Hot tips from your favourite engineer.
Dave Pensado knows music intimately. His resume is stuffed with incredible projects—and all the accolades to go with them.
His knack for making complicated subjects clear, and his educational spirit are unrivalled in the audio community.
But we wanted to hear about the big picture from Dave. All those juicy tips that apply to every music creator regardless of genre, DAW or studio setup.
So we found out…
Dave sat down for us and shared 15 essential tips that give you an insider’s look into Dave’s philosophy.
He shares his thoughts on collaboration, using earbud headphones to finish your tracks right and ignoring all the rules.
But don’t take my word for it. Take Dave’s…
The Best of Dave
All of Dave’s tips are incredibly useful. But some of them are flat-out imperative…
I’m gonna dig deeper into a couple things Dave touched on (’cause they’re so important), and give you a few extra resources along the way.
Who’s Your Hero’s Hero?
“Study your hero’s influences, not your heroes.”
Every creator needs influences. Which means your hero has influences too. Like Dave says, you should know them.
It’s valuable to know your hero’s music inside and out. But knowing how they got to their sound is twice as useful. Knowing your hero’s influences gives you a roadmap to your favourite sound.
Doing a bit of influencer research not only gives you more to get inspired by, it also helps you apply your own influences better. So get to know ’em!
The Playback Situation
“Laptops, headphones, earbuds—all those things come into play.”
What’s the best way to know if your mix is sounding right? Easy. Just listen to it in the places it’s gonna be played the most. That means EVERYWHERE.
Your mix might sound good on your studio monitors. But guess what? Most music fans don’t have studio monitors. And they certainly can’t take studio monitors on the bus.
The tracks you make have to sound good on the millions of little earbuds, laptop speakers and mobile phones out there.
So be prepared and preview your mix in your car, on the train with headphones or any other system you can get your hands on. If your mix sounds good on everything, it’s ready for the world.
Hot Tip: Master your mix many times throughout the process. Try multiple playback systems for each version. You’ll never know until it’s mastered. So stay a step ahead and test your master on those earbuds!
Plan Your Finish Line
“Deadlines are vital. They require commitment, and commitment is the audio engineers best friend.”
Productivity in the studio comes down to your approach. And part of any good approach is a solid deadline. Starting a thousand projects but never finishing anything is a plague when it comes to making music.
We’ve all been guilty of it at some point. So set a deadline for your tracks and stick to it. Even if they’re not perfect, you’ll still have the freedom to move on and start something else.
Nothing good comes from toiling away on a project for too long. You end up going in circles wondering “haven’t I been here before?”
Setting deadlines will help you finish more tracks and give you some much needed studio productivity that you may have been lacking.
Feeling First. Details Second.
“[Listeners] care about the energy, the vibe, the emotion.”
Details are important. But all the little things you do in a track should be part of a whole. And that whole should create a mood. Music isn’t remembered because of that tiny EQ cut you made.
Songs are remembered for their overall “energy, vibe and emotion.” Every good mixing decision has those three words behind it.
If all the technical details add up to a superb overall mixing experience, then you’re doing something right.
The best way is to check in on your whole mix multiple times throughout the mixing process. Take a few minutes every now and then to un-solo all your tracks and do some active listening.
Commit to hearing the whole song and try not to focus on your specific mixing decisions. It’s a valuable exercise that will inform the rest of your mixing process.
Or take it one step further and bounce your mix multiple times before you finish to get a feel for how it’s gonna sound when it’s done. It’s never to early to hear the whole song the way a listener would.
And don’t forget Dave’s key words while you’re referencing: Energy, Vibe and Emotion.
“Rules are not made to be broken. They’re made to be ignored”
Mixing and producing music is whatever you make it. Not what someone else says it is.
So write your own rules—then break those too! Music is plagued by opinions about what is the “best” way to do something. Chuck it all out the window and do what’s best for your own sound.
It’s a philosophy that should be at the core of all your mixing and production: The best rules are no rules.
Keeping Up With Dave
Pensado’s wisdom goes way beyond just mixing. These tips are no exception—Thanks for the early holiday gift Dave!
So tune in, soak up as much as you can and never stop learning with Dave.
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