Oranges... good for an analogy

Quick Tips: Sound Consistent

Have you ever worried that your music just doesn’t have that sparkling sheen that the biggest and best seem to make so effortlessly in their productions? Today’s return to quick tips is a hint at an almost philosophical (don’t worry, we won’t forget that we’re here to help you make music!) tutorial that we’re planning, and we’ve got an important concept:

Our brains order everything relative to everything else vying for attention in a particular context.

When you’re given time to settle into a particular sonic quality, you appreciate the consistency

Take orange juice. If all you ever drink is concentrate juice, you’ll really notice a glass of freshly squeezed. Similarly, if you’re a connoisseur and never drink anything you’ve not seen pulverised with your own eyes, you’ll find the long life stuff pretty hard to swallow. However, keep drinking and soon enough you’ll stop noticing so much. It’s the initial change that’s the eye opener, and whilst your experience may be subconsciously better or worse, when you’re not being constantly given different types of orange juice… okay, it’s time to stop with the orange juice analogy. When you’re given time to settle into a particular sonic quality, you appreciate the consistency.

The best way to apply this concept is to accept your limitations – be they your own lack of experience and confidence with objectively ‘better’ sound quality or just your equipment’s weaknesses – and use them to set the bar. There are some great examples of this; Madlib’s Beat Konducta series has a sketchbook quality underpinned by the grainy, lo-fi sound of the Boss SP-303 and a portable turntable, and ‘giving in’ to the pumping compression and aliased samples rewards you with a raw, deep listening experience.

Here are three pointers (we’re working on more, as we said – but this is Quick Tips, after all) for achieving a sound that will help to provide a consistency that glues an EP, album, or even your entire sound, together:

  • Work from a pool of drums. Rather than picking fresh drums from multi-gigabyte libraries every time you start a project, try and resolve a go-to personal drum library. Listen to your favourite producers; most producers have – certainly for kicks and snares, if not more – a handful of drum sounds that they base the rest of their percussion around. Doing this will help to ground your drums in the same acoustic space in your productions, providing consistency in your tracks.
  • Bit crunch is your friend. Although it can be overused, a little bit of bit crunch can go a long way to smoothing out sounds and making things fit that little bit better. A quick A/B comparison with the bit crunching off will help you to establish whether you’re going too far; bit crunching is best utilised to soften the edges of sounds, making them less obviously from wildly different sources.
  • Choose your character with master EQ. When you make tracks, don’t worry too much about EQing an individual track to tick as many characteristics (‘deep bass’, ‘snappy snares’, crisp ‘hats’, and so on)  as you can, instead try to keep things fairly flat. Different dynamics, instruments, moods and so on will make the ‘perfect’ EQ for each track different, so it’s much better to EQ with an entire EP/LP on the table to see where you can join the dots, and to a certain extent let the material choose how it wants to sound.

Let us know what you think to this concept, and any of your own tips! Compression, both precision and creative uses, can also play a big part in creating your own coherent sound, but that’s another tip for another day…

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