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10 Common Tracker Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.

A follow-up article from 10 Tracking Tips for Beginners

Once being an active reviewer back in 2006, I came across a lot of clearly unintentional pit-falls that were made by less experienced trackers new to the scene. Music is a wonderful thing, but it is easy to also make it unpleasant. In order to learn from your mistakes, you need to be aware of them in order to improve. This is the reason I have listed the ten most common mistakes that I have found. Read and learn.

#1 - Being stuck with a single theme without development/laziness.

Let's face it. Often, as you compose, you will create a theme which may sound wonderful! The problem is when you build your entire song on this single idea without developing on it and moving away from it, it will sound monotone and actually quite boring.

Minimalism can be intentional (and even a whole genre!), but variation in not only arrangement but in composition, melody, sound and dynamics is the key to an interesting song. Allow yourself to be creative!

#2 - Off-key and off-tune. *shivers*

Some can hear it, some cannot. If you have ever felt something sounds horrible without being able to put your finger on what - most likely the tune is off-tune or even off-key. Whichever is the case for you, always tune your instruments or samples before composing with them.

A simple way to tune things would be to play two samples at the same tone simultaneously and listen to whether they interfere with each other. Tune them manually until they play the same tone at the same key. Also try some common accords with 2 or 3 samples like C-major (C, E, G) and see if they sound like they should as when you play the chord with only one sample. For other methods, look for guides on the forums or ask around. There's plenty of good ways.

#3 - Got a little bit off-beat, mister drummer?

Imagine the following sequence to be the sound of a ticking metronome.


Hear anything that seems wrong? There are ways to experiment with rhythms and you can create very odd beats. However, whenever you make a song with an odd rhythm, it should at least be consistent throughout most major parts of the song.

The variation of different beats could possibly create interesting effects, but if your song is just random, it will sound like random noise and not a song - I suppose a song is what you intend to achieve?

#4 - Forgetting to fill out the sound spectrum.

As a beginner, you may not be aware of what the term "sound spectrum" means, so I will make it simple for you. Every sound consists of waves with different wave lengths. A long wave has low frequency and creates a bass sound which typically sounds like "ooom". A short wave with high frequency has a fizzy sound or lean towards a flute. And then there's the mid-frequencies like a guitar.

The more you mix instruments with different frequency levels, the fuller your sound is. Listen in your headphones and hear how they compliment each other or how empty it can feel if you, for example, forget to add bass - which many does.

#5 - Missing to pay attention to dynamics and sound levels.

Dynamics and panning may come in second hand, but is just as important a tool to achieve superb effects. You may also want to pay attention to how the volume of different instruments compliment each other. If a pitchy instrument is too loud it will hurt your ears, too loud a bass may give you too much bass and too much mid-frequency things can crack your speakers and drench your songs.

Balance the volume of every different part of your song so that it creates a pleasing effect. Panning helps creating interesting effects and the changes in volume (dynamics) can create more interesting effects than all the vibrato, glissando can do together. For example you could expressing the feeling of being tense by using or nervous by putting tremolo on a string or use a loud orchestra hit for toning that something just happened. The possibilities are many.

#6 - Finishing a song just for the sake of finishing.

Sometimes as a composer, you will run out of ideas especially as you are about to finish your song. If you don't know how to incorporate an ending, maybe you have already gotten stuck in the pitfall I explained in mistake #1?

Otherwise, there's plenty of way to finish a song. You can always ask someone experienced for a little help on suggestions or you can think it over as you sleep. Just make sure you have a methodical strategy so you can achieve the effect that you want.

#7 - Staring too much on the effect column.

Effects can be used to create something that sounds awesome through clever but technically simple means. However, I sometimes come across those who consider effects as the one and only mean to create a good song.

It's not the amount of effects you use that make something sound good, it is how you use them.

#8 - Forgetting to test your song in other players.

Not everyone use the player you use. Listen to your song in most common players and try to adapt your song to it. If you use external features like VSTs and other plug-ins to create the sound you want, it would be advised that you release an MP3 in first hand and perhaps the module on the side so that everyone can listen to your song the way you intended it to sound.

#9 - Stealing too many ideas.

Some call it inspiration, others call it influence, bloggers call it being unoriginal. There's a line where being inspired goes towards stealing ideas. If you have another song in mind, of course you can use some parts or ideas from it in your own creation, but create your own thing first and then put it in as a subtle compliment, and not the other way around or else accusations will be made. There's a fine line between stealing and being inspired.

Now, you don't need to be paranoid. If your song coincidentally sounds very, very much like another and you were not aware of it while creating your own piece, you have not done anything wrong.

If you remix a song or make a cover, credit the original author and make it clear that you have remixed/covered someone else. If you make a cover, do it from scratch and with your own interpretation or else it will be classed a rip.

#10 - Forgetting to add details.

For archiving reasons, don't forget to add details and credit of when you made your song, possibly how you made it, what software you used and credit yourself for being the author behind it.

You may also add your contact details if you would like. It's not necessary if you do not want to do so. As long as the listener can find what else you have made and easily categorise your creations. It's all for your own benefit!

Copyright © Fredrik "Eagle" Larsson, 2006-2008