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How To Craft Your Signature Sound

It's been over a year my blog has been silent, and honestly, I'm so sorry about this.

Writing about music production and sharing my passion for it is priceless for me, but I've been submersed in many different projects lately.


So I've decided I'll continue the blog from where I left trying to be more consistent, creating a more short-form, easy-to-read blog but still highly valuable, I hope.


In my Pro Producer's Tips series, so far I've covered many topics of electronic music production, focusing on less-known techniques and practices to be discovered comprehensively.


I'll move on with a series whose goal is to answer popular and less popular questions we ask ourselves as producers, starting with a classic one:

How to be unique as music producers?


In a world dominated by media interactions, be them social media like TikTok or Instagram, TV adverts, series, radio shows, YouTube or Twitch live streams (the list could continue), we are constantly bombarded by a huge amount of stimuli of different audiovisual material.


Here we are talking about music, and it's constantly present in our lives in many different forms, for a wide variety of target audiences, performing various purposes.


Trying to stand out in a crowded and multi-faceted world is not easy and can be an overwhelming ambition.


I'd suggest first defining a niche goal, that is for which purpose you want your music to sound unique.

Is it destined to be a catchy TikTok trend? Do you want to be discovered on Spotify as an independent artist or do you want your music to be featured in bigger playlists? Do you want your music to be used in commercials?

Or maybe you just want to create a banger to destroy the dancefloor with an infectious bassline?


As you can imagine the scenario is quite complex, and these questions can yield drastically different music production habits, according to the precise goal you've set for your music.


To be unique, you must first closely study the references to understand the rules before breaking them. Trends come and go, but if you cleverly study them you can adapt them to your own style.


For example, now in late 2023 trance-inspired vocal stutters have had a renaissance in big productions by artists like Fred Again, Skrillex, and others, and you can hear those techniques employed frequently lately by Techno producers like UMEK or Adam Beyer too.


The entire '80s synth-wave pop trend is another great umbrella embracing artists like The Weeknd and Dua Lipa tracing back to an old sound, and modernizing it with a new twist.


At the same time, new subgenres of electronic music seem to constantly appear from nowhere but are the result of contamination and experimentation with new tools.


Trying to answer the title of this blog post, I'll break down a few guidelines to give you food for thought.



  • Reference yourself


This could sound counterintuitive and the opposite of what I said earlier, but this is a piece of super important advice.


After finishing many different tracks you'll start to notice some common production habits that you usually follow, specific plugin chains, repeating song structures, and so on.


These things are what over time contribute to defining your specific style as an artist, and it's of course in constant evolution as your taste in music.


My suggestion is to save the plugin chains you commonly use, to be more efficient the next time you work on a project and to be more consistent with your sound.


Being an Ableton Live user, I tend to save various racks in different folders according to their functions.


Another popular technique I also employ is to resample myself.


For instance, you may find the bassline of your track to be a great candidate to become an atmospheric element of another track with some sound design wizardry.


This kind of creative recycling helps to give your music a cohesive sonic identity, in a subliminal way.


Some producers like to even save specific sounds or presets and use them over and over, like the same kick drum, hi-hat, or synth patch.


I usually don't repeat myself so explicitly since I can easily run out of ideas quickly, but as I said I would find a balance between re-using something in my old tracks (like remixing myself) and experimenting with new directions.


I think this path can be a good reference to be both consistent and fresh as an artist.


An artist I truly love and admire in this scenario is Skrillex. It's incredible how many different genres he can adapt to, but at the same time be recognizable.



  • Go out of your comfort zone


Again, a piece of advice that may sound clashing with the previous paragraph (artists are so contradictory at times :P ).


It's a matter of finding a balance between what you already know and are comfortable doing, and what you haven't tried yet.


If you feel constrained by the label you're releasing music to, or by the sound you've built over the years that your fans have become accustomed to, create a new alias.


A new artist project can be a breath of fresh air for your creativity, where you can freely experiment with new ideas without worrying too much about sounding too different from the past.


For example, I just created a new alias called Sub/Divide to focus just on techno music.


The most important thing is that you always enjoy the music-creation process, have fun, don't look at numbers, and do what you feels right for you and inspires you.


In the end, your instinct, trust, and authenticity will make your music resonate with others in a unique and personal way.



  • Art generates art


Do you want to stand out as an artist both for your brand identity and musical identity? Don't reference JUST artists in that specific genre.


Immerse yourself in a variety of different artistic stimuli, listen to and discover new music, and go to live events of non-electronic bands.


Also, expand your cultural horizons: not just music, go to the cinema, theatres, events, museums.. art generates art.


Art in the end is about absorbing the beauty we can find in the infinite world around us and giving it back in a finite, small but well-constructed form.


Who knows that the Futurism movement, inspired by the fast evolution in technology and society in the last century, in some ways still reflects the current trend in super short arrangement structures and fast BPM tracks?


Indeed, the world is changing fast, and our attention span is getting lower and lower. This social change is definitely heard in modern music.



  • Become a sound wizard


This could sound obvious, but the more time you spend learning the tools at your disposal, the more freedom you have in your track creation process.


I've nothing against sample packs or preset packs (after all I even create and sell them!), I use them too since they can inspire a direction you've never considered.


But I strongly suggest creating your sample and preset collection since this can help you more in defining your sonic identity.


Organize your plugin folders in categories, save as favorites the one you're most likely to use, and be curious to discover lesser-known tools.


The market is full of amazing unconventional tools, most even free, and they can be a great way to discover new sounds.


Some sample pack makers enjoy reverse engineering the sound of popular artists, and this can be a great sound design exercise.


But I think it can be detrimental to an artist to copy the sound of another.

In the end, you want to be remembered for your sound, not to be a copy of another one.



  • The power of layering


The majority of music you're listening to has likely sampled someone else.

This is a brutal truth.


Again, I have nothing against sample hunters, as long as they don't explicitly copy a musical idea of someone else with no credits given to the original artist.


As I said before, art generates art: it's a constant flux of contamination.


Every little musical idea can inspire infinite different directions, so consider the process of careful sound selection and sampling.


The process of layering is a hugely powerful tool, since by combining different sonic elements you can forge something new.


Maybe you love the bright transient of that dubstep kickdrum, but you want to replace the body of it. Layering can help you with that.


In this regard, I'd suggest incorporating live recordings as well. Everything outside of your virtual studio can be a candidate for creative layering.


Just go outside and bring with you a field recorder and record real-world sounds.

Concrete elements blend uniquely with synthetic ones, so definitely try that.


Collect and record unusual instrumentation too: I love ethnic instruments and little musical toys for their unusual timbres.



  • The value of constructive feedback


Sometimes you need a fresh perspective on your music, and defining your style can be easier for others than for yourself.


I found this very true for my early sound design experiments: my first customers enjoyed the distinctive aggressive, texturized character and gritty, dark cinematic flavor found in my sound packs.


This helped me better understand my vision and my target audience, and refine my style as a sound designer as a consequence.


You can do the same for your music: ask friends to give you brutal, but constructive feedback.


What does your music evoke at first listen? Is there a specific artist or musical genre that comes to mind as a reference? (Remember, nothing is 100% original). What niche do you feel your music could be comfortable within?



Conclusion


This was more of a philosophical and less practical post.

Anyway, I truly hope this blog post helped give you some general ideas on answering for yourself the common question of 'how to develop your signature sound?'.


Feel free to comment down below on your favorite techniques you employ in seeking your sound, share this post with your friends, or reach out to me for any questions :)


As always,


Happy Music Making!














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