Q&A Most asked questions
Q: How to make a kick?
Its all about listening, tweaking, resampling, layering and a lot of experimentation. There are many ways, most common are running the source sound trough busses, mainly distortion & equalizers and resampling. Start with the Source sound – 909 Kick sample from Drumazon by D16 – Basic 909 Kick designed inside any synthesizer for ex. Hydra, Microtonic, NI FM8, Sylenth.1 – Tuned to F or F#,G,G# – Because it’s better to pitch up your kick, and you get better end results. Use Tuner plugin to know the key.
Q: What to use for kicks? Any Tips?
Equalizer – to cut or boost frequencies, there is no right settings, with using eq, you can shape the sound to make your own. Clip Distortion inside Logic Pro – set mix to full or 10-20% to avoid phase issues Phase Distortion inside Logic Pro – Great for Reverse Bass Kick Stereo spread inside Logic Pro – once you have some basic distorted sound try to put it between distortion plugins, and play with the settings Trash2 by iZotope – Great Distortion with many options. WaveShaper – It’s distortion plugin, download free plugin WaveShaper by MeldaProductions Waveform Analyzer – to check the waveform, download free plugin S(M)exoscope by Smartelectronix Invert the Phase – In Ableton Live use Utility plugin. This can make huge difference when layering. Sampling – Remember any part you hear you can sample and use it for layering
Q: Hardstyle Kicks more crunchy character how to get that sound?
The easiest way is to you use Clip Distortion from Logic Pro. Boost around 500hz before or after first distortion plugin. use filter automation before distortion, in the middle of the chain, from like 600hz to 200hz but first you need to get basic distorted sound and then try to experiment. Lets say you are making a kick, and there are parts of the sound you like but the lowend isn’t what you want and is out of place, you can bounce this sound and cut it up, filter out lows and use as a layer, and then add separate lowend, punch, tok, remember everything you hear you can bounce it to audio and use as layer.
Q: How to create punch for my kicks?
For punch you can use drum machines, synthesizers, drum samples Tok – Snare, you can use distortion, saturation to really get loud sound Punch – Distorted 909 Drum & Bass samples for Lowend/Thump, Because they cut trough nicely in 100hz area, make sure to cut high frequencies.
Q: How to make a Kick play melody? How to pitch a Kick?
First you need to separate Attack from the tail, we gonna pitch only tail, if you do it on whole kick, it will lose its impact/punch. There is no one solution, some might work better than others, it’s all about pitch algorithm. You can try Adobe Audition – use stretch and pitch algorithm and export each note. You can also pitch a kick using Kontakt, import your sample and turn on tracking option, set Mode to time machine 2 and set Grain Size to large, to achieve the best results you need to adjust stretch/speed settings, and bounce each note to audio.
Q: When I play higher notes of the kick, it change its volume, how to fix that?
When sound designing make sure your lowend is straight/tight, use waveform analyzer to check that. To get constant volume you can add Limiter and then change the Celling until you see gain reduction but its better to fix that in sounddesign.
Q: Using Compressor on a kick for mixing?
Using Compressor on whole kick doesn’t make sense, because we shape dynamics in sounddesign stage. You can use Sidechain on Tail and use Punch to trigger it, it works better on these types of distorted kicks than single compressor.
Q: Reverb on kicks?
Any reverb can do the work, let’s say you use Valhalla Room, to create a Hall Kick make a bus and then automate the send of your kick. Add equalizer to filter out the lowend. Use kick as trigger for side chain. If you want to create “room” for your kick to “sit in” you can try to add convolution inside Trash2, it creates nice effect on kicks instead of just dry sound.
Q: Kick Fx, Fills how to do this?
Distorted 909, synthesizers with pitch envelope, FM synthesis, filter before distortion to create movement, reverb, delays, autopan, bounce samples, cut it up, reverse sample, use fades to create fills. You can import it to Sampler for further editing.
Q: Good drum samples?
Almost every sample pack has drum samples, if you want to get good clean source sounds, get drum machine like Drumazon, Microtonic, Hydra, XLN Addictive Drums, FXpansion BFD ect.
It all depends on which sounds you choose and your taste, there is no right way, only you know what you like. Study other mixes as a guide. Basic mix down can look like this for ex. Set kick around -9dB and the rest of the elements gonna be mixed around the kick Lead -11dB Claps snares -16dB Atmospheric sounds FX -18dB
Q: Compression, what is it?
Compressors helps us control dynamics, you don’t want the sound to move up and down in the volume in the mix. Thats why we use compression to even out the signal. There are many Compressors available on the market but most of them have similar settings. Limiters are also Compressors but with fixed ratio, attack settings, in basic Compressors we can change Attack, Release, Knee, Ratio, Threshold, Make Up Gain To understand compression more, Try this as exercise, import Drum Loop, add Two Waveform Analyzers and Compressor in-between to the track, In Compressor change Attack, Release and Threshold to the lowest value, Ratio to the highest. Now play the sound, and adjust Attack first, Release second, then Ratio, and Threshold. Listen what it does and check the Waveform. Browse through presets. TIP: To avoid over compressing make sure to set proper release time, so it goes back to zero on Gain Reduction meter.
Q: How to use EQ?
When we use equalizer we basically boost and remove frequencies to create space in the mix. Most common techniques – Boosting and cutting fighting frequencies, for example boosting 500Hz on Kick and cutting 500Hz on Lead – Mid/Side Eq, Mono/Stereo for example Removing any stereo signal below 200Hz, – Removing unnecessary frequencies using LowCuts and HighCuts, remove frequencies below 30hz and 18-20kHz, we can’t hear them and they take up headroom, especially if you use synthesizers and do sound design. You can remove any frequencies below fundamental of instrument, make a low-cut or high cut and adjust frequency knob until you can hear change in the sound, back up a little and leave it. – Removing resonant frequencies, use Bell Filter, set Resonance and Gain to high level, now using Frequency knob you can can for resonant frequencies, you will basically hear annoying sound, but make sure you don’t cut too much as this can make it sound lifeless, most of the time you gonna use this for LowMid and Mid frequencies in the mix.
Q: How to use reference tracks inside Ableton Live?
It’s simple, create separate audio track, then set the output to External Output, now this track won’t be affected by master chain. Set the volume of reference so it matches your track. TIP: Another handy plugin is Magic AB where you can import multiple reference tracks.
Q: How to get more “tight” “quality” sound?
If you are using samples make sure they are high quality and aren’t heavily processed The same goes to plugins. The best way is to bounce your synthesizer sounds to audio, why? Because the initial sound is done so to speak, you get less latency, and don’t get lost in endless tweaking. You need to train yourself to know when the sound is ready. To get high quality sound you need to work in audio, this is really good for mixing because we can see our sounds instead of just midi. You would be surprised but many professional producers, use the same plugins as you but they know their stuff inside out, how to use it and when. Learn how the plugins work.
Q: How do I know when the sound is ready?
When you are satisfied with it. You can also use other tracks or sample packs as reference.
Q: Work in audio? What if I don’t know what pattern/melody my synths gonna play?
Thats why in Ableton Live we have option to save the midi clips/music loops even with whole fx chain. You can also freeze tracks, and when you really need to change something, you can always go back and tweak things. For example in Studio One when you save a musicloop, it saves audio too, thats really handy.
Q: How to make my Mixes more Full?
Source Sounds and Layering are the most important thing. And you need to think in layers. Making buses, and processing sounds together. For ex make buses for. Kicks Leads FX sounds Atmosphere/Pads Its common practice to use Filter on master bus to monitor separate frequencies, In Ableton Live you can use MultibandDynamics plugin to do this easily, use Solo button for each band Lowend, Mid, Highend, make sure Dynamic Processing is turned off.
Q: I heard about glueing sounds together, what it means?
It basically means you put the same effect on multiple sounds, for ex busing, adding reverb, compression, distortion.
Q: What about compression on master bus?
It might work for percussive music like rock/pop/other edm genres. Having single compressor on master for Hardstyle doesn’t make any sense because we are working with high RMS heavy distorted/ almost no dynamic sounds. All the sounds are mixed around the kick which is basically not dynamic, and looks more like 808/wall of bass. Maybe multi band compression might work on a bus, for ex. Lead, Vocals. Most edm producers do stem mixing/mastering and focus more on mix buses these days.
Q: How to beef up my signal?
Limiters can add some loudness Saturation, distortion can add nice harmonics, but don’t overdo it Try this, pick any sound, add saturation plugin, set drive to +5dB and output to -5dB, set soft clip on, check the meters, now the signal sounds similar but it’s peaking less, you reduced dynamics. Basically when we use limiters, compression, distortion, saturation or induce clipping etc… any process that reduces the dynamic range of a sound we will get an increase in perceived volume.
Q: Ok SoundDesign is the most important thing, I get it. but how do I get better at it?
The easiest way to get better at sound design, is to make few copies of the sound/synth and then play around with the effects/settings and then bounce the sounds to audio, think like you own hardware, bounce things to audio, separate your main projects from experimentation projects. For example create project and name it Leads, use synthesizers, equalizers, reverbs, distortion, compressors, everything you need. If you heard some kick ass Lead and want to emulate that, create an audio track and call it Examples or Reference. Now you can play around with the synthesizers and effects without creating a mess inside your main project. The same goes for every other element for ex. Kick, Screeches, FX, Drums, Snares etc.
Q: How to get better at synthesis?
The best way is to make two copies of synthesizer, And try to recreate the patch/preset. Know your synthesizer inside out, When you know one synthesizer really well, it’s gonna be easier to learn others. I would highly recommend you to pick two Serum by Xfer and Spire by Reveal Sound, master them both and you can make any sound you want.
Q: When I add reverb to my Leads it gets muddy quickly, how to solve that?
Play around with pre delay and decay setting Use gate plugin on reverb and make ghost track, to trigger gate Use sidechain, and then use the original lead signal to duck the reverb Cut frequencies below around 300hz. Add midside Eq and then make a cut around 500hz in the mid, now we made some space for the lead in the middle, but we still got reverb on the sides.
Q: How to layer leads?
Make one layer that’s gonna be your main lead, it should be clean and tight, then think of how you can enhance that lead, fill out the space/gaps making it bigger. That’s just basic, it depends on what you want to achieve, what you can also do is to make each layer play different notes of the chord. For example: Main lead playing one note melody, short, tight, High lead, or pluck to give more attack to the main lead Third layer detuned with less attack, longer release, more reverb, playing chords in the back, Fourth layer to make it wider with chorus Sine wave layer playing root notes of the chord, to have base.
Q: How to add punch to my lead?
To add attack to the lead, add envelope to modulate the volume or pitch. Use something as pluck or synth with filter envelope.
Q: Lead Bus/Group Fx
It depends on what you want to achieve, you can put reverb on the Lead bus to affect all layers equally, but sometimes you want more control, so what you can do is to make a separate buses for reverb and delay, and then send the output to your Lead bus, now if you want less reverb or delay on your main lead you can do that easily.
Q: How to make my leads cleaner, tighter?
Use less voices when detuning, try to modulate pitch with LFO Make one layer really tight, and then add more detuned layers with less attack to support it, play chords, in the background. You can also “replace the high end” of your lead with something more tight, like single saw mixed with noise, and make a lowcut. If you use distortion inside synthesizer, make sure you put high cut filter, to remove harsh frequencies.
Q: How to make my Leads “wider”?
It all starts in the Synthesizer, with paning, layering. The other way is to add Chorus layer, if you add stereo enhancers they can really destroy the sound.
Q: Where can I get Vocals & Voices for my tracks?
There are few ways If you have ideas for lyrics, you can hire a vocalist, just search online, listen to demos on website, if you like something, contact them and ask for prices. Sampling speech from movies, video games etc. You can hire people doing Voiceovers. Most of them have their own high end gear at home studio. If you want to remix a song, look for Acappelas and Studio Stems online. Make sure they are .wav files If you want to use Cinematic Choirs you can find them in Sound Libraries made for Kontakt
Q: How to make Vocals more “stereo” “full”?
First start with good vocal samples Then duplicate the tracks twice, and just start using pitch shifting and panning like you do in leads, use delay in tracks to create Haas Effect, pan one vocal to the right then second to the left, change one layer, send it to the group, use compression. iZotope Nectar is really good plugin, it has everything inside you need to process your vocals, gate, delay, reverb, eq, harmonizer, it’s good for electronic music, make sure your source sound is good, and you can get some kickass Vocals.
Q: What fx can I use on vocals?
Nectar by iZotope – Full package for vocals Distortion/Saturation to make vocal sound cleaner or to add color, but don’t overdo it Compression to control dynamics of the vocal Reverb to create space Delay to add echo Chorus – To make it more wider
Q: Vocal Fx, how to make these?
To make FX you can use anything, Reverb, Vocal Transformer, Pitch Shifting, Effectrix, Distortion, Tornado by Sugarbytes, Resampling, further editing using samplers like Kontakt or inside Ableton Live.
Q: Mixing Vocal during Qlimax?
You can use sidechain compression on lead and use vocal as source to duck a lead as it plays, because vocal is more dynamic, the lead will play around it, make sure to not overdo it. Its better to play a vocal in break or build up.
Q: My tracks sound bad does mixing gonna make it sound good?
No, if you got bad quality sounds in the beginning, you will end up with bad mix. It’s all about the source sounds and sounddesign.
Q: My mix sounds bad does mastering gonna make my mix sound better?
No, I know mastering can sound like god send, but it isn’t.
Q: I can’t find any good mixing/mastering tutorials, any tips?
Improve your sounddesigning skills, learn the techniques and experiment, there is no one way, rule, plugin that does all the work because every track needs different processing.
Q: Should I buy studio monitors? Does it gonna improve my production?
If you are just starting its not necessary. If you got pc speakers already, then invest in good studio headphones. If you kinda know what you are doing, buy studio monitors. But don’t rely too much on one reference, play your own stuff on earbuds, PA, hifi & car speakers etc.
Q: I tried to use reference tracks but they are too loud, that makes it difficult to judge my own mixes, any tips?
That’s because they are mastered. I recommend you to first match Loudness of the reference track to yours. Use free plugin called TT Dynamic Range Meter. To get loud master it all starts with good sounds and the mix. At the end producers use EQ, Harmonic Exciters, Clippers, Saturation and Limiters ect. to make it louder and match other tracks.
Q: Cinematic Sounds, Other Instruments, Choirs and Sound Effects, where can i get them?
Most producers use sound libraries for Kontakt by Native Instruments, Omnisphere, and famous Nexus by ReFx, Vengeance sample packs etc.
Q: I want to add cinematic & other instruments to create atmosphere in my tracks, any tips?
Start writing that part first, then it’s gonna get easier to write main melody/lead. For example most professional producers use acoustic instruments like piano, strings etc. to lay down basic ideas.
WORKFLOW TIPS FOR ANY GENRE
Q: I don’t know how to start, any tips?
Start from the end, write the name of the track first and that will spark the ideas, you will know the key of the track, what type of sounds you gonna use, create a folder and then put every sound/preset you think might work for this track. Most producers don’t start from the blank page they have always something to work from.
Q: How to progress faster? How to get better?
To get further and progress you need to finish tunes, otherwise you will get stuck in “perfectionism” Music production is never done, there is always room for improvement, you need to accept this, if you are just starting don’t require Yourself to be great. It’s all about creating good habits, build sounds, make tracks and learn, recycle good stuff for later use. The only reason you think you aren’t making any progress is because you compare your music to that of “professionals” all the time. Reference tracks are good, but you can’t other think that, it’s a different track, different sound design, it’s polished/mastered. They are good to give you some kind of idea where you need to go. The other thing It’s really helpful to know what type of mixes you enjoy. Study other mixes. Don’t worry you always make improvements, just listen to tracks you made 2 months ago, year ago, 2 years ago. I bet if you do that, you will see huge improvement, if you have nothing done, there is no material you can compare to, so you don’t know where you are lacking and what needs improvement. That’s why you need to finish your tracks.
Q: How to not get stuck? Any workflow tips?
The main reason we get stuck is because we have the ability to do everything at once. This is basically multitasking. Back in the days, bands used to hire different engineers to record, mix, master music. It’s hard to separate music production stages because we can do them all at once and they can easily overlap. But doing this gives us the ability to experiment and study the “technical” side of music production. Get to know the tools/plugins we use, read manuals, watch tutorials. If you still get stuck, try this workflow as exercise. It doesn’t mean you need to do this all the time from now on, but it’s gonna help you progress and create your own sounds. First you need to collect material, bounce things to audio, if you found some presets, save it prepare everything in advance. It’s not new, just look at other professional producers, that’s how they do it, they create whole palette of sounds to work from. Good examples of this are Bass Music producers, like Noisia, Spor, Pendulum, Mefjus etc.
You can separate music production in Four following stages.
Making your instruments, collecting your material, making sample pack for your track. Back in the days, producers used hardware & synthesizers, and they didn’t have luxury to go back and forth and edit sounds constantly, or browse presets, instead they had to record it. I think that’s the main reason people get stuck nowdays, they have too much choice, and can’t make decisions. It doesn’t mean you need to create every sound, but your main elements should be done and ready, it’s ok to preview your sounds together when sound designing, but make sure you don’t go further, if you have ideas for melody, try to make lots of variations of that melody and save the project or clip, what I like about DAWS like Ableton Live, Studio One & Logic Pro is that we have option to save the midi clips/music loops with instrument and whole fx chain, this is very handy for this workflow.
Recording/Saving Loops & Midi Clips
Just think of this as playing your instruments and making loops, patterns, melodies, saving midi clips. If you bought sample packs, you can see they are separate it in different sections. Drum Loops, Synth Hits, Fx, Licks, Riffs, Synth Loops. Try to organize your sounds the same way.
In Ableton Live you can easily lay down your ideas in session view, where you can lunch your midi & audio clips fast, you can start there with the core of your track, forget about automation first get this done, if you think you got something, drag or record the clips to arrangement session. now you can start to go deeper into automation, making edits, create more sounds if needed. Making rough mix as you go is good, like setting levels, making low cuts, but further mixing shouldn’t be your main focus. You want to get arrangement done, not waste hours on mixing.
Mixing & Mastering
Mixing – Now after all the arrangement is done, you got whole track, now you can go deeper into mixing, try different things to make it glue together, use EQ to make space in the mix, making things pop more, you need to have really good sounds to begin with, if they work we’ll together you get a better mix down, and then final master. In electronic music the ability to develop your ideas and sounddesign skills are very important, if you get this nailed, the mix and mastering doesn’t need to be top notch. Mastering – In electronic music it’s very common to bounce stems, and then do what it’s called stem mastering, it’s actually mixing & mastering together, it’s really handy because, you have all these separate elements, if you need to fix a problem, or want to add “color” to the mix, you can always go back and do that, therefore you get better master. Loudness is not in mastering, is all about the mix and source sounds. For electronic dance music you can separate stems into groups for ex. 1. Kick 2. Sub 3. Bassline 4. Synths 5. Vocals 6. Snares/claps 7. All other percussion 8. Sound Effects
More about Stem Mastering & Mixing
Stem mixing/mastering services are great for producers and engineers who mix their own projects but want fresh ears after spending many days or weeks on a project. Rappers or singers who buy beats & instrumentals, and only have access to the stereo instrumental file and their vocals. For example in hiphop industry some producers, just make arrangement, record vocals, no mix down whatsoever, bounce stems and then send it to mixing/mastering engineer, and he does it all for them. If you plan to release your music and want a second ear, check this out, but make sure they do it for Electronic Dance Music.
Separate mixdowns/ mastering for one track
Good examples are anthems where they use orchestra/cinematic sounds. Hardstyle music is really loud, distorted, high rms, the “drop” of the hardstyle needs different mastering/compression. To make whole track sound good it’s common practice to make seperate master/mixdown of let’s say more dynamic section in your track, like cinematic music, and then glue them together, this is common practice in stem mixing/mastering.
Q: I have watched mixing & mastering tutorials, but they are mainly for rock, pop music, do you got any recommendations for edm music?
One guy that comes to my mind is Luca Pretolesi, he is mixing & mastering engineer that mainly focuses on electronic dance music. Check him out.
Q: Do I need to go to school to produce better music?
No, you can find any technical information you need online, The Audio Schools are overpriced these days, buy gear or a course online instead. To get fundamental knowledge I recommend you to read a book about music production, or take a course. Learn the music software you use, inside out this will help a lot.
Q: Any plugins recommendations?
Just a few that are popular in the music scene.
Q: Which VST synthesizers are good?
Spire by Reveal Sound
Serum by Xfer
Sylenth.1 by LennarDigital
Dune2 by Synapse Audio
Zebra by U-he
Massive by Native Instruments
FM8 by Native Instruments
Diva by U-he
RAW by Rob Papen many RAW Hardstyle Producers use this one.
Q: Which distortion plugins are good to use?
Clip distortion inside Logic Pro
Phase Distortion inside Logic Pro S
aturn by FabFilter
PSP Vintage Warmer 2
CamelPhat 3 by Camel Audio
Filterbank by tone2
Devastator by D16
Trash 2 by iZotope
Q: Mixing & Mastering Plugins?
Inflator by Sonnox – It works similar to saturation and limiter, but it isn’t, works nice on buses and master
Pro L by FabFilter – Limiter
Pro Q by FabFilter – Equalizer with Mid/Side option
Pro MB by FabFilter – Multiband Compressor
Ozone by iZotope – Mastering Suite
Neutron by iZotope – Mixing plugin
Insight by iZotope – Analyzer
PSP Vintage Warmer 2 – It’s saturation plugin Clipper plugins check it online what it does
S(M)exoscope by Smartelectronix – Waveform analyzer
Q: Which Reverb plugins are good?
Valhalla Room – Very light CPU usage
2CAudio Aether – One of the best reverbs for sound design and fx
Space Designer inside Logic Pro
Convolution Reverbs – High Quality but very CPU intensive
Lexicon Reverbs mainly LexHall
Q: Which “special fx” plugins are good?
Stutter Edit by iZotope
Effectrix by Sugar Bytes
Tornado by Sugar Bytes
MTotalBundle by Melda Productions – They have free bundle version, it has lots of plugins
Remember, you can also get some nice fx using audio editing features of your DAW
Q: Which Filter plugins are good?
Wow by Sugar Bytes
Volcano2 by FabFilter Filterbank by Tone2
Q: What Analyzer Plugins are good?
S(M)exoscope by Smartelectronix – Waveform analyzer
Span by Voxengo – Free Spectrum Analyzer
Magic AB by Sample Magic – Great plugin to AB mixes, sounds etc.
Insight by iZotope – Advanced Multi Analyzer
TT Dynamic Range Meter
CurveEQ by Voxengo – You can save EQ curves. Good for sounddesign, reference
MMultiAnalyzer by Melda Productions – Multi track spectrum, loudness, stereo analyzer and sonogram.
Stereo Tool by Flux – Free plugin
I hope this information was helpful to you, enjoy what you do, be curious and you will see progress, Best Regards!