increasing the level, and allow you to mix how much attack vs. low end you want to hear. This technique is used commonly in trap, hip-hop, and pop music.
It’s also a good idea to through a HP filter on all other synths/guitars/vocals in order to remove any muddiness that may be happening in the low end. I suggest doing this first, and then reverting to the double kick option if this is not enough!
3. HP/LP Shaping.
These days, it is standard to drop the beat in the styles of pop, EDM, techno, trap, hip hop, etc. But for being such a common stylistic effect, it is one of the more difficult effects to create. Have you ever wondered just how producers accomplish this? One of the keys to making an effective drop is to increase the dynamic range. And one of the sneakiest ways to create the illusion of this is through highpass and lowpass shaping.
First, apply an EQ to ALL of your tracks. Then turn on the highpass and lowpass filters. About two measures before the drop, automate a slow sweep up the frequency range on the highpass filter. Do this on all of the tracks at a steady rate (sometimes with exception to the lead vocal/instrument), then two beats before the drop, increase the sweep dramatically.
This will allow the drop to explode out of the gate, bringing back all those low frequencies that were slowly taken away while the listener didn’t even realize it.
You can also automate the lowpass to do the opposite of this on introductions or instrumental passages. There are several pop songs that have been making use of this effect.
Aliens. That’s what a vocoder sounds like. So why would you want to use this in your standard song?
A vocoder takes the shape of all the words sung by your talent, allowing it to mimic the vocal line exactly, which can have a very nice effect on your song. Adding a vocoder beneath your lead vocal can add a kind of support that no other instrument can.
Plus, all the cool kids are doing it.
5. Double Tracking.
I would consider double tracking to be one of the most underrated production secrets out there. Doubled tracks can be found on EVERY major hit song, and yet is less talked-about than reverb or compression.
Record multiple takes of your guitar/singer/violin/etc. (I suggest always capturing AT LEAST 3 good takes when recording), then pan two of the tracks hard left and hard right. This is a great way to both spatialize your song, and get the background music out of the way so that the lead vocal/instrument can be front and center, without any competing musical lines.
Note: It is important to make sure you are using DIFFERENT takes. If you use the same take and pan it left/right, it will simply sum itself again to the center, removing the spatial effect and just making it louder.