How to never stop improving your music production


A while back, I felt like I had stagnated in the quality of my mixing and mastering. I had been improving rapidly for years, but then the rate of improvement just seemed to slow down.

Improvement over time.

A brutal reality is that you too might not be improving much in your music production even though you’re working hard at it.


Why is that? And what can we do to overcome that stagnation?


When we’re making music, whether we’re producing, mixing or mastering, we’re trying to get things done as best as we can. We’re often in a high-stakes situation where we’re working on getting the best sound for a client, or finalising a track we’ve poured our heart and soul into.


This is known as the performance zone.


  • Goal is to do as best as we can.
  • Focus on perfectly executing our known skills.
  • Aiming to minimise any mistakes by taking less risks.


To become better in the performance zone, we should spend more time in the learning zone.


  • Doing activities specifically with the goal of improvement.
  • Focus on improving our known skills and learning new ones.
  • Mistakes are expected.

Learning vs performance zone


No matter how good you are today, you CAN still improve. Get into a mindset where you believe you can and truly want to improve.


I was confident that my mixing and mastering was of a great standard… BUT I wasn’t ready to succumb to complacency.


What worked for me?


I decided to spend time studying why my favourite mixes sounded so great. I would try and identify how my mixes were different. When I first begun this process I was using a chain of plugins to get certain readings to help me analyse the tracks. This process became part of the inspiration for our plugin REFERENCE, so I’ll explain to you my new streamlined version of how I attempt to improve my sound.

Why do these sound so good?

I load up a fresh project (so I don't have any other distractions) and drop in my 3 most recent FINISHED stereo masters.


I then load up REFERENCE on the output channel and drop in a selection of my favourite mixes. At this point I’m not necessarily trying to match the genres. When actually mixing or mastering, it can be more useful to use a reference track in the same genre as the track you’re working on, but for this exercise I’m opening my mind and loosening the rules.


I’ll start with that first master, and compare it to each of the tracks I’ve loaded in. I’ll hit level match all so I can jump between all the tracks and keep the perceived volume equal across the board. The trinity display will tell me how my master differs to the references. I then try to conclude whether my mastering decisions worked for this production or if it could have been positively influenced by aspects present in the reference track.


I’ll start with the overall balance. If the white level lines go above the middle line, then those frequencies are more prominent in my master. If they go below, those frequencies are less prominent. I can take the readings with a pinch of salt if they aren't a similar genre, either way it gives me a great insight. I’ll play around with the amount of frequency bands. I’ll use less bands to get a broader perspective and I’ll add bands for a more precise perspective.

REFERENCE by Mastering The Mix

From this information I’ll learn if I pushed the bass too much or made the top end just a little bit too crispy for the production. I’ll get an idea of if my master sounded boxy or muddy compared to mixes that I love. This reflection helps me identify ways in which I might take a different approach in the future.


The next step is to look at how my track compares in terms of punch and compression. If the purple dots in REFERENCE move towards the white level line, those frequencies are more compressed in my master than in my reference. If they move away from the white level line, they’re punchier. Again, I can use less bands to get a broader perspective and I can add more bands for a more precise perspective.

REFERENCE by Mastering The Mix

If the purple dots are moving towards the white level lines in the mids and the highs when flicking between all the references then I can determine that I might have over compressed those frequencies in my master. Self assessment isn’t about becoming a perfectionist or being overly critical, but it can be  useful to look back on your work with fresh ears and decide whether you would do things differently today. You can then use that insight in your future productions.


You can repeat this process and it will always be effective…


There are always new techniques being explored and a HUGE back catalogue of all the great productions ever released. I love listening to great music, and with this technique I’m improving my ability to make better mixing decisions.




The way to better music production is to switch between the learning zone and the performance zone. We should aim to deliberately improve our skills in the learning zone and then apply what we’ve learnt in the performance zone. This will help you continuously to grow and improve your skills.


Other Ways We Can Improve EVERY day…


  • Read blogs posts, watch youtube videos, read the manuals of your plugins to extend your knowledge.


  • Learn and try new techniques outside of your comfort zone.


  • Experiment with new plugins and sounds at a time where you’re not actively mixing or producing a song. Use plugins and synths in ways they weren't necessarily intended.


  • Your ability to innovate and be creative in your productions is like a muscle. The more you formulate ideas, the easier it will be in the future to quickly find interesting and more effective approaches to making music.


  • Solicit feedback from other producers you trust and respect.


  • Reflect on the feedback you’ve received and self assess areas in which you can improve.