10 artists share 50 ways to make your music better: "If something in your mix sounds crap, it’s probably you - not the gear!"

chris lake
(Image credit: Press/Chris Lake)

Here at MusicRadar, we're all about helping you make better music: it's our raison d'être. And as much as we love sharing our own knowledge, sometimes we like to enlist the help of a few famous faces to show you how the pros do things.  

To that end, we sat down with ten artists and producers to hear about their five most essential pieces of advice for aspiring music-makers, speaking to Chris Lake, MEDUZA, CHLOÉ and more. Without further ado, here are 50 ways to make your music better...

Chris Lake

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(Image credit: Press)

The world-conquering, LA-based Brit shares his top workflow tips.

1. Get to the breakdown

“Like many, I start by building a 4 or 8-bar loop section that I vibe with, but I always find it helpful to create ‘breakdown’ sections within that loop. That can be as easy as dropping the bass in and out like I would if I was DJing, so I get a groove that feels good both with the low end in and out.”

2. Focus on the drop

“Another thing I find really helpful is setting a loop region around the ‘drop’, so for example, having the loop region start two bars before the drop and loop for four bars, then focus on getting the impact of the drop to hit the way that feels good. It’s a very important part of the track. Focus on it.”

3. Bounce to audio

“Committing parts to audio is powerful for me creatively. I immediately think how I can use the part in different ways. It’s always great to ‘see’ what the part is doing too via the waveform this creates in your DAW… things like audio tail-offs or clicks that you maybe didn’t realise were there that you want to remove.”


4. Save and revisit

“Save all of your sessions and create periodic bounces (with the same file name as the corresponding project name). When going through a rut, revisit your previous edits. You may surprise yourself from a previous melody or a percussive groove you may have abandoned, or just something else that made a certain part feel magical, that you can bring back into your project. This often ends up being the magic glue to finish the record.”


5. Don't over-reference

“Referencing other people’s music can be powerful (and frustrating) for tweaking your mixdowns, but can be so dangerous for creativity. Be careful not to over-reference because it can be difficult to avoid making a copy of something else.”


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The rising UK house producer offers some advice. 

1. Collaborate

“Try and collaborate with artists, writers and producers from other genres when you can. I’ve always found that you can get some really interesting results when you do this as they often have a very different process.”

2. Sound design sessions

“If you’re having one of those days where you feel like you can’t write a full song, just spend that time on an individual element of the track. If I’m ever suffering from writer’s block I’ll just create interesting drum loops so that when inspiration hits you’ve got a solid drum track ready to go.”

3. Change location

“When struggling with ideas, if possible, change your environment. Being stuck in one place for too long can squash creativity. Visiting a parent, going to a cafe or working at a friend’s place can often spark something new.”

4. No wrong answers

“Always remember, there’s no right or wrong way to produce. If it sounds good, run with it! Say, if your kick or lead vocal sounds better peaking then keep it in, but… maybe no reverb on the master!” 

5. Reference on multiple speakers

“Always reference your mixes on alternative devices. I’ll usually bounce my mix to Soundcloud then test it on my MacBook speakers, phone speakers, earphones and monitors, write notes and then re-open Logic and repeat the process until I’m happy.”


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(Image credit: Alexandre Guirkinger)

The ever-adventurous Parisian DJ and producer's studio tips.

1. Prepare your setup

“Take time to make your studio efficient and comfortable. Preparing default templates for sessions where your most essential tools are already loaded and effects busses are already created is a useful idea.”

2. Make time for small ideas

“Sometimes when I go to the studio, I don’t make a specific track, but instead take the time to record little ideas: beats, loops, textures or anything random. I make folders where I put those ideas, then when making tracks, I can go through my folders to start new music and add elements I’ve created.”

3. BYO presets

“Build your own presets by using a combination of diverse elements and effects. I usually group them under a name that reminds me of the specific sound I’m after.”

4. Learn your gear

“Get deep into understanding your gear and the tools you already have before using new ones or buying new equipment. You can be surprised when you dig a bit further into tutorials, or make updates, to discover new inspiring techniques.”

5. Keep the volume low

“This might sound basic, but it’s important: try not to work too loud. It’s better for your ears, especially after hours into the studio, but also because you can also hear your track’s dynamics better when it’s played quietly.”


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(Image credit: Press)

The chart-topping Italian trio share some tips.

1. Laptop power

“Having a high-performance laptop is really important, especially if you’re working mainly on the road. Being able to have the same tools that we have in the studio on the laptop is fundamental for me. We’re able to use native plugins that we once needed external cards for: a dream come true.”

2. Know your monitors

 “You must enjoy listening to your music from both headphones and speakers: only in this way can you get the best out of it, not only in the mixing and mastering but also in the production phase.”

3. Frequency focus

“Always check the frequency range of 200-250Hz on the master. Frequencies around this area are not our personal favorite, unless they contain the fundamental part of the sound we’re dealing with. We always try to control these, especially on the master: often a 2-3dB cut is a good start.”

4. Creativity vs. organization

“Be creative when you’re writing, but be organised when you’re mixing. When we write music and produce, we end up with hundreds of tracks, maybe more! Once we have what we need, we clean it up and eliminate everything that doesn’t make a difference or isn’t really necessary, so that we can have a clear and precise image to begin the mix and master phase.”

5. Mix with your ears

“Try to avoid using presets for mixing and mastering. Opening an EQ or a compressor and looking for the perfect preset has never worked for me. Every sound is unique and must be treated for what your ears hear. My advice is always to start with a blank preset and use your ears to help you to shape the sound.”

Ophelia's Eden

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(Image credit: Press)

The Brighton-based vocalist and producer on overcoming writer's block and developing ideas. 

1. Less is more

“If you keep adding new sounds because you think something is not quite right then it might get too complicated. Try to make an existing sound more interesting through automating effects or adding new notes to the melody. My favourite technique is adding more depth in harmony by keeping the same top-line, but changing the chords or bassline underneath.”

2. Different twist

“It’s always great to experiment with an idea. If you have a nice melody or riff, try playing it a few different ways or using different effects. Then you have a template for how you can manipulate the same melody for new sections.”

3. Vocoded percussion

“Try using a vocoder on your percussion. I use the Ableton stock vocoder but I’m sure most work nicely!”

4. Don't be a perfectionist

“I overcame perfectionism by using the 80/20 rule. I aim to make it 80% perfect instead of 100% and this helps me finish the songs!”

5. Mono compatibility

“Make sure to check your mixes in mono. Always.”


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(Image credit: Press)

The Slovenian techno titan on finding the right sounds. 

1. Sample selection

“Mixing and mastering always begins with the selection of samples. So if you select samples that don’t work in the context of the production, even a mixing and mastering engineer won’t be able to fix any inconsistencies in the mix. Be very careful about the samples you choose.”

2. Step outside

“If you’re having trouble continuing a track idea, finding the right samples, or struggling with the arrangement, take a break, go for a long walk, maybe eat something, and then come back with fresh ears. Believe me, this helps immensely.”

3. Don't blame your tools

“Always remember: if something in your mix sounds like crap, it’s probably you, not the machines. And yes, it’s much easier to blame the computer. Just work more on your musical vision of the track and your equipment will help you a lot more.”

4. Clippers for loudness

“As for the volume of the mix and the master, it’s much better to have a quiet but clean mix than a loud distorted one. My tip for loud but not distorted mixes is using clipper tools.”

5. Saturation over EQ

“Saturation is the new EQing when it comes to adding more harmonic frequencies. Some producers try to boost certain sections of the frequency spectrum like crazy with EQ, but it’s not as useful as saturation for that. However, never forget to adjust your mix accordingly when you do it.”


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(Image credit: Press)

The rising London-based artist shares some insight into his experimental approach.

1. Sample layering

“Layering a sample with a duplicate and then pitching up that duplicate to a 3rd, 5th, 7th or whole octave can really help a sample gain variation. You can then cut and combine them however you feel.”

2. Browser recording

Sample is a great Chrome extension that lets you record and download sounds. Great for capturing obscure sounds.”

3. Strip back to go forward

“When in doubt, un-make a track. It’s easy to overdo production, especially when coming back to a track multiple times. Sometimes the best way forward is to strip back elements to have a clearer understanding of what made it good in the first place.”

4. Master effects

“Don’t shy away from adding effects to the master. Having automated effects on the master can provide you with some really interesting results.”

5. Cover versions

“Attempting to remake one of your favourite tracks can be a great way to understand the intricacies and characteristics of a production. It can help to highlight techniques that match your style which you can use in your own work.”


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(Image credit: Press)

The enigmatic, masked purveyors of quality tech house shares some advice. 

1. Stay off YouTube

“Don’t watch too many YouTube tutorials, it ruins the fun. Try to find your own solution and your own language to translate what’s in your head into the sound you want to hear. As a side effect, you’ll find your own way and style.”

2. Arrangement is everything

“Make sure your arrangement is perfectly on point. The structure of a track can ruin great musical ideas and, on the other hand, can make mediocre music into a playable track.”

3. Trust your gut

“Make production decisions from the heart, trust your gut feeling and get lost in the process. I feel it is of the utmost importance to be willing to lose hours or even days to the process of making music, even if you don’t end up with a track. This way making music becomes a form of meditation for you and that can be more rewarding and more precious than a great tune.” 

4. Fader riding

“Ride faders like the old-school engineers did. Change the volume of your stems slightly, fade in and out, make it flow and keep excitement level high by changing small things, even if they’re almost unrecognisable to anyone else.”

5. Humanize it

 “Try to sound organic: it’s closer to the human life form, closer to the heart and closer to the soul. Synthetic music from presets is for cyborgs. Thinking about it, that could be proof that there are already many cyborgs amongst us…!”


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(Image credit: Press)

The sibling duo and globe-trotting samplers share their creative tips.

1. Create your own samples

“Record your own samples. Not only will it be 100% your creation, it will also facilitate the creative process as each recording has a visual memory.”

2. Be curious

“When it comes to finding interesting sounds, listen, be curious and don’t hesitate to record as much as possible. It’s more work but it’s often in the unexpected that you find the best sonic treasures.”

3. Organization is key

“Be structured and organised in your folders. We’ve created categories and subcategories of sounds. Do it the same day you recorded to have your memory fully fresh. We also have folders for our favourite plugins, effects and mixing tools. This makes the process much faster.”

4. Transient shaping

“Use the transient controls in Ableton’s Sample Editor to shape transients and help them become as clean and snappy as possible.”

5. Warp to BPM

“Put every sound in tempo. Even though some recordings are better left as they are, when it comes to rhythmic sounds, it’s better to change the time of your recording to have them perfectly on beat by warping them. It will be easier for you to use them musically.”

Nu Aspect

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(Image credit: Press)

The Monstercat artist shares his production secrets.

1. Modulate and automate

“Learn to use automation. Everything sounds better if it’s automated or creatively flows from one part to the next. We’re hardwired as humans to enjoy imperfections and progressive changes and static sounds can often make tracks sound stiff. Automating and modulating filter cutoffs, note velocity and the reverb’s dry/wet control is a good place to start.”

2. Keep an eye on the big picture

“Try and focus on the bigger picture and not get stuck on the nitty gritty. It’s easy to spend weeks on specific parts of a track (kick and bass, I’m looking at you), and then find that 90% of listeners don’t notice. It’s often more important to spend your time fleshing out a full arrangement as you will quickly find whether the track works or not.”

3. Kick vs. bass

“If you’re making four-to-the-floor, choose between a big kick or a big bass. It’s not very wise to have both, as clashing within the lower frequency range causes muddy, rumbly mixes. Especially when they’re on a big sound system!”

4. Find a focal point

“Pick a main sound for each section of your track and then make it the priority and focal point. Don’t try to have five other sounds all with their own melodies and rhythms competing alongside it, it’s much better to have elements that complement it, unless you’re layering as a sound design choice.”

5. Make your own sample pack

“Make your own sample pack. A classic but golden tip. Whenever you find a good sample or even make a good effect rack, save these in your own personalised sample pack. This improves and speeds up your workflow dramatically, enabling you to get ideas out of your head faster.“

Matt Mullen
Tech Editor

I'm the Tech Editor for MusicRadar, working across everything from artist interviews to product news to tech tutorials. I love electronic music and I'm endlessly fascinated by the tools we use to make it. When I'm not behind my laptop keyboard, you'll find me behind a MIDI keyboard, carefully crafting the beginnings of another project that I'll ultimately abandon to the creative graveyard that is my overstuffed hard drive.

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