An ever growing group of people think that today’s pop music sucks; musical contrast is one of the reasons why it does. I mean, the lack of musical contrast. Because once a n00bie composer (sorry, you know I really mean producer, as they call themselves), so once those kids start throwing aimless samples together, it’s only natural for the music to turn out boring. When it comes to contrast in music, it means concept as well.
Don’t let pop music suck like a vacuum cleaner
So yeah, we need musical contrast for maxing out the fun factor, but in what forms can this contrast appear in music? In a lot of different forms. Don’t worry, that was just the simple answer. Let’s start with melodic contrast, because why not. In the general verse-to-chorus kind of pop structure, it’s advisable to starve out one or the other, so the sudden change can hit you in the face. It’s usually the verse that gets stripped down melodically. Use smaller interval steps, or you can go as far as making spoken word verses. Ones with little or no chordal accompaniment. Then kick those butts with the lush chorus. You get the idea.
Chorus is for kicking asses
Another device worth mentioning is rhythmic contrast; you usually better work with this the other way ’round, compared to melodic contrast. It means, put the busier, more clever rhythmic figures in the verses, and dumb it down for the chorus. Sort of. Cause you better make people whistle those damn choruses, not the verses. It can come as a relief for them to go from complex to simple rhythmically.
Another usual arrangement trick to bring out contrast is to use more and thicker sounds in the chorus. So naturally that’s where you want to put your favorite groupies singing outta tune background vocals. And don’t go light handed with the doubling/unison stuff either.
Dynamics for musical contrast
We didn’t touch the most obvious (and probably one of the most important) contrasting aspects: volume. Yep. If you can inject dynamics into your home brewed shit, it’ll sound like a million dollars. Just from going from soft to loud. Not so much from loud to one notch even louder though. Be brave enough to go real quiet if that’s what the music needs.
Bitches! Watch your pitches.
What else. Ahh, let’s drop in some pitch contrast as well. What does this mean? Ever heard a pop tune with the chorus going lower in pitch than the verses? Me neither. Okay, there are a couple of exceptions, but even most of those have a good little trick. What’s this trick? It’s that even though the lead vocals may come out lower pitched than the verses, there’s at least one supporting element that goes higher. Maybe octaves higher, maybe adding fifths or thirds. It can be backing vocals, a synth or guitar track, or the slushing foreskin of a hummingbird. Paired up with the lead vocals, they’re gonna lift the whole shit and bring it into outer space.