Ask a music production or theory question on any internet forum and you'll almost certainly receive an authoritative-sounding answer within seconds from someone who has a post count in the high thousands.
While this might suggestion that said answer is credible, much of the advice dispensed by these self-appointed 'experts' constitutes little more than regurgitated platitudes that they've read elsewhere rather than empirically observed.
So, before you take the next bit of guidance you read online as gospel, check out our five favourite oft-repeated but misleading music production 'truisms'.
1. Trust your ears!
Undoubtedly the most common and unhelpful piece of non-advice you'll find online is 'trust your ears', which is trotted out with tedious regularity by people who don't actually have a useful answer to your question. (See also: 'if it sounds right it is right'.)
You're not sure where to high-pass your kick? Trust your ears! Thinking of using a spectral analyser? Cretin! Why wouldn't you just trust your ears!? They've developed over millions of years of evolution to be the ultimate sound analysis tools!
Unfortunately, when you do trust your ears, you're not just trusting your ears - which can have asymmetric response, lose their ability to detect higher frequencies as you get older, can be affected by conditions such as having a cold or earwax buildup, and suffer from fatigue - but also your audio interface, monitor quality and positioning, and the shape and material of your room and everything in it.
This is why professional studios are designed by acousticians, treated with specialised materials, and use high-end monitors and visual analysis tools such as iZotope Insight (opens in new tab).
Our advice? Trust your ears, but only up to a point. Rest them, use reference tracks, check your mixdowns on as many reproduction systems as possible, and grab yourself a copy Voxengo's awesome freeware spectral analyser SPAN to keep an eye on those hard to monitor bass tones and rogue ringing frequencies.
2. Creativity and originality are the most important aspects of making music!
Society regards creativity as something special, even magical, that only 'true' artists possess. People want originality in music, right?
Not exactly: people are straight-up biased against creative ideas (opens in new tab), which explains why the same standards get recycled on X-Factor every year (opens in new tab), chart hits sound eerily familiar (opens in new tab), and everything in the Beatport Top 100 sounds practically identical (opens in new tab). In fact, every tune your other-half loves is basically the same (opens in new tab): Neil Young wasn't kidding when he said "it's all one song", and, as Nile Rodgers puts it: "the genius is really in the rewriting (opens in new tab)".
Despite all the evidence to the contrary - including the shocking revelation that Mozart was just like the rest of us (opens in new tab) and that everyone uses the same samples (opens in new tab) - we've got some rather confused ideas about originality that are deconstructed in this excellent article (opens in new tab) which concludes with some excellent advice: be sincere (opens in new tab). Alternatively, you could always get into a new field (opens in new tab).
3. Your DAW's audio engine sucks!
Fundamentally, DAWs are calculators at heart. They take multiple audio streams, add them together, and give you the results via your monitors or a bounced audio file.
However, some producers - including experienced audio professionals who you'd like to imagine know better - for some reason think they run on voodoo or some other arcane art. They're trusting their ears, so how could they be wrong?
Well, here's a massive explanation (opens in new tab) of exactly why these people are as wrong as it's possible to be. Not only that, but anyone who espouses this viewpoint has clearly never done any scientific testing, because if you export the same mix from any two DAWs they'll cancel each other out when the polarity of one of them is inverted (opens in new tab).
So, the next time someone tells you that Ableton Live's sound engine isn't up to par, feel free to ignore that and indeed anything else that they say.
4. You should be able to make your tracks sound amazing with minimal gear!
This one is along the same lines as 'a bad workman always blames his tools', and it's true that many producers use just a laptop and a single DAW with no third-party plugins to make their music.
Not a problem if you're making minimal techno, perhaps, but the fact is you're never going to make Green Oak's Crystal (opens in new tab) do what Spectrasonics' Omnisphere 2 (opens in new tab) does no matter how hard you try, and as lovely as Togu Audio Line's TAL-NoiseMaker (opens in new tab) is, it's never going to sound quite like LennarDigital's Sylenth1 (opens in new tab).
The kit you use is fundamentally important to the resulting music you make, which is why an album of Indian classical music has (erroneously) been described as the earliest acid house record (opens in new tab) because it uses a Roland TB-303, and why DnB pioneer Omni Trio's Amiga-based Volume 2 (opens in new tab) EP sounds a world away from the Akai sampler-powered Volume 3 (opens in new tab).
5. If you don't know music theory or production inside out, you shouldn't even be making music!
Ask an excessively noob-y theory or production question online, and you'll get smacked down by a forum warrior within seconds for having the temerity to put fingers to keyboard before having a comprehensive grasp of mankind's accumulated musical knowledge.
It's almost as if these virtual vigilantes were never beginners themselves, emerging from their mothers' wombs with a working knowledge of post-tonal music theory and the inner workings of classic hardware compressors.
The funny thing is, there are plenty of people out there making great music by trial and error, learning as they go.
Let's take the example of Afrojack, a DJ and producer who's earned a small fortune, but apparently doesn't know what 'bars' are (opens in new tab). Sure, money isn't everything, but clearly the Dutch dude is doing something right if he can write off a brand new Ferrari like it's nothing (opens in new tab) while your favourite 'real' musicians are working day jobs to make ends meet (opens in new tab).
So, forget filling your brain up with all that useless knowledge people - all you need are some decent samples (opens in new tab).