One of the most common traps of a creative professional is the emergence of a routine. We rely on processes and organized workflows so we can do what we do best — create — but do more of it in less time, making us more prolific.
This is good for two main reasons. First, it allows more art to be created. If you can structure your processes well, it means that the art you create in the more efficient workflow isn’t at all inferior to the art created before you used a standard workflow. Second, it causes standards to emerge in art. In certain fields — like painting and photography — this can saturate the world with a bunch of repetitive, unoriginal work. But in more technical artistic fields — like architecture, web design, and, I would argue, music production & recording — standards help keep everything compatible.
Music studios have rules or methods that make things a lot easier for them, just like gardeners have rules of thumb like “harvest plant X in month Y.” You don’t have to think about the reasons behind these rules each time they’re applied, because you already spent the time to figure that out. Or you read a farmer’s almanac. The rules are there to be blindly accepted, because that makes them easier to digest and easier to apply. You only have to question, analyze, and optimize them once, and then they’re good to go.
Rules are not forever
However, these rules often overstep their boundaries, and cause us to forget about creative things we might otherwise do. The example I’m going to use is Reverb.
Reverb is a great tool for adding space. That’s what it’s typically used for. It makes instruments sound fuller, like they’re playing in a room. It makes drums sound a little less flat, and guitars sound alive. It’s perfect for making any electronic sound instantly “bigger.” Anything you’ve heard and thought, “that has a big sound”, probably has a lot of reverb.
So if the studio convention is to use reverb for enhancing sound, I’m going to suggest you go in the opposite direction. Now, in the case of reverb, we can’t totally reverse direction. It’s difficult to make something sound smaller with reverb, and even if it were possible, there are better ways to do that (compression, volume, equalizers). However, instead of enhancing sound with reverb, why not create sound?
Instead of setting reverb wherever you usually set it — probably up to 60% wet — push it way past. Make the decay many seconds long, and cancel out the dry signal. Make the chorus and “Early Reflections” section extreme. Reverb can take a tiny sound and make it enormous. Destroy the incoming signal and make your own.
Do the same with delay, erosion, saturator, and vocoder.
Start using these tools to do things they weren’t designed to do, and you’ll end up with some amazing sounds.