You let out a sigh as you click the “export track” button in your DAW after a long day in the studio.
You’ve spent hours on this one, and you’re proud of it. The next step? Asking for feedback from your producer friends. You know they’ll love it.
“This sounds good man. I love what you’ve done in the drop, but I just feel like the song gets a bit boring after a while. Like, it’s not interesting enough. There’s not enough going on.”
Creating an interesting song is difficult. It’s easy to go too far and make something unnecessarily complex or not go far enough and end up with a skeleton of a song instead of something that’s enjoyable to listen to.
In this post, I’m going to share a step-by-step approach that you can use to make your music more interesting.
Step #1 – Fix the Fundamentals
When faced with a track that seems uninteresting, the default solution for many producers is to add more stuff.
Now, adding more stuff can make a song more interesting, but it only works if the fundamental ideas in your track are interesting in the first place.
If your melody is too repetitive, badly written, or simply not catchy enough, it will cause listeners to lose interest.
If your drums are a key part of the track and they never change, then it’s likely that your drum sequence is contributing to a lack of interest.
So, before doing anything else, you need to make sure your key ideas are solid. You need to make sure your songwriting is tight. Adding more stuff to fix bad songwriting is like putting a band-aid on a severed leg.
The easiest way to fix this is to start with your chorus, or the most important part of your track. If you can fix the composition in your chorus/drop and make it interesting, the rest will follow.
Let’s run through an example.
As you can hear, this isn’t terrible. The melody is decent, it’s catchy and there’s enough variation for it to be repeated.
The bassline on the other hand is boring. It repeats the same note across the 8-bar section.
Let’s change a few notes around and compare the difference.
A few things to keep in mind when doing this:
- You don’t necessarily need to change a lot. Sometimes it might be a single note that needs changed to add variation, other times you might need to write a completely new chord progression. But don’t think that you need to make some sort of drastic change, only do so if it’s necessary.
- Less is more. If you have a phrase or melody that’s too complex, it can actually reduce interest instead of adding it. The listener needs to understand your music. A short, catchy melody works much better than a complex melody that has no defining motif or structure.
- Iterate, iterate, iterate. You won’t get it right first time. Make some changes, ask for feedback, and then do it all again. Eventually you’ll find the sweet spot.
Step #2 – Shorten the Arrangement
If your track is well written and you’ve added a bunch of FX but it still bores the listener, it might be because it’s simply too long.
There’s an art to making shorter arrangements. You need to introduce ideas faster. You need to be more creative with transitions. And most importantly, you need to rip out everything that’s not important.
But if you do this, and you shorten your arrangement to the point where it leaves the listener wanting more, you’ve made an interesting track.
I’ve written about this before in my article If In Doubt, Make It Shorter.
Tips for reducing length:
- Start on the macro-level. If you feel your arrangement is too long and you want to shorten it, you need to start looking at the high-level. Does your intro need to be 32 bars? Could your breakdown be shorter? Is there any section that drags?
- Don’t avoid abruptness. Long arrangements tend to have long transitions. If you want to shorten something, it’s likely that you’ll come across a part where you have to transition from two completely contrasting sections very quickly (drop > breakdown for example). Don’t be afraid to transition abruptly.
- Study other music. Look at songs in the style you’re making and study their structure. If it’s shorter than yours, figure out why it’s shorter. What have they emphasised? What have they kept short?
Step #3 – Add Motifs & Effects
One way to add interest while making your song more memorable is to include a motif.
What’s a motif?
It’s a small idea that repeats itself multiple times throughout the arrangement.
In a lot of electronic music you’ll hear the first few notes of the melody or vocal being played during the intro (and often outro). This can be considered a motif.
Kyau & Albert’s About The Sun does this with the vocal:
Tips for adding motifs:
- Keep it short but powerful. A motif should be remembered. It doesn’t have to be a sequence of notes, but this tends to work best in terms of interest and memorability. Another option is using obscure samples or sounds that listeners will remember.
- Figure out the frequency. No, not the frequency of the sound, but how often it’s going to play in your arrangement! Do you want your motif to sound every 16 bars? 32 bars? Find a frequency and stick to it.
- Use vocals. If you find it hard to write your own motif, scroll through some vocal chops and loops to find a phrase that could be repeated throughout your track. Some of the best dance tracks of all time have a vocal hook, that keeps the track interesting (and also makes it memorable).
A lot of producers go overboard when using FX. They feel like they have to add 5 different crash cymbals or other producers will call them out on it.
No one cares if you use the same crash cymbal every 16 bars, in fact, it’s probably a good idea to do that as it add cohesion to the arrangement.
So, when it comes to adding FX–be it crash cymbals, white noise, downlifters and snare rolls–be liberal when adding them, but don’t feel you need to have 20 different channels of FX. Sometimes you just need a few core sounds to build up the bulk of your FX sequence.
Tips for adding FX:
- Make your own. It’s not hard to make your own FX, and you’ll have much more control over how they sound if you make them yourself. Instead of taking the easy way out and looking for a riser in a sample pack, why not make one in a synth? Take a square wave with multiple voices -> detune it -> high-pass it at 200hz -> drown it in reverb -> sidechain it -> automate the pitch from -12 semitones to +12 over 8 or 16 bars.
- Think push and pull. If a crash cymbal on the downbeat is your push, the reverse crash cymbal that leads into it is your pull. Make sure you have both in your arrangement. Read: The Advanced Guide to Tension & Energy.
- Ask: does this make the track more interesting? Sometimes a lack of FX can make a section more interesting. Take a heavy bass drop for instance. If it’s a unique drop, adding a crash cymbal to it can reduce the novelty and actually make it less interesting (at least initially). If the music (drums, bass, leads) can hold itself for the first 8 bars, then it might be a better idea to let them stand out.
Step #4 – Final Tweaks & Automation
The final step in the process is to run through each channel/instrument and ask yourself whether you can tweak it or automate a parameter on it to make the overall project more interesting.
The way I like to do this is start at the top of my channel list and work down.
In this case, I would start with the kick. Here’s what I might do:
- High-pass the kick for the first 16 bars and last 16 bars of the arrangement.
- Automate a lowpass filter from bar 49 to the breakdown at bar 57 for a smoother transition.
- Remove two kicks just before bar 97 to add tension.
I’d then move on to the Perc 1 channel and see if it’s lacking in the interest department or if there’s anything to be improved. The goal here is not to make each instrument or channel sound interesting by itself. In fact, the majority of the tracks will remain untouched.
This is a straightforward process, but it forces you to think about how each element contributes to the whole.
Making interesting music is important. You have no more than 30 seconds to capture the listener’s attention, and once it’s captured it’s very easy to lose.
I encourage you to use this process. Tweak it. Try different steps. Or even simplify it if you feel like I’m overcomplicating things.
Question: what techniques or processes do you use to make your music more interesting? Comment below!