As a mastering engineer of several years, I’ve seen a lot of music come through my studio. As a result, I’ve noticed many critical mistakes producers often make in their productions. So I put together a list the 6 most common mistakes I see producers make, and how you can avoid them.
By avoiding these pitfalls you will look more professional, cut email exchanges with engineers in half, train your ears, and you will know what to look out for in future productions.
1. Producing with the Limiter On
This is one of the biggest mistakes I see. Producers who do this are usually compensating for what they lack in production experience. I know, I know, the track just doesn’t sound big enough, so you add the limiter on the end because it sounds better.
But what you’re actually doing is ruining any chance of successful post-production work because the dynamics get squashed.
It is very hard to reverse the damage caused by a limiter once it has been added. It is usually best to avoid a limiter altogether instead of slapping it on the end of your master output. A limiter should be added as the last processing tool during mastering.
If using a limiter is necessary, just use a compressor with a small ratio (2:1) and small threshold. Again, IF NECESSARY.
2. Exporting Above 0db (Not Mixing Below 0db)
This one I see quite often. When you export your track, it is imperative that the signal does not exceed 0db. When I review a track and see that it does not have any headroom, it is because of 1 of 3 reasons.
a) It was produced with the limiter on (see above)
b) It was exported too loudly.
c) Both. Yikes!
Make sure when you’re producing your track, that the levels on the master channel have clear headroom.
What is headroom you ask? Headroom is the difference of space between the highest peak volume of your track and 0db. Usually, the more headroom, the better for post-production purposes.
3. Producing With The Master Fader Turned Down
I have been here before. You start your track with a kick and you want it to slam, so you turn the volume of the kick up, and turn the master channel down so you have room to add additional elements.
As you start adding more elements you notice that you keep running out of headroom, so you keep turning the master channel down. This technique will lead to tracks that are quiet at the beginning, but way too loud during the second half of the track.
Instead, try leave the master volume at 0db. Fight the urge to move that S.O.B. at any time. Do all your mixing before it hits the master channel and focus on the levels of your instruments.
If I start with a kick, I turn that channel down about -10db, and if I need to adjust the volume I will avoid the master fader volume and instead use the volume knob on my audio interface. I will say it once more. Leave the master fader volume at 0db.
If your levels go above 0db, then you have to mix your project down better so that it does not hit 0db.
4. Exporting in 16bit Without Dithering
You produced everything great! The track looks great! The waveform looks great! Sounds great! Everything is great! Then…. I see a big fat 16bit format.
This is a problem because if your stems are 24bit, and you exported to 16bit without dithering, you’ve just lost 8 bits of information. Gone. Period. Poof up in smoke!
And you will usually hear that in the master version once it is ready (or not ready) for distribution.
Do yourself a favor and check that you export in 24bit or higher if you plan to have any post-work done (mastering). Dithering should be the last step of the mastering process and should only be done once. (See dithering).
5. Cutting Off The End of your track during export.
Indeed, you’ve done everything right. However, the reverb/delay at the end of your track gets cutoff. When I ask a client to double check, they’ve indeed cutoff the end of the track by accident.
This happens because your DAW will export until the end of the last audio clip by default, and will not export any additional audio unless you tell it to do so.
Double check the IN/OUT points when exporting. You’re DAW will tell you exactly what point your track will start AND stop exporting. So export additional time just in case.
6. Not Exporting The Beginning Properly
This one comes up a lot, although not as common. The very beginning of your track starts with a kick, but the first kick sounds quiet compared to the rest of the kicks throughout the track.
It’s usually because the full length of the kick is not being exported due to the IN point being too soon. If that is the case, the rest of the kicks are the same way. For example, at a big drop or after a downtime.
Often times a kick sample is not precisely at the beginning of the track, and actually starts a fraction before. So examine that first kick like it’s under a microscope.
You might have to move your entire track up a fraction and export accordingly.
I hope this has helped you have a better idea of some common mistakes that producers make. If you avoid these you will be on the fast track to becoming a better producer.