Train your ears

Using a reference track

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Hey Daniel! I have recently started producing and I know it is a long-distant race, but I have come to a point where I am struggling. Let’s say I produce a track and it sounds good to me, or should I rather say my ears are used to those particular sounds. After sending track sample to few of my more experienced friends to get some feedback I hear always the same answers like bassline is too quiet, a kick is not loud enough or some sounds are conflicting with each other.

I know it takes time and practice to learn, but how or when do I know that it sounds good? Would be great if I could eliminate these mistakes right in the beginning of a producer journey.

Zoltan Zolike

Zoltan, I can assure you that every producer has experienced this. It’s good you ask questions, it means you learning.

All those things like “bassline is too quiet, a kick is not loud enough” called mixdown, or mixing — I won’t go deeper on this, just want you to know this term.

Studio equipment and room acoustics are one of the most important things when it comes to mixing as you have to hear all sounds and balance it out very precisely. For this reason, we see plenty of mixing and mastering services around — those are experienced guys who put their efforts to get the proper gear, so you can just send them raw material, pay some fee, and get back professionally mixed track. But let’s assume you can’t afford to buy an expensive equipment or change acoustics in your room, and you don’t want to use 3rd party services because you’d like to learn how to do it yourself.

The main thing you have to know about mixdown is that it’s very relative and subjective due to genre-specific sub-standards.

For example, a too quiet bassline isn’t bad generally speaking, but we may think it’s bad because it doesn’t match to other similar tracks, i.e. sub-standard. And those standards vary from one genre to another: let’s say, in Psytrance, the kick is usually louder than in House music.

Now answering your question “how or when do I know that it sounds good”, I advise using a reference track. And by that, I mean literally put some reference track on a new Audio channel in your DAW, and toggle mute/solo buttons to check how your track sounds in comparing to that one. Like this:

It could be any track you like, some etalon sound that you’d like to achieve.

The goal of this method is to train your ears, so you could determine the sound balance in those particular circumstances (your equipment and room acoustics) at which you working on. After some practice using references, you should be able to balance your tracks nicely even without it.

Let me know if this will help.

 258   2016   Advice   Production

Since 2015, I’ve run an advice section giving my experience and answering readers’ questions on music production, DJing, performing, marketing, management, and other aspects of the music industry. The purpose of the series is to spread knowledge and cultivate professionalism in the music industry. The advice series works simply: you send me your questions, and I answer them with a blog post when I have something relevant to say. Send me your questions via the form.

1 comment
Danieldjdbatts 2019

Hi Daniel firstly can I say I’m a huge fan!!
Secondly thank you for taking my question,
After learning my daw for 6 years now and gradually increasing the number of vst’s I use to produce psytrance, I would like to ask you personally which vst’s you cannot do without, the go to plugins used on every production, and what you use them for, I have been producing for nearly 15 years and never followed genre defining techniques or plugins, just what works for me, however with so many available I’d love to know your favourites,
Many thanks for taking the time

Daniel Sokolovskiy 2019

My pleasure Dan! Re plugins and VSTs, I’d recommend taking a look at the Recommended synths advice as it’s been pretty much covered already.

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