Finding the Right Sound
By BJ Perry and John Pregler • September 22, 2017
sound • noun
1. Vibrations that travel through the air or another medium and can be heard when they reach a person's or animal's ear
"light travels faster than sound"
2. Sound produced by continuous and regular vibrations, as opposed to noise
When producing music, finding the right sound is in many ways as important as the composition itself. Every instrument or vocal added should enhance the layers around it. Think of sounds like you would think of your favorite meal. You have the main element and you have sides, or layers. When done correctly, it's beautiful, flavorful and enjoyable. When done incorrectly it can be downright nauseating.
When finding the right sound, it's important to always focus on the end goal. What is this song trying to convey emotionally? Is it big, aggressive and edgy or is it soft, warm and pretty? Knowing where you want the song to end is often the first step in truly choosing the right sounds for the composition.
When diving into a song we always do what is known as a scratch track. We will rough out the melody, lyrics, tempo and the basic instrumentation. For us, because we focus primarily in pop, rock and country, it's usually a vocal and guitar or piano. Once we determine the emotion of the song and the type of energy it presents, we will often begin mapping out the groove with drums or samples. Again, we will ask ourselves "How does this instrument help push the emotion or energy of the song?" In hard rock, we often want everything to sound larger than life. The drums are the foundation for that. If a kick and snare aren't powerful enough to keep the track focused and heavy, no other sound will matter as the recording will not compete with any major release on the market. In country, a guitar (electric or acoustic) is often the main rhythm sound in the song. Again, ask yourself, is the song sad, happy, fun? The guitars should carry that tonally and in the composition.
When deciding to commit to a sound, always check it against the main instrument (most often the vocal). Does the tone of this instrument make the vocal more convincing? Less convincing? Does it push the emotion of the song to the direction desired? If the answer is yes, you're certainly heading in the right direction.
Sometimes, you will be torn between a few different options. If you have the time, take a break, listen to the options in other environments, ask a trusted ear. With the unusual schedules producers and artists often maintain, sometimes you need a fresh perspective. Use it like you would any other tool in your tool belt.
At the end of the day, there are no rules, and sometimes to make a song great you have to break every rule. Trust your instinct and learn from your previous efforts. Make it a goal to improve daily. In the end, serve the song.
ASCAP songwriters and producers BJ Perry and John Pregler are top 10 Billboard-charting, gold record recipients based out of Detroit, Michigan. Be sure to check out their recent work with I Prevail (hard rock) and Drew Jacobs (pop/country). John and BJ are also experienced writers in the world of TV, film and advertising with thousands of music placements across hundreds of major commercials and television shows. Find them online at fullclipmusic.com.