The individual parts are great. They work together beautifully. But you’ve still got a niggling feeling that the finished whole is less than the sum of its parts.
Face it. It sounds flat and boring. Why?
Your music lacks contrast. There’s no light and shade. Contrast creates tension and release, the driving force of music. Without it your music will sound lifeless, no matter how brilliant the parts.
I learnt this from Nirvana. The first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” I was blown away. Two contrasting sections – the sparse laid back verse and the heavy distorted chorus. Extremely simple yet unbelievably effective.
In house and techno there’s often a slight nod to contrast in the form of a break. The rhythm comes out. Everyone’s supposed to put their hands in the air and then (usually with an almighty woosh) the rhythm come crashing in again. But there are more interesting ways you can create contrast.
Remove almost everything
Taking stuff out is often more effective than slamming in with everything you’ve got. Not only does it make for a huge moment, it gives you somewhere to go.
In my forthcoming club remix of Robot Go Disco I build the track to a point where it’s almost noise, then (with an almighty woosh) take nearly everything out leaving just the kick and bass:
Add chord changes
Create contrast compositionally.
If you’ve got a section which stays on the same note, add some chord changes. Or if you already have some, do the opposite (or change them).
I wait until almost the end of my Robot Go Disco remix to get to the chord changes, which after nearly six minutes on the same note, creates impact:
In week 4 of my 10 tracks 10 weeks album project I got completely stuck. But by concentrating on creating contrast I finished Crush, and it ended up as one of my favourite tracks off the album.
The early versions of Crush had two distinct sections – one with chord changes and one without, but sounded completely flat:
But in the final track I contrasted the two sections by changing much of the instrumentation:
Simple to complex
You’ll also hear that I didn’t just change the instrumentation of the two sections in Crush.
If you make one section that’s rhythmically, harmonically and/or melodically simple then make another that’s more complex. You’ll end up with a piece of music that sounds technicolour, not black and white.
What other music uses contrast to devastating effect? How much do you think about contrast when you write music? What techniques do you use to create contrast? I’m sure I’ve made some glaring omissions – feel free to share below in the comments.