It's the worst feeling when you play a track and it just doesn't sound how you want it to, or it doesn't get the response you want. To spot these amateur mistakes before embarassing yourself infront of a crowd or your friends we've written about the top 10 signs your electronic music is amateur.
1. Volume Levels
The usual problem with mixing is to do with the levels. Nothing sounds clear or loud enough and there is no balance in the track. So, you reach for the volume or gain knob, but now you've just made everything clip and sound atrocious.
So now you turn down the levels and it sounds too quiet!
How do you fix this annoying problem?!?!?!
In order to fix this, you need to learn about compression, limiting and learn how to mix music properly.
Compression reduces the dynamic range of your clips (reduces the loudest and quietest parts of your audio, making it sound more consistent). Using it properly allows you to control your dynamics and prevent clipping, giving the sound a louder, bigger feel, but preventing distortion.
The most common use of compression for loudness is limiting. Limiting is used in mastering a lot, but you can also use it in mixing to get extra loudness. You can additionally make sounds thicker using glue compression and clipping.
Learn how to use these tools, they will help you massively!
If used properly, compression reduces the variations between one audio channel’s highest and lowest gain levels throughout the track, which allows you to turn the volume up without clipping.
2. Muddy sounding instruments
If you have too many frequencies clashing with each other, they are all fighting for space in a mix and as a result, nothing has a clear space to be heard in. This creates a washy, muddy, inconsistent mix, where everything sounds just not right.
Frequencies overlap all the time and many instruments hold the same spectrum as each other. So, to avoid this, you need to learn how to use EQ, sidechain and dynamic resonance suppression tools such as Soothe to carve out space for each instrument.
For instance, (in a very simple example), if you have two instruments both taking up the same spectrum, you want to choose the highs from one, and the lows from the other.
This is very simple and there's a lot more to it than that, but this is the basic concept.
Sometimes you want both instruments to sit in the same range. In these instances, you can use tools like dynamic EQ and resonance suppressors to keep the same character, but duck one out of the way of the other so they don't make a horrible blend of muddy mess.
3. Too many presets
A lot of producers will tell you to use more presets or use pre-made loops for your productions to help with inspiration and that there's no shame in doing so. This is true, however, if you don't add any creative flair it can leave your tracks sounding lifeless and dull.
Using preset packs, for anything can lead to static, amateur-sounding tracks that sound like everything else on the market.
How does this happen?
Well presets are made to sound full, amazing and professional so that you'll purchase them. However, if not mixed correctly, many presets will clash with each other resulting in a muddy mix.
Additionally preset MIDI files and samples can sound quite static unless you are chopping, changing and adding your own effects to them. The idea is to use them for inspiration to build upon.
If you have a cool loop, you can build an entire melody around it, using your own creativity. Don't just chuck the loop, unprocessed in there.
I'm all for using loops when creating music and they are a great tool that shouldn't be dismissed, just make sure to add your own creative juices in there and make something different with them.
Change the pitch, reverse them, add processing, re-sample them and add your own unique melodies around them.
The best way to avoid falling into the “i sound like everyone else” trap is to create your own preset chains, MIDIs and use those chains to take those loops and mess around with them to birth entirely new sounds.
You'll have a lot more fun doing it and you'll get greater satisfaction from your craft.
4. Cheap reverb!
If you can't afford high end reverbs, free reverbs can do the job well, but they won't sound as good. In this case, you don't want to use much reverb because it can wash out a mix and make it sound artificial.
Understanding whether you've done reverb right is easy. Just take the average listener, get them to listen to your track, and turn the reverb on and off. If they can detect that the reverb was taken away, but can't detect that you've put it back in, you've set your reverb correctly.
If you want real-sounding reverb, try to grab a high-end algorithmic reverb or convolution reverb. Convolution reverb is best for re-creating real spaces, but algorithmic possibilities are endless and generally better for electronic sound design.
5. Sounding like you've used MIDI
You will hear this stick out like a sore thumb. Using MIDI that has no variation or rhythm is a telltale sign of an amateur track.
When you quantize everything to 1/16th or 1/8th, we can hear it, and it doesn't sound good – even in electronic dance music. You need groove in your music, especially in your drums, so you must add swing, velocity variation, and more to sound professional.
If your music sounds like it's come directly from a computer, then you need to alter some settings in your DAW and add some human flair in there.
6. Low volume and poor mastering
Many people leave mixing and mastering to a professional, but those who don't have to learn it well, and have a very well-designed acoustic space, or often, they will sound amateur.
Most bedroom producers attempt to master in headphones, using tools like Waves, iZotope, and more. And, although it is possible to get decent sounding masters in headphones, you need to be a professional to do so and you really need to know your gear.
Although digital plugins are able to help you improve spectral balance and loudness, they can never match the skill and prowess of purchasing a seasoned mixing and mastering engineer.
They have the benefit of having extremely expensive studios, a lot of industry experience and a set of ears that have been trained over many years.
A lot of people don't have the money for mastering, and that's fair enough – it's quite expensive. However, online mastering is becoming pretty decent and is usually a better alternative than attempting it on your own if you're a beginner.
That shouldn't stop you from learning on the sidelines while you release tracks though!
7. Poor drum structure and timing
I remember in University there was a kid who always used to show his beats to the class and they were horribly out of time, but after countless recommendations, he try quantize, he just wouldn't do it because it would “lose all the charm and character maaan”.
Don't fall for this mistake. If you are not a trained musician, or can't get things to sound in time, use quantize.
You can add swing in later or nudge your drums around to make them sound more natural.
If you really want the human touch, learn how to MIDI drum. It's not that hard to learn, all it takes is practice. Load up some instrumental tracks on youtube with the BPMs, get your drum rack open, and play along with your beat pad.
The more you practice the better you will be at adding that beautiful human rhythm that's not as possible with a computer.
Try quantizing everything at around the 80-90% mark. This will move things on the grid, but also leave some of that human error in, giving more of a groove to your tracks.
Make sure to play around with swing, nudge notes using your arrow keys and mess around until it sounds in-time and loose.
8. Using too many loops
Using too many loops is a huge problem in electronic music. If you're making something like House, Happy Hardcore or Techno, then it's fair game, but even these genres have a lot of room for variation.
A trick is to always add a variation in every 8-16 bars. It could be a different effect, a different drum sound, a new synth line, maybe a new melody or some filtering, but make sure you add and take away over time to create tension and movement.
A lot of this can be done using effects and modulation. So, if you learn your synths and effects, some of this doesn't have to be entirely musical in the sense of being a musician.
However, variation and surprise are what set apart the most incredible, hair-standing creations, from the dull, boring, “i can predict what's going to happen” tracks.
9. Over EQ'ing and Compressing Audio
EQ and compression are the most important tools for creating space and sculpting your track's soundscape.
EQ stands for Equalization and is pretty easy to use, but you should learn how to use it to make sure you aren't just randomly adding things for the sake of it.
I was there in the beginning, turning random knobs to pretend like I was doing something, all the while I was creating a horrible mixing mess for later that I wouldn't be able to recover from.
A good way to avoid over EQ'ing and using it incorrectly is to use spectral analysis to see what you're doing visually to your audio. You can also use metering plugins to check other things like phase, volume, and more.
The idea is to train your ears over time so that you can hear what you're doing and you know what frequencies need affecting and what frequencies don't.
Always use your ears over tools. Professionals have developed an amazing ear for sound and know exactly what needs to be changed in order to get a pro sound – work toward this.
A lot of people misunderstand compression at the start of producing too. Please mess around with these tools and listen with A/B tests to see what they actually do. Don't just crank the makeup gain and think you're doing wonders to your signal. You need to use compression for a reason.
What is that reason?
Are you adding it for grit? Thickness? Colour? Character? Warmth?
To avoid overusing compression, look at compressor settings for each instrument. Do not follow these as the holy grail, but start with your compression there and listen to how it affects things.
10. Abusing Autotune
Autotune is great for correcting a singer's pitch, but you should not overuse it or use it as a crutch to not learn how to sing. Free autotune tools allow you to naturally correct an already good signer's voice but using them to correct a poor, out-of-tune, underpowered signing voice will not do a lot.
Unless you're going for that signature style, do not use autotune for this.
Autotune should be used as a tool for subtle pitch correction so that you can get the best emotional performance out of a signer. For instance, there might be an incredible amount of raw emotion in a take, but a few flat notes – use autotune to level these out.
You can also use autotune for particular styles and sound design, but overuse will lead to static, artifact-ridden vocals which sound floppy and awful.
With over 8 years of hands-on experience in the music industry, Harry has run successful raves, played alongside industry heavyweights such as Max Chapman, DJ EZ, DJ Zinc and more (pictured below), had music played on national radio, DJ'd on live radio, produced until he hated every song, mixed until his ears bled, created sample packs from scratch using just a Zoom H1n and some sound design skills… and pretty much anything related to music production – he's done it, tested it, tried it.