Producing music, particularly electronic music, is a boundless medium; there are no limitations to what can be made. Sounds and songs are being made today that could never have been conceived decades ago. Even in this supposed endless space to create, it’s important to have a list of steadfast rules to live by, 90% of the time. Personally, I believe only through having a consistent, profound knowledge of ‘rules’ can someone truly learn to break them. In this article, I go through a set of three technical tips that have helped me in my creative process.
1. Respecting the Low End
When working on a song, or even an idea, it’s important to understand how low end frequencies impact how we perceive and listen to music. If we’re working with basses — be it harsh, tech housey stabs to smooth bass guitars — it’s important to recognize that the timbre of the sound rarely comes from their low ( < 100hz) frequencies. For this reason, every single low end sound that I work with gets routed into a buss with a multiband compressor and EQ to ensure that low frequencies don’t crowd everything that’s on top, and that the upper harmonics are given a proper space. Among low end sounds, it’s also important for this range to be dynamic — if a bass sound were equally as loud as the kick drum, you would hear neither of them. If you find that things in the low end seem to lack that ‘pop,’ try turning everything but the kick down a few decibels. I personally use Fabfilter’s Pro-Q3’s ‘dynamic mode’ for easy multiband compression in that area.
I’ll put sidechaining and non-sidechaining in the same category — sidechaining is a really powerful mixing and creative tool that when used correctly, can bring out the bounce in a mix. Conversely, it’s important to know when not to use a sidechain if you’re hoping to achieve a specific effect. I’ve found that for pop music, in particular, sidechaining can cut out some pretty transients that you would want in a mix, and as for electronic music, overdoing the sidechain can bring back Justice-era levels of French electro house. To put it simply, sidechaining is a process where an input signal (like a kick drum) activates a compressor/limiter to reduce the gain on a different audio signal (like a pad) every time the kick activates. You may have heard this on, for example, podcasts; where the music dips every time a person speaks on the mic. This isn’t necessarily for kicks and basses, either. I’ve had a lot of fun sending ghost signals to synth stacks, for Flume-inspired synth lines, and using a vocal as an input signal to ensure that the vocal cuts through the mix. I personally use LFOTool and the Ableton Live Compressor for all my sidechaining needs.
3. Sample Selection
This is more of a philosophical tip than a technical one. Everyone loves unique-sounding samples. In a sea of constantly auditioning a hundred similar-sounding snare hits, the one that sticks out the most, that has the most interesting timbre, has to be the one you import into your song. Right? Right..? Well, not necessarily; for uniqueness sticks out best in a sea of mediocrity. When you really have a look at your favourite producers and musicians and the art that they make, you’ll start to find that the most complex, ethereal sounds are cushioned in a sea of ordinary, worldly ones. The craziest Noisia basses are nested in a ring of regular sounding hi-hats. Each SOPHIE masterpiece seems out-of-this-world, and you seem to forget that the song’s progression follows a simple four-chord harmony. The drum patterns in several Flume songs can be recreated with a TR-808. For something to truly stick out, everything around it has to retain some semblance of ordinariness. The same philosophy applies to sample selection and warping. If I wanted to achieve a wide, spacey feel to a section, I don’t slap stereo wideners on every track I can; I put some things in mono, and make some parts feel small and narrow. When it comes to manipulating samples after you choose them, I usually use the Ableton sampler and its different warp modes to experiment with very cool sounds. Max4Live, Ableton’s user-customizable platform, offers a lot of cool plugins to stretch and destroy samples. Some of my favourites include Granulator II and Vector Grain, which are great granular synthesis devices that can add lots of texture and atmosphere to a track.
Hopefully, these tips help, and remember to always have fun when creating!
Enjoyed this? Read & watch 'Recording new music with MYRNE: An introduction to his more 'organic' approach to music this year 'here