Paying attention to band dynamics

When you hear a song on the radio, you may recognize one thing that is consistently true – the music will have been produced with significant dynamics.  You will be able to hear each instrument and maybe even be able to identify each recorded track. You will hear spaces between parts, degrees of volume, modifications to familiar instruments (also known as effects) and, hopefully, you will be affected emotionally by the performance.

Again, this pretty much holds true for anything that gets on the radio or really any professional form of media.  It should also be a goal to achieve when your band is playing out live. You should be able to reproduce a recording with as much taste and tact as the original.

Less is always more

In the cooking world, chefs know that “you can always add more…but it’s not usually possible to add less”  You can always add more parts, more volume, more effects. But to avoid fatiguing your listener’s ear, it’s best to start simpler and build up from there.

In the graphic design world, it’s known that quality artwork should look good first in black and white.  If it looks strong in B&W, chances are it will still hold its own when you start adding color, gradients and other special effects to the design.

The same goes for band dynamics…and here are a few more simple things that can make a big difference:

  • Quiet on verses; louder on choruses.  Sure, sometimes you might flip it (louder on verses and quieter on choruses) for effect, but loud on everything usually equals listener fatigue.
  • Rests are as important as notes.  Rests can be the quiet before the storm.  Rests make space for intensity. And rests can keep the flute player from passing out.
  • Get a grip on your tempo – playing quieter does not equal playing slower (just as playing louder does not mean playing faster).  Stay in time.
  • Try to avoid the “all or nothing” approach.  Your amp has more than just an on/off button.   Think about a lighter touch, or those volume and tone knobs for your axe’s neck and bridge, pick vs. fingers…explore your pallet.
  • Don’t play!  That’s right – sometimes the best dynamic is to just put your arms behind your back (like you are wearing handcuffs), put your ego on snooze and maybe listen to what else is going on.
Is this your idea of dynamics?

Personal responsibility

Dynamics are best achieved when you are proactive, self-aware and take personal responsibility for what you are literally bringing to the mix.  If someone else is constantly needing to tell you to turn it down…you probably aren’t there yet.

Also, don’t leave your live sound up to the sound guy.  Chances are that he/she doesn’t know how you intended your songs to heard (although really good techs have the ears to figure this out).  But how about using your own ears and figuring out how to replicate your recordings without the aid of a sound tech? He/she will thank you for making the job that much easier.

Music appreciation

It’s good for an original band to play a few covers now and then.  That will force you to hear songs that did get on the radio…and why.  Have a group listening session and talk with your bandmates about the things that catch their ear.  Chances are it all comes back to dynamics…

But this amp goes to 11…

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