Music is expression.
It is a way of expressing ideas, aesthetics, and emotions. There are things that can be expressed through music that cannot be translated to any other medium (including written language).
When I speak with an artist about expressive range, I’m referring to the range of variance in a particular aspect of the sound. For example, the expressive range of the human voice can be thought of in terms of volume (soft to loud), pitch (low to high) and tone (smooth to harsh). And then there are also factors relating to articulation and melodic composition.
All instruments have some degree of expressive range. Some more than others. For electronic musicians, synths can have a huge expressive range. Even stock loops have an expressive range through the use of editing and effects processing.
The expressive range of each part of the song can be used very effectively when it supports the overall structure and contour of the song. For example, the chorus (or recapitulation) of a song might need to have high energy. As well as density to the mix by adding more parts, also look at the parts that are already there:
- Drum parts can get more complex and syncopated
- Basslines can become more sustained or more animated
- Background rhythm parts can become more regular
- Melodies can get higher
- Harmonies can be thicker and fuller
Often an artist will bring in a demo recording using loops that are static (unchanging) throughout the whole song. Even if the loops sound great and perfectly capture the vibe of the song, they can make the whole thing a bit uninteresting to listen to. Verbatim repetition has an effect of flattening the contour of the song.
Exploring and enhancing the range of the song requires exploring and enhancing the range of each individual part in the song. It’s not enough to simply add more layers at the high points and remove layers at the low points. It’s easy to fall into this trap because it works. Really. Simply adding and removing layers is an effective way to shape the contour of the song. But there’s so much more that can be done. And the producer’s role is to dig deeper and go further than the artist, in order to better realise the potential of the music.