Music Production Tips for Composers and Artists

Reading time: 12 min

This blog post has been written by Major Mixing, one of Bridger's partners.

Hi, this is Max from Major Mixing professional mixing and mastering studio, and today I’m going to tell you how to ensure your music sounds good. I’ll warn you about the mistakes to avoid at all costs, and we’ll discuss the habits that will help your workplace to thrive. So, do read on, because you need to know these music production tips.

Listen to lots of music and educate yourself

Listening to music and studying popular hits is the best way to educate yourself as a composer, artist, or mixing and mastering engineer. It will help you, regardless of which stage of production you want to work with.

Listening to music will improve your production skills

Successful musicians usually have a huge library of records. Good music composers, sound engineers and artists have one thing in common: they have listened to a great deal of music.

Records are your best educators. If you listen to them carefully and attentively, with the ear of a composer, they will reveal many useful music production tips that you can use yourself.

By listening, you will come to understand how a good accompaniment is created, how to place backing vocals beautifully, and how to structure songs.

Always keep abreast of modern trends, too. Notice any new features and peculiarities that famous artists and composers bring into the market. Study the different sounds they give to their songs, keeping a lookout for any details you could add to your own song to make sure it grabs people’s attention and never becomes boring.

Learn different styles and genres

Famous sound engineers are experts in different styles and genres, and very knowledgeable about musical styles and history.

Listen and observe how popular tracks are built and become familiar with the important features of every style and every genre.

Study the history of popular music and listen to old recordings; compare them to more contemporary ones, and notice what the differences are. Don’t forget also to focus on the similarities – on the things that remain popular and well known in every age.

If you do this, you will understand how to create fresh masterpieces which will become new hits that rise to the top of the billboards.

Music theory is not just for nerds

If you haven’t done it yet, do study music theory. It will answer a lot of your production questions. Find an interesting and comprehensive course – you’ll be surprised how simple it is, and how much clearer you will be about music production once you know the basics.

As a composer, you need to understand keys, chords and harmonies. Knowing music theory will make music composition much easier for you.

Use your gear like a pro

Know your DAW and the plugins you are using well. Learn how they work and master all their different settings.

A good composer knows exactly how to get the sound he wants without needing to experiment much. Experimenting is great for learning, but to produce songs you’ll need to use your knowledge and experience.

Learn various styles of music

Educate yourself about different styles and genres of music. Even if you are working with one genre, the knowledge will still be useful, and you’ll be able to use elements you have learned from other genres to enrich your music and give it new, unexpected details.

Plan your project wisely

Before recording, you should have everything correctly planned out – all the instrumental and vocal parts should be in the right place. This is crucial and will save you from needing to fix lots of mistakes later on.

All the arranging should be well planned, and organized such that different parts with similar frequencies should not be too close together, or they will mask each other. For example, the piano notes shouldn’t mix with the vocal notes. If all the parts are done correctly, it will greatly simplify your work further down the line.

So, when you think about your composition, start with careful planning, and place all the instruments correctly. From the outset, avoid forcing guitars, vocals, piano and other instruments to fight for space and place within your song.

Plan how you are going to fill your high and low frequencies beautifully and without conflicts.

Use quiet sounds and creative elements in the background

Make your composition interesting. It should be a little unpredictable for the listener, complex enough to entertain the brain and capture the attention. If it’s just a vocal and a bog-standard accompaniment that sounds exactly like the sort of thing people have heard a hundred times, and if the same melody repeats over and over again without any creative transitions, nobody is going to pay it any attention.  

Work on the details

Try to add creative elements into the background and pay attention not only to the main melody and the dominant tracks, but also to these background decorative elements. Think of the things that will go on in the background – some quiet additional sounds perhaps, or maybe a short melody played by another instrument, or some creative effects.

Detailed things always look more interesting to the human eye, and sound more intriguing to the human ear as well. Detailed compositions show that their author has put thought and care into creating them, and interesting details arouse the natural curiosity of the mind and capture its attention.

Create a good song structure

It will also work in your favor if the structure of the song you are composing is unpredictable and innovative. Surprise the listener. Make the structure of your song interesting and creative, and the audience will remember it.

Copy and improve for outstanding music production

Chord sequences, song ideas and styles cannot be copyrighted. There is nothing wrong with taking your inspiration from your favorite songs, chart-toppers and genius compositions of the past, or the latest hits.

Break them down, study their chord sequences, understand how the instrumental part is put together, and how the song is structured.

The 3 types of innovation

There are three main ways to create an innovative product.

  1. The first approach is to find the best product on the market and improve it. So, take the songs you like, break them down, study them – how they are made, how they’re created – and improve on them by basing your own composition on them but making it better.
  1. The second method of innovation is to create something new within an existing style or genre. When you are authentic and innovative within your favorite genre, you can create your own, personal style, while still remaining inside an existing trend.
  1. The third creative approach is to revolutionize the industry. If you can create something completely new that would really stand out, it could be a huge success. It may even deserve its own genre name and become a legend. This happens very rarely, but who knows? Maybe you can do it.

However, there is a trap you can fall into here. If you listen to your own music long enough, you can get so used to it that you end up feeling it’s the best and most revolutionary piece of work ever – which could just be an illusion. Your mind might be playing a trick on you, called “demo-itis”.

Be aware that your “genius” work needs to be checked very carefully. Study reference tracks, consult professionals, and calibrate your ear by listening to the highest-quality latest mixes. We’ll talk more about this later in the article when we discuss the use of reference tracks.

Habits that will save you a lot of time

You will save yourself tons of time if your projects, tracks, sounds and samples are well organized. If you cultivate this habit, you’ll find your production work far easier and less time-consuming.

Name and color everything

Name everything so that the name alone will tell you what the sound, track or sample is.

It’s great when the tracks and buses in your project are named clearly and colored accordingly. Develop your own color code, so you can intuitively see what is what in your project without even needing to read labels.

You and the people you send your work to for mixing should be able to easily recognize and understand everything in your project.

Back up your work

Save your old projects to the cloud or to your personal drive and make back-up copies of the stuff you are working on. Never keep the project you are working on only on your laptop.

Laptops may crash unexpectedly; even good ones are not safe from accidental falls or spilled hot coffee. And you don’t want to lose any part of your work because of some glitch. Just develop a habit of making a copy of important works.

Quality is everything in music production

Competition in the industry today is crazy. No one can even dream of growing their popularity with less than top-quality and highly professional music.

The law of mistakes

One of the main laws of composing quality music is about mistakes: Mistakes are magnified if they are carried on to the next step of music production. So it is better to correct each mistake at the step where it first appears.

This means that you should correct recording mistakes at the level of recording, and mixing mistakes at the level of mixing.

If a sound you are using is poor quality, you should go back and create a better sound, rather than trying to improve it with effects. Re-record bad parts with higher sound quality.

If you are already mastering your song, yet have spotted some mixing mistakes, just go back to mixing to correct them.

Record with high quality

Everything should be done to the highest quality, carefully and thoughtfully. The recording must sound great. Choose professional studio microphones. You won’t be able to fix bad recordings through mixing.

Never let the record clip – not even once. Keep peaks at -6 Db max. Modern NSR is quite high, so you'll have enough room and you don’t need to record too loud, running the risk of clipping.

Use the best sounds

Even before mixing, already, back at the stage of choosing your sounds, make sure they are great. A sound must be at least 80% good for your project from the beginning. If it doesn’t sound right, look for a better one. Never try to save money on sound quality.

EQ and compression should not be used in the hope of miraculously making a bad sound good. They are used just to slightly highlight something, to make small improvements.

The music industry today respects only the best products, the ones recorded with the highest quality, that have been mixed and mastered professionally. So if you want to be even a little popular, you will have to make music quality your priority.

Why are reference tracks so important for music composers?

One cannot overestimate the importance of using reference tracks in music production. At every stage, from composition to mixing and mastering, reference tracks are crucial.


When you feel your music is so great that it cannot compare to anything, and you can’t find any reference tracks for your sound because it’s so great, it’s not a good sign. It simply cannot be true. All it means is that you have become so used to your track that your ears are lying to you – and it won’t be to your benefit.

Human perception of music works in a way that can trick us. When we listen many times to a certain song, we get used to it and can no longer evaluate it objectively. We end up believing that the way the song sounds is the best and only way it can be. Musicians call this phenomenon “demo-itis” because it usually causes them to love their demo versions more than the professionally recorded, mixed and mastered song.

So do be aware of this danger and avoid over-listening to your unfinished work.

All through your production process you should take frequent breaks, listen to reference tracks and stick to those references when composing your music.

How to choose reference tracks

You don’t have to choose just a single reference song; there can be several. There might be one to show how you would like your drums to sound, another for the guitar, another for vocals, and so on.

Your reference tracks must be recent hits. They must be at least a little bit popular and created within the last few years. If you want your music to succeed, you need it to match contemporary quality, rather than older standards.

Do take the time to find the songs you want to sound like. It’s a critical part of your job as a composer.

Listen to your mix on everything

These production tips are important if you’re mixing and mastering yourself. It’s great if you have a good studio and professional monitors, or at least professional headphones for mixing. However, your audience and your fans do not listen to songs only using studio equipment, and they will not listen to your music using exactly the equipment that you use.

So if you are doing the mixing and mastering steps yourself, it is vital to make sure your music sounds good on every device.

Listen to your songs in your car, using home audio systems, laptop speakers and other types of equipment. In this way you can learn from any mistakes you have made and become aware of what you need to pay attention to. Because you want your songs to sound great on everything, from stadium speakers to cheap headphones.

When composing music, you need to use average volume – not too loud – otherwise you will harm your ears. However, every once in a while, it’s good to turn the volume up to check how the song sounds when it’s loud.

The perceived balance between bass and higher sounds will change when you turn the song up, and you need to be aware of this. Check how your song sounds both when it’s quiet and when it’s loud, so you can make the correct production decisions.

Your studio doesn’t have to be super expensive

Strive first for knowledge and experience. Without these, expensive gear won’t do you much good. However, if you are good enough at composing, a powerful laptop, a good sound card, a decent studio microphone, high-quality headphones and a sound-treated room are all you need. There’s no point in chasing after all the super-expensive stuff.

For preparing your room, use acoustic panels and bass traps. You’ll also need studio monitors to listen to your music if you are going to be mixing and mastering your music yourself.

Be super productive

If you want to succeed in the field you will need to do a lot of production. Besides, the only way you truly learn and master your skills is through practice.

Make a plan of what you want to produce and stick to it. Determine the deadlines. Set your goals and follow them.

If you’re an artist, productivity is crucial for your success and popularity. As a composer, you still need to work a great deal to grow your career.

When you produce, you are learning. A musician won’t reach any heights without being willing to get results and putting time and effort into working on projects every day.

The smart music composer balances work and rest

To achieve really high productivity a music composer needs to follow a healthy lifestyle and maintain a good work-rest balance.

Work no more than eight hours a day and take breaks often; give your ears some rest. Keep the volume down too, to look after the health of your ears. Don’t play your songs too loud. The working volume should be a bit higher than a normal human conversation. Composers can face serious ear fatigue if they don’t follow these simple recommendations.

There are studies proving that listening to music requires advanced brain activity. Your brain works even more when you’re trying to analyze what you hear and make choices. So obviously you need to be able to think clearly if you want to produce top-rated music.

That’s why it’s beneficial for musicians to lead a healthy lifestyle and keep a good sleep pattern. Don’t ignore exercise; visit the gym regularly and eat good food. This helps to maintain a healthy body and a high-functioning mind.

Professional collaboration is the key

The desire to do everything by yourself, from picking the first sound to mastering your project, is a perfectly reasonable one. There is even a saying: “If you want it to be done well, do it yourself,” right? But it doesn’t work quite that way with music production.

One cannot be specialist in everything

One musician or artist cannot be a specialist in all stages of production. You may be able to do high-quality professional mixing if you have many years of mixing experience, but you may not be the highest-quality specialist when it comes to writing music or recording it.

You may be able to compose outstanding instrumental accompaniment for songs, but you may not be a professional in mixing and mastering. You might be a great songwriter, or a talented artist, but a mediocre composer.

You see, you may be a professional, and very talented in one step of music production, but lack experience in other steps.

Work with professionals

It's always better to ask for help, while at the same time making friends and creating your professional network. Ask for a professional opinion, listen to constructive criticism and feedback, and improve your work.

Meeting professionals and networking in the music industry is crucial, not only for helping you improve. It can also lead to finding talented a-players to collaborate with or making profitable contracts and deals. Networking is definitely good for your career as a composer.

So, you should never hesitate to ask for help when in doubt. Order professional mixing and mastering or arrangement or go to a professional studio to record your song.

All the steps in your music production must be done professionally and to the highest quality. All must be done according to the highest industry standards. Collaborate with professionals, and you will achieve success in the music industry.

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