If you haven’t heard of Dave Pensado, I highly recommend you check out his work. Recently, Dave collaborated with LANDR to share an informative video detailing his top music production tips.
Dave Pensado is one of the most highly sought-after mixing engineers on the planet, particularly in pop music, and his production skills are renowned within the industry.
It’s not often you get the opportunity to hear from engineers of Dave Pensado’s stature in such a succinct and valuable way, so I decided to create a written account of the music production tips that he provides in this video, so that you can reference them wherever you are.
Rather than providing ‘specific’ techniques, Dave shares key concepts to help you to think about mixing differently, and that you can apply throughout your career. Some of these music production tips are more subtle than others, so feel free to dwell on them for a while to let them really sink in.
Dave Pensado’s Music Production Tips
Without further ado, here are Dave Pensado’s top 15 music production tips, in no particular order…
1) Use multiple monitors
Different speakers provide different views or ‘opinions’ on a mix. Use multiple monitors (and monitoring environments) to gain different perspectives on the music, including speakers, headphones, earbuds, your laptop, your car and so on.
2) Treat your room
Room treatment is as important if not more important than monitors. You can buy a $200,000 pair of monitors and place them in a poorly treated room, and the sound is likely to be poor.
3) Use reference tracks
Reference tracks help you to maintain perspective. You wouldn’t train for the 100 metre sprint in the Olympics without getting an understanding of who you were up against, only to show up and see Usain Bolt blow past you in a blur.
Reference different genres and switch back and forth to your own mix to see how it stands up. Try turning your reference mixes down by around 3 dB for a more accurate comparison.
4) You’re selling your taste, not your skills
People feel vibe, energy and emotion, and they certainly don’t listen to individual tracks in solo mode. You’re not selling your technical skills, you’re offering your taste and experience in music, and what you can offer to enhance the track as a whole.
5) Be patient with your progress
If you truly enjoy mixing you’ll get better without knowing it. Always be curious – curiosity has no downsides.
6) Mixing is not something you add to the production, it’s what you do to finish the production
Rather than adding your mix to a production, think of finishing up from where the artist or producer left off. Collaborate with your client to get a result that everyone appreciates.
7) Work with the most talented people in your neighbourhood
Collaborate with the most talented and hardworking people you know in your area and you will grow and develop together. Music history is full of successful duos and collaborations who teamed up in their local area, supported one another and gained success together.
Think Kendrick Lamar & Derek Ali, Keith Richards & Mick Jagger, John Lennon & Paul McCartney, Drake & Noah Shebib…and so on.
It’s also more productive to learn from others, and sharing your skills solidifies them.
8) Study your heroes’ influences, not your heroes
Rather than trying to emulate a particular artist or producer, do some research into their influences and try to develop from them instead. This can enable you to become a different version of your hero, rather than a not-so-great imitation.
For example, the world doesn’t need another Andrew Scheps, but you may be able to improve upon his influences.
9) Don’t take advice so literally
Treat someone’s advice as an opinion and don’t take it as read. Try to understand the underlying concept(s) that they’re trying to teach you and apply this in your own work.
10) Teachers are the best resource and way to learn
Having access to teachers is incredibly valuable. They can answer questions, provide perspective, break down any problems that you might be experiencing. They can even help you after you graduate in terms of advice, career advice, finding work and so on.
11) Mix other people’s tracks to improve faster
You will improve from mixing tracks that you’ve recorded, but you’ll improve much faster by mixing music that other people have recorded. Often, you’ll have less time to focus on the mix due to a deadline, and a healthy amount of pressure is often a powerful thing.
You also have access to the writers’ opinions and gain a more accurate perspective of where you are in your development, and what needs more work.
12) In any creative profession, deadlines are vital
Commitment is an audio engineer’s best friend. Start the mix by committing to something and everything else with flow. You may need to make a left turn or a right turn to adjust but nothing at all will happen until you commit to a direction. Just start. Deadlines help to focus the mind and stay on track, and it’s always good to be accountable to others.
13) Everyone has had a mix rejected
All mix engineers, no matter what level, have had their work (that they may have spent 12 hours or more honing) rejected in favour of the original rough mix (that may have taken 30 minutes). Rather than getting upset, it’s important to ask, what was it about the rough mix that worked?
As mix engineers, we can get too wrapped up in the technical side. How was someone with less engineering skills able to craft a better sounding mix? What is it about the track that conveys a better energy, vibe or emotion?
This process provides yet another learning opportunity to translate this into your mixes and develop as an engineer.
14) Play around with mastered tracks
Practice manipulating existing finished tracks to see if you’re able to make them sound better. Try applying EQ and compression to see if you’re able to enhance a song that’s already been mixed and mastered.
This process is great for learning how individual tracks are put together. Mixing is about the mix, not the individual tracks.
15) Listen to favourite songs again
You got into audio for a reason. There was probably one track that hit you as a kid, one that grabbed your attention and fascinated you. Often, it’s useful to go back to that song (or songs) and revisit it. Take another listen and you’ll often hear something new. As a child, you listened to the ‘whole’, whereas now you can hear individual elements.
Pay close attention to the original feeling you experienced. Try and get those feelings and emotions to come out in your mixes. What was it about the song that produced that effect?
For me it’s Michael Jackson’s History album! All I need to do is listen to some of those tracks and I’m good to go. In fact, make that anything by Michael Jackson.
BONUS TIP: Rules are made to be ignored
Having limits can be of benefit in the creative process, but rules can also restrict the very freedom that you have to create.
Having an awareness of the proven processes and techniques is valuable, but don’t be afraid to throw these out of the window if they’re not achieving the results you need.
Dave Pensado’s Mixing Gold
Here is the original video featuring Dave’s music production tips in case you missed it:
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For recording tips, check out my recent article and learn how to optimise your home studio.