Five sound design tips that will get your music noticed
The way your music sounds is the most important variable in whether or not your music will get noticed. This means you need to spend some serious time on sound design. I think it’s pretty clear by now that I’m trying to get you to focus on sound. After all, that’s what the promise of having a sound coach entails.
What’s more, if you can create an original sound in your music, you are definitely more likely to get heard. People are always on the lookout for new, fresh, inspiring music. And you should be providing that to them. So here are five concise sound design tips that will get your music noticed.
1. Surprise the listener with inspiring sounds
Are you making a song by following the rulebook? Getting down a chorus and a verse, guitars, bass, drums and vocals? Sounds good? Probably, but I’m willing to bet your music also sounds boring as shit.
I’m sorry, I’m not trying to offend you. I ‘m just grabbing your attention, the same way you should be grabbing the attention of your listeners: you need to surprise them.
The problem with a lot of music these days is that it’s simply uninspired. There’s no “zing” to it. You need to make your music flourish and one of the best ways to do that is to introduce funny, interesting, inspiring sounds into your song.
One of my favorite artists who takes advantage of this simple sound design trick is Mike Oldfield. I encourage you to have a listen to his work if you don’t really understand what I’m talking about. He’s an expert at grabbing the listener’s attention with inspiring sounds. Coffee mugs being hit, footsteps, someone oddly laughing, scissors… You name it, he’s done it.
Why does this work? Very simple really, our brains like stimulation. The same old crap can bore your audience to death. But introduce a surprising element that makes them look up and go “hm?”… and you can get them to listen intently again.
2. Create synths from sampling your own voice
This has to be one of my favorite sound design tricks. I’ve been using this in my own music an awful lot. You see, I really like variation and expressiveness in a sound. I’ve tried a lot of different things in the past with automation and LFOs and what have you. But nothing like that has ever been really useful to me for making synths that have a truly expressive tone to them. Sure it works, but not to an extent where I’m satisfied with the results.
That’s when I thought about introducing the human voice as a sound in my music. Now, while I’m worse at singing that your drunk aunt Mary at a dinner party, I love to use my vocal textures simply as a base on which to build sounds.
This can go from chopped up samples to distorted guitar-like vowels to full blown vocoder basses. In fact, talking about vocoded basses, I did a video tutorial about creating one in Reason a couple of years ago. Have a look. It’s in depth and I’m sure you’ll get a lot of useful tips out of it regarding using your voice as a base for synths.
3. Play guitar? Run your signal through a bass amp!
As a guitarist myself, this is one of my personal favorites as well. I’m always looking for ways to improve my guitar tone. Now, while about 90% of your tone depends on how you actually play (more on that in later articles), gear matters as well.
I’m not saying you need a 5000$ tube amp to get a great sound. Ok, yeah, it’ll help. But before you start throwing your money at a guitar center merchant, take a look around you.
The best way to get original with your sound design is to be creative. There are tons of ways of hooking up your signal chain through your pedals, of course. Let’s talk about that another day. The tip I want to give you today is to simply look at your amp.
If you’ve got a bass amp lying around, try plugging your guitar into it. I’m sure you’ll be surprised about the difference in tone. You’ll probably need to crank up the mids and highs a bit in order to get a good tone, but overall I’ve always been very happy with the warmth and depth my Ashdown bass amp gives me, compared to my regular guitar amp.
In fact, one of my all time favorite amps, a Fender Bassman, was originally meant to be a bass amplifier (as the name implies). Nowadays, it’s in fact used by guitarists around the world to get a great tone as well.
4. Set a fixed time for sound design
This one is as much a productivity tip as it is a way for you to get funky with your sound design. Here’s the deal: separate your sound design from your producing.
Just set some time aside, dive into your favorite synths and just start making sounds. Twiddle, tweak to your heart content. Then save. Give it an inspiring name.
Then do that again. And keep at it for at least an hour.
You’ll see the huge benefits of doing this sound design session straight away next time you’re making a new song. You’ll have an entire library of your own sounds that you’ll be able to go through.
And why am I telling you to set some time aside for this? Well, you obviously can do some sound design when producing as well. However, I find myself getting stuck sometimes when my creative juices are flowing and I’m in need of a new sound. It’s times like these that it’s incredibly useful to me to have a library of personal sounds that I know I like and can use immediately.
5. Mix. Your. Music. Last.
Even though it’s not strictly sound design related, I can’t understate the importance of this one. If you’re a regular, you know that I’m mostly concerned with teaching you how to make your music sound great. That means I have a plethora of topics to write about. However, I keep coming back to the importance of mixing a lot and am even creating an entire video series about mixing in particular.
I keep repeating this, because at the end of the day not a single sound – as awesome as it may be – is ever heard out of context by the listener. You absolutely need to make it all fit. If you don’t, that awesome sound you made? It will instantly disappear in a pool of mud.
So my final advice: spend serious time mixing and do it at the very last stage of making your song.
Thanks again for letting me help you to make your music sound great,
Kevin – The Soundcoach