169: This is What Separates Pro Quality Productions From Amateur Demos

169: This is What Separates Pro Quality Productions From Amateur Demos

Listen to this episode if you want to know what's keeping your recordings from sounding professional.


Book a free feedback call with Benedikt, the host of the show!

Here's what we cover in this episode:

  • We debunk some common myths around music production and around the modern tools used to enhance performances
  • We show you a solution that will help you speed up your music creation process significantly
  • We introduce a system that helps you get professional sounding results with confidence and without killing the vibe

There's no need to write out more detailed show notes for today's episode, because it's all there for you on this page:


Let's go!


Automatic Episode Transcript — Please excuse any errors, not reviewed for accuracy (click for full transcript)

Benedikt: If they're not happening at the same time or at the right time, they don't add up. They don't create that same effect. So no matter what you do in the mix, it might not work. It might not solve your problem if the performance is just off. This is the Self Recording Band podcast, the show where we help you make exciting records on your own, wherever you are. DIY style, let's go.

Hello, and what? Welcome to the Self Recording Band podcast. I am your host, Benedictine, and today I want to talk to you about the number one thing that separates pro quality productions from amateur sounding demos. There's one main difference. Most people are not even aware. That this is the main difference actually.

And they are also not aware that they have this problem, that they are making this very common mistake. And so I don't want you to be one of those people, and I don't want you to make this very common mistake. So I wanna tell you what it is, what this main difference is, what to do about it. If you have this problem, how to fix it.

And I'm gonna present a solution for you to fix this. As well. So if you are new to the show, welcome. So stoked to have you. Thank you for checking the show out. If you are already a listener, welcome back. Thank you for joining us again today. Usually I am here with my co-host, Malcolm Owen Flood, but he can't be with us today, so I'm doing this on my own.

This will be your shorter episode because of that, but it will be very valuable. Nonetheless, hopefully, at least. So I've prepared something that I think will help you make better sounding records, improve your production quality significantly. If you follow the advice that I'm giving you today. And, uh, yeah, because I'm alone, there's no banter.

Let's dive straight into this episode. I think. So that number one difference, what could that be? Let me start with a question. How do you know? That a song was not produced by a professional, how do you immediately know that you know it? Because the song probably has sloppy performances, obvious mistakes that don't really help the feel or the vibe of the song, and it probably has a groove that just doesn't feel right.

If one of these things is true, it's probably. Not a professional production because in a professional environment with people who know what they're doing, this doesn't happen. You know, the takes are very intentional. They might not be perfect because perfection is not what we're aiming for in art and music.

But they feel exactly right. They feel right for the song. They, they transport the emotion, you know, they, they deliver the message of the song perfectly, and those takes are, Very, the, the takes that they choose in a professional environment are very intentional, the way it is played, the feeling, the timing, all of that.

So sloppy performances and just obvious mistakes that don't really help the song, you won't hear that on a professional record usually. So this is the number one thing that tells you immediately if something is professional or amateur. Now, what prevents your listeners from really connecting with your song?

What is it? What keeps them from dancing to it and feeling the emotion and message you want to get across? Again, sloppy performances, obvious mistakes that don't really help the vibe and the feeling, and a groove that just doesn't sit right, that just doesn't feel right. So if someone listens to your music and they.

For whatever reason, they don't make it to the end. They stop paying attention after a few bars or after the first part or whatever, and it just doesn't connect. They don't vibe. They don't move to it. You know, there's no physical reaction to the song. It's probably not because of EQ and compression and or any of these things, not because of a lack of gear or the wrong settings and the mix or any of that.

It's probably because either the song is just not great. I mean, You know, I, I'm just assuming that you have a good idea for a song that's part of that, but it's also the way it is played, right? The, the feeling in the takes. So same reasons then. What's the number one thing that prevents your mix from sounding amazing?

Is it a cue? Is it compression? Is it effects? No, you guessed it. It's again, sloppy performances, bad musicianship, if you will. Um, Not the right feel, not the right timing, and also the groove. Again, that just doesn't feel right, and this is actually directly affecting the mix, believe it or not, because things have the most impact and just sound better if they happen at the same time or intentionally not at the same time, but.

Just where they are supposed to happen. It doesn't just feel differently. It doesn't just sound like a better performance. It actually sounds better because certain things add up or not, depending on whether or not they are happening at the same time, you know, certain frequencies happening at the same time, add up, have more impact, have more volume, more power.

If they're not happening at the same time or at the right time, they don't add up. They don't create that same effect. So no matter what you do in the mix, it might not. Work. It might not solve your problem if the performance is just off. So what is the number one thing that separates pro quality productions from amateur sounding demos?

It's the performances. It's the songs, how they are written and arranged, and it's how they are played, the actual takes that are captured. Now that doesn't sound like a surprise, right? It's, it's like, it sounds pretty basic and obvious, yet most. Most productions and almost every amateur production out there, like have these problems.

Like I'm working with a lot of DIY producers, a lot of self recording bands when I mix records for people, and most of them have these issues. Most of them are not at the level of like professional productions. The takes are not played as well. They are not as tight. The musicians are just not that good because I mean, It's, it's kind of obvious why that is because it's mostly not professional musicians, so they do other things in their life than playing music.

And professionals who, who do this as a job, they practice a lot. They spend a lot of time in the studio. They have a big budget. They, um, all they do all day long is making music. So of course their performances are better, their songs are better. They're working with the best songwriters, they're working with the best producers that push them to track the best possible takes.

So, of course, Those professional productions sound better and have better performances than the average amateur production, but this is also why it is the biggest difference and why it is the main thing that separates the two. If you are one of those bands who can deliver awesome takes and write really, really good songs and play them really, really well and capture them, Chess.

That alone will make you stand out above like almost everybody else. It's, it's really like that. It's very, very rare that I hear an amateur production that is played really well. Most people don't realize how high the bar actually is, how good professional musicians actually are able to play, and most people don't even hear the difference between a really well played song and, and take with the right vibe, the right timing, the right feeling, versus one that is.

Not quite spot on. You know, there are many out there that are good, but not at the level of those pro quality productions. What to do about this, right? What can you do? You can practice for a very, very long time until you get really, really good. That requires a lot of talent as well. But more than anything, it requires hard work and consistency and practice over a long, long period of time.

It requires, um, You know, training your ear to be able to even hear those differences. And it's a very, very long journey and very, very hard to accomplish that way. And even then, it's not gonna be really perfect. So what else can you do? You can record takes that are as good as you can play them, and then you can.

Correct them and improve them after the fact. There are tools these days, of course, as you know, that let you edit your performances so that they feel better and they really help the song and they help get the message across and they are able to create. The emotional reaction in your listeners that you want to create.

So I'm not saying that there's a shortcut. I'm not saying you can track sloppy takes and then just fix it afterwards. To a degree you can, but I'm not saying that this is the solution. I'm saying practice as much as you can and then use the tools to you have available to take those already. Good takes to even like a higher level to.

Get those takes that are already decent up to a level that feels just amazing. And this is exactly what professionals do. They can track really, really well. They can play really, really well. They have awesome songs. They deliver awesome takes, and just those raw, un added takes in general sound pretty amazing.

Yet still, they use the power of precision, the power of those tools of editing to get it even further, you know, to push it even further to get it to that. Really professional level, and that doesn't mean they move everything 100% to the grid. That doesn't mean they aim for perfection. It's not math, you know?

I mean, music is kind of math, but it's not about mathematical perfection. It's not about putting everything 100% to the grid. It's about. Making sure that every note feels exactly right, that every hit feels right, that it is where it is supposed to be in the context of the song so that it feels awesome.

It can be intentionally late, it can be intentionally early, it can be spot on, but. It's definitely intentional and they don't just stop after the tracking. If they can improve, they will, no matter how good the musician is. Even the best mu musicians in the world have no problem with their takes being edited, being brought to another level.

They are not afraid to do that. And there's this myth that where people believe that editing is like ruining the vibe or making everything sound robotic and not like humans anymore. And this is really a myth because it, this only happens when you do it without any sort of, Context or without thinking about it from, from the artist's perspective or from a musical perspective, if you just do it automatically, 100% to the grid, yeah.

Then that's not gonna be very musical. And there's some genres where that has a place. But the proper way to edit tracks is to do it. Incon the context of the song and in a very musical way. And again, it's not about perfection. It's about making sure that every hit is exactly where it's supposed to be.

Now, when it comes to all of that, what's the most important element in your arrangement that you need to get right when it comes to groove and vibe and feel? You know, there's one thing that you can probably think of right now that plays a major role in that. Um, the one thing that makes everything else fall apart if it's not feeling exactly right, you know what that is?

The drums, of course, in most genres, most modern genres pop rock heavy music. The drums are what keep the groove together, what hold the song together, what. Um, it's the thing that drives the song. It's the thing that creates the groove that makes people move to your music. I think next to the vocal, it's the most important thing in the song, and it's definitely, definitely the thing that's responsible for the groove and for how the song feels, you know?

So imagine the perfect groove. What is that? Imagine every hit being exactly where it's supposed to be. Spot on. Intentionally late or early, whatever the part needs. Imagine just feeling right every single time. Imagine a rough mix that already sounds better than all of your previous final mixes without a single active plugin.

Is there such a thing? Yes, there is because I bet if you pay attention to what I'm telling you right now, and if you make sure you capture the best possible takes and then use. Editing tools available to make it even better and to make it feel exactly right, even if it takes you a lot of time, and even if it feels like a very.

Unmusical thing to do, or even if you're afraid of it because you think it's like cheating or whatever, just imagine doing that. Just imagine making sure that every note is exactly where it's supposed to be, how that would feel, even just a rough mix with proper balances. Tones that kind of work. Um, a good song, good arrangement, played really well.

Everything's where it's supposed to be, not a single plugin active. Imagine what that would sound and feel like, and then compare that to a mix where you use all kinds of tricks and plugins and sounds, and you know, all these things, but it's just not feeling right. It's a little too rushed, or it's a little too far behind, not together.

It's like a sloppy performance. Which one do you think sounds more professional? Definitely the one that has played. Well. Put one microphone in a room with a lot of professional musicians with like a couple of professional musicians, not a lot. A couple of professional musicians in a band. Put one microphone in that room and let them do their thing and just record it the way it is, even just a.

Phone and listen to that and listen, listen to what that would sound like compared to musicians that are not playing that well, that are, um, having problems, you know, delivering the right feel. They're making the odd mistake here and there. It just is not a professional performance. But then you can, you are free to use all kinds of microphones and processing and mixing techniques and, and, Whatever you can imagine.

And then you compare the two, imagine what the first one would sound like and what the second one would sound like. And definitely the one with one mic and the room full of professional musicians would sound. 10 times better than the other performance with all the tools and all the gear and all the plugins and all the mixing techniques, but it's just not played really well right now.

Think about what you can do to get to that sort of level. Imagine like having full control over the vibe and feel of any song you work on. As I said, you could do it by practicing a lot, and that's definitely part of it. But imagine having, in addition to those very well-rehearsed songs, having a toolbox that allows you to take full control over the vibe and feel that allows you to just push it a little bit further to make it a little bit better, to bring out the best out of these performances and to make sure that everything is feeling exactly right, you know?

You're sitting there in your, in your jam space or in your home studio and you feel like. Hmm, this part is a little late. You know, I might, I might bring that a little, you know, more to the left. See how that sounds like? And you just do it and it clicks and it just works. Or imagine, um, you have a part that's spot on it's plate well, but you want it to feel a little more heavy, a little more thick, you know, a little, you know, laid back or, um, not, not as rushed so that it has a different kind of vibe, a different kind of impact.

Imagine just doing the, like imagining that and then just being able to do that on the spot. You just click a few buttons and it does exactly that. It's a little laid back. It sounds heavier, it has the right vibe. Um, imagine having a drum fill where, You feel like the drummer should pick it up a little bit.

It's like supposed to be rushed a little to get the right, you know, feel to, to get the, um, a little more, you know, aggression and energy into that transition. Imagine being able to just do that without having to think about it a lot without wondering how that is, how you would actually do that, you know?

Or imagine you have a part that is not really spot on. It is late or rushed, and it needs to be super tight and spot on for it to work. And so, uh, maybe after that comes apart, that is supposed to feel a little more loose. And now you need that one part to be super tight. And the next one, a little looser.

Imagine being able to just do that on the spot without having to think about it. It is all possible. Imagine having a really great musician in the room and they play a perfect take and there's just this one note that is just not completely right and you can, you can say to them, Hey, I love this take. It was absolutely fantastic.

Um, now let's just, Improve this one section here, this one note or these two hits here, and then it's gonna be perfect. Don't worry about it. I got you. I'm gonna fix this real quick and we're done because the rest of the take was fantastic. Imagine being able to just do that quickly, intuitively on the spot.

It is all possible. Unfortunately though, that is not the reality right now for most home studio producers and DIY musicians, your situation right now and the things that you're telling yourself probably sound more like this. You know, you, you're probably sitting there and being like, Hmm, yeah, I know it's not the best take, but it will probably, it will probably do.

Nobody will notice, especially when it's mixed, you know, it's probably not gonna be that obvious. The truth is, people will notice it's gonna be obvious no matter what you're do in mixing. But you don't know how to fix it. You don't know what to do about it, and you're not even sure if it's that bad. So you kind of hoping that it will work out.

And I can tell you already, it doesn't, it won't work out. Or maybe you told yourself before that all your favorite records have sloppy performances and are not perfect. And they are. Uh, the mistakes are what makes them great. You know, this is a myth. It's a typical amateur excuse. Those records are great.

Despite the mistakes, not because of them. Also, there's a very big difference between feel and obvious mistakes. If those records are not perfect and it could, they could very well be that they're not perfect, then it's intentional. It's not just something that they somehow let happen and then it just worked.

You know, it's intentional or it is. Just a minor thing and not an obvious mistake, and maybe you don't have the experience yet to tell the difference between an obvious mistake and a minor, not mistake, but a, you know, these tiny differences that actually make something human. There's a difference between the two.

Typical amateur excuse or maybe use. You are one of those people saying you, you know, modern music is all edited to death and editing and all those modern tools are totally sucking the life out of music. And you'd rather keep it organic. I'll keep it organic. It's often a nice way of saying it's not play well and it will never really sound professional, but I don't know how to fix it.

And so no professional really does that. Of course, nobody wants robotic music unless it's part of the genre. But that's again, not the goal here, not the goal of editing. Most people who say, I, I'd rather keep it organic, just really don't know how to fix it, and they really, they don't want to admit that something's wrong, so they just pretend that it's intentional and they are fighting the modern tools and the editing because that is what kills music.

You know, this is just an an excuse. In almost all cases, it's not black or white. That's what I'm trying to say here. Editing doesn't mean moving everything 100% to the grid. Editing has to serve the music. Now, another thing that a lot of you are probably struggling with right now is I've tried, I. This isn't you now talking to yourself.

You know, you're sitting there and you're like, I've tried fixing this for hours. No matter what I do, you know, I just can't get it right. It always seems like I'm introducing a new problem every time I try to fix something. Um, I can't solve the original one. I'm just introducing more problems and. The reason for that, if that happens, is that you don't know your tools well enough and you don't have a systematic approach to editing yet.

You're wasting time using a trial and error approach without really knowing what you're doing. This is the reality for most people. You just don't know the tools that are actually available, and I can't blame you because those tools are pretty complex. They are. They're so much to, to learn and to figure out, and every doll is different and you know, you actually just wanna make music.

I get it. You just wanna create music. You don't wanna sit there and become like a, a. The specialist and like all these tools and editing and, and all the stuff in the computer. You just wanna play your instrument and, and play music with your friends and make art and touch people. And all the technical, the whole technical side of it is just a, a means to an end and, and you don't wanna waste, uh, most of your time trying to figure out these, these tools.

So I absolutely understand that. Yet it is still holding you back. So you need to find a quick way to learn those tools. Just the stuff you need to operate them intuitively and to just make them a part of the creative process. You know, the final sort of what I, what I would, what I would call typical amateur excuse is if you're telling yourself that a good performance is all you need, right?

A good player delivering an amazing take doesn't need any editing. Again, another typical amateur excuse. Every professional knows that even the best musicians in the world get their performances edited. Not every time, not as a rule, but you know, and, and certainly not to compensate for a lack of talent, but it's done Whenever the final result could feel even better than it already does, you know, whatever it takes, they do whatever it takes to get it to feel just right.

And this is the mindset, this is how professionals approach creating music. Because what matters is that at the, in the end, when someone hits play and listens to your song, That they are blown away, that they are emotionally, you know, touched and that moved and that they, that they, they, they themselves move to your music.

That they react to it, that they tell their friends about it, that they, that it makes them cry, it makes them happy, or it gives them energy or, you know, that is the goal and how you get there doesn't matter. And if even the best musicians in the world are not able sometimes to. To deliver that a hundred percent.

And it's totally fine because we have tools that can help with that. And why not use them? Why not use them to create the best art? If you would be able to play it exactly right, you would do it right. You would a, would be able to, to deliver the perfect, take exactly the way you envisioned it. You would do it.

You wouldn't intentionally sabotage yourself and be like, oh, I'm just gonna play this at 80% because if I play it too well, it's not gonna be good. No, you would play it exactly right. Exactly the way you feel it. And if you can't do that a hundred percent, then why not get those final five or 10% with editing or even that final 1% with editing, you know?

Why would you sabotage yourself if you have those tools available? Maybe you're one of those people who know how to cut and move things to do cross fades, but you know, doing this for an entire song or album worth of drums is like, Taking forever. And it seems ridiculous to you, you know, on every hit you do manual manually cutting pasting or cutting and moving and fading in and fading out and doing cross fades and all of that.

You know, it's like that's going to take forever. Who's got time for that? Right? So maybe you're one of those people who know the basics of editing, but you don't know about like systematic approaches and, and automatic processes that significantly speed up the whole editing thing, and you're wondering how.

How the hell do professional engineers get this done? How can they edit an entire album in like a day or an entire song within like an hour or two, like an entire song worth of drums? You know? How can they do it in between recording sessions while the artist is like, you know, setting up their, the, the next song or whatever, or I don't know, like this is, people do this all the time.

When, when I, when I was still producing, I would track drums all day with a band. Then at night, send it out to someone at the other side of the planet in a different time zone who would edit the drums for me. And then the next morning when we would continue with the session, I got, I already got the edited drums ready for us to go.

So it doesn't take forever. It can be done in a relatively short amount of time to a very professional. Degree, like in a, on a very professional level, it is possible. It doesn't take days, it doesn't even take hours to edit one song of drums if you know how to do it. Now, if any of those things sound familiar to you, if you've been telling yourself any of those things, and you are looking for, for a solution to any or all of these right now.

Then I wanna present a solution to you, and that solution is called editing and drum editing in particular because drums are the most complex instrument when it comes to editing in, in most genres, at least. There's a lot of moving parts, many things that can go wrong with drum editing. Also, if you master drum editing, you can almost edit everything else too.

There's specifics to different things, but the, when it comes to timing editing, If you can master drums, you can probably do the rest to, to degree at least. And if you can master drum editing, you'll definitely know how to use editing tools. So the solution is called drum editing. It's called um, editing in general, it's called l Learning your Editing Tools.

That is what you need to be able to do. It's learning a process. It's learning what to listen for and the way to speed all of this up significantly. And a solution that will. Save you a lot of time and headache and frustration is called dead on drums. This is a training that we've developed at the surf recording band.

We call it the drum editor's toolbox. And this is specifically made to to, to solve these problems, to help you get tracks that feel right, that get the emotion across that help that, that are. Where like every note, every hit is exactly where it's supposed to be, and it's, it's built and designed to help you understand the editing process and the tools you have available.

And it's. It's the best thing that we could come up with to help you with that. We call it the drum editor's toolbox. It's there to help you use the power of precision to edit your drums for maximum impact without killing the vibe, which is very important for us. And it's a complete online video training that you can go through at your own.

Pace and it shows you everything you need to know about editing drums. And it gives you the exercises and training material to practice it until you are a hundred percent confident about your editing skills. Now here's how this training works. Um, You watch the videos at your own pace, you apply what you've learned in those videos, and then you practice and experiment with the multitracks that we provide you with and with the guided exercises that come with that course.

Now, everything else, all the details about this training, about this program are on a page, the self recording band.com/dad on drums. If you go there, you can check out all the details. You can sign up for this training. Right now, it is the number one. Thing out there. I think when it comes to editing drums, it's the best thing you can do to learn how to edit drums.

It's taught by Thomas Cro, our very own Dr. Drums, as we call him. He's been on the podcast before. He's a professional audio engineer and drummer. He's working with me here at Outback Recordings at my studio. He specializes in editing session, drumming and drum programming. He's freaking amazing at those things.

Partly because of his incredible talent, but also partly because of his background as a professional drummer and, uh, drum teacher. So he's the perfect teacher for that. Since 2019, he's worked on hundreds of songs for artists and labels from all around the world, and now he's here to share his experience and knowledge with you.

So if you are ready to become a drum editing wizard, go to the surf recording band.com/dead on drums. By the way, bonus. Points if you are using cubase, that's the, the software of the doll that I prefer and recommend, but, you know, you don't have to use it. But if you use it, uh, this program is taught in cubase, so this is also a really, really good cubase training, training as well.

However, if you don't use cubase it, you still absolutely need to check this out because the basic principles apply to every professional door. You need a fully featured professional door to really be able to up to implement. All of it because, you know, some of these advanced editing tools, uh, are not available in like the lower tier dolls or in like, some of the free dolls.

But if you are in logic, in Reaper, in pro tools, in Cubase, in, uh, what else is there, you know, the, the, you know, the, the basic main dolls, uh, then you can absolutely apply those things and you can level up your drum editing skills significantly and. While doing that, your general editing skills will just be improved as well, and everything else that you'll edit will be much easier as well.

Um, while you, when you sign up for it during checkout, you'll be asked to add a vocal tuning masterclass to your order. If you do that, you get a complete package. You'll learn how to edit drums, and then you also learn how to tune vocals. Those skills. By the way, you can also apply to tuning base and, you know, pitch correction in general and those two together.

Almost cover everything you need to know to really be able to edit your songs. And I hope this episode made you a little less afraid of editing in general, made you more open to the idea of editing your songs. I hope I could show you that this is a very musical and creative thing and not something that is killing the vibe necessarily.

It's not supposed to, even the best in the world use it. There's no need to be afraid of it. There's no need to be against it. It's nothing bad and. You just need to do whatever you need to do to make your songs connect with your listeners. That's, that's my opinion. That's why I wanted to make this episode.

That's why we created this program, this course. And again, if you wanna check this out, go to the surf recording band.com/dead on drums. Now, I know this is sort of a controversial topic, and I know that some of you are like, Nope. I'm not interested. I don't want to edit. I'm like all about the organic vibe and whatever, and you still believe the things that I call like amateur mistakes.

If that is you, I'd love to hear from you. I'd love to have a discussion. Go to the surf recording bant.com/community and when we post this episode there, just comment below or just open up a new thread there and uh, and. Tell me what you think about this, and let's discuss, because I'm always open for other perspectives.

I, I just love having a good discussion inside our community. So let me know if you took the program and found it valuable. Also, feel free to share your experience in the community and tell others about it. Uh, I'd love to hear from you. I'd love to discuss this further. And I would really, really love to raise the bar overall for DIY productions for.

The, the home studio music that is being produced, because I really feel like most people are not. You know, making music to, to their like full, they're not using their full potential. They're not making their music as good as it could be. And that's a shame, and I would love to hear more of those amazing songs actually feel amazing too, because that is still not the case yet, despite all the amazing tools that we have, it is still not the case.

Most songs still just don't sound professional because they are not played well, and nobody took the time to edit them and get them to sound well. To sound. Right. And, uh, I would love to change that. I would love to raise the bar. I would love to get closer to where the bar is, the professional world, and, uh, I wanna get closer to what our favorite records sound like.

And so this is why we made this the self recording band.com/dead on drums. As always, thank you so much for listening to this episode. I'm gonna be joined by Malcolm again very soon. There's also a couple of really, really amazing interview episodes in the pipeline. Thank you for. Listening to this today.

Thank you for watching this. If you're on YouTube and I'll talk to you next week. Bye-bye.

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