10 music production tips from Robustus

Bass Blog Bulgaria is a platform which is open to new ideas and points of view. Several weeks ago we published this article. In the piece we presented our stand on the problem of the blind local support and how it's meaningless and worthless when the artists don't make any effort whatsoever to get rid of the label "local". For non-Bulgarian speakers, the article is really aggressive and uncovers the weak sides of the local artists, but doesn't actually give any advice about what they should do to improve the quality of their productions. In the article we made a stand as fans who don't like what some of the local producers were doing. But, since we're not producers ourselves, we couldn't actually give constructive criticism and meaningful advice to the young and not-so-young local heroes.

In this particular case our friend and mix-maker Robustus came to our assistance. He is one of the few Bulgarian DnB artists that have made it to the international scene. At the moment Michail is a part of the Future Sounds of Sofia organization and produces for the labels Demand RecordsIM:Ltd and others. Robustus offered us 10 tips for music producers which would be of benefit to them. This article is a part of our ongoing "Guest Author" column in which we publish articles and opinion pieces of people who would like to have their voices heard through our platform, but don't have the time to be a part of the team full-time.

10 music production tips from Robustus

#1 Set your priorities straight

Finding out what you want to get out of production is very important. Is it just a hobby that gives you a pleasure and an escape out of the monotonous daily grind or is it a start of a career? It does not have to be black or white – one or the other. It can be a hobby with the prospects of becoming a career later on, but you have to set this straight in your mind, if you want to avoid a lot of frustration further on. To clarify I will give an example painfully familiar to anybody with some exposure to production – the endless struggle over the snare (or the kick). Well, working on just the snare for a couple of hours (or all night) can be pretty frustrating and everybody familiar with producing must have been through it. However, this is the moment when you have to remember, why are you doing this? Do you want to frustrate yourself endlessly being a perfectionist about your snare transients or midbass, or to have fun and actually relax? Therefore, unless you are making the track for your next Metalheadz release (and honestly even if you are) you can just chill about the damned snare and just finish the track.

#2 Patience

The snare example brings us to the next tip – be patient. That snare sound won’t become perfect overnight no matter how much time you spend at once. It is like every other activity you want to become good at – it needs regular practice. It will rather be many sessions over the years that will bring you closer to the perfect sound, rather than sitting all night for six-eight hours straight trying to get it right. I am not saying that if you are after the perfect sound, reaching it won’t be a struggle, but for me shorter, more frequent sessions work better in this respect. It is also very important to consider ear fatigue which is an unavoidable limitation – after several hours (really around two for me) you hardly make a difference between how things sound, so at this point continuing on will yields little benefit towards the end result.

#3 Pick your DAW

There is plenty of software out there. Take the time to try out a few things. See what works better for you. If after several months of working on a specific program the workflow is still a struggle, move on to something else. The point of it is to feel at home when you open your preferred DAW, not like you are about to fight a grizzly with bare hands. In this respect, do not use a certain DAW, because some “big” producer is using it. Check what is out there. Chances are there is something exactly right for you. I find Ableton very friendly to new users. If you are into analog gear, Reason will probably suit you very well. If you are a Mac user Logic is probably the best choice. I cannot miss Fruity Loops Studio – despite the name, it is as powerful as any of the others. Cubase is also worth mentioning, but my own experience with it can be described by one word – frustration. Do not forget that your DAW will be your main instrument in this activity so it is very important to really love it. However, for beginners this may take time.

#4 Do not underestimate music theory 

Even if you have great ear for music, music theory can make your productions even more rich and interesting to the listener. Making music by ear only is like walking around the jungle without a direction. If you start a track with a particular chord and key in mind you have something to work around, something you can come back to every time you are stuck, also a general direction for the mood and progression of the track. Music theory knowledge can serve to add more musical content to your tracks, since especially electronic music lacks such content more and more lately. Learning music theory is also a good way to gain a new perspective over your creations. Ultimately, it will also help you to work with classically trained musicians or to master a musical instrument yourself. I believe this tip is very important as most producers nowadays just obsess over the production technicalities forgetting about the universal language underneath it all.

#5 Motivation and progress

It is important to progress and learn new things about production or music in general. If it is just your hobby, this will keep it interesting to you. If you are planning a career as a producer it is imperative to perfect your skills by regular practice and exploration of new techniques to keep yourself up to date. There are so many tutorials out there that every time the current session you are working on leads nowhere, you can just start checking out what more experienced producers can teach you through youtube. Actually, mastering a new technique or making a new synth bass sound is probably one of the most exciting moments of production. Getting a unique sick sound out of some random synth can be hugely satisfying and can be fundamental for developing your unique style.

#6 Your style

What would you want your style to be like? This is a question that will probably haunt you for years. However, every time you sit in front of the DAW it is good if you know what the end goal is. What you want to achieve. And while it is much easier to just copy someone else’s style it will be much more rewarding later on, if you try to listen to your authentic inner feelings about what music you want to make and how to express yourself. For many years you might not even be close to that abstract concept of “what it should sound like”, but after every session you will get closer and closer to that imaginary boundary. If you pursue that end goal, you will soon start hearing people saying that they can recognize your tracks from the first few seconds no matter what. I believe this is a good thing. Even if you haven’t achieved your “dream sound” yet, you have already developed something unique of your own.

P.S. It is quite possible you never reach the “dream sound”.

#8 Creative blocks

One of the most frustrating periods of any creative activity is when you are not inspired. In such moments no matter what you do, you do not seem to able to create anything even remotely interesting. You might start hating producing at such moments. At such times it is very important to do somethings new, whether it is music related or no. Go do a bungee jump or rob a bank or meet new friends. I cannot stress this enough, but try to turn to some natural and somewhat harmless stimulation like social interaction or sex or sports rather than drugs and alcohol. I have heard many producers to say that when they feel uninspired they usually start experimenting with new sounds that they can use later on. I was recently feeling like I do not want to make any tracks anymore, because everything was sounding so boring. To get out of this situation, I started making tracks in different genres and started going to piano lessons. All this changed my perception so much that I started producing again with new drive and energy.

#9 Finishing your tracks

This is very important, yet very simple. Many talented kids just do not have the will or are too perfectionist to finish a track. They either go into detail so much and spend so much time fiddling with unimportant details that they eventually lose motivation to finish the track or they get discouraged because they had grand expectations about it and the end result just doesn’t live up to these very high expectations. So they leave it to gather digital dust in some god-forgotten subfolder only to find out later on that it was not as bad as they previously thought. I think that the end goal of every track should be to become finished and eventually played in its entirety. You can have amazing production skills, but if all you ever made ends abruptly after a minute or two of duration, you shoul not call yourself a producer (yet).

#10 Do not underestimate DJing

If you would like to just sit in the studio and make beats and not be a DJ as almost every average person on the planet today, this is fine. However, you will be missing out on some important lessons. First of all, when you DJ you get to see by yourself how different crowds in different listening environments perceive different music and also more specifically what types of sound have bigger impact on the dancefloor.

Also, mixing itself can give you some good insights, about your own productions. Obviously, in the mix a track can sound very differently than by itself. On the one hand, this can give you new ideas about production, but on the other it can also help you recognize weaknesses of your own tracks in terms of how well they mix with other tracks and whether or not they are DJ friendly. If you make music strictly for home listening I guess this whole tip is irrelevant, however, I have not really met anyone that does not want to have his/her track played in a club or at a festival

Author: Michail Yanchev aka Robustus (Future Sounds of Sofia, Demand Records)

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