What makes your music sound good?
You probably have a different answer for every track you listen to. In some tracks, you love the bassline. In others, you love the groove. Or you love the general vibe of the track – it’s common.
But even though good music is completely subjective, it’s still helpful to narrow down what makes music sound good – especially when you’re a music producer trying to make your music sound better.
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Maybe your beats sound soulless, your melodies lack impact, or your music sounds flat and thin. By reading this article, you will get the ability to narrow down what is missing to make your music sound better.
Let’s start with the first key element to good-sounding music, vibe.
The vibe is super hard to put your finger on. But when you listen to some music, it’s there. You feel it. You get ‘the vibe’ or ‘vibe out’ to the track.
Another word for vibe can be ‘soul.’ It’s like your music is its entity with stories to tell and emotions to share.
So how can you make your music more vibey?
Often, it comes down to four things:
- Arrangement and mixing
- Chords and progressions
- Sound selection
All artistic choices in your studio change your music’s vibe. Sometimes, it’s in the groove – some bongo drums will give you a different vibe than steel drums. Other times, it’s your sound selection. Depending on what atmospheres, instruments, sounds, or vocals you choose, you will affect the vibe. Same with keys, chords, and chord progressions.
Audio effects and mixing choices can also affect your vibe. More or larger reverb can give you a more spacy feel, and chorus effects might give your sound a warmer, older school flare.
Your music vibe is hard to pinpoint, but it becomes a lot easier if you narrow it down to these three things.
Interesting grooves can sometimes make a whole track. And at the same time, a boring groove can ruin an otherwise great arrangement of sounds.
With interesting, dynamic rhythms, you change the foundational part of your music – which can transform your listener from statue to headbanging god.
There are many tricks you can do to improve your grooves, and we outlined a couple of our tips in this article called Guide: Humanizing MIDI Drums in Ableton.
In that article, you will learn how swing and velocity play important roles in not only humanizing your drums – but making them more interesting.
You have a solid foundation for a world-class EDM track with a great beat.
The third aspect of great music is emotion – meaning what you or a listener feels when listening to your track. This aspect is also tricky to pinpoint into music production techniques as it entails many different things.
However, at the center of musical emotion is music theory. And namely, chords, chord progressions, and music modes. What key your music is playing in will set the tone for your entire composition. And within that key, you can use different chords and progressions that create entirely different vibes and feels.
Your choice of sounds and instruments also affects emotion – as well as your arrangement and mixing choices. Putting a scratchy vinyl sampled voice in the background will give the listener a different emotion than putting a clean voice upfront in the mix.
At the heart of great music will always be emotion. And if you can make your listeners feel something – you have something great to work from.
Music is dynamic and ever-changing. Like playing the guitar, you can pluck each note with a different force, changing your track's energy and overall vibe. Energy is a key aspect of why we listen to music. Often, we try to harness this energy in various activities. If you blast heavy dubstep, trance, or even metal music at the gym, you know what I’m talking about.
Many things go into musical energy. Tempo and groove are major, as most perceive faster tracks with heavier beats as more energetic. But that’s not all. Your arrangement choices also play a vital role in energy buildup and release.
For example, the drop removes the low-frequency energy in a breakdown before the track explodes and punches you in the chest with hard-hitting bass. That's a play with sonic energy right there.
In your production, you can think of energy as dynamics and changes. If all your sounds play at the same volume repeatedly without major changes in composition, your music will sound flat. Play with the energy, and you will get vastly better results.
Good music is subjective. But in almost every case, good music will hit at least one of the outlined aspects of this article. Often, you listen to music because of its vibe, groove, emotion, or energy – and that goes for most of your listeners as well.
If you have an 8-bar loop going that you think sounds boring or soulless, chances are it’s lacking in some of these areas. And by analyzing what it’s lacking, you can change it up to make it a better track.
But as you probably noticed, many of these aspects need technical or musical expertise. For example, you can improve the vibe of your track by knowing better music theory, creating better grooves, arranging, and mixing. These are skills you can learn – quickly.
Great music production is largely about feeling and creative intuition, but it helps to learn the basics well.
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Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.