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Less is more – four ways to turbo-charge your productions by simplifying them

As a modern music producer, you’ve got a lot of tools to choose from. Even a low-budget home studio can offer almost unlimited possibilities…

  • Want to multi-mic your guitar amp? Good microphones and multi-channel audio interfaces are cheaper than ever.
  • Need the sound of an SSL console? There’s a plug-in for that. 
  • How about an orchestra backing track? East West’s Composer Cloud has got you covered. 

With all this at your fingertips, producing great-sounding music should be a piece of cake. However…

Did you know that having too many choices can kill your creativity?

In this post, I’ll share with you four ways to turbo-charge your productions…  by simplifying them!

First things first – why should you simplify?

Your brain is quite a powerhouse – but it optimizes resources whenever it can. Most of the time it does this by simplifying tasks.

Example: The odd detour due to traffic jams aside, you take the same way to work every day. You don’t think about the route – and drive more efficiently. Side effect: you can pay more attention to the music you’re listening to!

The same principle can be applied to music production.

By simplifying your productions, your brain has more resources available to be creative.

Here’s how you can put simplification into practice:

1) Simplify the arrangement

We get excited when we compose. More often than not we end up putting in more parts than necessary to deliver the message of the song. 

How many times did you track something and then muted it in the mix?

Before you hit record, evaluate whether removing elements makes the song work better. Think ‘Seven Nation Army’. 

Less elements = less to record and mix = more creativity!

Less is more - simplify your arrangement

2) Use fewer microphones

You’ve got that 57 right in front of your cab. Now add a 421 for a bit of extra weight. Maybe a condenser for some room tone. Don’t forget the back of the amp. Just in case…

I totally get it – playing around with mics is fun.

But how about the mix?

How many times have you been going around in circles trying to combine all those signals? How many mics did you really end up using?

Next time you record an amplifier, try this: Use only one mic. Optimize the amp controls and mic positioning until you get the sound you want.

And during your next drum tracking session: How about using only 4, 3, 2 or even one microphone?

You’ll edit less, have less to worry about in the mix and get a lot of punch in return!


Less is more - one amp with one mic

3) Limit your plug-in choices

Have you ever spent more time choosing a plug-in than tweaking its parameters? 

If so, it’s time to give your plug-ins folder a spring-clean! 

Take each category (EQ, compression, reverb…) and choose only one or two plug-ins for your next production. By limiting your choices you’ll get more creative shaping the sound!

Here’s a challenge: How about mixing your next song only with stock plug-ins? You’ll be amazed by what they can do!

Less is more - plugin list

4) Use less processing on your tracks

When I started mixing I had a routine: Solo the first track. Apply EQ, compression, and saturation. Rinse and repeat. 

There are three problems with that.

  • You solo too much and lose sight of how the different elements interact with each other. Mixing is about combining elements, not about making each one sound good on its own.
  • You apply the same EQ moves to a lot of tracks. If your drums have a mud problem at around 250 Hz, you’ll end up taking out 250 Hz on most tracks of the kit. Lots of repetition, no creativity.
  • You might use EQ and compression even if your track doesn’t need it. Since you follow a repetitive routine it’s easy to fall into the trap of applying something that you don’t need.

Here’s an alternative.

  • Start with no plug-ins. Just focus on balancing the individual elements. Try not to use solo.
  • EQ and compress the master fader. Careful with compression – ~2dB of gain reduction is more than enough.
  • EQ and compress your sub-mixes. Since you already tackled the ‘global’ problems at the master fader you’ll find yourself using less processing. Again, careful with compression!
  • Evaluate the individual source tracks. Since you’ve already made corrections at master and sub-mix level you’ll find that some elements won’t need more processing at all.
  • Björgvin describes this technique in his book ‘Step by Step Mixing’. If you have a copy, just search for ‘top down mixing’.

Less is more - master - submix - source

That’s it for today. Try out the ‘less is more’ approach in your next production and let me know how it worked for you!

About Norbert Weiher

Norbert Weiher is a mixing and mastering engineer based in Curitiba, Brazil. He hosts a blog and a podcast about all things audio at his site Futuresonic.

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About me

About Björgvin Benediktsson

I’m Björgvin Benediktsson. I’m a musician, audio engineer and best-selling author. I help musicians and producers make a greater impact with their music by teaching them how to produce and engineer themselves. I’ve taught thousands of up and coming home studio producers such as yourself how to make an impact with their music through Audio Issues since 2011.

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