Creating Atmosphere in Music
"For me, creating spine-tingles in music is down to human connection. The more honest and genuinely ‘you’ the feel of the music is, the more likely it is to move someone."
My personal quest for atmosphere and emotion in music is never ending and always evolving. I’m not sure there will ever be a singular way an artist can create mood in their work as we’re all so complex and different, and our methods vary so much. Creativity is a mystical creature. I’ve had many ups and downs on the journey of trying to channel the epic atmospheres I hear in my head into my music. So I can speak from my own experience in case it helps anyone else. At the very least, it might make you feel less alone when struggling or feeling like you’ll never get there. We’ve all felt that.
For me, creating spine-tingles in music is down to human connection. The more honest and genuinely ‘you’ the feel of the music is, the more likely it is to move someone. Obviously, your arrangement and actual sound is important, but the way it is played is the emotional clincher. There is so much gear and potential for tweaking effects out there that it can get overwhelming, but I find that a passionate and honest recording from someone who was into what they were playing will carry that extra magic. Getting a good, heartfelt source sound, as well as a well-recorded one is something I always try to do. I’ve waited until nightfall to record certain parts in the past, as I felt the vibe of night honoured the music more and would mean I was in a more connected headspace. Not always possible I know, but that is one benefit of a home studio.
I’ve learned that for my music, choosing gear and effects that complement the main feel of the song is super important. I have fallen in to the trap of using lots of high-end equipment and plug-ins before, thinking it would make everything sound amazing, only to compare back to my demo and feel like I have produced all the life out of it and feel nothing. Being sympathetic to the melody of the song along with thinking about the journey I want to take people on both help me honour the song more and not get too lost in production. However, I’m still guilty of getting bogged down sometimes. Effects vary so much, and I find that if I listen to my gut it will tell me what works the best for a certain sound.
I remember the first time I played the Korg MS-10 on one of my tracks. It was at a friend’s studio and I never thought I could get so emotional about bass. We played with opening and closing the sound along to the melodic changes of the vocal and it added so much depth I couldn’t believe it. I started to see sound in a different way after that. That’s the feeling I get when I know I have found the right fit with a sound.
The mix is another big element. The actual sounds are one thing, but in the past I have got totally different feels from different versions of the same song. My music can be quite intricate and layered, and I often spend time tweaking tiny elements, but for me this can make all the difference. Again, it is all so personal but a good mix of your track will help people receive it the way it deserves to be heard. It’s such a shame when a bad mix of a potentially good track makes it unlistenable. I have had this with my own songs before and it’s really frustrating. Finding someone who gets you and your sound and who you can trust to bring out the best in your tracks is such a bonus and it is such a joyful feeling getting your mix back when you love it. All artists should feel this!
For Kycker’s tips for the basics of mixing click here!
The gear I use over songs has varied, depending on where I’m recording and who is around to lend me their equipment. On my last couple of releases there have been some really nice additions. The Korg MS 10 responsible for my emotional bass breakdown belongs to Dom Gentry (Attaque) who helped me out on my new track ‘Fireworks’. We also used a Dave Smith Mopho x 4 for some swirly synth patterns. I work with Rick David at Pink Bird Studios in London, who runs my songs through his beautiful 1984 build Cadac A series console. I played his Moog Voyager which is heaven. I also replayed in some real piano on some programmed parts to add warmth.
I think that what I am saying is trust yourself. Your humanity and your skills can combine to make something amazing, and what you have to say is unique to you so try to listen to that inner guide. There is no right or wrong per se I guess, try not to get lost in a sea of every synth you’ve ever known, as fun as that is. Don’t do stuff just for the sake of it or because it sounded good on someone else’s song, as that’s their instinct to share and not yours. Yours will serve you better.