Are you using ear-catching sounds effectively?

Ear-catching sounds are pretty easy to make. Grab a snippet of audio, throw some extreme processing on them, chop them up, and scatter the pieces around…

Interesting sounds are fun, but if you’re not thinking too much about how they’re used you’re doing yourself a disservice. There’s just as much impact to be created in placing the sounds as there is in having them at all.

Or to put it another way – It’s not only what you’ve got, but what you do with it.

Many ear-catching sounds are quite short. Even if they’re a few bars in length, they’re still heard by the listener as an event, rather than as a whole section. This means they’ll work best to emphasise the articulation in the structure of the song. In other words, use them to emphasise and draw attention to the changes and transitions in the song. For example, a stab or hit sound will have maximum impact at the start of a section – especially a section with a higher energy level than the section before it. Reversed sounds or sounds that build up will have maximum impact at the end of a section leading up to the next section.

Another way of using short interesting sounds is in place of a melodic motif. This works especially well when placed in between phrases in the lead part. For example, if the lead part is a vocal melody, you can place an ear-catching sound at the end of each phrase. In this way, there is a ‘call and response’ relationship between the vocal and the ear-catching sound. If you do it once, it draws attention to itself and signifies that there is something significant about that particular point in time (such as an important lyric or a transition to an important section). Alternatively, if you do it regularly it becomes a pattern and forms part of the musical ‘language’ and identity of the song.

Longer ear-catching sounds, such as sustained sounds, work well to differentiate a whole section – either adding energy to it or taking the listener to new sonic territory. If you’re only using it as a layer in the section though, you’re missing out on a lot of potential! Think about ways in which the sound can change over time throughout the section. The simplest approach is to fade it in or out. For example, you might have an interesting sound fade in throughout a verse. The verse starts as normal, but as it progresses the interesting sound becomes more prominent.

Don’t just leave it there though… experiment with altering other characteristics of the sound instead of (or as well as) volume. Go beyond basic filtering too – think about changing effects parameters or synth parameters throughout the section. Make the sound have certain characteristics at the start of the section and different characteristics at the end of the section. Then think about making it change in a way that supports the direction and flow of the rest of the music.

Try these ideas out and keep them in mind and you should be able to give your music more interest and excitement!

-Kim.

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  1. Excellent Blogs Kim! They really are fantastic. I hope you continue to publish.

  2. Good advice. I use this technique a lot. Particularly on the tracks on…

    http://leewyatt.com/

    • Tshiamo T
    • July 16th, 2010

    Very informative, thank you and please, keep up the great work.

  3. Thanks for the kind words!

    -Kim.

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