Thomas Gold: how to break the rules when you're making music

Thomas Gold: encouraging you to defy convention.
Thomas Gold: encouraging you to defy convention.

"There are many 'standards' when it comes to production and the use of gear," says German DJ and producer Thomas Gold. "But, as we are in the club and dance music sector that's steadily craving new sounds, why not break some of those rules?

Why not indeed? Rules, after all, are there to be broken, and as Gold points out, if you start to think a little differently about the way you produce you'll be in with a good chance of giving your tracks a fresh sound. Here are his six big suggestions.

Follow the track's law

"People often copy an arrangement from a successful production into their DAW session and try to use it for their own track. But frequently there is big disappointment as it doesn't work. The reason is that, even in standard club music, every single track has to be treated in its own way. It all depends on which key you're in, what kind of vocals you have and what different combination of sounds you're going to use, which of course changes.

"Try to figure out what the 'inner life' of a melody, a riff, a vocal or the mix is - try to 'think and live' your production. It shouldn't take long to find out what your track really needs to be perfect…"

Levels and distortion

"OK, the theory says different, but caring too much about your level meters isn't always the best way to work. Trust your ears! A bit of distortion and crackling may work well on certain sounds and tracks, especially in modern dance music.

"These days we use bitcrushers and downgraders a lot and people's ears are used to this. Don't be afraid of cranking up certain sounds until they become distorted.

"Try to figure out what the 'inner life' of a melody, a riff, a vocal or the mix is - try to 'think and live' your production."

"You also can push a mix buss - or even the master - for some reasonable overdrive. Even if it's in the digital domain and the meters in your sequencer get red, this adds some density and punch to the overall sound and can get your track more 'in the face'. But use carefully - too much can destroy everything.

"Of course, this doesn't replace the common traits of distortion, analogue warming etc - it's just another way of doing it!"

Get mono

"Treat stereo sounds in mono to make them sound different - people are not really used to hearing a simple mono synthesizer sound any more, so this can add a lot of vintage attitude and uniqueness to your track. Or why not go back a bit and use stereo sounds in mono mode? Let's say you have a pad or lead sound with wide stereo panning - you can introduce it in the mix by downgrading it to mono and narrowing the stereo basis of this sound. There are many plug-ins that do this, such as Logic's Direction Mixer and the Waves S1 Imager.

"You can even add some evolution to the sound in the track: open up the stereo basis of the sound at a later stage - when you want a track to 'get bigger' for the climax or the chorus, for example."

Less resolution please

"People often insist on using 24-bit audio depth and on doing the whole mixing session at the highest possible digital resolution.

"But, leaving aside the fact that dance and club music is very often consumed in MP3 format, which will downgrade the sound anyway, remember that the highest digital resolution doesn't always sound the best.

"If you're not doing high-end pop songs, a vocal can also sound cool and authentic if it's not 100% crystal clear in sound. Some low quality and noise can add extra life to a mix.

"You can try to downgrade files to an even lower resolution - all the sequencer programs have this option. What about using some sounds in some real vintage 8-bit quality?"

Think out of the box

"Whatever genre you are into or making, let yourself get inspired from many different kinds of music! A good way of creating fresh sounds and ideas is to translate or transform things from other musical styles into your productions.

"Let's say you're into house music - why not take some inspiration from trance or techno tracks and convert them to fit into your own track? You can do this with grooves, sounds or even just the way sounds are treated with FX, and so on.

"Remember that the highest digital resolution doesn't always sound the best."

"Going a step further, why not have a decent look at melody lines and riffs in pop, rock, classical and whatever other type of music you might be into for sampling? You wouldn't be the first to do this but it can be very inspiring..."

Use gear your way

"There are the standard ways to use compressors, limiters and EQs - simply load one of each and then dial in the 'usual' settings. But why not try some different ways instead?

"Use multiple EQs in a track channel to add the special characteristics of each single EQ - even the plug-ins can sound completely different! Also, it can be better to stack compressors and limiters - try not to use an all-in-one plug-in, so you can sculpt your audio signal step-by-step, even if each single plug-in only works on a small part. If you treat them musically and not only technically, you will achieve a nice overall sound by the combination of all of them."

Liked this? Now read: Sharooz's top 10 tips for maximising your mixes

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