13 Ways to Make Your Songs Spookier
By Norman Crates of LOVECRAFT • October 16, 2019
Norman Crates is one of seven Halloween-loving hitmaking music freaks behind LOVECRAFT. Norman, Lil Punkin, Deepkutz, Scary Ana Grande, Ghost M’lone, Count Trackula, DejaVudu and Robyn Gothicke have been responsible for crafting legendary hit songs recorded by the likes of Beyoncé, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Mark Ronson, Amy Winehouse, Madonna, MNDR, Mariah Carey, Kylie Minogue, Santigold, Flume, Jennifer Lopez, Scissor Sisters, Jason Derulo, Louis Fonsi, Charli XCX and countless others.
Holy creep, do you love Halloween? Do you find yourself watching the worst/best, campiest, horror movies and loving them to death? Does your Netflix and chill consist of laying in a coffin chain smoking episodes of scary TV series till you go batty and pass out? Do your beats sound happy, not trappy? Do you want to make your songs more spooky but just can’t seem to push them far enough into the shadows? If this sounds like you then here are 13 tips to make your songs more sinister, ready for any Halloween party, horror series, or a good ol’ fashioned scare sesh...
Don’t Dis the DissonanceWhat’s scarier than dissonance? Dissonance (whether musical or cognitive) is probably your #1 go-to for making people uncomfortable and creeped out. It quickly makes things sound off, mysterious, and downright upsetting. Sounds like a win, win, win, win in Norman’s crate… One of the best ever uses of dissonance is in Ligeti’s “Lontano” as heard in The Shining.
Some Instruments Just Sound CreepierWhen we explore the canon of scary music we realize some instruments are just more fright-inducing. If I had to pick the scariest it’d be the organ, it can sure sound offal… (See what I did there?...fully creeptacular). Whether pipe, tonewheel, farfisa or optigan, any organ can bring in a variety of blood-curdling funk from an uneasy warble to a blast of harmonic terror. Other morbid instruments to dig up would be the theremin, glockenspiel and glass harmonica…all guaranteed to give you sleepless nights.
Add Portamento to Your PortmanteauUse synths much? Try adding some portamento. There’s something about that lag in arriving at your final destination pitch that can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Maybe it’s the tension and release, maybe it sounds like weeping and maybe it’s just the sound a zombie makes while pushing a Jupiter-6 out of the way while hunting for brains. Either way, portamento can be even more off-putting when applied to instruments that don’t normally have it. Piano anyone?
Kids ChoirI mean, do I really have to explain this one? Kids have scary innocent voices that sound scarier and less innocent the more kids there are. The more the scarier! Children of the Damned anyone? Check out “Can You Hear Me” to feel the chill.
Major in the MinorsWe all know minor keys are darker and immediately more melancholic, so start there, drop that major third to a minor, and good luck surviving the night!
Whisper RoomWant some free Halloween ear candy? Try hard panning a dry whisper and tucking it into your mix. Headphone listeners will get a chilling surprise. Did you hear that? Is someone there? Am I alone in the house?
Intention TensionBuild tension to play around with your listeners’ expectations. Wikipedia says “tension may be produced through reiteration, increase in dynamic level, gradual motion to a higher or lower pitch, or syncopations between consonance and dissonance” and I’d agree. It’s all about inducing terror through anticipation. Make them feel like something’s coming and then deliver or don’t deliver the jump scare right when they expect or don’t expect it.
Tweak Your ToneTake even the simplest sounds and run them through multi FX plugins like SoundToys Effect Rack or an amp modeler. Then wreak and tweak and see what happens. Dark and distorted vocals panning with echo and feedback? Sounds terrifying! Might sound more terrifying if we duplicated or even triplicated the plugin – ouch! (We made some free LOVECRAFT Effect Rack presets you can download here)
Ear SearWhat if the sound you’re using actually hurts? Sometimes when all else fails and you want to scare people, blast them with something shrill. Who doesn’t love a good jump scare? Distortion and volume are your friends here. (LOVECRAFT not responsible for shredded speakers or bloody ears)
When in Doubt, Reverb It OutYou can haunt any sound by drenching it in reverberation; screams last longer, snares appear to be coming up from the abyss and vocals are eerier when slathered in dark metallic plate verb.
Go ChromaticNot the band, though that would be a good starting point for '80s horror vibes. Play three consecutive notes back and forth in rapid succession and feel the tension build. Try throwing this one down the reverb well and sail off into The Further.
Sample SpectersLayer samples! Layer sounds to increase the creep and petrify your listener. Snare + bone crack = SMACK. Kick + Lick = GROSS. Snip up some vocals and create an arpeggiated freak out! Check out our Splice pack “LOVECRAFT Halloween Cuts & Slices Volume 1” for inspiration.
Lyrical LurkingSo you got a spine-tingling bed of music going, now what? Time to think about some words to witch with. Like instruments, some words are scarier than others – "throne" vs. "chair," "rattle" vs. "shake," etc. Adjectives help too – "red" or "blood red?" To sound more devilish, consider words with edgier syllables and percussive consonants like "slash," "chop," "crush" and "torture."
Bonus Tip - Try a TritoneGoogle “diabolus in musica.” But you knew that one already.
LOVECRAFT's This Is Halloween Volume 1 contains nine original Halloween songs and two cover songs done in creepy Halloween style. For Halloween samples and presets check out LOVECRAFT's Splice pack and SoundToys Effect Rack Presets. If you still can't get enough follow LOVECRAFT everywhere @LOVECRAFTsongs