Andreas Werner (a.k.a. Audio Werner) has an enviable track record when it comes to his production output. Having helped to set up the Hartchef Discos imprint during the early noughties, Werner has since been picked up by a whole host of other labels that share a similar sound aesthetic, with releases on the likes of Perlon, Finest Hour, Galdoors, Cabinet, and Hello? Repeat. He tends to tread the line somewhere between house tunes and more minimal stylings, keeping one ear out for groove, and the other tuned into the finer details. Yet, it’s his ability to keep his music from becoming too serious, with a real playful streak in his tracks, that sets him apart. We asked him to share some of his tips on how to produce a cut like Audio Werner, and this is what he delivered.
Optimize the acoustics of your studio room:
Make sure your room is prepared to present the music coming from your (hopefully high quality) speakers in a proper way. In particular, this means getting rid of early reflections by preparing the walls acoustically . Two walls will always reflect the sound back and forth if they are not acoustically treated, so you had better prepare. Also, hang draping material on the ceiling, and put carpet in your room if you have a wooden floor. Some bass traps are recommendable as well. (Editor's note: Sound On Sound have a good article on treating your room acoustically, which you can find here).
Position your speakers right:
Unless you're located under an uneven ceiling (i.e. an attic), spread your speakers away from the walls, and position the two speakers so they form a triangle with your seated position as the third point. This will mean that if you're sitting in the middle of the room you will be on one end of an isosceles triangle. The measurement from any speaker to you, or from speaker to speaker, should be the same, with the speakers at the height of your ears. Place the equipment you're working on ergonomically so you can reach everything you need quickly.
Optimize your seating position:
A nice office seat may feel comfortable at first, but will ruin your back in the long term, often resulting in lumbar herniation. Always try to keep an upright seating position and, even better, don't sit all the time. If you realize you're getting in a hunchback position, sit upright again—or get up and walk around.
Use an analog mixing desk:
A good analog mixing console is likely to enhance the sound quality of your tracks. You don't need to have lots of analog equipment to make nice sounding tracks, but if you're mainly working in the computer, you should try to output the sound from your computer and run it through some proper analog circuits. The more channels you distribute it on your outboard mixer the better. Dependent on the gear you are using, the signal will gain a lot in presence, and will sound more organic and "real."
Compare your mix on different speakers:
Try to listen to your mix on as many different speakers as possible. If you already have different ones in your room, switch back and forth in order to realize what's going on in the spectrum. Also, listen to your mix on your friend’s speakers and, of course, in the end, give it a try on a big soundsystem if possible. There might be frequencies in the low end that you didn't expect to be there due to not being able to hear them in your home studio.
Don't listen at only high volume:
Of course, it's necessary to listen to your music at a good volume to judge the frequencies well, and who doesn't like to listen to loud music? Sure—it's fun! But if you're constantly listening at a high level you'll not only ruin your ears but will also temporarily lose the ability to judge differences in spectrum and the dynamics of the track—for example, the relationship between bassdrum, bassline, and hi-hats.
Never trust your Sennheiser HD25 DJ Headphones:
When you're on the road, it’s fine to use the above headphones, but it's always a surprise when you're listening to your mix on your studio monitors. HD25’s are not a good reference for final mixes, especially concerning the low end.
Check the tuning of your tracks:
The master tune of a track is quite important, as any unwanted disharmonics may result in problems during the mastering process of the track—and besides, it may just sound odd to the listener. Always try to keep in mind a master note for the track and adjust the pitch of the sound to it. Use disharmonics only where you want it to be disharmonic.
Separate the frequencies of your sounds. For example, a hi-hat does not necessarily need a low end, so get rid of possible low frequencies here by putting a low cut filter on it, or just turn out the bass on the mixing console. It is the same principle for the mid-range frequencies and the bass.
Strip it down:
It’s fun to add sounds to a track, but at some point take a break and check what is really the essence of the track and which sounds just don't need to be there. You don't need to strip it down completely; it's possible to layer several sounds in the same spectrum, but always question if they work well together. Try to only keep the best sounds and elements.
Make and find your own samples:
Try to avoid using complete sample libraries and spend more time recording your own sounds. A good collection of self-made samples will make your music more individual and will help position you away from the legions of producers out there these days. You don’t need expensive sound recording equipment, there are some great cheap options that are more than capability of recording high-quality files.
When it comes to outboard gear, find something that fits your preference and the sound you want, not necessarily the gear that everybody is using. It doesn't matter if it's a cool or expensive synth, the main thing is that it fits your needs and taste.
Finish your project before starting the next one, and always record your music:
In times of total recall on computer-based projects, it's easy to start a new one and work on multiple projects at the same time. I personally think that it's better to finish a track and record it before the vibe you were in when creating it is gone. Always make a final recording before moving on with a new project.
Collect all your old MIDI files:
Don't throw away the recorded MIDI data you've used to create your beats and melodies with. It may be useful material that you might want to use in future projects. It can be pretty surprising and fun to make use of old patterns to make new sounds. Surprise yourself!
Take a break here and there:
When working the whole day on music, give yourself and your ears a break every couple of hours. Not only your brain but also your ears get tired the longer you’re listening to music, and taking some time away from the studio to relax can mean you will return with fresh ears and mind.
Let your tracks rest for a while:
After finishing a track, you would have most likely heard it a thousand times. At this point, you've become so familiar with the material that it's not easy to get the impression from it that a listener who is hearing it for the first time. If possible, put the track aside and leave it unheard for a while—and meanwhile, get your hands and ears on a new project. After a while (and this may sometimes take a long while, as in my case), give the track a second audition, and in the best case scenario you'll know if it's cool or not. If you feel that you're still too much attached to the track, give it more rest. It's like a good wine that you put in the basement: Only the good ones can stand the test of time, and even get better.
Give your tracks a listening session with your friends. You will be more objective to your track than if you only listen to it alone. Sometimes a track you didn't expect will come through, whereas others will be revealed as trash.
Audio Werner is playing in London at the Art Of Dark Easter showcase on March 26.
Photo: Marie Helmer.