We feel comfortable asserting that LO'99 is an authority on electronic music production. As we recently discussed, the Australian DJ/producer has achieved a unique stylistic synthesis between bass house and its ancestor genre, speed garage, that has resonated with a massive segment of music fans.
As with the releases of any dance music artist worth their salt, though, LO'99's tracks likely wouldn't be received as well as they are if not for top-tier production values. As conceptually rich as a song's arrangement may be, it's only as good as the studio time and expertise put into it - and when you combine the best of both worlds, you yield a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts.
Fortunately for you, LO'99 has taken the time to offer up ten pieces of advice for the aspiring producers who surely make up much of his fan base. After that, you can catch him at Cheap Banter in Newcastle, Australia on September 30th as he continues on the second half of his Make Me Feel Tour.
Tip #10: Reference everything, everywhere. People listen to music many different ways nowadays. DJs listening to promos could easily be on laptop speakers or average headphones rather than in the studio or with proper sound. While its most important to make sure your studio and club boxes are ticked in mixdown land, its important to make sure stuff still sounds good on a shitty little radio speaker. I finish a mixdown in my studio, then listen in the car, then on a laptop, then on my phone, then at the club. I’ll make small tweaks according to those plays then final it up in my studio again before calling it a day and taking the tune to master.
Tip #9: Where’s your bass gone? This is pretty relevant to my last point, but I will buss it out over here to make things simple - that also helps me get to 10 easily! Bass lines are a very important part of the music I make and can often completely disappear on smaller speakers, laptops, headphones or even sometimes crappy club speakers. You’ll often find me going back to a track and layering an oscillator or whole synth part on top of my bass (with the bottom eq’d out) to help it cut through. Even doubling the bass but turning it an octave up (again, with the bottom eq’d out) or even sending a little bit to a distortion buss (you guessed it, with the bottom eq’d out, haha) can help. A lot of the time I just do this automatically; I’ll have a sub, bass and sort of "top bas"s playing the main part of my bass line - all eq’d appropriately.
Tip #8: Presets and Samples. It’s mega fun making new sounds in synths, but if you're going to use a sample or preset from a synth you should fuck with it a bit to make it your own. Turn some knobs, use some interesting plugins, manipulate your audio. Try bouncing down or recording your synths to audio and chopping them up; you can do some really really cool shit that you def can’t replicate on board, and will have some super original action going on.
Tip #7: Not everything needs "top-line." Some people fall into the trap of thinking every record needs to have a top-line or full-on vocal to be successful, popular or big. Thats true if you're making radio pop, but most of us are making music for DJs in clubs. It’s important to never forget that. Sure, do up a full song or vocal record whenever you like, (I do this too) but remember: Solid club jams with minimal vocals or a little vocal sample are just as important as a full-fledged verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus song-type things.
Tip #6: Get a second, third and fourth opinion. One of the most underrated tools when making music is your friends, family and peers. I often shoot WIPs to mates to get a fresh set of ears on them... Sometimes just to see if they like it, other times for thoughts on my mixdown. Another pair of ears can be multi purpose. It definitely helps if that person has good taste and knows what they are talking about, but I even show tunes to my mum or sister sometimes just for general vibe. I have some official A&R type people in place for my music - a manager, the guys I run my label with, and few A&Rs at different labels I release on. They are all great but I also send music to friends. Everyone can have their own personal A&R team.
Tip #5: Don’t be a dickhead. So this isn’t really a studio-specific thing, but it still applies. No one wants to work with an asshole or someone that is hard to deal with. Try making your experiences with labels and/or other producers a nice one. I’m not saying you need to suck up, and its important to be strong when you need to, but there's a wrong and right way to go about things - its pretty easy to know what's cool and what's not. If you don’t agree with something then speak up, but go about it in a pleasant manner. I’ve seen far too many people burn their bridges and alienate themselves by simply by being dicks. Nothing to do with production, but this tip will do you wonders.
Tip #4: Finish your shit!!! People start tunes, then start others, then start others and then never finish one actual single tune. Other people spend forever finishing and tweaking one single tune forever in some sort of procrastination loop of whackness, and actually have never, ever released anything. I’m a big fan of working on something till its ready, and also a big fan of doing multiple projects at once, but you have to make sure you're getting tunes complete. If you get stuck on a tune take a break for an hour, a day, or even a week, then come back on it and finish that bad boy!! It’s all good to get advice from friends, family, producers or your label if you need help. Also, you never know… maybe a couple of games of Rocket League will get you back into tune mode too - works for me!
Tip #3: Reeeeeeeemixxx! If you're new to production and/or songwriting, a great way to get a vibe happening right off the bat is remixing something. You’ll get ideas for vocals and parts that 100% all work together right away, and you can get straight into the thick of it without worrying about hooks and vocals (which i know from helping lots of young producers can often be an issue). If you have all the main parts of a song you’ll be free to go in proper on your production or sound. Hit up label and artist friends, enter remix competitions, download parts and stems that people put online for free download - anything is great to get going at the start. It's a great way to get a leg up into action, and you’ll find it will get easier and easier to just simply write your own tunes once you’ve got your head around your production with remixes.
Tip #2: Be Original. Personally, I don’t have a problem with people being inspired and somewhat paying homage to other tunes, producers or sounds, but it’s pretty damn important to get your own vibe happening too. Make something fresh and interesting rather than a tune that sounds like 20,000 other tunes. This will make your music stand out in the sea of ripoffs and same-sames. Do what comes naturally, you’ll love your music way more, and so will everyone else.
Tip #1: Mixing and Mastering. Some of the biggest artists in the world don’t do their own mixdowns (let alone write their own tunes in some cases), so there’s nothing wrong with getting someone else to look at your mix if you need some help. I’ve definitely been in some circles where people look down upon others who get someone else to do mix their tunes - these people are idiots. If you can get an extra 10 or 20% out of your tune and you have the money and time, then why not. Please write your own music, though, for god's sake.
Another good option for finishing up your tune is to look at doing a stem master. This means that you bounce your track out into eight (or so) stems (kick, sub, bass, synths, percussion, effects, vocals, bonus action), and a mastering engineer will do a sort of semi-mix and master job. He can fix any issues, do some light mix work, and usually get the master sounding bit nicer than just dealing with a stereo file. At our label, we’ve asked for a lot of our artists to deliver tracks in stem form and their already sick tune improves by 10% after we’ve had our mastering lord lay his eyes and ears over it. A proper mixdown can be exe as fuck, but stem masters usually cost a pretty reasonable price.
I nearly always do my own mixdowns (unless i get stuck), but 100% I will always have my tunes professionally mastered, usually just a normal stereo master cause I’m often happy with where I leave my mix. I’ll use Ozone or a little master chain of mine to test things in club or send to labels, but I always get a legit master done when things go out prop.