Sounding like a professional – it’s such an elusive thing. Yet so many amateurs strive to achieve it. Of course, only a few of them succeed. And of course, it’s got nothing to do with their musical abilities. After all, if a song sucks, it can still be made to sound good, no problem. Nor do they have to make deals with the devil. Some of them simply stumble upon the desired sound, and then it escapes them again. But that shouldn’t be the case with you, my eager friend. Not if you follow these hints:
Avoid clutter: Yep. If you are aiming for that pro audio quality, you can’t allow yourself to have a muddy sound. Nor an overcrowded midrange. And while you can fight these at least partially during the mixing phase, it’s not the best way to go. You have to figure out the final tonal quality, pretty much. Even before you start recording. That means you will need to come up with an arrangement that leaves enough space for every instrument. So they can breathe. It also means that you are going to need to record these sounds as perfectly as you can. So you don’t need to tinker with them too much later. Which usually means you should avoid capturing too much low end, too much high end, and too much mid frequency resonance.
Get the levels steady: When people fail to get an exciting sound, it often comes down to the problem of too much level fluctuation. That’s why you need to compress things. And you need to be smart when you do that, so you don’t kill transients either. Because it’s just as bad to end up with a lifeless, squished sound as to have a bass or lead vocal that keeps disappearing from time to time. On one hand, you have to control the dynamics so they are not too much for the usual listening equipment. But you also have to make sure you preserve enough dynamics to get a truly enjoyable listening experience.
Having the vision
The final touch: While it might be final, it’s in no way the least important. As I mentioned earlier, you have to keep working with a clear image in your mind about what the final piece will sound like. Once you get close with the big steps, as close as possible, you can dive into the details. Things like too much sibilance can render your work amateurish. Also, not having enough development throughout the song is not something you can get away with, when you’re aiming for high quality. If you bore the listener, what’s the point? Nuthin’, mate. Nuthin’.