Remember in english class how you were told to keep your essays on-topic? They said to come up with a thesis, and everything in the essay had to somehow support or build up to it. You weren’t supposed to put in lots of “padding” or go off on a tangent. Well, believe it or not, the same concept applies to music production.
Like a strong essay, your song should grab people from the beginning and make them want to stick with it until the end to see how you resolve the “question.” The intensity of the song has to be constantly increasing through contrast and changes in instrumentation, tone, and dynamics.
Unfortunately, too many producers think that adding in more instruments or vocal parts will, in itself, make their songs better. They think they can cover up a lack of musicality just by putting in more “padding.” But padding or no padding, you still haven’t answered the question. You really can’t hide it.
Instead of adding in track after mediocre track, think about how you can improve the most important existing parts. Make the lead guitar’s tone thicker, get your drums more “in the pocket,” or if you’re the songwriter, try to make your song less wordy. Your production is only as strong as its weakest element, so whatever is weakest, make it better, or take it out completely. Don’t just evade the question with more padding.
Instead of asking what’s missing, maybe you should ask what doesn’t need to be there. What parts aren’t supporting the overall message or feel of the song? Is the song really stronger having that part in there rather than leaving it out? You might have come up with a killer synth solo and spent five hours perfecting it, but did you ever ask yourself if the song even needed it?
While producing My Heart Beats, I’ve been finding that taking things out is often better than adding in more. For example, on the track called “New Generation,” when I originally produced it, I had a lot of snare and hi-hat in the first verse and a really weird synth part in the intro. While there’s nothing inherently bad about that, in this case, the song was stronger and more interesting when I completely got rid of the synth and substituted shakers and rim shots for percussion. Less was more.
The same is true for mixing, too. In my recent post, we talked about getting rid of unnecessary low frequencies through hi-pass filters. Remember? We made the drums and bass punchier through taking out low frequencies on other instruments instead of just turning up the kick and the bass. We got rid of the “padding” in the mix.
So before you hit that plus button on your DAW to add more tracks today, ask yourself if you should instead be reaching for the mute buttons. Don’t waste your time trying to hide mediocrity—bite the bullet, and go do your homework so you can answer the question.