I've been on the AP for about 10 months now, and I spend the majority of the time here listening to music and sometimes writing reviews. When pointing out and explaining potential flaws that I see in a track, I notice there is a common trend to what I (and possibly others) would change. By no means what I say is correct or always will be considered a flaw, nor do I want you to agree right off the bat. What you should do is when you create another project or go back to what you were working on, take each reviewer's critiques in mind, and if you apply what they say and think you have improved from their advice, then use those techniques. I'm also guilty of committing these "crimes"!
1. Lack of Reverb
I would probably say I've made a suggestion to use (more) reverb in more than half of my reviews. Obsessed with this effect I may be, but reverb can make an instrument/synth/sample that initially sounds cheap and lackluster in quality have that needed depth to produce a more vibrant, lush, and deep sound when used. IMO, it will instantly make your instrument just a touch more authentic, as it can sound like you're playing in a small room, arena, an open field, etc. I just think reverb is a necessity on making music have more imagery.
2. Using FPC/Stock Samples
Everyone that has used FL Studio at one point is guilty of using these. Not that what samples or synths you use are a bad thing, preset or not. There is a place for everything, and I've seen music where they've been utilized well when trying to convey a certain mood or sound. And this may depend on the listener, if you use Reason you may not be familiar with FL Studio's factory sounds, and vice versa. Fact is, the vast majority of newer artists that submit music to the AP start out with FL Studio, and of course will usually be aware of the internal samples that the program has provided. It's hard to find fault with them- but to the more experienced listeners, it will be tiring to hear the same shaped sound over and over again. The least you can do is resample, mess with the EQ settings to get a better personal shape- but furthermore you can look around on the web for samples, or better yet when you get more experience resample like I said or sample other tracks yourself (with of course giving credit).
Percussion Samples: (thanks to zodiak7)
www.Google.com (by typing in the type of kit/samples you're looking for, you'll be amazed at what you can find)
Give it a shot, you may like what you hear and you will have more original sounds to work with.
This is another common, more objective error found with people who are newer to creating music, or are at least new to mixing their music. Clipping will usually dilute otherwise a good work as no one wants to hear a song fuzz or cause unwanted, sometimes painful volume "spikes". While I'm no mixer or audio engineer at all, this problem can simply be suppressed by putting a light compression effect on the instruments that are causing problems, and by using a soft limiter on the master channel to remove any other overly loud sounds that could seep in...I might not be entirely correct on how to use these; and of course there is a lot more to compression- but this all I know, and you should atleast take these quick steps to make your work sound more professional and clean.
More on compressors (tutorial by Rucklo):
Another Tutorial (thanks MusicisBliss!)
4. Abrupt Endings
Doesn't happen that much actually, but it's done enough to be brought to attention. This is certainly the most subjective point in my blog, IMO. When I criticize for abrupt endings I usually am referring to an unresolving chord/note, a sudden finish without a good melodical and/or rhythmical phrasing to leadup into the conclusion, or notes that should be sustained longer to bring out the ending effect. This would be a situation where it doesn't hurt to know a little bit of music theory. For example if you're playing in the key of C, and generally are going with a happy/sad context, you're going to want to end on C or A usually or you will throw off the listener yearning to hear more. Of course there are modes and scale degrees; but importantly try to resolve to the tonality that you've established in your last passage. There is tons of theories and contexts that will go out of the bounds of this blog; but my point is just don't half ass your ending.
This is perhaps quite an overlooked effect and like most aspects of music it can take a while to master. I know I personally suck it at it. But EQing is arguably the most important aspect of engineering music. It's also not all based in just using the effects to get the proper room spacing to get all of your instruments to have their own definitive sounds, but using the appropriate selection of samples that will blend more nicely. For example, you will want to EQ your bassline differently from your basskick so you can feel and hear both instead of just one drowning out the other. If you have a bassy, deep pad in the background then it may sound better if you use a kick with higher mids. There are ways to include everything, I wish I knew more to go into specifics. Just look around for tutorials on the web, and for a start- just pay attention to each individual channel, and make sure you can hear all your sounds adequately by adjusting different EQ levels until you can get closer to the sound you want.
As for panning, some artists don't take the time to do this. Unless you're waaaaay back from current technology, you own a set of stereo speakers or headphones. Take advantage of this; and don't let your music sound like one big mono. Primarily, you will want to set the bassier sounds in the center of the track, and place the mid to higher ranged instruments to the left and the right. Within drumsets, take advantage of the stereo and pan your hi hats and cymbals 60-80% to the left of the right, if you use toms and melodical percussion, an interesting usage of both speakers is start from the left speaker with the lower sounds and gradually move to the right as the higher notes come in. These are not rules, but just don't make each sound dead in the center. If you use both speakers effectively to space your music, your instruments will not be competing for attention.
Lastly, another overlooked step is ignoring to pay attention to changing the note velocities. This won't happen often with musicians who do live recordings with their instruments, acoustically or digitally through a midi controller, because dynamics will naturally come through playing your instrument and applying expression. This process is relatively tedious, and is one of the elements that is hard to perfect, separating the genuineness of actual and electronic instruments. You can start to remedy these problems with accenting your hi-hats at the start of every measure, your snares at the third beat of every third measure, crescendoing a timpani roll into an epic motif- again, these are not rules, and I don't traditionally know where accents are generally placed, but its important that you experiment. Take two bars of eight notes, and mess with the individual velocities, put emphasis on certain notes where you feel the need and see how it comes out. Most importantly, just experiment and just try to get a feel that sounds good.
Honorable Mention: Midi Sounds/Unsuitable Sytrus Presets
In the current age of digital music, this is completely unacceptable :). even if you are using just a simple notation or tablature program, there's plenty of available alternatives to achieve a better sound on your music- for free. Try downloading a program like FL studio or a program that can load vsts and soundfonts, if you haven't . Use these third party plugins instead of the synth presets that do not do a very good job of trying to emulate actual instruments. Just slap on some reverb for a start, and you're good to go!
This is easily the best free soundfont that I've found. It includes the major orchestral sounds: violins, violas, cello, and contrabass strings with their bowing techniques: legato, detache, pizzicato, and tremolo, and the brass and woodwind section too with tubas, trombones, trumpets, flutes, piccolos, French horns, bassoons, clarinets, an oboes, each with the choice of being staccato or legato. It doesn't have layered or indepth libraries like you will find in East West's Symphonic Gold, but squidfont is 500$ cheaper and will still produce an authentic s sound, too. It also isn't 14 GBs.
For orchestral percussion, squidfont has a section, but you will want to download roland orchestral rhythm- which even has layered notes.
They both can be found on this page: http://www.soundfonts.darkesword.com/
Pick up a good choir sound while you're at it too.
Flobakks Male Choir (ahhs)
KBH Female Choir (organic sounding oohs and ahhs
Upgrade your GM Bank
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_M IDI_Level_2 if you don't know what I'm talking about
Even if you are stubborn and don't feel like leaving your midi sounds, there are soundfonts and .Vsts to upgrade to. I personally use Chaos Bank, but there are probably better alternatives if you search around.
And of course this is just the tip of the iceberg. Search for a rare instrument that you like, and you might be surprised to find a soundfont or vst out there.