Electronic Music Coaching Lessons

There is this attitude in electronic music that if you share your secrets and techniques that somehow an essence of it will get lost, and some of the magic will dissipate. Additionally, people may take that advice, utilize it, and somehow outgrow and surpass the teacher. And nobody wants to feel like they dug their own grave. This philosophy about electronic music coaching took me some time to overcome, and I’m glad I did. 

Instead of the relationship between teacher and student becoming parasitic, instead I have found it to be purely symbiotic. Sure, some students have surpassed me in many aspects, but I find that they are reciprocal about their newfound knowledge. Now I have many people who are happy to help me with aspects of music making that I don’t enjoy doing as much as they do.

A photo of George Martin coaching the Beatles.

George Martin helping The Beatles. He would have been excellent at electronic music coaching.

Success Takes A Team

As I’ve harped on in previous posts, it makes sense to delegate some of the tasks of your music making, as this is what happens in every other genre of music, yet, for some reason, seems to be stigmatized in electronic music. Think about it, The Beatles had George Martin, Miles Davis had Herbie Hancock. Michael Jackson had Quincy Jones (as did Frank Sinatra). It doesn’t make you less of a musician to be the teacher and embolden your students; it empowers you and propels you to greatness.

That’s why, around Spring of 2016, I announced on my Facebook page that I’d do free electronic music coaching to anyone who would come to me. Back then, it was just a pure invitation to share my knowledge to people and using Mailchimp’s newsletter technology, I was hoping I could send emails to people and guide them in exercises. 

Initial Experiments In Electronic Music Coaching And The Lessons Learned

My initial attempt kinda failed pretty quickly as my lack of understanding of the email technology drove some of the participants mad and I had more damage control to do than coaching. So I closed that option and decided to open an electronic music collective / Facebook group with a precise goal – to provide a safe space for anyone who was unsure about their music before posting it publicly or sending it to a label. Of course, any question would be welcomed and we would have a hive mind to answer questions from various people.

As I’m approaching 5 years of free electronic music coaching, I’ve learned a lot from this. From giving feedback and to seeing mentees grow into solid musicians, these are the scenarios I saw play out.

Common scenarios In Electronic Music Coaching

Pretty much everyone who came to me to get some help had one thing that was blocking them from something. A minority would come to perfect their skills and some would come to have guidance in different situations but in the most part, people come to me because they’re blocked. In our electronic music collective, the more specific questions are usually searching for a specific effect used to replicate a sound or getting feedback on a song. These are quickly answered by the community that share a few ideas and hints. Often, it might not be exactly what the person needs but it often guides them down a path that may lead them to something more proactive.

However when doing one-on-one electronic music coaching, I often am presented with the same problems:

  • People who are experiencing a major writer’s block and are feeling helpless.
  • Aspiring artists that have worked really hard and are feeling stuck, not seeing improvements.
  • People who have the loopy syndrome, having countless loops but not being able to finish songs.
  • People who have deep love for what they create and are stubborn about any criticism, or conversely, they have intense hate towards what they create, and beat themselves up over it.

How Evolution Impacts Knowledge

If you look in hindsight at what happened in the world of electronic music production in the last 20 years, the software world paired with the internet has made it much simpler. 20 years ago, we were limited to a few resources and we’d always be in stasis waiting for our answers to come (if they ever did). We are now living in a world where we are constantly having our attention pulled in multiple directions, with each direction espousing that “this is the true way,” when there is rarely a “true way” for anything, especially in art.

It’s these conflicting statements that seeds a ton of doubt, or unnecessary confidence in their practitioners. This doubt, or this overconfidence that my one on one sessions seek to remedy. 

There is nothing wrong with being confident in your work, but overconfidence creates barriers to learning, and conflicts with progress. Sometimes I wonder why these people want electronic music coaching at all, but the fact that they get it, shows they at least have a conscious understanding of its importance, even if their subconscious confidence conflicts with it. 

Conversely, the doubt that many musicians have creates a similar problem. They may be in coaching to become more confident, but their lack of confidence results in that sort of barking little dog syndrome, where any bit of critique damages their already delicate creative ego, even if they consciously know it’s necessary. This can be likened to something like physical therapy; it’s going to hurt to walk again if you broke both your legs, and you’re going to hate it, but you know it’s necessary.

Successful Students

After coaching for over 15 years total, I had noticed that some people did better than others. At the beginning, I was working with a plan, and would teach all the people the same things but I quickly adapted that because it was not working well. Some were learning fast and would provide some interesting challenges or questions while others had some of the same questions but were always struggling on basic issues.

I understood one thing which is, you can’t really teach electronic music theory and music production training from a rigid approach because what makes it successful is to understand someone globally and then, as a team, find strategies to build a routine and work habits. More importantly, I tried to help the person find its own way of learning through the internet jungle.

Here are common points that people who succeeded had:

  • They had a clear direction: People that I see with a clear intention and direction, such as “wanting to sound like X”, are the easiest to guide. If you have a target and goal, you can always try to push what you do and technically study how it is done with music you have on hand.  With my help, we can reverse engineer some songs and try different things. Once that target is mostly reached, what’s interesting is how it leads them elsewhere. The fact that they know how something is done allows them to discover other artists or songs that are itching their curiosity. But working with targets, is always a clear indication of improvement.
  • They showed consistency: Anyone who works on a regular basis, over a constant time, has shown great improvement. More than people who started really strong but couldn’t keep up the pace. Working hard isn’t always smart. It’s more about knowing what you can do and try to consistently learn something new, practice it and then putting it into context of a song.
  • They asked a lot of questions: Often creative success and inquisitivity go hand in hand. Asking for advice and technical guidance is a must if you wish to go far. You can do everything yourself but you’re not giving yourself the chance to grow adequately. Even if someone thinks otherwise than you, there’s some part of his view that can be useful.
  • They stayed humble and always wanted to learn. If you come with the idea that you’ll learn something everyday, you won’t be stagnant in whatever you do and will always be looking forward.
  • They were not afraid of rejection and criticism. Because each song is an experiment in itself and anyone’s point of view is arbitrary.

electronic music coaching photo

Struggling points

These are individuals who have been facing a number of problems in the learning and while have learned a lot and improved much, they unfortunately haven’t rolled out as much as they wished. These are what commonly hinder them.

  • The student focuses on the success of a specific song.
  • They work in a linear fashion and won’t change.
  • Insisting on doing everything themselves.
  • The musician is often convinced they know more than they do.
  • Their expectations are set really high.
  • The belief that hard work brings success is deeply ingrained in them.
  • They see music in a hierarchical way.


What I’ve Learned In Electronic Music Coaching

The Latin proverb docendo discimus translates to “by teaching, we learn.” These are some of the lessons I’ve learned by teaching others.

Free isn’t always a good thing

If you give something for free, it doesn’t always have value. Free advice is cheap advice. Unless people pay for it, there is less of a chance that they will anchor said advice. Not saying that giving free advice is bad; that’s what these blog posts and the group flourishes on. It’s just that they can be easily dismissed. However, if you paid for advice, there is a greater chance that you implement it.

Consistency is key to development

Think of it like training for a sport. If you are training for a marathon, and decide to take a month off, you’re going to have to spend time ramping back up to that level. Additionally, the longer you put something off, the more chance you have to disregard it.  

Not be afraid of making mistakes

The comic strip artist Scott Adams has a really poignant quote about mistakes in the creative journey. He says, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” I find this statement to be very true. Many of my favorite parts of my works have come unintentionally, or are a result of seriously messing something up. 

Bob Ross would have been great at electronic music coaching.

Being part of the community

No man is an island. Civilization was built by teams, and communities, not individuals. Teaching has allowed me to be part of a vibrant community, and for that I am extremely grateful. It has taught me at least as much, and provided me as many resources, as I have provided others.

Other Benefits of Electronic Music Coaching

Since my music is pretty esoteric, I learned over decades of performing that the people who attended my shows were cut from a similar cloth. They were musicians, and sound designers, eager to absorb some of the essence of the performance in order to translate it into their own creations. 

This gave me the realization that in order to grow and keep my fan base engaged, I had to give the people what they wanted. Therefore, electronic coaching became not only empowering creatively, it became a solid marketing channel. 

If you’re interested in becoming part of our community and getting some free coaching, join our electronic music collective, Pheek’s Coaching Corner. We also have a bunch of tutorials on YouTube as well. If you want more personalized coaching, I offer that as well.

How To Mix In Headphones

Not everyone has access to a treated studio, with perfectly placed acoustic padding, bass traps, and calibrated studio monitors whose balance is perfected by professional metering. Many aspiring producers have aspects of this, but ultimately will fall short when it comes to setting up everything perfect, since a well tuned studio is something that professionals charge a lot of money to do correctly. 

Therefore, a lot of my students ask me what they can do instead, since many don’t have thousands of dollars in order to tune their room. The answer is simple – mix in headphones. But should you mix with headphones? There is a lot of chatter online saying that if you mix in headphones, you will screw up the mix, since it’s not an accurate representation of sound in space. They’ll say in a true stereo field, your left and right ears hear both channels, not each in mono. And while this is true, there are plenty of artists, myself included, who do a lot of mixing on headphones, and their productions turn out fine.

A photo of Sennheiser HD650, which are great to mix in headphones

Sennheiser HD650

A Good Mix In Headphones Starts With Quality Headphones

My first piece of advice is that you need a really good pair of headphones, and you need to get used to them. I’d recommend Sennheiser HD650 on the high end, and for the best budget mixing headphones, I’d recommend Sennheiser HD350BT which are also bluetooth.

Once you get these, or equivalent, don’t start mixing right away, since you have no idea what these headphones truly sound like. Instead, choose 10 or so songs that you really respect, buy the lossless version of them, and listen to them intimately through the headphones. Learn how the kick sits in the mix. Learn how the different layers sidechain when said kick is introduced. How bright are the hi hats? How crisp is the lead? After listening to this set of songs over and over again for a month or so, then you’ll be ready to give it a go on your own stuff. 

Mixing In Headphones Is Like Cooking Authentic Food

Another good tip is to choose songs that have a particularly excellent element. I liken this a lot to eating authentic food. Whenever I visit a new country, I make sure to ask the locals what location has the truest food, and what elements of that food really define the regional cuisine. 

With music, I take a similar approach. For instance, when I started mixing a lot of Romanian techno, it became apparent that the aspect that producers craved the most was the kick. Therefore, if you want an example of a really pretentious kick, a good place to start would be with Romanian techno. It’s like with a food like Mexico’s mole. If you wanted to replicate the best mole, you’d use Oaxacan mole as your reference.


Mix In Headphones At Multiple Volumes

Listen to your mixes at multiple volumes to get a good idea of how it truly fits in the mix. Different levels will expose what’s wrong in the mix pretty accurately. While it may sound good at high intensity, when you listen to it at a low intensity, you may notice that it doesn’t quite fit. In my experience, it’s the low volumes that reveal the most, so if it sounds good, low, and just ok, high, then chances are that the lower volume is the correct one.

REFERENCE Plugin is great for mix in headphones


Best Headphone Mixing Software

The best mixing with headphones plugin has to be Mastering The Mix’s REFERENCE.

Ever felt that your mix was not quite comparable to your reference mixes? 

In order to keep you closer than ever to the sound of your favorite music, Mastering The Mix created REFERENCE. It’s packed with powerful features and insights that allow you to get closer to your reference than ever before.

With REFERENCE you can:

  • Compare your master with up to twelve reference tracks, and creating several loops will allow you to quickly compare various sections of your track with a reference track.
  • Match the loudness of your track and the references instantaneously and accurately. This will enable you to make more informed decisions about shaping your sound.
  • Make matching the true peak, loudness, EQ balance, punch, and stereo width of a reference track smoother than ever. 
  • Adds a source plugin called REFSEND to make loudness-matched A/B comparisons.

If you want to emulate stereo crossfeed like you’d get on loud speakers, you can also use a VST such as Goodhertz’s CanOpener, which simulates the stereo bleed you would get with loudspeakers. I’ve personally never used a crossfeed emulator, but they do exist.

CanOpener allows you to mix in headphones more accurately


Stereo Is Different In A Headphone Mix

The biggest hurdle to overcome when mixing on headphones is that the stereo field is mono in each can. Especially in electronic music, we tend to have extreme pans, which in headphones can prevent that natural left/right bleed that you get when you listen to a song with both ears from monitors.

To fix this, you can simply tweak left/right panned instrument settings a little but don’t overdo it because this will compromise the loudspeaker performance. Keep in mind that stereo, when heard through loudspeakers, will have a noticeably narrower image than when listened to on headphones.

Another trick is to add just a tiny bit of reverb to up-front exposed sounds (5-10% wet). This allows them to glue themselves together like they would in a natural room.


Judging Low End With Headphone Mixes

Having an idea where the bass sits in the mix is difficult unless you have some serious subs. However, we live in the 21st Century, where Subpacs are a thing. If you’re not familiar with Subpacs, they are essentially wearable subwoofers, where they use your body as a bass transducer. Therefore, they produce all the sensation and feeling of low end, without any of the decibels required to pump it out. Therefore, with a solid set of headphones, and a Subpac, you can get a full frequency experience, and accurately judge where the bass sits in the mix. 

I often prefer using a Subpac to even using a good set of subs, because unless you are in a place where your mixing isn’t going to disturb anyone, having club ready loudspeakers that allow you to feel the bass is usually intenible in most environments. It’s also a faction of the cost.


A Mix In Headphones Reveals The Small Details

The best aspect of mixing in headphones is their precision. Even with a well tuned room, and professional grade monitors, you often miss many of the finer details of a mix, such as hisses, artifacts, unwanted distortion, and clicks/pops. With headphones, these become abundantly clear, allowing you to surgically correct these issues.

On the flip side of this, it allows you to add small details that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. Let’s say you want that synth to have just a touch of white noise to give it a warmer feel, a mix in headphones allow you to do that with immense clarity.

As you can see, there are many advantages to mixing on headphones. However, nothing truly beats a professional mix. Therefore, if you want it done right, consider going through me. I’ve mixed thousands of songs, all for a very reasonable rate. Your music will last forever, so you may as well have it sound as good as it possibly can, at an affordable price.


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