It’s pretty tempting.
You’ve spent days developing your utterly brilliant eight-bar loop.It sounds full and thick. All your EQs and compressors are perfectly set. It almost makes you want to get up and dance.
But it’s only sixteen seconds long.
And you didn’t want to make a sixteen second song. You want to stretch it out over five minutes. So first you duplicate your eight bars until it fills five minutes. That’s almost twenty repetitions. And your eight bars already has a lot of repetition in it. So you start muting parts. Let the intro be pretty sparse. Then bring in some more synths. Then the kick drum. Then drop it all away for a bit. Then build up and suddenly drop everything in. Sit on that groove for a minute or so, then tear back the layers until the track ends.
That’s how it goes, doesn’t it?
Except the end result is a bit lacklustre. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it’s not *special*. Maybe add a few whooshes, a few risers, tweak things a bit here and there… And then what?
The problem is that you’re still thinking in layers. You’re hearing the music as a stack of simultaneous components. You’re arranging your musical ideas by layering them on top of each other. Most listeners, however, hear music as a sequence of sections or landmarks. They prefer to hear musical ideas one ofter the other. In other words, you’re thinking vertically and your listeners are thinking horizontally. You think you’ve got five minutes of music, but your listeners are hearing the same sixteen seconds twenty times.
The solution is not in how you mute or unmute your parts. It’s not in where you added your whooshes and risers. It’s not even in the way you set your EQs and compressors. The solution is in changing your workflow of building a track by stacking musical ideas on top of each other.
Try to build your initial musical ideas side by side. Think about developing sections (you don’t have to worry about the order at first). Give yourself more than sixteen seconds to express your musical ideas. Develop several different ideas, and then put them in the blender. See what happens when you mix and match them. Build some transitions from one section to the next.
And then – once you’ve got some reasonably well-developed musical material – you can start to assemble the structure of the track. Pay particular attention to the contour of the track. This is the time to think about rates of change, primary and secondary themes, listener expectations, momentum, etc. The key difference is that if your starting with a lot more musical material, you have a *lot* more scope for doing interesting things with your track. Your ideas are the building blocks. You don’t have to use all of them, but you’ll be glad you gave yourself the options.