Every successful producer out there has its own secret weapon for spicing up their productions. My secret weapon is always percussions. I buy every little squeaking toy, every wooden soundbox and every two pieces of metal that make a cool sound when you bang them together. I’m obsessed with making new sounds out of everything. I once sampled myself hitting vegetables with a drumstick and made drums sample pack. I will give you guys a download link when I find it. I took the idea from some cool and talented producer who connected midi triggers to vegetables that triggers cool sample when you touch them.
Almost in every production, there’s a little place for some percussions. A good example for a producer that use a lot of percussion sounds is Timbaland. He’s one of the more interesting producers out there. He always sounds like himself and it doesn’t matter what year it is. He never swims with the rest of the salmons.
This is what makes you who you are. You don’t have to be the most talented producer in the world for creating interesting and artistic stuff. If you have a vision, and if you have courage, you can make it. I always say that the production of a song is an adventure. You know where to start but you don’t always know where you’ll end up. I personally love this feeling of unknowingness. If you try to force the song to be something you have in your vision without letting it flow out of you and actually happen by itself, it’ll sound like you tried too hard and you won’t like the result. Every one of us has a producer or an artist or a band that we look up to and try to sound like them. This is a bit dangerous because it makes us lose our own identity. Eventually, if you do you, people will come work with you for your style and not your ability to sound like someone else.
Every once in a while a client asks me how is his song going to sound at the end, almost every time I say “Dude, I honestly don’t know” It is an adventure, let it happen to you too.
One of my favorite thing to do is sample stuff with my iPhone and then heavily manipulate it to create freaky stuff to use on my productions. A lot of people don’t know but the microphone you have on your cell phones is a very good condenser microphone that you can actually use for a lot of things.
I wrote this article about recording professional sounding vocals with an iPhone! Give it a try. So every once in a while you’ll come across an interesting sound or a weird instrument that you can sample with your phone. I’ll give you an example. My neighbor has a dog who has the weirdest bark ever, I recorded it with my phone and used it in one of my productions as the second lair for a snare drum. It was freaking awesome! If you have a static sample that repeats itself over and over again and you don’t want it to sound machine-like you can always throw a phase morphing plugin like a Phaser, Flanger or a Chorus on the track, tune it to the minimal setting and it will come to life. Even though it’s not a thing you can really hear beneath the other production elements, our subconscious mind can pick up on things like that.
One of the things I like to do is to start productions with a reversed chord progression. Meaning, I play something on a synth or guitar and then I drown it in reverb and more weird effects and then I bounce it to make an audio file that I then reverse. In most cases, it turns out to be very interesting and I end up building an entire production over this weird little trick. You can hear this on a few of Drake’s songs, His producer Noah ‘40’ Shebib does this a lot.
This is a nice trick you can use in minimal productions, If you have a song that has little instrumentation, say drums, bass, vocals, something to hold the harmony and mostly air (big gaps between the notes). It can be very cool to add some kind of a room tone underneath it all. I have a small library of room tones and background noises like Humming machines, a quiet street, pink noise (with a high frequency roll off), or any room tone you record with your iPhone. You can also try to cut the high frequencies out of any room tone so it won’t interrupt the other elements on the song. You can nearly hear this in the song but when you mute it, something very crucial is missing from the overall. It’s like a sound of the air around your head, moving and morphing. It feels natural and nice and also, It takes away the urge to add more elements to the production. I found out that when you have a little instrumentation in the mix, all of the cool quiet magic that sits below the track is coming up in the mastering stage. I used this song as an example in another article but it fits just right in here also.
I just found this nice singer on Facebook, downloaded a video of her singing to a camera with her guitar and it’s filled with background magic. I tried to keep the production at a minimum so this little magic will easily come out.
I’m a big believer in adding soul to your productions by recording live weird percussion instruments, and I’m gonna say it now, I don’t care what genre you’re into, you have to have a Cabasa!
No, I’m just kidding, but I’m also kinda not 🙂
I LOVE adding little weird percussion sounds to my productions. Shakers, tambourines, bells, rain sticks, wooden percussions, metal percussions, and weird noisemakers. These can really make your productions come alive and give your sound a quirky and unique character, just get crazy and see what you get. I’m sure you’re going to be surprised.
Today’s sound is very wild, even in the most conservative productions you can find a weird and quirky instrument that fits right in. So in this list, I give you a bunch of cool stuff that you just have to have in your studio.
So let’s start with the wonderful Cabasa. You can add it to whatever production you have, you can play it the traditional way, and you can also find new ways to make interesting sounds with it that will be cool in your rhythm section. I really love how Tyler The Creator uses the Cabasa in his Tiny Desk Concert show (min 1:30). It’s a small rhythm part that has a big place in the groove section. Cabasa on Amazon
The “tambourine man” is an old and important companion to any rock, folk or acoustic style productions. But you can definitely go crazy with it and add it to a pop production, or even electronic style production, who knows what you will get, it might just turn your song into something a bit more special. Tambourine on amazon.
This also is a no brainer, it’s small, it’s not expensive and you have no reason to not have it. As a matter of fact, when you use the Bongos the right way and you play the right groove it can be the one special ingredient that makes your body move. Bongos I like on Amazon.
This one is special, the Cajon can sound like a cool percussion element, and if you mic it the right way it can sound like a whole drum set. It is a beautiful instrument. You can take it with you anywhere and it serves as a whole rhythm section. I love it! Choose the Cajon you like.
It’s always the little things that make the most difference. When I hear those I can’t help but think about Timbaland’s productions. He has a tendency to use those and a lot of other little percussion instruments in his productions. Finger Castanets.
The Xylophone belongs to the same family together with the Marimba, Balafon, Semantron, Pixiphone Metallophone and the Glockenspiel. It is a tonal instrument so you can play real notes on a real musical scale. This instrument adds a lot of emotions to the production, even a little musical part can make a big difference. You can find it in wood and in metal. Try it. Xylophone.
We all know it, yes it’s a little corny but I still love it. Especially for ballad songs, special effects, movie scores or just retro stuff. Gotta have it. Chimes
The Clave is the wooden knock sound that you hear a lot in Latin music. It is a very simple instrument with a lot of character that you can use in a lot of genres if you’re ballsy enough. Claves
Every one that goes to India comes back with one of those. I love this sweet instrument. I used it in one or two productions and it added a lot of sweet magic. Can’t recommend it enough. Kalimba
More Cool Instruments that you just gotta have and find on Amazon.
Wrist Bell | Bell Sticks
I’ll add more tricks and tips in the future. The main thing about this post is don’t be afraid to break the rules, do crazy stuff even if it’s not natural to your genre. If you have a crazy idea just go for it and if you have nothing you can always turn off the computer, take a day off and start over tomorrow. We are artists, it’s ok to not be brilliant every day.