Let me ask you a question. Or rather, allow me to be bold and make an assumption. I don’t want to be too blunt here, but I really think this is going to hit home about how you feel about your music: Your music doesn’t really have any impact, does it?
You think it sounds great and you have this amazing sound in your head and when you hear your own carefully crafted drop arrive, you’re already getting excited. But everyone else that you show it to just goes: “meh”. Annoying, isn’t it?
In fact, it’s not just annoying, it’s down right tiring. A couple of reactions like that will make your enthusiasm for the song and the rest of your music drown away so much faster than you’ll ever want to cope with.
So it’s time to put an end to that!
It’s time to make your music interesting once more. Time to get behind your DAW and bring out all the big guns. I say all the guns because obviously there are so many things you can do to make music sound interesting. That’s what makes it so much fun. But today, I’m just going to teach you one principle that is incredibly simple and dead easy to do. Something that you can even do with your older songs to immediately give them a fresh spin (see the last paragraph of this article).
What’s The Secret to a Bigger Impact?
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking that, to make a bigger impact, you need to create a bigger drop. It just sounds logical when you think about it, right? If you want people to say “wow” instead of “aww”, it’s easy to start thinking *big*. I mean, wouldn’t making the drop super huge would be the right thing to do to make a bigger impact? Wouldn’t it be best to just build layer upon layer into your music and hit the listener with everything you’ve got? Well,… Maybe.
See, you’d be right in thinking that something that can make a man fall to his knees in awe and admiration is something that is huge. But this principle only ever holds up in comparison to smaller things. It’s all relative. To make the different elements (and I’m not just talking about drops here) pop out more and deliver the impact, you need to do only one thing – and you need to start doing it immediately:
You need to use silence.
… wait,… what did he just say? Okay, I can see you’re already jumping on the bus to skeptical land. DON’T! You’ll miss an opportunity to learn. Let me explain in detail how silence can be a good thing in music. Then let’s look at how you can use that knowledge to your advantage.
The Quiet Before The Storm
Now, I can’t even begin to sum up all the times I’ve heard people both over-complicate and over-populate their tracks. You are always focusing on adding tracks to build the tension over the song, adding sounds and effects ad infinitum.
It works fine to some extent, sure. But if you only ever gradually build up the energy in a song, no one will notice. See, when building up like this, the end will be absolutely mind blowing in sonic characteristics compared to the intro. And you yourself will be very aware of this. That’s why you like it so much, you know what’s coming and can appreciate the differences.
Your audience will never experience the same wow-factor. Why? Well, It’s simple. Music moves through time. Unlike a painting or a sculpture, it is not a static medium. It changes. It evolves. You need to always keep this in mind. It’s a necessity for being a good producer. Changes and evolving sonics are the best way for reminding your audience about what an awesome texture you’re actually creating. In fact, I would gladly state that these moments are your only shot at reminding the public of how f’ing awesome your song is.
See, your listeners don’t remember what the empty beginning sounded like.
And they sure as heck ain’t gonna wind back the song just to check if that drop you’ve constructed really is the kickass explosion you imagine it to be. No. They will simply keep moving through the journey, already forgetting what came before and keep in the moment. And so, if you don’t constantly remind their ears about the greatness of your song, your music will not be considered that exciting. It won’t have any impact.
3 Ways To Make The Listener Go “WOW” Using Silence
Having grasped the problem with both hands, you understand what needs to be done. You need to constantly remind them that your song is super sweet.
How? It’s simple. From time to time, just leave a couple of things out. Thin out the sound for a moment, only to return with a vengeance. There’s examples of this simple principle to be found in just about every popular song and in every section of those songs. Let’s cover the most important places where you can use silence to impress your audience. Of course there are many more ways you can use this, but I want to keep things simple (told you it would be, didn’t I? :-)).
1. The Breakdown (& Buildup)
Let’s start with the the breakdown. The moment in the song that things are, at least for a little while, less intense. It’s where the listener can relax a bit. The breakdown is a perfect example of a thinning out of the musical density, only to explode into another drop.
Take… Well any EDM song for example. There’s breakdowns everywhere. That moment is an excellent opportunity to make a change in your song and build things up again. You can leave out drums for example. Or only the kick or the bass. Then, when building up the tension again, you gradually bring the energy back.
Nothing really new here, but one thing that works really well for bringing home the drop that you’re building up to is to pull every fader down for a short beat, RIGHT before everything hits in the drop. Believe me, that short instant of silence will make sure the drop brings all the energy it can to you audience. Then, it’s time for the drop itself. It has to be huge… But even here you can use silence to your advantage:
2. The Drop
Wait, using silence in a drop? Whaaa? Yes, my friend, it can be done. As a matter of fact, it can be done very effectively – and has been done so as well! I like to take the song Horizon (Original Mix) by The Singularity as a clear example of how you can use short bursts of silence as an incredibly powerful way of pushing a drop forward and injecting that jaw-dropping goodness into the audience.
Just take a minute to listen to that song. Pay careful attention to the drop. Notice how in between every full burst there’s a short little bit of silence? After listening to a huge drop for only a very short while, our ears can get saturated. That short moment of piece is the perfect opportunity for our brains to be reminded what the texture in the song actually sounds like: amazing.
3. Leave out some instruments
Well, to be fair, this one is not really about actual silence. It’s the principle of removing certain elements at certain times in a song, to remind the listener that they’re there as well. It’s important to remind the listener about the general texture of the song every once in a while by cutting away, say, the synths.
But another great way to make your songs more dynamic and therefore more interesting to listen to, is by making sure that not every instrument is constantly playing at the same time. If this is you, I’ve got one question: if I was to put a full blown orchestra in front of you and instruct them to play tutti (everyone at the same time) for the duration of an entire opera… how would you feel about that?
Let me tell you, you’d run away after 5 minutes with a monster headache, that’s how. If that would be dreadful, then why on earth would you do this in your music? Why bore the listener to death by introducing everything at once, not leaving any surprises in the sonic palate? Sure, you’ll change up the melody and have a chorus and everything, but if the sounds don’t change it won’t matter.
So please: just cut away an instrument that is playing in both your chorus and verse from one of either. Keep things interesting. Keep things moving.
Your Assignment For Today
Right now, I want you to reap the benefits of this simple principle of using silence and not playing everything always. I want you to take the DAW session of one of your old songs, especially one that sort of resembles the image above. And I want you to slice and hack away at it as if your first name was Freddy. Make things more dynamic and interesting by removing different elements here and there. Also, try to insert a TRUE moment of silence somewhere.
One extra tip: you don’t want to be all TOO abrupt at the slicing and the hacking. At least try to keep your music alive, will you? So utilize transitions if you feel like cutting an instrument here and there sounds too harsh. Then, mix it down, let your friends listen to the before and after and see which one they prefer. I can pretty much guarantee that, if you use silence right, you’ll have created a much better song than you had before.