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In 2018 we published the blog “7 Music Production Challenges to Help Finish Your Songs,” covering tips for ploughing through that final stage of creation. With the new year underway and a sense of opportunity in the air, now is as good a time as any to serve up another round of musical challenges.
Whether you want to improve your production chops, are searching for inspiration, or simply want to make music more fun, there is something here for everyone.
From microphone pickup patterns to room acoustics to compression, there is always something we producers can learn more about. Even now, with a decade of music creation behind me, what I know about production is just a small slice of the entire pie.
Truth is, wrestling with new subjects and learning skills isn’t always what we want to do in our free time. If we hit too many bumps on the road to mastery we might just abandon the whole process. But why stop when the going get tough? The more you practice things you find difficult the better you get.
So this first musical challenge is to tackle an audio concept, topic, or discussion that has eluded you since the start. I imagine there are a few bugging you, so here are a few popular areas of confusion we have covered already:
Broadly speaking, field recording is practice of capturing sounds outside of a studio space. As recording technology has become increasingly affordable, portable, and capable of complex signal manipulations, field recording has grown in popularity, enabling creative artists to find new ways to use their natural (or-not-so-natural) environment as a sound source.
Try field recording with Spire Studio, iZotope’s portable recording device that lets you capture high-quality audio (up to six hours) no matter where you are. Get the details on Spire in the video below:
Beyond its fascinating history and documentation purposes, field recording presents an opportunity for producers to add something to their music no one else has before. Sure, you can use pre-recorded sounds scattered across the web, but so can anyone with a Wi-Fi connection.
Push the envelope and capture things, people, and places that make up your personal world. Not only will you learn the basics of recording (if you haven’t already) but you will get a better understanding of audio and end up with a unique palette of sounds to choose from.
So turn your cat into a synth oscillator. Create drum libraries with machinery. Sample that strange hum coming from your neighbour's garage.
If you haven't had your music mastered before, consider it a musical challenge for the new year. It comes with a price tag, but having an idea of what your music sounds like after being polished by a set of trained ears is an important experience.
Top engineers are working in acoustically treated rooms and have years of experience working with music in all genres. They also aren’t emotionally connected to the song the same way you are. All this allows them to make decisions you wouldn't have considered making, but sound great. If you’re lucky you may even get the chance to spend some time watching engineers working their magic on your music.
As an alternative, try self-mastering with iZotope’s own Ozone 8 mastering suite. Using the “Master Assistant” feature, Ozone reads the sonic profile of your audio and provides a starting point for the target levels, signal chain, and processor settings—all of which can be tweaked for a personal touch. Learn more about how to master in Ozone below and read “10 Tips for Mastering if You are Not a Mastering Engineer” for more tips.
Musicians and producers are notoriously shy about showing their music to other people. There are many reasons for this, but it often comes down to an unease with being open about personal creativity and skill, and that whoever you are showing your music to might not like it.
These uncomfortable moments are valuable to your growth as a music creator. Somehow, listening to your own songs with other people in the room allows you to hear things you didn’t before—maybe you didn’t de-ess as well as you thought, or that the snare you thought was overpowering was in fact too quiet, or that your drums need more low end.
Above all, you also get the opportunity to ask “well, what did you think?” and receive feedback. While music friends are good for providing specific advice on processing, song section transitions, and timing, you will be surprised at just how insightful people with zero musical experience can be. They may not recognize that frequency masking is muddying your mix, they will be able to tell you within a few seconds whether or not you’d make it into one of their go-to playlists—and what you can do to try and make the cut. After all, they are your main audience.
Music production is often a solitary activity, and as a result, we producers get stuck in our own ways of creating, no matter how repetitive or unhelpful they may be. For this reason, the last challenge is to produce music with an artist or vocalist.
While there’s nothing wrong with making beats and instrumental songs, the addition of a vocal brings a dimension and emotional quality to your music that you can’t get any other way. Collaboration also means you get to explore new styles, tempos, and timbres that wouldn’t on your own—and then bring it all back to your solo work. I wager you will leave your first vocal session with a whole new set of tricks.
To get started, watch our three-part series on vocal production with Prince Charles Alexander—covering recording, intention, collaboration, and process.
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