Getting Your Sounds To Fit Together
Avoid a wall of sound
When you first start out producing, more than likely you don’t know much about panning, compression, layering or any other ‘advanced’ techniques. As a result, you probably remember (or you’re there now) a few songs that sounded more like a wall of sound than a complex masterpiece.
The best way to break through that wall of sound we just talked about is to move different elements around in space. There’s a bunch of ways we can do that, but today I want to focus on five.
1. EQ Everything
This is something I started doing a while ago, and it immediately improved my tracks by a huge amount. Every layer in your song has a lot of frequencies that are not crucial. Take a kick drum for example. The majority of the sound is in the low frequencies, with a bit in the mid to high frequencies for the pop kind of sound. Most everything above the low end can be lowered or cut out completely to make room for other sounds. By doing this, you free up all kinds of space for your bass, even multiple layers. Now you can go through every layer in your song and decide what frequencies aren’t important and do the same. Note – you don’t have to cut out the frequencies, even lowering them a couple of db will help.
2. Use Multiple Octaves
If you try to create a pad or chord sound with two or three layers, you may find that it sounds muddy and generally terrible. The best way to correct something like that is to spread each layer out over a few octaves. By having one layer play a C3, another playing a C4, and the last playing C5 (insert your notes here), you know have a very big sound with all three layers in their own space. None of them are really competing at all.
3. Pan Your Sounds
One of the easiest ways to fix your wall of sound is to pan certain elements around. If everything is in the center, it all just sounds like a jumbled mess. Start by panning some of your drums sounds, like percussion, out to the side just a little. Then maybe duplicate a chord or pad sound, and pan each one out to the side pretty far (one to the left, the other to the right). Just like that, your song will sound way better, and have a ton more clarity!
This one is tied in with point 3, but now we’re talking about effects. Creative use of Delay, Reverb and other similar effects can help your sounds move around forward and backwards, and all around. Reverb can make your sounds feel buried and far away from the listener, which can really make them less noticeable. Great for subtle background textures. Delay can do something similar, it takes the focus away from the actual notes being played, and spreads them out over time. That can really make the sound feel like it’s in an actual space, instead of a box.
Compression evens out your sounds by allowing you to raise the volume of a layer, group, or even the entire track, and then lowering the parts of the sounds that go above the threshold. This lets you raise the average volume of something, while keeping it in check. You can also use this with a sidechain setup, and create interesting pumping effects. Probably the best way to use compression to avoid the wall of sound though, is to use it on groups or the whole track (within reason). This will balance out all of the elements, and start to really bring them all together in a cohesive sound. Remember, there’s no need to go crazy here, just a little compression goes a long way.
Beginner – Pick one of these techniques to focus on for your next song. Then choose a different one for the song after that. Don’t try to make masterpieces here, just something to learn how to use each technique.
Advanced – Listen with purpose to a few of your favorite songs. Can you point out any of these techniques being used? Now go through some of your old songs and look for ways these techniques would have improved them. Lastly, use each of these techniques in your next song, and pay attention to how they impact the overall sound.
Question: How many of these techniques have you used in your productions? Which one do you think has the most impact?