The next time you don’t think your track doesn’t sound cool enough for release, don’t blame it on the mix. Don’t even try to trace your steps back in the recording process to see where you went wrong, because even when you do everything right, sometimes your productions just don’t sound as good as you thought they would in your head.
If you’re confident that the songwriting, lyrical content & song structure all fit what you were going for, maybe try one of these production techniques instead to pump some life back into your song.
Disclaimer: They’re simple. But they work.
We’ve spent plenty of time with drums to know that sometimes you don’t need to remix them – you just need more of them.
This is the foundation of any percussion decision once you’ve already got a nearly completed track. You might not have the time or resources to re-record live drums. You might not want to change up the programmed drums in your track, but there is always room for a few more percussive elements to help keep things moving along.
Your drummer or loop have already laid down the core of your production, so what do you add? Start with simple elements called “stingers”. These are the percussion elements that happen only a handful of times in a song and help you transition between sections.
For something obvious, you can use non-traditional sounds like sound effects. Short samples of real-world sounds get used in this manner all the time. Just take your favorite blast, bang, or pop and add it in. Don’t have a sample collection to choose from? Create your own. With the tools you’ve got in your DAW, you can stretch & morph anything into the sound you want with some sound design know-how and a lot of creativity.
If the stingers alone won’t cut it and you can find space for them, non-traditional percussion instruments can be a great change of pace too. Adding a tambourine to your chorus or some shakers and snaps to your verses can add a new ambiance to your sound, placing your listener in a whole new headspace.
Synthesizers don’t have to be restricted to lead or bass instruments, they can also do wonders for the ambience of your track when used as pads. Pads are often hidden in plain sight with long attacks, long sustain, and slow releases. They work to transparently rise and fall with your mix.
Most pads will have a certain “feel” to them right from the first use. If you’re working with a preset library, you’ll often find pads that are shimmery, airy, dark, haunting & more. While several pads can start to sound cartoonish or made for film production, there are all kinds of pads that can be brought in under your music production to add to the base of your song and give you some consistency between section.
I don’t care how good a singer’s voice is – there’s always room for a well-placed & well-performed harmony in my productions. A great higher harmony can help lift that vocal up into a new space and a powerful lower harmony can help ground it with the low-mid instrumentation. Even a doubled vocal is going to sound more powerful than a single-tracked one.
It’s a simple solution to many problems and doesn’t take anything more than a microphone and a new track to record on. These kinds of vocal production techniques are common and can go a long way to capture your listener’s attention.
As you work to build up supporting vocals around your lead, you may want to create some movement. Musically, you can start the second vocal in unison and then break off into harmony. This is common on piano performances where notes act to counterbalance one another as they move away from the root note.
Movement can also be created with common mix techniques like panning automation and post-processors like phasers, delays & choruses. Subtle movement is the key to keeping things interesting, and you can always bring everything back together on a single mix bus for some final compression to glue it all together.
Reviewing What You’ve Done
The genius part about all of these techniques is that they can quickly be muted/unmuted to really hear the differences they’re making on your tracks. Production is a subtle art – you’ve always got to find the balance between too much and just enough. Once you’ve found it, you’ll have what it takes to bring some excitement to any mix from a production standpoint.
If you’re struggling to understand where the balance is, let me take a listen. I’m a huge believer that good advice and feedback about their work can help anyone grow their production chops and improve their end product. It’s the whole reason I offer mix crits in the first place!