The key to getting nice sounding productions lies in getting good raw tones straight from the get-go, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you are getting colorful takes that will make up a lush and wide sounding production. Don't worry, there are quite a few things you can do to make everything a little more diverse, separated and colorful. As they say - variety is the spice of life.
Here are a couple of things you can do to make your productions just that much colorful.
USE DIFFERENT GUITAR TONES
Think about it - if you're using the same guitar throughout the whole production, the same amp and the same microphone, you're basically running through the same rig all the time and all your tracks are getting the same sonic “signature” so to speak.
Even if you're playing different notes, each of these tracks will get a more or less similar frequency response, due to the characteristics of the instrument, speaker and mic.
To differentiate the tones, set up a few different microphones - have a mic for rhythms, a mic for the cleans and a mic for solos and leads - this will immensely broaden the spectral pallette of your tones and will ultimately lead you to much better sounding results.
If you have a few amps and cabinets in the studio, set up different amps for your rhythms and leads. Doing this will make the tones stand out more on their own and not get lost in the mix, especially when combined with other tones from the same rig.
If you have only one guitar and one amp, try moving the microphone around to get different tones from the speaker.
Generally, rhythm tones tend to be more tight and precise, so try putting the microphone somewhere around where the dust cap meets the cone.
Solo and lead tones need to be a bit more buttery and less harsh, so they can benefit from the microphone being moved a little more to the outside of the speaker, sometimes angling it a little to get the tone you desire.
An excellent mic for getting diverse guitar tones is the JZ GTR-1, as it is designed for exactly this application. It can sound very modern but it can also be made buttery smooth with the its placement.
USE THE MUTE BUTTON
We often think of productions in an additive sense - we think of what we could add to them.
But what if we took stuff away for a while? It never hurts to track everything to the fullest and double up on the takes just to be sure, but it doesn't mean that you have to use everything all the time.
A trick that works very well is to drop out elements in already familiar parts that repeat throughout the song, like the verses.
If, for example, a song has three verses, you could drop out the guitars or at least most of them during the second or the third verse, leaving the part with only drums, vocals and bass.
This can create the necessary tension-release movement that most of the greatest productions seem to have.
A very nice impact can be achieved by dropping out everything but the vocals during the first bars of a part (be it a verse or a chorus) and then letting the full instrumental hit you in the chest after that little moment of anticipation.
We as humans, as much as we want diversity in the music we listen to, we also want to hear familiar parts that make us feel like we are at home.
Muting elements throughout the production can make the listener really appreciate everything that's going on - use it wisely.
INCORPORATE OTHER INSTRUMENTS
Incorporating instruments that weren't even there into the production can really make parts stand out.
This also gives you the power to change the parts around and shift octaves to make parts more separated.
If you have a guitar part that seems a little bland on its own or maybe it's getting lost in the mix, it's a good idea to try to overdub it with a different instrument to differentiate the tones.
Almost every DAW (Digital Audio Interface) comes bundled with some virtual instruments and synths that can be very useful.
They don't have to sound perfect on their own, just different enough to stand out. A guitar part doubled with a piano part that plays the same (or inverted) parts an octave higher or lower, can sound a great deal bigger and wider.
Program the guitar or vocal parts on a MIDI track and browse through your sampler to see what sounds the best. The trick is to blend these additional sounds in a tasteful way, so that they don't suddenly pop in out of nowhere and make the mix sound weird.
USING EFFECTS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Even if you haven't exactly heard the effects, you've probably felt them when listening to A-list productions - the productions seem to “breathe”, moving and grooving with the progression.
This is achieved not only by skillful arrangement and performances, but also by utilizing different samples of audio special effects - swells, drops, risers and impacts.
These effects, when blended in tastefully, can make a verse build up into a chorus and they can also make parts seem to explode in an almost cinematic way that could not be achieved by only the musical instruments themselves.
Slow frequency sweeps can be used as lead-ins for different parts, as well as cymbal extensions, depending on which way they are played back.
Often times vocal swells are used to lead in a part - this is achieved by taking the first word or phrase of the vocal part, reversing it and putting a reverb on.
After that, the reverb tail is set to be quite long and the wet reverb signal is printed to audio once again. After that the printed reverb tail is reversed and put in front of the vocal, giving it that distinct vocal swell effect you've heard on tons of records.
This can be a great client-appeasement trick, as it seems way more complex and cool than it really is.
These are just a few things to keep in mind when producing a song. A more lively and colorful mix will definitely help with keeping the songs sounding fresh and exciting.