The 10 Mistakes I Made When I Started With Music Production

I started recording, producing, mixing and mastering my music when I was around 16 years old. Well, maybe not so much mixing and mastering as just playing around with absolutely no awareness of what I was doing. 

I definitely made a ton of mistakes, and I want to share some of them in this post.

Some of them are the classic, common mistakes that every beginner makes, and some of them are maybe more surprising to you.

Hopefully, this would be valuable to you, so you can learn from the mistakes I made, and improve your production skills much quicker than I did.

1. My Orchestral Tracks Sounded Horrible

I was so excited when I found out I could create big orchestral pieces just like my heroes, Hans Zimmer, Harry Gregson Williams and Alan Silvestri on my iMac. 

My very first quality sample library was EastWest SO Gold, which I bought because of an awesome guy named Torley on Youtube.

But even though the samples where high quality, my recordings with this sample library sounded so synthy, and not real at all. 

Why?

Because I thought I could just load up a full orchestra patch, and play the full orchestra on just one track. 

For example, playing and recording full chords on a piano is absolutely fine. 

After all, the piano is supposed to be played like that.

But a reallife orchestra consists of different sections of players, which of course means that all these individuals won’t behave the same or play everything at the exact same time.

Lesson learned: Split sections of the orchestra into separate tracks. For example, one track for the cellos, one for violas and one for violins.

Then you can further add separate effects, expressions and more on each track.

Separating the sections allows you to put on different reverbs, different EQs and so on.

This will make your orchestra sound much more organic as opposed to the muddy, synthy sound you will get when playing your orchestra like you would play the piano, applying the same effects to every instrument.

To do this, you need to think like the various individuals playing their respective instruments.

You can read these helpful tips on how you can achieve an amazingly realistic-sounding orchestra in this post.

2. Lack of an External Hard Drive

This is probably one of the things that I should have thought of much much earlier. 

I am a little embarrassed to say that for several years, all my project files, VST libraries and so on were stored locally on my iMac. 

Needless to say, the gradually reducing storage space made my poor iMac ́s performance a LOT slower.

It is EXTREMELY important that you save all project files and VST libraries on either an external hard drive or a second hard drive. This will ease the workload on your computer’s local hard drive, making it run smoother and much faster. 

So, I invested in what has now become my trusty LACIE hard drive and began the process of moving everything that cluttered my brave iMac up until that point. 

I never looked back. 

In addition, having all your VSTs on an external hard drive makes you more portable if you often find yourself on the road. 

Then you can just plug in the external hard drive (and the license dongle if needed) and you are good to go!

Lesson learned: Never store your VST libraries on the same hard drive as your DAW. It makes everything run slower, and in the worst cases, makes everything crash.

In the beginning, you won’t necessarily need three external drives. But get your hands on one, at least.

3. No Project Name, Structure or Tidiness

But even though you may have everything on an external hard drive, you need to develop a system to locate everything as fast and simple as possible. 

I have probably created thousands of “untitled” project files during the past 10 years.

And the majority of them are just scattered around different folders on my external hard drives. 

Some of them are probably gone forever as well.

This rarely bothered me, until the day I started to work professionally. 

Not having a dedicated location not only makes it difficult to locate older project files, but it gets even worse when you take this bad habit onto a feature film project or other projects with more people involved. 

You think the director is satisfied with the music track, and forget about its project file. Suddenly, the director change his mind and ask you to make tiny edits. 

But since you had no neat way of categorizing your work, you cannot find the original file. And the search function on your computer is not always your best friend, in my experience.

So you either have to spend hours searching for the project file or recreate it from scratch.

Lesson learned: To ensure a smoother, fast-performing workstation and to avoid potential hours of searching for your project: name your files and store them in dedicated folders externally. 

Developing a solid routine for how you categorize and store everything regarding your music production is not a hard thing to do. So, if you know you should tidy up: get to it. No excuses. 

4. Working too Intuitively

Many of my music pieces were made without me ever knowing exactly where the track was going to wound up. 

Was my orchestral piece going to end in an epic “BOOM!”, or quietly and fading? 

“Ah, I´ll figure that out when I get there. First, I must record this amazing additional melody which does not actually fit the track.”

In addition to the structure of my tracks feeling quite random, I also used a lot more time than necessary, since I didn ́t know how my track was going to unfold.   

By all means, experimentation is good, but I think you shouldn’t be experimenting until you have created a solid framework of your song first.

Map out different parts of your track as best as you can before you get to add lots of instruments and effects on it. In addition to helping you work more efficient, it will also keep your core idea intact. 

Because a core idea is in my experience, often the best one. 

By sticking to the core, you won ́t start overworking on your track and waste valuable time, only to find out that your first draft was actually the way to go.

Lesson learned: Mapping out the whole track before you begin experimenting will also make it easier to stay on track, not digressing too far away from the original idea. 

And after all, your song should feel like one song. Not multiple songs combined. 

5. Too Much Reverb

During the first year, my music sounded very “muddy”. Every single track in my project had quite a lot of reverb on it, which drowned out the nuances and clarity. 

Always remember: Too much reverb on every track makes the mix muddy and unfocused. 

After all, the purpose of the reverb to make your instrument come alive and stand out. Too much reverb on everything will only result in the reverb standing out, not your mix.

Lesson learned: this is a very common mistake when you are new to music production. That is why my best tip for beginners is to always put on less reverb than you think you need.

6. No Presets/Templates

To provide control and structure you should have dedicated folders and storage locations outside of Cubase, Logic Pro, etc.

But it is equally important to have a certain set of routines inside your DAW. 

Structure outside your DAW helps your workstation work faster.

Having structure inside the DAW helps you work faster. 

You and your computer should be in perfect harmony.

The longer you produce music, the more obsessed you will become with this. In my experience, at least. 

Here are some benefits for you if you take your time to create presets:

  • You will save time, not having to load instruments, putting on effects and setting up other VST plugins. 
  • If you are working on an album, movies, series, etc., a preset will help you get the sound right on every track/song you make.
  • Speed up your overall workflow. An awesome idea can slip just as fast has it arrived. By having dedicated templates/presets, you might be able to record it before it is too late.

Lesson learned: To speed up your overall workflow, create templates/presets that represent different sessions like chamber orchestra setups, rock band setups, hip hop essentials, etc.

You should add different effects, EQs, audio engines, etc., into the template as well.

7. Poor use of the VST Effects Plugins

When you open your DAW, you have probably noticed that you have different plugins for Compression, reverb, delay, EQ, and so on. 

Those are VST effects, and they are there to be used.

For example, my mixes, in general, sounded very flat and weak back in the days. And when I tried to do something about this, the mix overloaded or felt very unnatural.

Do you see what happened? Either I did nothing at all to the mix, or I tweaked it so much that it became a little too much.

That is why I recommend you to understand why and how to use reverb, compression and other effect plugins.

And remember; not too much, not too little.

Lesson learned: Most compressors, reverbs and more have stored presets you can play around with. This is the easiest way to a decent sound.

And it is a great way of learning how the different settings work.

If you want to learn more about VST Effects and MIDI, check out this helpful post that I have written.

8. Poor use of the VST MIDI Effects

If you are new to music production, it may seem like I just repeated myself here. 

But I didn’t. 

VST MIDI Effects is not quite the same as VST effects. The MIDI effects are the controllers that enable different actions you could do with an instrument: automation, expression, vibrato, legato, etc.

During my first year of music production, I don’t think I even knew how to even quantize my notes.

When you adjust the faders while you play, the sound will be affected by whatever behavior you are applying. 

That means if you have cello sample, adjusting the vibrato while you play will make it feel more organic and human. 

In other words, emulating the cello so it sounds so realistic as possible. 

If your midi-keyboard has faders, make sure you use them! If your keyboard lack faders, you must check out Palette Gear, my absolute favorite midi controller.

The prices fluctuate all the time, so check out the current price on Amazon.

Lesson learned: Knowing how to use VST MIDI Effects will give life to your tracks and make them breath. Use a MIDI controller to avoid your sound being flat and lifeless.

This controller from Palette Gear is one of the tools I ALWAYS use.

9. Settled for Cheaper, low-end Equipment

I have had a lot of music production equipment over the years.

A. Lot.

Some of the equipment I still have. Most of them got broken and I threw them away.

One of my first investments was a very affordable M-Audio Midi Keyboard, which I was very happy with. The only thing though, was that the keys started to behave strangely after just a few years of use.

So I threw it away and bought the exact same model one more time. After all, it wasn’t that expensive and, I was very pleased with my first one. 

But, the same thing happened again.

Like my first one, the problem with keys occurred on the second keyboard as well. So I finally decided that this time, I would go for a higher quality, fully weighted keyboard. 

That way, I could save money in the long run, not being in the circle of having to buy a new one the second the old one breaks.

And man, did I find a better, much more high-quality solution! Check out which keyboard I bought and whether you should use a MIDI controller or a Digital Piano in this post. 

Lesson learned: If you have a tight wallet, don’t buy cheap versions of everything straight away. Save up for highquality equipment and build your music studio over time.

 It’s not that affordable equipment cannot be good, but i some aspects, like MIDI controllers, computers and studio monitors, I would definitely invest in solid equipment that will last me for years to come.

Also, you will be much more motivated to work for long hours when you are working with quality equipment. 

These microphones were quite cheap. I never use them.

10. Not Balancing my mix Properly

This used to be a huge problem for me. To some extent, it still can be a bit tricky, because of my hearing loss.

For example, when I began playing around with film scores, my piano, bass, and strings sort of lacked focus. They were all mashed together, occupying the same frequencies.

Because I did not know how to balance my mix properly. 

Lack of balance and clarity happens when a lot of the instruments operate in the same frequencies. When this happens, the instruments almost cancel each other out, making the sound very muddy.

And my be is that you are looking to create a sound that is open, crispy, airy, and wide most of the time. 

Lesson learned: When you create music, you want all your instruments to be heard and have their specific space in the track.

This is achievable through carefully adjusting the EQ (and other effects like reverb) on the tracks, making sure that they take up different parts/sections of the frequencies. 

Now you Know

I hope that by sharing my experience, you can avoid spending years doing mistakes that in reality is sooo simple to fix, once you know you are doing them. 

Have you made any of the same mistakes that I did? Or did you make mistakes not mentioned here? Let me know in the comments!

Suggested Further Reading

Thomas Leypoldt

Hey there! My name is Thomas and I have been a film composer for over 10 years, delivering music to feature films, documentaries, video games, and commercials. I share everything I have learned on this website, to hopefully be of help to your own development as a musician.

Recent Content