Unique production is one of the best ways to have your music stand out from the pack. Whether you’re a songwriter, mixing engineer, or both, you can employ these techniques to make captivating productions!
1. First things first…make the song build.
This one sounds straightforward, but it’s easy to miss the mark. One of the keys to unique production is to build the song’s excitement, keeping the listener engaged.
You’ll want to build your song so there are additional elements coming in at different parts that make things more exciting and fun for listeners. For example, using keys that get bigger and bigger as the song goes along, so by the time you get to the last chorus there’s a ton of additional stuff in there! This is something you can get really creative with, making your song as unique and “out there” as you’d like.
These kinds of subtle differences really can make a huge huge difference! So let your song grow exponentially.
If this sounds like obvious stuff, it is; however, you can get caught up in the song and it’s the obvious things just slip by! It’s really important to sit there and think about how can you make your production more interesting and unique.
2. Use tape delay to add energy to lead vocals.
There are a few ways to do this, but the easiest and most common way is with a distorted delay or with a saturated tape delay plugin. You can also do this with a tape delay and an Echoplex as well. Tape delay add a unique kind saturation which our ear has become very accustomed to, with industry standard recordings from ABBA, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Zeppelin (and everything in between!).
You can put a tape delay plugin directly on your vocal track. But one of the more conventional ways is by creating a new auxiliary track—a mono auxiliary track, as we want this to be purely an energy track and not create stereo effects that detract from the vocal itself.
Whatever DAW you use, removing the top and the bottom from the delay keeps the energy up without adding more “esses” and muddying the low end—both of these things would create issues in the vocal track.
If you don’t have a tape delay plugin included with your DAW, then any available delay combined with distortion/saturation will do the trick. It may be exactly the same as a tape emulation, however the distortion/saturation with high and low passing will dramatically help shape it into a great tool for adding energy to your lead vocal!
3. Overlap/double vocals to make the chorus unique from the verses.
This is the simplest thing that many of you are probably already doing. But again, sometimes it’s the simple stuff that gets overlooked! The idea is this: the big chorus comes in and a double vocal comes in with it. Having overlaps keeps it punchy and keeps the energy up!
Your double vocal will sound really cool and unique if you process it differently than the main vocal. One way is to simply tuck it underneath volume-wise, but it’s also a great idea to EQ it differently—gently rolling off lows and some highs will help it sit neatly below the main vocal. You can also get creative with saturation, light modulation, or anything else you want for unique production!
Overlapping the vocal doesn’t really work with a live sounding acoustic vocal, but for a big hip-hop/pop track, a hard-hitting EDM song, or even some metal, it will keep the vocal front and center! The constant energy of a lead vocal that is unrelenting is a very simple but hugely effective effect!
4. Mimic vocal lines with other instruments.
Adding synths, keys, guitar, or other instruments imitating the vocal line will help create excitement! It not only creates energy and excitement, but reinforces a vocal hook and makes us want to sing along even more!
Don’t be afraid to like take hooks and vocal lines and mimic them with instruments or vice-versa. You’d be surprised how much this can change your production!
5. Break out of writing songs the cookie cutter way.
This next one is more of a songwriting tip, but the way so many songs are created these days, songwriting is production. Modern songwriters are also very much producers!
When you’re working in pop, we have this tendency to write a verse melody, a chorus melody, repeat that second verse melody. If there’s a pre-chorus, repeat that pre-chorus, and it might be hooky immediately because we love how is repetitive is.
The reality, however, is we get bored of the song pretty quickly. With so many tracks sharing the same chord sequences—6-4-1-5, for instance (in C Major that would be A minor, F, C, and G)—we sometimes stick to what works versus what sounds fresh.
Great sound design is one step to unique production, but great songwriting will always win! Let yourself break out of the pop mold we’ve grown accustomed to. Throw in a weird dissonant chord, change the song’s structure to keep listeners on their toes, etc.
Anything you can think of to go “against the grain” is something that will add uniqueness to your production.
6. Don’t be afraid to add more layers.
As we talked about earlier with vocals, doubling/layering is a great way to add excitement and movement to a bland section of your song. You can do this with keys, guitar, or whatever instrumentation you’re working with.
Riffs and melodies alone can be great, but sometimes they feel a little empty. If that’s the case, you can try different ways of filling in the sonic gaps.
Octaves up or down, depending on where the main riff is played, are one of the easiest ways to add some excitement and ear candy to a sparse rhythm part. You might try following all of the chord changes with octaves, or maybe only sprinkle them in here and there.
If there’s enough space in the arrangement/mix for it, harmonies can be a cool way to bulk up a thin section. Bands like Iron Maiden, for example, immediately come to mind; they rely heavily on melodic guitar harmonies. You may not want to write an entire song around harmonized lead lines, but sneaking them in on a verse or chorus could sound great. Try it!