How can you make your music sound better? As a music producer, it's your ultimate destiny to make your next track sound better than your previous. But sometimes, it's hard knowing what to do, or what skills to learn to take your sound to the next level.
Luckily, small things can make a huge difference in how your music is perceived. And as ‘better’ is subjective and can mean different things to different listeners, this article will teach you how to raise your tracks' overall professional quality.
So without further ado, here are 4 excellent tips you can implement today, in how to make your music sound better.
Let's dive in.
1. Check Your Tuning
Even if all your synths are in perfect tune, one element playing in a different key can quickly disrupt your music's feel and musical flow.
As obvious as it may sound, having your sounds in tune makes your music sound better. It’s just a musical fact. When everything plays together in harmony, from the bass frequencies of your kick sample to your FX rise, your results become next-level.
Therefore, it’s vital to check your tuning and make sure all your sounds are in sync with your track's key.
How To Check Tuning In Ableton
There are two ways to learning the key and tuning your sounds in Ableton Live. You can either use a dedicated tuning plugin, like 'Tuner,' or analyze the sound's transient frequencies using a spectrum analyzer.
However, there are times when one is better than the other:
- Tuner works better for instruments or synth sounds
- Analyzing frequencies works better for short sounds, like drums
The Tuner shows you exactly in which key the sound is playing as each note hits. It will also tell you how much it deviates from the key, so you can make the necessary minor adjustments to keep it in tune.
However, sometimes it doesn’t recognize the key, either because the sound is too short or for other reasons. In that case, you have to resort to checking using the spectrum analyzer or listening by ear.
Use Ableton’s spectrum analyzer ‘Spectrum’ to find the root key of a sound. Add it to your audio or MIDI channel and click the arrow to make it larger. Play your sound and hover over the peak frequency to see its key. Transpose the sound to change its key.
Note: If you want to go purely by ear, add a simple “Operator” sine wave sound and draw the note of your desired key. Play your sound at the same time while changing the transposition to tune it to your Operator sound.
2. Humanize Your Track
Just because you’re making music on a computer doesn't mean it has to sound robotic. By making your tracks and sounds sound more human, you instantly make your music sound better by making the digital more relatable and real.
But what is humanizing your track, and how can you do it?
Why Perfection Is Boring
Ableton Live (and all DAWs, really) loves to warp and place your notes perfectly in sync with your tempo. And while staying in tempo is generally a good thing (especially when playing real-life instruments), electronic music that's perfectly on tempo all the time can become dull.
Perfect beats are too predictable. They feel robotic and uninspiring. And when all of your sounds are perfectly in tempo, it can make your whole track feel the same way.
How To Humanize Your Music
Humanizing your music is about injecting a bit of imperfection in your track to make it come alive as a human played it.
Because we never do things to absolute perfection, humanizing means setting your notes a few milliseconds offbeat, randomizing velocity, and introducing a subtle nuance of humanity.
In Ableton, you can humanize your track by:
- Using the “Add some Random” Velocity tool under “MIDI Effects”
- Disabling the grid and offsetting the notes a few milliseconds
- Automating velocity to change-up how hard your notes hit
3. Make It Excellent From The Start
We often spend too little time on our first draft. And like building a house, if your blueprint isn’t good enough, the house will be all crooked and weirdly built.
But of course, you're trying to make your music good from the start. Aren’t we all? Let me explain.
A Shift In Focus
When making music, we can sometimes get a little ahead of ourselves. We want to hear the finished results almost instantly to hear how the track will ultimately sound and make ourselves feel a bit better.
However, this mindset can lead us to shift focus from creating an excellent outline and structure to polish the details. And it’s a big mistake.
How To Make A Great Outline
Making a great outline of your track is about making your arrangement and chosen sounds fit together, with minimal equalizer and effects. It’s about making it sound as good as it can before even thinking about polishing the details.
When outlining your track, do this:
- Don’t think about equalization or other detail work yet
- Get down all ideas you possibly can
- Stop worrying about “how it sounds”
- Craft a solid main idea
Adopting the mindset of getting an excellent outline first allows you to work faster and smarter. With nothing carved in stone, you’re free to experiment, to plot down all your ideas to make your track awesome. You’re not even thinking about the details yet, only the core musical idea – which is what matters.
Instead of making an average loop, make it amazing. Don’t worry about panning, frequencies, and technicalities just yet – just flow free and make awesome music.
When you’re happy with your idea, your music will sound much better while making mixing so much easier.
4. Reference Your Tracks
Sometimes, we can get a little lost in ourselves and make arrangements or mixing decisions that deviate from our original idea. Our brain and ears adapt very quickly, and when hearing something long enough, we can blind ourselves from how it truly sounds.
But how can we make sure our sound is good? Other than taking breaks to freshen your ears, referencing your tracks is an excellent way to ensure you’ve got the right balance.
How To Reference Your Tracks
Referencing your tracks is done by comparing your created music to a different track you like, in a style you want to mimic. This technique ensures you stay on the right track and make the right decisions.
Luckily, this is very easy to do in Ableton Live. If you have your reference track in mp3 or wav format, drag it to an audio channel and get it in your arrangement view. You can then move it to the corner of your arrangement view so it doesn’t interfere with your music.
With your reference track in place, you can listen and compare things like the:
- Volume of your sounds
- Bass, mid, and high frequencies
- Mixing decisions
When switching back and forth, you can quickly hear things you need to correct. And it all works in your favor to make your music sound better.
What Makes Your Music Sound Better?
Remember, even though these four tips make your music sound better – the key to making better sounding music is your main idea.
It's about how you put melodies, chords, and sounds together, how you create hooks that never leave people's minds, and how you mix your sounds to excellence.
It’s about communicating heartfelt emotions and feelings, unleashing your creativity, and giving people a glimpse into your own world.
Combine Deep Music Knowledge With Your 'One-Of-A-Kind' Creativity
By combining deep knowledge in music theory, arrangement, and mixing with your specialized creativity, you create better music much faster.
Because, believe it or not, music knowledge and techniques are there to help you. They are roadmaps, guiding you in creating the dream sound you desire.
Music knowledge and techniques help you start writing music faster while allowing you to produce with focus and intent.
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Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.