On The Musically Untried

The more musical things I try, the more I realize I may not be trying as much new stuff as I could be. The very workflow habits that get me results also keep me in ruts of my own making and returning to my go-to strategies and techniques keeps me from new ways of doing new things. How then, do music producers innovate and ratchet up the level of their invention? Here are three approaches:

Try sound combinations you haven’t tried before. While we know how well-known musical timbres get along (e.g. the string quartet, the jazz trio), we know little about how lesser-known timbres do. Each track is an opportunity to try new sound combinations. How about a pristine bell with a fuzzy bass? A cold ambiance with a warm pad? Not just musical sounds, but effects too. How about wide stereo stuff with mono narrowness? What if you chained those ambiance reverbs together to make a hybrid monster space? Or modulated the pristine bell with the bass fuzz to make a fuzz bell? Every sound combination is an opportunity to generate a new one, and then a new one from that. Stop only when you’ve arrived somewhere truly strange. 

Amplify and scale up what’s already there. A music’s generative moment may have been very brief, but this moment is extended over time as you amplify and scale up what you did. For example, say you improvised a short chord sequence. Now what? You could repeat the sequence, but alternatively you can develop whatever it already contains, including the pitches of its chords, their timing and phrasing, and the sound. The chords can trigger other parts, their timing and phrasing can become a rhythm, and their sound can generate other sounds. 

Be intentionally naive. At any workflow moment stop at the first compelling thing that catches your attention–before you understand how that thing works exactly. For example, if I come across or design an interesting sound I’ll make variations of it immediately to kaleidoscope it out, to get a sense of its potentials. Resist understanding the reasons why you like the compelling sound and instead move quickly to build something with it. Building–not theorizing–acknowledges that while your ear got you to here, there was also a randomness to what caught your attention. In sum, try new sound combinations, amplify what’s already there, and be intentionally naive to embrace the musically untried. 

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