Creating a Bigger Sound Through Arrangement
I would say one of the things that people most frequently ask me is how to make a record sound big, which is sort of an ambiguous question, and can definitely depend on what exactly we’re trying to make sound big and in what way, but I thought that I would point out an old adage that has circulated around the internet quite a bit, and that is that bigness comes from the arrangement more than it comes from the mix. The mix just helps it along.
So this video is going to be an example of that. I’m doing an electronica/rock cross-over record. Sort of like a 2016 Nine Inch Nails sort of thing going on, and I want to play this ending for you here.
[mix plays, ending]
So we come out of this sort of raucous, pseudo-synth and guitar solo thing here…
…And we bridge over to an outro.
And I’m thinking to myself, “Okay, how can I make this sound really big?” If I try and experiment with what was given to me, which was exactly what was playing, I find that no matter what I do, I can’t really get a sound that is scopically large, and that’s because there’s not really too much going on in the low end.
So as the engineer, I decide that what it really needs here is existent low end. There’s no real way to do that without actually putting low end into the arrangement, so I decided to pick up my trusty bass guitar and play a bass part to give it more size.
So this is what I came up with for the outro part here.
[mix outro, with bass]
Right. We had that very, very dark…
And just adding that part gives it some drive. It gives it a lot of size, because now there’s that big bottom end going on, so already the record sounds a lot bigger, and it doesn’t need to be a fantastic part. It’s one note. I’m not doing anything crazy or amazing, but I always like to think progressively in terms of arrangement and development through a song, so it gets to this second half of the outro here…
And we’re sort of hearing the same thing again, and I don’t — especially in like, progressive kind of records, like an experimental kind of record, I really don’t like to hear too much simple repetition, so I decide that I want the record to get even bigger, because we’re getting toward the very end of the song.
So I add a couple of layers.
[song plays, added layers]
I want to — I’m going to play that again, and what I want you to do is feel the overall width and size of the record. That’s what’s going to change. Okay?
It suddenly has a much wider and a much bigger feel, and it’s not that I’m doing anything with any kind of like, mid/side processing or anything crazy like that, it’s that I’ve added some layers.
So when I do that, what I’m doing is the left side is the — is a distortion on the primary bass that is high-passed and then panned to the left, and then on the right side, I’m just playing the fifth up the scale on the same bass and distorting that as well.
So it ends up being this very big, scopic kind of bass sound, and it’s not that we’re hearing these elements so dramatically in the mix, it’s that we’re feeling them. And I’ll turn them up real quick just so you can hear it a little more clearly.
So that’s how I’m creating bigness. I’m creating bigness by putting actual sound into the mix that was not there. I’m not using stereo techniques, I’m not using reverb techniques, I’m not using EQ techniques. I’m using music techniques and arrangement techniques, because that’s our first line here when we’re producing a record. The majority of the sound has to happen from the core elements we’re working with, and if the core elements aren’t there, then maybe it’s my job to put it there?
Alright guys, until next time.