Production tips to wrap the year

This year is almost over and I wanted to thank everyone I worked with for trusting my services to give their music an added edge. I think it’s the first year I can feel that I’m finally surfing the waves that took a while to get together, but now things are flowing.

This goes for our Facebook group as well. Many people shared with me that the blog with the group has helped them get more music done. That’s the goal: to make you overcome any obstacles you might face in production. The more agile you become, the easier it will be to express yourself through music.

One of the most discussed topics has been the creative process. If you’ve browsed my site, you probably know I do mentoring and consultation. Discussing how to approach making music has been fascinating people, mostly because it’s not really explained anywhere. Most of tutorials you can find online explain techniques you can use, but it’s rare and hard to explain more broadly how to make a song, how to handle all the sessions you make to finish a song, and how not to lose your sanity between them.

I thought I’d make you a reference list of the topics I wrote about this year so you can come back to it if you’re feeling lost:

  1. Try to make music as often as you can, mostly daily, even for 5 minutes. That can be practicing a technique, testing a preset, recording new sounds.
  2. If you tend to buy more stuff than you play with it, then stop buying for a while. My rule is that I allow myself to buy/get some new toy only after I started on to multiple songs with the last one I got.
  3. When you listen to a song, try to see what’s grabbing your attention first and also, through the song. Is a specific sound? the melody? Arrangements? This will give you a direction for when you make your next song as what will be the central point of it.
  4. It will be very rare that you’ll sit for a session and finish a song all at once. Most of the best songs you’ll do will be the result of multiple sessions.
  5. Remixing is easier than producing mostly because you already have material that you have to use, which is why using pre-made samples can be a way to ease your flow to start with.
  6. Are you aware of limitations you are imposing yourself when making music? What are the “oh no I can’t do this” thoughts you have? Try to break them once in a while.
  7. When I make new ideas, I sometimes play a DJ set from Youtube and will “jam” over that in Ableton. This means I will play sounds and make melodies and because I’m jamming over something I like, I’m sure it will fit a similar direction/genre. I got this tip from working with jazz artists who love to have something happening to play along.
  8. When you don’t have much time to make music or are not feeling very inspired, or have writer’s block, try to see if you can work on preparing material for future sessions. Inspiration always comes back and when it does, make sure to have all the tools on hand.
  9. Successful and flowing music sessions happen when you think less and make it easy on yourself.
  10. Most of the inspiring sessions will come when you explore for something. Trying to replicate a sound is a great starting point but don’t focus on the the result, but more on what you’re about to create out of the exploration.
  11. In my process, I like to create Ableton Projects that are filled with ideas, sounds, recordings, etc. I try to have about 10 projects that I feed on a regular basis until I open one, play with some sounds and spot something that makes me nod, then I know I have to work on this.
  12. The first thing I try to do with a song is find the core idea, that I call the hook, the motif. Think of this as what will people remember of this song. If they describe the song to a friend, how would they describe it? Usually people will talk of the motif, which can be a pattern, a melody, or a memorable sound.
  13. The hook is usually not fully disclosed at the beginning of the song but more towards the first 1/3 of it. Take your hook and put it later in the song and then deconstruct it from the beginning to there.
  14. A song has a hook with 2 supporting ideas to keep people interested. Try adding to complementary ideas to your main idea.
  15. Split your song in 3-4 sections such as: beginning, main idea, breakdown, end. Try to have at least one important twist in each of them.
  16. Each song benefit from having at least one Easter Egg. When a song has a little special twist, idea, surprise, it makes it unique. You can also try to hide your Easter Egg so it takes multiple listen to hear it. People feel very excited when they hear something that only they have heard.
  17. It’s better to have too much material for a song and discard some as you go, than not having enough and feeling your song is empty.
  18. Sometimes a song feels unfinished until you decide to do a mixdown.
  19. When I start working on a song, I usually just want to create a draft from it. See it as someone who writes a script for a movie, he will create a timeline with the main ideas but won’t focus on the details.
  20. If you haven’t made a timeline and have been spending half an hour on fixing you kick or a specific sound, you’ve been distracted from the essential task of song making.
  21. Macro arrangements mean that you switch your arranger’s fixed grid to “8 bars”, in order to focus on the bigger ideas of your song instead of focusing on the little details.
  22. Use colors for your channels, make certain colors for certain sounds such as all metallic sounds in grey. Having color codes is useful to pick up a song that’s been left behind.
  23. Use groups for all families of sounds. Ex. all percussion, all melodies, etc.
  24. Focus on working on a loop that gets you groovin’; that will be your starting point to make your song. This loop is actually the middle part of your song, not the beginning. Bring it in the arranger, in the middle part then deconstruct it from the beginning.
  25. Import a reference track in your arrangement window to give you an idea of how long your song could be, where to put breakdowns, etc. Many people are stuck with loops and don’t know where to go from there. If you start by using a reference, you’ll have a template more or less that you can later discard and have your own thing going.
  26. When I work on finding the timeline of my song, I will use stock loops of percussion to have a mood board of how the song will be. There’s nothing wrong in grabbing pre-made ideas to give yourself of the direction you want to take. You always can come and change them later when you know what you want exactly.
  27. Kick design is the last thing I do. When I am doing the mixdown, this is usually when I know what type of kick I really need to make this song solid. So often, when I work with clients, we change the kick then and the song feels so fresh.
  28. I usually want my sounds and main idea to evolve a few times through the song. This can be either with how they’re programmed, use of effect, etc.
  29. If you can’t reproduce a specific effect or sound, try to find a preset of a synth that is as close as what you aim for and see how it is programmed. Once you understand how the sound is made, try to reproduce it with other synths, tools.
  30. If you are completely blocked by something technical, stop trying and do a search on Youtube to see how it’s made. Stop wasting your time if you can’t, there is no cheating when it comes to learning. You are doing this for yourself after all.
  31. Sometimes you’ll fall in love with specific tools, effect, sounds, etc. Try to then invest into getting the best of that thing. For instance, I fell in love with reverbs and have been collecting so many plugins since. I watched so many reviews and read about it.
  32. When I start working on a song, I want to make the timeline pretty fast, so I like to visually arrange my blocks without listening and will not work on this more than 20 minutes. I want something raw that I can come back later and see if I was on the right path.
  33. Knowing if your idea/song is solid is one of the most difficult things to understand. But basically, the more you space out your sessions, the more detachment you’ll have and you’ll be able to judge it better.
  34. I like to work on multiple songs at once so I can go from one to another in rotation, to see what works or not in each of them.
  35. When you’re doing sound design or creating new ideas, never censor yourself or stop yourself from anything. Brainstorms have one rule: there are no rules.
  36. Once I have my timeline 80% done, then work on the percussion progression and other sound to support the story-line.
  37. I prefer not worrying about the mixing until the arrangements are at least 80% done.
  38. The use of effects are part of sound design but the cosmetic effects as reverb/delay, I prefer to use them once most of my story-line is made.
  39. Have your sounds talk to each other, either as in “call/answer” or “let me say” modes. “Call/answer” is when one sound appears and another answer to that (or echo back) like the kick-hihat relation. “Let me say” is when sounds alternate between each other or repeat themselves (ex. claps changing to snares).
  40. Work your song by looping 1x 32 at a time and adjust everything in there seems right as is.
  41. When I work on arrangements, I take breaks almost every 10 minutes where I stop for 20-30 seconds.
  42. When I do mixing, I take breaks as often as possible.
  43. Have you noticed how many “great ideas” you have when you’re not making music? This means, in the middle of making a song, force yourself to get up and leave for a few minutes. This action will bring ideas and insight to what you’re working on.
  44. If you’re not sure about your song, keep in mind that you can make as many versions as you want out of it.
  45. All unused sounds of a project can be used for another song.
  46. When you go from one song to another as you work, if you notice that for instance, the bass of track X would be better in track Y, then swap them.
  47. After each session, I suggest you export where you left off and then import that into the next song you’re working on. This will also be helpful to not always have the same structures, intro, patterns.
  48. Don’t delete any projects no matter how much you think they suck! Everything can be recycled!
  49. Try to collaborate as much as possible. Team up with people to who you can bring something to them instead of seeing how this person can bring you something.
  50. Whenever you feel uncomfortable or think that what you do sucks, remember that this has nothing to do with the song but from yourself. You might be tired or have overheard your song. Take a pause for a few days and work on other things.

If you made it until the end, you found an Easter Egg and can download a Max patch I used in my live sets called “Sparta” below. It will bring modulation to your sounds!

[download id=”36345″]

SEE ALSO : Tips for getting your music heard

Setting up your mix bus

In this post I’ll offer some tips on setting up a mix bus for use in your projects; but first we should clarify what a mix bus actually does. I often see confusion about the definition of a mix bus (not to be confused with the amazing DAW Mixbus by Harrison) and how a mix bus works.  If you’ve been trained in audio engineering, you’re likely to be familiar with the term. I’ve seen some memes where engineers are mocking people that aren’t using a mix bus, but in reality I can tell you that some of the best mixes I’ve heard were made by people that were still learning. So let’s clarify a few things and hopefully some of these tricks will be helpful.

What is a mix bus?

Let’s keep it simple, it’s the last channel you’ll use on your DAW where all channels/groups/sends/AUX will point. In Ableton Live, many people will use the Master channel as their mix bus; it’s where all your elements mix in the end.

Is there another way to use the master channel?

Yes, there is. While you don’t absolutely need to do it that way, it’s good to know how. it might enhance your workflow as you’ll use the master channel simply for deciding at what output you want to bounce your music (ex. -6dB).

The how-to.

 One thing I’ve discovered while following mixing classes with other mentors is they use a channel they’ll call the mix bus and will route their signal to that channel in the end. That one will then go to the master.

All channels -> Mix bus -> Master

One of the advantages you will benefit from is better control of your workflow, easy A/B comparisons with other tracks, and to see how your final mix is really turning out. So if you put your effects on the master, move them to your mixbus and leave the master empty. However, I like to use a utility plugin there for sometimes adjusting the gain, for instance.,

Some people will want to do mastering directly in their project and will put mastering plugins on the master channel, but I really insist that you should not do that. Treat mastering as a different process that should be done on its own and by someone other than yourself (assuming you want the best possible result).

Now, apart from the technical routing, let’s discuss how to optimize your use of the mix/master channel.

  • Keep your mix bus light. I find that you gain better results by flexing your creative muscles on each channels individually than trying to fix it all in the end. The more control you have over your sounds, the more detail you’ll have in general, but keep in mind that if you have too much to fix on your mix bus, you’ll also be affecting other channels that might be just fine.
  • Don’t compress too much. You’ll lose on your dynamic range if you compress the signal too much. If you’re lacking gain in the end, you have two options: first would be to go on each channel and gain stage there first, or if you compress on the mix bus, do it in parallel.
  • Use your reference. So many people mix blindly that once in a club, they’ll see they’re completely off in their efforts. Check some tools down this page or import a reference directly in the arrangements.
  • Avoid presets from do-it-all plugins! This is something I see a lot with people dropping Ozone and selecting a preset, then export. If you’re going to do that, please check the compression ratio, levels, gain reduction and attack/release. Those can really mess up your song and that will be a total loss once in mastering. The better mix I get, the better master I can give you. When I compress, I’ll try to keep my gain reduction under 3dB, with a slow attack and fast release.
  • Use shelving EQ for tonal balance. As seen in one of my previous posts, the shelving EQs are excellent for you to decide what tone your song will have and quickly readjust the low end or highs.
  • No limiter on your mix bus. Keep your signal clean.

Some plugins I always use on my mix bus:

Reference by Master the mix: Perfect to see if I’m on the right path by easily compare it with a reference.

FabFilter Pro-Q 3: The newest version is absolutely amazing! It offers dynamic corrections which is perfect for subtle touches and control.

Voxengo Marquis compressor: for smooth gluing.

SEE ALSO : Production tips to wrap the year

Is sampling wrong?

Sampling in electronic music involves two main types: using another person’s idea (e.g. using a harpist’s melody for your deep techno song, or sampling electronic music that isn’t yours) and using prefabricated samples for making your song.

As time goes on, I read and hear about more and more debates regarding sampling in electronic music. I refer to electronic music because in other spheres, such as trap or hip hop, the debate is non-existent. We all know it’s a matter of culture derived from how producers have approached their art.

You might ask yourself, “are there more benefits from making all my sounds by myself? Will I get more recognition that way?”

It’s hard to answer this question, but I’ll try to debunk the source of that question to help clarify a few things.

Firstly, the world of electronic music really started in the late 80’s with a DIY mentality. Back then, electronic music was not really well-known, and producers had a hard time getting support from traditional media and distributors; they had to do everything themselves. The same thing goes for their equipment. Equipment was extremely expensive and not easy to find, so many artists would work with whatever they could get their hands on. Then came a huge rise in popularity in the electronic music world, and by the 90s, it had its own culture. DIY was the established way to do things; everyone was contributing in one way or another. Making everything yourself – a form of being independent – had been rooted in the culture of electronic music. One of the big differences between that era and now is that back then, many producers were obsessed with making the most original music possible. Going out to an event was all about hearing new songs you’d never heard before that would make you dance; you were also aware you might never hear those songs again.

Secondly, with growing access to technology, it became essential to showcase your skills as a one-man-band. I’m not sure if if this was an ego thing, or more of a way of overcoming this tour-de-force, but while it can be impressive, it can also be counter-productive. There was no electronic music school out there until around 2005, where some appeared online. Prior to that, people that wanted to make electronic music had to be learning everything themselves.

Thirdly, as access to technology increased, as did the possibility to get pretty much anything you want via the internet, a certain snobbery amongst producers developed. Some people are able to do certain things a certain way, and will pass on a very clear message that if you don’t do things in their way, you’re doing it wrong. I think this approach – which I see a lot – has put many people in a defensive mode as well as made them less likely to share their work.

That said, sampling has always created polemics. You often hear a pop artist sampling others then getting into lawsuits as a result. In the underground scene, there are similar stories (such as Raresh sampling Thomas Brinkmann without understanding what consequences would ensue). There were multiple occasions where people would sample a part of a record that was released 10-15 years ago and make a song out of it. It would piss people off, mostly because it goes against two concepts:

  1. The person who sampled failed to be original and took the work of someone’s hard work to pass it off as their own.
  2. It’s a “violation” of the culture norms of music making, which have been in place for decades.

Is there a way to use sampling “correctly”?

Well, yes, there is a way. Sampling is not frowned upon in hip hop and, it’s also okay elsewhere too. However, there are rules to respect. When I launched my sub-label Climat in 2012, I wanted to use it to find artists that were talented, had beautiful content, and that once put into a groovy context, would make something new and refreshing. I was looking for music on obscure sites then tried to make music with it. Whatever samples I would keep, I would take the time to contact the artist, explain the concept and ask for their permission. Honestly, this is the least you can do and you should absolutely do it. Imagine if someone were to sample your work; I think you’d want to know. Plus, who knows, it can be the beginning of future collaborations.

How can I make use of samples from someone else’s work?

Contact the original artist, ask them if there are conditions associated with using their work, and then promote them too when you release something.

Is using samples a bad thing?

Many people feel ashamed to use samples. They think if they’re going to have an 808 kick, they need to buy a drum machine to make it. There is also a shame one feels when using presets which don’t feel original. Indeed, they aren’t, but you’re missing the point if that’s the only thing you consider.

When I make music and hit the studio, I want to be productive. I use samples to make a structure, a groove, to complement my idea, so that things come together faster. I’m not using samples as my final form. If I need a breakbeat, I don’t want to lose time trying to program the best beat possible. I’ll take a pre-made loop so I have a target of what I imagine it to be in my mind. As I work on the track, I’ll chop the loop, rearrange it, and swap the sounds out with something I’ll design myself.

Your main enemy in music making is your own mind getting distracted with things it thinks are important.

When you make a new song, you need to have a core idea. However, you can take inspiration from many things including samples. Gather them all in your project, analyze them, sample, process, and create. Don’t leave things so unchanged that could easily recognize a sample as being unoriginal. See your project as if you were a painter gathering images from magazines to use as guidelines.

Honestly, samples are the best way to get out of your routine. I’ve never understood people who were super stubborn about making everything themselves, just to end up sounding like every other song out there anyways. if you venture in genres that aren’t yours, you’ll get new ideas for sure.

Tip: I find that using layering multiple samples is a great way to make new sounds. For example, you can make your tiny clap sound fat if you combine it with a tom.

Your best companions in processing samples are just a few plugins away. With all the technology available, it’s silly not to use them:

Fabfilter Pro-Q3: Amazing GUI and pristine sound. This is a must to fix your samples into another, original way.

Mangledverb : This is a reverb for intense sound design. It can really bring alive some parts of your samples.

Discord 4 by Audio Damage: For subtle to extreme changes.

Shaperbox: The ultimate tool to recycle any sound into altered material.

Crystalizer: Great for granular synthesis and shaping sound.

SEE ALSO :  Setting up your mix bus  

Getting feedback on your music

This is a more a personal, editorial blog post about music feedback which I’ve been wanting to write for a while now. All year – mainly through our community we are building on Facebook – people have been posting their tracks to receive feedback and validation about their work. It can be intimidating to share something in the group and to have people comment on it. I can relate, as I don’t really share music publicly unless it’s been signed, or if I feel I have something strong to share. Soon I’ll share some details with you about group coaching, which I’ve been testing over the last month and will help people to receive more feedback. That said, one of the things that strikes me most is that many people feel a bit lost when seeking feedback or validation about their music.

In art, the need for validation is huge, and given the state of music nowadays, we have very few places to receive valuable feedback. People try and try to make music and can get lost in it, sometimes losing sight of their main motivation that drew them to making music in the first place.

If someone asked me, “where do you get feedback?”, I wouldn’t really have an easy answer. But in general, I can describe where many people find constructive feedback about their music.

From established artists

PRO: Other artists are probably the most reliable source for good feedback. If the artist finds the time to listen and you like what he/she does, then the returned feedback is pretty solid. The great thing is that if an artist likes it, then your music could end up in a DJ set, podcast or his collection. Other artists usually have nothing to gain from you except a possible friendship if they like you and your music, so the chances that they’re true to their word are good.

CON: Getting an artist’s full attention. Giving too much credibility to an artist can distract you from your initial path.

Difficulty level: Hard. Artists are often in demand, contacted by random people who try to charm them to ask something in return

Online magazines

PRO: If you make a podcast and an online magazine or blog would like to publish it, it can indeed be great validation that you’re on the right path. If you get reviews for an EP/LP, it also exposes you to many people who visit the site which brings attention, with hopefully some good words.

CON: Some of the bigger magazine give reviews if you bought advertisement with them. Often I see people who write reviews who aren’t musicians themselves, and get blown away by very simplistic music, while brushing off music that might be more complex. Sadly, I feel many writers have lost the credibility they once had as a result of their interest in money.

Difficulty level: Extremely difficult, and potentially biased. If you buy advertisement to a site, they usually will give you attention. Some people even buy “space” on a site to make sure they get reviews.


PRO: Touring is certainly the most validating experience if you play at the right places, in the right time slots, and see first-hand how people react to your music. It can be a very important insight into how to build your music in order to have better reactions on the dance floor. If you can play locally, you can also network with people which can help create a stronger following.

CON: The downfall is how much you have to put to make this happen, and how the work conditions when you tour can be harmful both mentally and physically. Getting local gigs is a bit less stressful and way less complicated.

Difficulty level: Medium or hard, depending of your networking skills.


PRO: For many, this seems to be the ultimate validation. Being signed by a label could mean that you’re officially part of the crew, that you. To see your name among artists you respect certainly brings some excitement and validation to your music.

CON: Is being part of the crew enough to validate your music? What if you made it there but your release is commercially a flop? Is releasing the validation or was the answer from the market the real response? These are all difficult questions.

Difficulty level: Very high. Many artists contact labels, and being noticed among the noise is difficult. Picking the right people is a complex process. Sometimes an artist fits on a label, but the technique doesn’t, or the direction of the proposed songs is not right. One of the most confusing thing is when a label decides to follow trends, which are ephemeral, or to release an artist because he/she is considered hot at the moment. That can compromise the credibility of the label and blur the validity that you initially got.

There were talks this year where people were saying that online vinyl shops giving multiple P&D to multiple, unknown artists, are slowly confusing and overflowing the market with music of debatable quality. Many people chase labels that sell because they know if they can get in the charts, they’ll get attention and bookings, certainly a good thing. But it doesn’t necessarily validate what you do. An amazing release in the hands of a label who doesn’t take the time to promote will not sell as well as it should.

But let’s face it, there are other ways to get validation about your music that are totally easy and might be just as productive as any of the classic ways:

  • Soundcloud: If you develop quality connections with people online, who you know comment on the music you love, they often provide you with meaningful comments. Personally, I have a tight circle of about 5 people I will send my music to right away to hear what they’ll say. I’m always more excited to hear from them than a potential label wanting to release me.
  • Local DJs: These are people who can test your music in context and show you what’s happening. You need to flex your social skills for this to work, but these people are extremely valuable.
  • Music fans: If you go out to events, you might meet some of those people who aren’t DJs but who know all the DJs and constantly post music on their Facebook page. These people are a gold mine for feedback. They won’t be technical but they’ll be telling you up front if they like your music or not. You always want them as supporters because they’ll be talking about you which is better than doing self-promotion.
  • Our Facebook group! I created a group of individuals who wish to improve their skills. You can join if you want 🙂

I hope this helps!

 SEE ALSO :  Is sampling wrong?