Experimental and Practical Approaches to Music Production & Sound Design

 In TSM Studio Blog

Perhaps one of the most inspiring parts of composing a piece of music or constructing a sound design concept is that there are no inherent metes and bounds. What ultimately matters most is the final product, inconsequential of what twists and turns may have led to its creation.

When detailing the approaches to music production or sound design, there are a number of common methods used to arrive at a certain destination. However, one of the tried-and-true processes that’s applicable to both is the relentless experimentation that frequently results in “happy accidents”. When these fruitful mishaps work in tandem with the proper visual media, some of the most creatively bold statements can be made.

The Ubiquity of Experimentation

Oftentimes music and sound design are lumped together as interwoven artforms that collectively amplify the way in which a story is told. These two sonic components have the ability to enhance compelling stories by capitalizing on our senses to pair what we hear with what we see. And while it’s essential to curate a soundscape that both embodies and boldens a visual concept, the basis on which many pieces of music or soundscapes are created frequently begin without any inherent visual references.

Take for example, a composer seeking to book a private recording facility in Orlando, Florida to craft demo mockups with no particular project in mind. They eventually decide on TSM Studio and immediately get to work, relentlessly creating within an isolated environment that provides access to gear and microphones previously unavailable. Over a given week, our composer experiences a rush of creativity and fleshes out three to four rough ideas, each with their own sonic intent; one piece is high-tempo, energetic and triumphant, another is downtempo, dark and a bit mysterious while the remaining two ideas fall somewhere in between melancholic and disturbed.

Our composer is now feeling confident about the variety of outcomes. They can envision each piece being applied to different scenes or projects that elicit their own unique, emotive response. They envision their first piece accompanying a group of Knights Templars ferociously charging into battle while their second piece aligns with an isolated countryside setting fit for a thriller. Their remaining two pieces may even become relevant score material for a current or future project. This experimental, trial-and-error process can yield results that are both unrepeatable and remarkable when creative freedom is expressed.

This same approach can easily be mimicked by a sound designer to yield similar results. In this particular example, imagine our sound designer locks themselves in that same recording facility with the sole intention to record anything and everything they can find. While recording a Djembe and some chimes, our sound designer conceptualizes what could result from the source recordings if their frequency bands were split and destructively processed. After applying some distortion, reverb, pitch-shifting and transient shaping, the resulting sound is that of an impactful spell fit for the hero of an animated universe.

Entering a production session with no obvious intent can sometimes lead to our most fearless work.

Striking a Necessary Balance

Without a clear, established direction, experimentation can lead you down a rabbit hole of creative decision-making that can’t be artificially forced. However as with any creative endeavor, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Sometimes limitations are necessary to keep your workflow focused, concise and direct. Understanding when to meander down that exploratory path and when to simply lay out your tools and stick to them is essential.

When working on projects with established timelines, striking the balance between probing for uncharted sounds and adamantly sticking to your source material can remove both the uncertainty and anxiety that often comes with a creeping deadline.

And when the exciting opportunity comes knocking to work on a project that doesn’t have a firm deadline, you may come to the realization that sometimes deadlines are a great thing!

As creatives, we can work tirelessly on iterations only to end up reverting back to previous versions. The decades-old example of Bruce Swedien and Quincy Jones working on 91 different mixes for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album only to collectively decide upon mix #2 is a testament to this.

In Closing…

Whether your focus is music production, sound design or any other creative venture that can often lead you astray, picking and choosing when to follow down the path of exploration can be beneficial to your productivity, your final product and most importantly, your physical and mental health.