Zeds Dead’s five pointers for producers

There’s a lot of experimentation with Zeds Dead, and no rules for how we make a track. Each track we’ve done has come about in a lot of different ways. There’s no template for starting it and that’s just the way we make music – trying not to limit ourselves to one sound or genre. The only common thing is when we finish it. We’re always striving for excellence, being super, super critical and obviously always trying to make the best tracks.

In the process of making the track, there’s a lot of stuff that gets vetoed. There’s a lot of beats that never see the light of day. It’s a bit of a trial and error process, to figure out what works. It’s a really dangerous thing as a producer because you can just hold onto tracks forever and never feel like they’re done. Sometimes you need that extra little push and that’s what’s good about being in a duo; one of us can push the other to be like “this track really has something”. Often, the thing we have a problem with is something no one else picks up on. We’ll think, oh, the snare frequency on this is off, and nobody says anything. But people online will just say, “I don’t like it!”

#1 Organise

I like to make a new folder for new beats and old ones I’m prioritising every couple of months. Give your working files real names – it will help you remember what they are when you’re looking back through files of beats later.

I hate looking at files titled ‘hiphopstart’ or ‘nicedrumz’. What I do is take a second and think of the first few words that pop into my head and make that the title. If there’s a vocal or a quote in it then make that the title. Avoid using the word ‘new’ because time will only move forward.

#2 Imagine

Sometimes when I get stumped on how a song should progress or drop, I just put it on hold. Throughout the day while walking around or lying in bed at night I’ll think about how it should go. I find I have a lot of success with that when it’s not coming to me during the session. Vice versa, if you think of a really great idea, just get the bare bones of it down really quickly so you don’t forget. You can always make the proper sounds for it later.

#3 Be productive even when uninspired

Sometimes nothing seems to be going right. You open up beats and try and work on them and can’t seem to make anything good. When this happens to me I’ll just put my efforts into less creative aspects of production. If there’s a track that is pretty much done but the mix needs work I’ll do that.

What I do most, though, is go back through old projects and salvage the good aspects. I’ll find projects that are never going to go anywhere but maybe there’s some good drums in them that I made or a good synth or melody. Whatever aspect it is, I’ll export it as audio and save it in my library.

#4 Reference

To get your mixes tight, it’s always good to reference a similar track that you think has a great mix.

#5 Don’t Settle

Try to be extremely critical and diligent when choosing samples. Whether it’s drums or atmospheric sounds, it’s the details and subtleties that separate you from everyone else.