It’s understated a lot of the time, just how much music can have an emotional effect on the listener.
Recently I’ve been working on a project with a good friend of mine and he kindly asked me to create him a ‘lullaby type’ interlude to splice in between the penultimate and final tracks of his solo record.
Today, I thought I’d show you how I created the track, and my 3 simple steps to an emotive and engaging vibe in your compositions (and why!)
I decided to go with a dead-simple arrangement, and simply one riff that built as the song progressed. Starting with the guitars on the hard-panned left and right:
- The right-hand guitar is the riff, and what the listener is intended to focus on; nothing too fancy, but well-chosen chords, arpeggiated with a small run at the end.
- The left-hand guitar is the same riff, played for a second take, but at the end of every 4 bars I’ve revered the take and faded it in
As the song progresses to the midway point, a lead guitar has been fading in since the start of the track and hits its peak volume to marry with the Piano which then starts at this point too.
The Piano is harmonizing with the main guitar riff but with an added flare to keep the listener on their toes; simply the piano is like our vocal melody if it was on the track, but instead it’s lending itself to possibly the most responsive parts of the song.
The idea with this track, as it being short, was to build into a grand finale at the end of the album.
My point is simple; write with an intended purpose. Mine with this track was to engage the listener, let them almost fall into the track, and hopefully force an emotional response as the song builds and abruptly stops before the drop into the final track.
When my friend first asked me to make this track, I was of course happy to oblige and eager to get underway - but just as I went to dive in, a favorite plugin company of mine released a new reverb plugin: the Valhalla Supermassive. It seemed too good to be true, but it is indeed Free as well!
Now I had never used this plugin, but I love their other plugins and have mentioned a few within the blog already so becoming familiar with this one wasn’t too steep of a task. This reverb is immense to say the very least, and the perfect reverb for large swathes of lush reverb tails that blend together in perfect synchronicity.
To refer back to the arrangement, this is how I applied the reverbs across the instruments within this mix simply opening up a preset and making some very minor changes:
- The Left guitar is at 57% wet with the settings below, allowing the guitar to shine through without the reverb being too dense and clouding the instrument you follow as a mainstay of the interlude.
- The Right guitar, already reversed and the fades acting as swells, is at 100% wet to give a sense of the guitar on the left being the only one being played, and the right-hand guitar almost as the reflection. This reverb is much more dense and a different algorithm entirely, but worked perfectly with the first preset.
- The lead guitar has a reverb built into the NeuralDSP Archetype Plini plugin that is similar to the Valhalla Room plugin previously mentioned in the blog. The length is similar to the length of the Supermassive, and at 93% wet and much lower in the mix to make sure it’s a subtle filler rather than a focus of the track. With this kind of track I’m always looking to keep most of the instrument's level and blending much more, rather than having each on in its own individual space.
- The Piano, a free plugin from Spitfire Audio’s project LABS using their Soft Piano Library, is set at 86%
All these reverbs are set at high levels to blend together and create one vast soundscape for the listener to get lost in as they listen. As all the reverbs are different it’s important to EQ as you go and make sure each one is sitting nicely with the other one - by that, I simply mean listen out for any buildups in frequencies that appear overwhelming as you listen.
A great way to avoid this is by placing the arrangement in separate octaves to each other and therefore spreading out the use of the frequency spectrum (our video with Abe Fihema explains this in a lot more detail which you can find here)
Focus and Automation
As the track builds, it’s important to keep in mind the purpose of the track in the first place. My friend asked me to create something to move the from the second to last, to the last track cohesively, and build energy and emotion for the finale of the album.
With this now reiterated, you can see from the automation and the placement of the instruments in the composition. Note, the lead has gradually built into the midway point of the track - at the same time the piano then makes its way to the forefront of the mix, and is the leading part for the climax of the song.
As the song finishes, the piano is the ending note for a perfect cadence while the rest of the arrangement is dropped out entirely to focus that ending, as well as it is in the same key as the first note of the next song. This is all with the intention of using silence almost as its own instrument in a way in the final part of the song to allow the punch of the next song to start immediately, while letting the listener have a moment to breathe before continuing on with the story. Automation is key to allowing all of these ideas to come to fruition.
Use automation to bring up parts in volume, or raise the wet/dry mix of the reverb for a certain part of a track on a specific instrument - or use a highpass or lowpass filter to sweep through the spectrum before the transition into the next part of a song or even to move into the next song entirely.
It’s there to bring focus, and give life to your tracks, and when creating an emotive soundscape, this is, in my mind, imperative to a well-written score.