Ducking – not an arrangement tool
Why not? – you may ask. You have the right to use whatever tool in whatever role you can think of, right? Well, you are of course right with that. True art has no limits. What I’m getting at is more of a thought process thing. The other day I’ve stumbled upon a rather nice and informative video on how to utilize ducking in a DAW. While it was good as far as the educational value goes, something has caught my ears.
Art vs. technology
The poster of the video played the raw example of some electronic music once and said something along the lines of how it sounds rather dull an uninteresting. And it did, indeed. The solution was to duck the bass line with the kick drum. In other words, turning the bass down (actually compressing it) a couple dBs every time the kick hits. That made the little sound sample come alive a bit; it started to breathe, so to say. So what’s the problem with it?
You’re a true artist, hey? One without limits, rightly so. Well, my friend, injecting dynamics into an admittedly dull and uninteresting track with the help of technology is not what I would call artistic freedom. This train of thought says something like “let’s make some crap, then (try to) fix it later”.
Fixing the crap
The truth is, enjoyable music is rarely born from an approach like that. You better plan it out in your head before you even start throwing those samples together. We hear too many “electro” and “djent” stuff lately that sound like everything else out there. Tracks where certain elements are accepted to be chopped up with a gate, getting triggered by the hi-hat. Be it dull, constantly chording scooped out hi-gain rhythm guitars or lifeless, droning synth pads. Upon hearing them lesser tracks, this little n00b called the “producer” decides upon deploying the newly learned little trick of ducking, thus making the boring crap at least barely listenable. He’s readily accepting the limits of such music creation, so you can be sure it’ll never be anything new and unpredictable. You can do better. Use the motifs, the melodies you hear in your head. Plan out the music, arrange and re-arrange the elements so they don’t get in the way of each other. Then, when it already sounds good without any trickery, you can attack that subconscious with ducking and the likes, and push the excitement factor even further.