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AndySlatter Envato team says

Thanks for all the really interesting feedback! This is really useful.

When we say that something sounds “professional” what do we mean? I wonder what kind of flaws you will hear in less professional sounding music, that you will NEVER hear on commercial releases. By the way, sorry to focus on negatives :) hope I’m not bringing the mood down, I just think it’s interesting.

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jhunger says

That is a hard question to answer. We can use the standard definitions that people talk about on the forums here, e.g. composition is interesting and arranged well, performance is tight and not sloppy, production is thoughtful and skillfully implemented.

But then take a listen to one of the Rolling Stones best albums, Exile on Main Street (IMO one of the best albums of all time), and see if any of those points apply consistently across the album. A lot of the music I listen to (indie hipster folk/rock) would be rejected for quality reasons on AudioJungle in a New York minute because of performance inconsistencies and mixing problems. One other example that comes to mind is Beck’s early stuff, like Mellow Gold or One Foot in the Grave – commercially very successful but doesn’t really fit into a traditional “professional” sound.

I can come up with a few specific things, I guess:

- It’s usually easy to tell when an acoustic has been recorded directly using the pickup instead of a microphone, and this can often have a less professional sound (in my opinion). Using even a cheap microphone almost always sounds better.

- A lot of noise on a recording can sound unprofessional, although with modern equipment you get less of this in general. But a few years ago it was painfully obvious when somebody was using their Fostex 4 track to lay things down.

- I guess a sloppy performance on a song that sounds like it’s supposed to be tight would also stand out. On the early Beck albums I mentioned earlier, there’s some sloppy guitar playing that is obviously trying to be that way to create the feel of the song. But when you hear a solo or something in an otherwise tight pop or rock song that starts to fall apart after a few measures it stands out a lot more.

- Bad and cliched lyrics. Not that plenty of professionally produced songs don’t have this, but whenever a wanna be rock band gives me a CD invariably the lyrics are what turn me off the most.

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SERFmusic says

Thanks for all the really interesting feedback! This is really useful. When we say that something sounds “professional” what do we mean? I wonder what kind of flaws you will hear in less professional sounding music, that you will NEVER hear on commercial releases. By the way, sorry to focus on negatives :) hope I’m not bringing the mood down, I just think it’s interesting.

I don’t think your making the focus negative :)

But to me, “professional” can mean comparable to “professional” mixes and production quality. There’s no way to specifically pin point what it is except it sounds good, clear, was mixed and mastered well, and fits the style.

The kind of flaws you may hear in “less professional” sounding music may be:

1. Poor Mix Quality – bad EQ, compression, overcrowding in the frequency spectrums, imbalanced mix, poorly tracked instruments, etc.!

2. Poor Production Quality – unclear direction of music, bad blend of instruments (i.e. 2 basses, 1 low pad, cellos, and 808 kick drum all fighting for the lower frequencies), extremely loosely tracked parts, etc.

I do think it’s very possible to make today’s common home recording gear sound “professional” ...you can do everything “in the box” as far as tracking and mixing and mastering, but it’s hard work! (at least to me lol). There’s just a lot of time and effort that goes into the whole process and we should be willing to learn and practice those processes (there’s no right or wrong way to get to the end result). It will make a major difference in the sound quality :)

That’s my two cents :) Just my opinion, that’s all.

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AndySlatter Envato team says

- It’s usually easy to tell when an acoustic has been recorded directly using the pickup instead of a microphone, and this can often have a less professional sound (in my opinion). Using even a cheap microphone almost always sounds better.

I know what you mean Joel, I’ve always found acoustic guitar pickups to have an unpleasant quacky, glassy, metallic sound, using a microphone always sounds better.

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AndySlatter Envato team says

I don’t think your making the focus negative :)

But to me, “professional” can mean comparable to “professional” mixes and production quality. There’s no way to specifically pin point what it is except it sounds good, clear, was mixed and mastered well, and fits the style.

That’s my two cents :) Just my opinion, that’s all.

Thanks SERFmusic, you have some good points there.

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AndySlatter Envato team says

I think there are some mistakes that are easy to make, one thing I’m really aware of when recording parts via midi keyboard is those occasions where your finger just slightly touches a wrong key on the keyboard at a really low velocity, creating a slight dissonance. Sometimes the stray note is barely noticeable, which is why it is really important to double check the all the notes on any midi parts.

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felt_tips Moderator says

I have been working with music for most of my career, but I am a musical know-nothing. I’m a designer, animator and film-maker, so I am that client who just judges everything by feel. Sorry! :D But actually, in my experience, many people who buy / commission music are in the same boat.

So for what it’s worth, here’s what turns me off.

1. Anything that sounds like daytime TV / corporate training video / lift muzak. Bland, inoffensive. I want something that has a bit of spine and that I can straightaway imagine in the context of a high-end production. In moving image, the wrong music can drag the whole thing down really badly.

2. Not gettable. The song has to be gettable… immediately graspable and likeable. Not one of those songs that you start to like after the sixth or seventh listen. That’s because most people will see a film / animation once and once only. By gettable, I don’t in any way mean average / middle of the road. (see point 4).

3. Unconfident. Whether it’s loud or quiet, a track has to have its own distinct personality; needs to be confident in its own boots, so to speak. It’s hard to break down what constitutes confidence (as with people), but when you hear it you know it.

4. Too normal. While being gettable, unusual is also very desirable – whoever can combine the two should do well. Whether it’s the arrangement, instrumentation, melody, whatever, something that sets the track apart from the rest is important.

5. Bitty Structure. For most animation purposes, a track that sticks to its guns, develops a theme, builds it, has a strong start and a strong ending will be eminently usable. Structural elements and changes of pace / key are great and add contrast to the overall development, but too much erratic hopping about makes the track hard to work with. Also, useful edit points. I’m rarely able to use a track at its original length. Different edits (15/30/60/full length) are useful, but not necessarily a deal clincher.

6. Poor Production – Of course it needs to be well mixed and mastered and have a full, round sound (without necessarily feeling overly polished). Too busy is definitely not good, but many tracks on AJ feel quite flat too and have the distinct sensation that there’s a part missing. (I often get the idea that I’m listening to a backing track with a missing vocal).

7. Unpopular – I’m sorry to say that if I’m looking for a track for a Videohive template, then popularity (i.e. sales) also counts. Music sells videos and sometimes I need the reassurance that others are going to like that track as much as I do. I don’t always go for a best-seller, but in a head to head choice between two tracks, I’ll usually opt for the one with a better sales track record. I don’t feel good about doing this always, but business is business. (For this reason I would very much like to be able to sort tracks by Sales Average, that way I don’t just get the tracks that have been around for ever, but also the newer ones that are doing well).

That’s probably all a bit vague and peppered with layman terminology, but I hope some of it’s useful. :-)

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tacoMusic says

That’s probably all a bit vague and peppered with layman terminology, but I hope some of it’s useful. :-)

Actually felt_tips, this is exactly the type of comments we need here. Excellent post – can you give some examples (assuming it’s not against AJ forum rules) of what you personally feel ticks the box for what you mention above? Particularly for points 2,4 and 5 please.

Thanks

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joesacco says

Use as many “real” instruments as you can, including synths. If you have to use midi try not to quantize it. Minimize the use of loops, if so add variation. Keep the intro short and simple. Build and release throughout the song, like breathing. Try to keep things modern. Listen to styles that are on the radio or popular sellers on stock music sites.

Other than that the obvious factors… production, arrangement, mixing and mastering quality must be above average to even qualify.

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robGD says

On the other hand, without exception, my top 10 selling songs came easy to me. For instance, my best seller was actually conceived as a bit of a joke in response to one of the original ukulele/clapping/whistling bashing threads, so the entire composition and recording process I felt silly and whimsical, and just had a good time with it. My second best seller was the result of not being able to consciously come up with any compositions while sitting in the studio, so I just recorded some simple fingerpicking and layered a couple of instruments over it.

I have one like that. Finished it in record time, laughed at how silly it was, and then it went on to crush everything in my portfolio. :) At first I was a little annoyed, but after a few days began to appreciate it’s simplicity and why people like it. Just have to make a few more.

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