10 Production Hacks for Your Song The Next Time You’re In The Studio
Recording, production, and sound design is a delicate and time-consuming process. Oftentimes, you’re on the clock in the studio or you’re dealing with deadlines for your next release. To make the most of your time and to improve the quality of your productions, there are a number of different strategies to implement when you’re creating music. We break down 10 production hacks to try on your next song the next time you’re in the studio.
Use Loop Functionality
Using the loop/cycle function in your DAW is a songwriting hack that you need to try! Oftentimes, you’ll be playing a section for your song trying to come up with a melody or beat and you’ll find yourself clicking back and forth in the project. It’s more efficient to use the loop function so you can listen to the same section on repeat. This allows you to focus on creating rather than dealing with the computer. You’ll find that creating hooks or writing lead lines will be a lot easier by looping individual sections.
The Quantize Function
Quantize is a producer’s best friend. Whenever you perform a part whether audio or midi, you can highlight the section and quantize the notes so everything is on time to your music grid. Depending on your DAW, you can quantize quarter notes, triplet notes, even up to 64 notes to get a really tight, perfect performance.
With great power, though, comes great responsibility. You want to be careful not to “over quantize” a performance, otherwise, it can suck the human element out of your track. Some genres (like EDM, pop, trap) need that robotic, perfect performance. Other genres need flow and swing…and quanitize can remove that feeling. In these tracks, you’ll want to use the “humanize function” where your DAW can ‘loosen up’ the performance.
Just like plugins, pitch effects can tighten up your productions. Software like autotune, pitch correction, Melodyne, and others are designed to be utilized for specific applications. Hard autotune can make you sound like Kanye West, whereas Melodyne can make any singer on-pitch but still sound natural. You’ll want to use this one sparingly, as it can also suck the life out of a recording and sound unnatural.
Reversing Audio Files
Reverse is a great production hack. Reversing an audio file can create great sweeps into sections and it can add variance to your track. Try this on guitars, vocals, sweeps, and even drum sections to get some cool sounds! Adding reverb to a reversed track can make for great “drops” into certain sections.
A true time-saver in the studio, shortcuts will change the way you produce! Whether it’s using “R” to record, or assigning your own set of keyboard shortcuts, the point is you want to enhance your workflow and efficiency. The more barriers to creativity you can remove, the more productive your studio sessions will be. If you aren’t using keyboard shortcuts, you need to implement these into your sessions.
Every DAW comes with a set of tools like scissors, automation writing, pencil for midi, and so much more. Make sure you’re using these tools to improve your recordings! For example, the midi pencil tool can let you write in notes, change lengths, and even subdivide notes by quarter length, triplet length, etc. Some DAWs have curve writing tools that can create arch-like sweeps. It all comes down to knowing your tools and knowing where you want your song to go.
Layering sounds is a simple yet effective production hack when producing tracks. Rather than creating 3 separate sounds with different lines (that could potentially run over each other), try duplicating the same part multiple times and layering it. You can pan the same part left and right, or you can add the upper and lower octaves. This emphasis on the lead line will reinforce it plus fill out your track’s real estate. The best part is that it decreases the amount of decisions you need to make, without having to create another idea.
This one is pretty obvious, but worth stating. Many amateur producers spend too much time looking for specific sounds or instruments without realizing that they can manipulate sounds with plugins. Using EQ to get rid of bad frequencies or to create high-pass filter sweeps is a game-changer when learning production. Compression evens out performances without having to retrack, and it get punchy drum sounds if applied correctly. Reverb and delay also drastically affect a sample and can help producers achieve ‘that sound’ they’re going after. Distortion, saturation, chorus, modulation, and many other plugins are good effects to have in your toolbox when producing.
Writing in automation can make a track go from good to great. Dynamic songs tell a story, and your tracks need to do the same. Besides just volume automation, try automating effects as you’re performing them. One trick is to have a synth with a filter on during the verses but then opens up for the chorus, or to add saturation to the drums on a bridge. You can automate practically anything including EQ, reverb, delay, distortion, and more.
Arpeggiators for Different Instruments
Arpeggiators can make your parts sound way more complicated than they actually are! Whether you use a synth for an EDM track, or a piano to pick out different notes, arpeggiators are designed to separate the different notes. As a bonus, try different variations like adding octaves or randomly arpeggiating (rather than up and down). One practical hack is to use an arpeggiator on an orchestra & strings track. It feels much more natural to have the computer play the string part rather than manually trying to program it in your DAW.
Finish That Next Song!
These 10 production hacks can go a long way in your recordings if you take the time to learn and master them. Try these out the next time you’re in the studio, and see how much faster and more creative you can get with your track. Remember to have fun, and happy producing!
Charles is the founder and editor-in-chief of TheGuitarJunky.com. He helps aspiring musicians get started at becoming real musicians by providing expert insights and reviews on recording gears and other musical instruments. He’s more into jazz, rather than rock, and more of a guitar guy, than a piano guy. A fan of chromaticism technique, he’s fascinated by the musical works of Stevie Wonder and George Harrison. Follow Guitar Junky on Instagram, and Facebook.
Audio Production, Recording Tips