1. You don’t know how to use a compressor or an equalizer.
Seriously these two tools are some of the most important in your arsenal. Any mix or production should feature the use of these tools. There are literally hundreds of tutorials online that will explain their use in some depth so get studying!
2. You don’t know any music theory.
Music theory is important. You should understand scales, chords and intervals at the very least. Music theory can get very complicated, but for basic compositions you only need to learn the basics. I have found the fun way to learn music theory is to take lessons learning to play an instrument such as the guitar or piano. This way you not only learn music theory but also how to play an instrument which will definitely help your productions.
3. You don’t understand synthesis.
You don’t have to teach yourself to become the next genius sound designer, but you should know the basics. The knowledge gained through an understanding of designing your own sounds will greatly improve your productions. Understanding topics such as sound envelopes and filter use are crucial.
4. You are too mechanical.
I have seen many rookie producers compose their music way too mechanically. Having a kick hit the exact same beat for 3 minutes is repetitive and annoying. Having hats hit on every other beat at the exact same volume for 3 minutes is also boring and annoying. Try to think how an actual musician would play this instrument. A drummer would find it impossible to hit the hats at the exact same volume so vary it up!
5. You don’t use the left and right channels.
Sound exists in a space between left and right. Many producers when beginning will just have all the sounds sitting bang in the centre at the same volume through each channel. You need to ensure you space out some elements in your mix between the left and right channels. Its good practice to have the bass and kick/snare sit in the centre to drive the track, but everything else is open to experimentation. At the very least move your hats away from the centre and out to the far left and right. This is a great tutorial on space manipulation.
6. Your loops are too repetitive.
No four bar loop should every repeat exactly over and over again. For example a four bar drum beat should vary each four bars. This doesn’t have to be a drastic change. A small variation in the kicks will do, or an extra snare. The same is true for melodies. Ensure a change is heard every 4 bars.
7. Your kick and bass sit at the same frequency.
One of the biggest problems with genres such as hip hop, dance or dubstep is ensuring that the kick and bass sit well together. In a great deal of productions where this has not been taken into consideration the bass will overlap the kick. The kick will not be heard through the bass. There are hundreds of techniques to deal with this problem, one of the most popular being side chain compression or dynamic range compression.
You don’t spend enough time listening to other peoples music.
Seriously listen to other peoples music as much as possible. Not with your “consumer ears” but with your production ears. Notice every change every subtle nuance of the song. This will not only inspire you it will give your ideas for your own productions that you may not have thought of.
Take care of all these things and I guarantee your productions will improve dramatically. Happy producing!