To Make Better Music, It’s All Dynamics

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Yin and Yang, good and evil, screaming and silence. Dynamics is a word used to talk about the quality of sound. Do you think a lot about loudness, build-ups, articulation and intensity when writing a song? How about how all of these affect clarity between instruments and your melody? You should because this is what often separates good musicians from mediocre ones.

Having a song roughly the same volume or intensity is a formula for disaster. You’re thinking, “Oh no, not me. I always make songs with interesting progressions, builds and changes in volume. I ain’t no noob.” The issue is that most people believe they have an innate talent for dynamics. This is generally not the case. Even if you’re crazy talented, the mistake lies in thinking that a song cannot be improved by the thoughtful application of dynamics.

Put simply, dynamics add a layer of meaning to your music.

Dynamics are as integral to your song as chord changes or structure. You should always be thinking or talking about them, both inside and outside of a recording studio. If you’ve ever watched a symphony conductor madly wave around his hands during a performance, you’ve seen the live application of dynamics. The conductor is directing musicians to follow a song’s melody through the loud and quiet—intensity and builds—often creating a new soundscape and texture. Dynamics allow the conductor to create a unique feeling and experience for the audience, even if the song is hundreds of years old.

Used properly, they can compliment melody, structure, lyrics, and tone. Think of Ottis Redding’s “The Dock Of The Bay.” The softness of the piano and his vocals; the intensity of the snare drum; a punchy, louder bassline. The song’s dynamics help create a feeling of loathing and drama as the punchy drums and bass drive it forward. It tells us that maybe today’s not so bad or that if we wait, maybe tomorrow will be better. Put simply, dynamics add a layer of meaning to your music.

In the studio, we add compression for loudness or decide to bring certain sound frequencies forward to create additional dynamics and changes. However, if you start with an artist who sounds flat and doesn’t understand how to shape a song, there’s not much anyone can do. There’s an audio engineer saying about this that’s essentially—caca in, caca out.

Successful electronic music producers will spend days working on a single snare-drum track. This is because they know that each element needs to sound as dynamic and interesting as it possibly can. It can’t just be the same unchanging drum hit for seven minutes. You need to approach every song and element in the same way.

This took me years to develop and I hope you will learn from my mistake.

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About Jeremy Shattuck

Jeremy Shattuck is a musician, filmmaker and award-winning writer. He currently writes for the Weekly Alibi and Hip and Trippy, and has been published or featured by many others, including Bound Magazine, Conceptions Southwest, Humbird and New Mexico Mercury. Jeremy studied film at the University of New Mexico and the University of Exeter and co-founded Hip and Trippy in 1999.

His current mission is to help incubate culturally relevant films in New Mexico through screenwriting workshops.

1 Comment

  1. […] you read my previous article on sound dynamics, then you know playing a song at roughly the same volume or intensity […]

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