How to Create Energy in a Track

Energy is one of the hardest things to convey musically, you can be doing everything technically right with melodies but it still sucks, why? This article will give some insight into some of the most basic things to try to generate more energetic progressions in a song.

1. Compression

Let's face it, if you are a beginner to music production, there is a good chance you haven't quite got the hang of compression (some mastering engineers may not have figured it out either). Have a look at your mix and ask yourself if you are overcompressing everything. Why could this affect your energy? Well simply put, the punch of a sound can add a lot to how it impacts us, a well-mixed drum beat will be better to listen to, than one with the life crushed out of it. 

2. Reverb

Another thing you might be using wrongly. Reverb does a brilliant job of adding a huge space to your sound, it can make a snare recorded in a garage sound like it was played by Bon Jovi in a stadium. Assess what sound you are looking for with reverb and understand that a little too much can be a big problem.

Like with compression, if your sounds dynamic range gets washed away with reverb, you might end up losing a significant bit of reverb. Easy ways to keep your reverb in check involve using a single reverb bus with tracks sent there (instead of individual reverbs for each track); 

3. Grooves & Swing Quantisation

Groove is one of the most enjoyable adjectives for music. By using the swing function, you can easily add groove to a track. Placing some swing quantization on the Hi-Hats and Stabs can be an excellent way of adding groove, by making the hits linger lazily (think of Dnoop Dogg's unique rhyming style), or abruptly force the track forward (think John Bonham's drumming in Led Zeppelin).

Groove is certainly one to be subtle with, only playing with moving the swing a few percents up or down. This is because things can get quite messy if done wrong. Also, make sure to have the same swing value for all sounds so they aren't all playing at slightly different times.

The kicks, especially if you are using a four-to-the-floor pattern, like in house, should typically remain locked without swing to ensure a constant pulse through the track.

4. Space

Space, Think of the anti-drops in trap as the crudest form - you know the bass is going to throw you sideways but the first few beats of the drop are face-meltingly empty with your anticipation.

Almost ironically, we have come to expect the sub-bass in trap songs to not hit when expected. It never hits on beat one, and for many people when they first hear trap, it blows their minds.

A great example of this is by Knife Party in their song Boss Mode. The first drop has the bass slam in on beat 1, completely surprising the listener as we are now accustomed to a delayed bass in a trap song. 

Then when you think you have the song figured out, the second drop comes in with a complete absence of bass for the first 3 beats before slamming the wind out of you on beat four.

Space can also be achieved by not cramming sounds into every beat, even just a few beats where the reverb of the last note tails off can have a great effect on the energy of the track.

5. Sidechain Compression

Sidechain-Compression gives the track some bounce. I made a video explaining this.

You can also be a bit more creative with side-chain compression and use it on the reverb track for an instrument if you don't want the in-your-face effect that a lot of dance genres use

6. Tight Builds

Guess what! The drop is not the most important part of the drop. If you slam the bass in out of nowhere, its rubbish. Tease the crowd. Play with the build, make it turn your lower jaw inside out. The build should be increasingly crushed by compression and building up in formant and frequency. I made a 30 minute video explaining this process for a techno track (one of the hardest genres to fill with energy).

7. Intervals

Intervals, Learn some more music theory, which harmonic relationships beg to be resolved? Which Intervals drive the melody into the next chord. Think of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues, the bassline is a simple country walk, but it really drives the transitions. If you analyse the chords the track forces the E chord into an E7 before the A. It then has a B7 resolving to the E which begs for the change. You want the listener to crave the next transition, that is energy you can't get with a rolling snare drum.

8. Change intensity of the bassline

So I'm going to bring you to another Led Zeppelin example to prove this point, in their song Dazed and Confused, it is an overall lazy song which suddenly gets quite frantic. One of the main driving forces of this is the change of intensity of the bass guitar part. At 3 minutes and 20 seconds, it is not playing on every eighth note, a couple of measures later it is suddenly playing them all, this combined with the crashing cymbals filling up the top end makes for a suddenly very energetic change in the music.

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