This applies to all the composer+producer+engineer types out there…
Have you ever felt like your mixes were empty? That they sound a bit incomplete? Perhaps you’ve compared your music to your favourite commercial references and realised that they somehow sounded thicker and fuller? You’ve got all the obvious parts in your mix – kick, bass, snare, lead, hats, pads, comp synths, etc – the same as your references, but somehow it sounds like you don’t have enough.
What you’re missing is the background.
The background is often made up of a lot of different sounds, each barely audible. On their own they sound quite small and insignificant, but together they form the sonic backdrop for your song.
You may not have paid much attention to the background parts because they’re not sexy. The sounds are small, thin and don’t draw attention to themselves. Listeners don’t comment on them. It’s understandable.
Sometimes it’s hard to spend time working on the background parts. It’s much more fun to focus on the big fat foreground – for the same reasons that your listeners focus on the foreground. It’s naturally more interesting. Maybe you add some hats and percussion. Perhaps a synth pad or piano or something and call it a day. Besides, those drums need a bit more tweaking…
Here’s a trick: Mute your foreground instruments.
That’s right. Mute your kick, bass, snare, lead vocals, main melodic instruments… anything that’s supposed to be the centre of your listener’s attention. You’re probably left with a somewhat unsatisfying background texture made up of only a few sounds (with a lot of dead space in between them!).
Now, go about adding some more parts! Fill in the gaps. Make it interesting. Build a musical texture that has character and individuality. Even if it’s made up of loops, your choices and the combination of loops will make for a unique sound. If you want to add a bit more individuality, break out some crazy effects. Not just your regular EQs and compressors – this is the place for those strange modulation effects, sequenced effects, random beatslicers and other strange and wonderful contraptions. It’s the perfect place to use that cool experimental effect that’s too drastic for a main part, but you kept in your plugin folder ‘just in case’.
This doesn’t just apply to electronic music. If you’re working on pop or rock, mute the drum kit, guitars, bass and vocals. There’s lots of room for adding extra background parts. Perhaps add some more clean or distorted guitars. Try a different approach to micing your piano. Have some fun with rhythmic vocal growls. Create new percussion parts from kitchen utensils. This is your opportunity to try out a new instrument or recording technique. These are the kind of touches that give a song a unique character, a sense of individuality.
By adding in these background parts, your mix will become fuller and thicker. It will also have more character and texture. Even though your listeners don’t usually comment on background sounds, they’ll notice something different about your sound. Try it!