When learning to mix – sound is of paramount importance. Understanding the ins and outs, and how it all interacts is the building blocks from which any mix is made.
However, once sound and the manipulation of sound is learned, there is a further and more important step: feel.
People listen to music on laptop speakers, ear-buds, and in cars on the freeway with the windows down. They’re probably also listening to the mp3 version.
Under all these circumstances, the sound is clearly compromised. I’d venture that sound quality, is not really the be-all end-all of a record. Mind you, I do feel it’s important, but I don’t think that’s what people attach to and get hooked by when they listen to music.
When dealing with sound, we tend to think in terms of tone, timbre, balance, image, and punch. But why do these things even matter?
Punch is how the sound jumps out at you, image is the world the sound lives in, and balance allows the important elements to step forward. These all have emotional ramifications, and directly influence the feel of a record. So I would posit, that without “feel,” sound quality is essentially meaningless.
Here are some feel-related ideas for you to ruminate on:
1. Unbalanced Sounds – Sometimes when a certain element is unbalanced, stepping on other elements, it can feel really good. It might not sound so hot, but it can feel ever so good.
Sometimes it’s nice to momentarily unbalance a key element to build tension, and then return it to a balanced level as the release. It’s also a good way to direct the listener’s attention.
2. Groove is Everything – No matter what, at all costs, get the groove working. Whether this compromises the sound or not, groove is the innate part of music that we all feel with our body. It determines whether or not we like something before we even determine thoughtfully whether or not we like something.
Consider old Motown recordings. Any technological hurdle was superseded by incredible musicians playing with great feel. Consider this next time you’re obsessing over that hot new plugin bundle.
3. Transitions & Arrangement Dynamics – It’s very rare that a song that doesn’t vary much or have any solid transitions actually captivates people. Address and consider the points immediately before & after a song changes sections. Automate some dynamics between and during sections if necessary. [editor’s note: for transitions, check out these free cymbal swells from Joe Gilder of Home Studio Corner.]
4. Depth – That 3D image is an important part of the emotion of a song. As Jimmy Page said: “the emotion is in the room.” That can be interpreted both figuratively that the emotion is in the interchange between musicians working together in the same space, or literally that it’s the sound in the space that resonates emotionally. I think both are accurate.
5. Make the Moments Special - A song is a series of moments – if every moment is special, the song is always impactful. When recording, take the time to get the performance right. Like Edward J “UK” Nixon says, “keep working until the goosebumps come.”
Matthew Weiss records, mixes, and masters music in the Philadelphia, New York, and Boston areas. Find out more about him here.
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