Balancing Sound design and musical composition

Posting cause its a music forum and not twitter.

Whenever ive implemented heavy sound design in my tracks the musical arrangement most of the time wasnt there in the track.

I mean yeah i could put more time into my tracks.

But What im asking idmf…how do you balance out the sound design and musical arrangement of your tracks and make it cohesive?

I’m going to answer a question with a question since I don’t do a ton of super sound design-y patches or resampling in my own tracks–does anyone think there is a point where processing/FX/resampling obscures the root note anyway? One can certainly hear the pitch going up or down playing the sound on a keyboard but it doesn’t seem to change the way a sound fits in musically with the other sounds? Maybe its all the extra harmonics? <—totally throwing that word around as if I fully understand how I’m using it.

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When i did do music the extra harmonics where the reason as to why i sacrificed musical complexity so that i could have a decent mix…

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Ah. Ok. That’s cool, makes sense.

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The only time i was semi successful was when i broke every sound into different layers being that i could properly allocate the frequency levels without much sonic overlap.

But this would take an insane amount of work. Being that the sounds all had to fit together in the mix and complement each other.

Like a bass wub even though i had a few layers going…and somehow was able to fit in the percs…there wasnt enough room in the frequency spectrum for the melodies…and as a result some notes were more expressed than others. And plus i tried not to overuse compression by using it on everything.

And also i was mixing on headphones that cost max 30 dollars.

But yea my attempts to replicate the foley in the transformers movies and incoporate that sound into a glitch musical composition was only partly successful. Because all the sounds i had used had overlapped with the extra harmonics of other sounds that i was using which resulted in mud sometimes.

So i learned to go by numbers and a visual eq because i didnt have a high end audio system…
But that only works to a certain degree…being that there is no visualization for the stereo field.

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Any sound goes well with another sound. Then it’s all about mixing. If it doesnt go well then you earase that sound from composition.
It’s all about mixing and knowing what sounds good.
Also you should look on arrangment topic,google it etc.

Yes. One can certainly really dig in there are split all the frequencies and side chain everything to everything. Its a crazy new world from recording to a budget mixer and hoping for the best.


Everyone kind of has their own thing going on in this regard; some people use a lot of presets and spend most of their time composing and songwriting, while others like me do all of their own designing all the time and should probably study theory and composition a little more in order to expand themselves in other directions.

Personally, I like to work the muscality into my designs but you could technically just make a bunch of your own patches in Serum and Vital and that would be considered sound designing by a lot of people as it is. I’m sure a lot of really great designers haven’t even opened PD or Max in their entire lives, but it all depends on how deep somebody wants to go with it.

One last thing to mention is that mixing can be its own ballgame entirely; you could be making awesome designs but really poor EQ and compression choices and easily ruining your entire sound in the process. Most of the time, beginners overcompensate by adding a bunch of EQ curves and really overkill compression to shit that doesn’t need it, so that’s a thing. I also did this for way longer than most people, and most of the mistakes I’m pointing out are coming from years and years of personal fuck-ups.

Also, personal taste is personal. Some people will literally listen to someone’s 45-minute, 1-track, paulstretched dark ambient album and completely gloss over shit that you put massive amounts of hours into. Life is like that, but if you’re truly happy with your own output and know what you need to expand on, then you’re probably pretty self-aware about the process. Design / composing / songwriting / mixing can all be jumbled up in various ways together, almost to the point where you don’t know where one starts or another one ends, and that’s the beauty of it IMO.


I think especially frequency-specific sidechaining with dynamic EQing, multiband compression or something like trackspacer really can help a lot. It can’t magically make tracks sound good that consist of 10 synthesizer playing pads in the same frequency range or something like that, but it can make a lot of difference, such as elements punching through walls of sound without creating unwanted pumping effects. Of course, there are limits and there usually is some trade-off.

I’m def guilty of that, too. It’s interesting to come back to projects where I made crazy and bad EQ choices and than figure out pretty fast why it sounds so bad… I still have EQs on nearly every track, often multiple different EQs, but I think I use it in a more careful and targeted way than before.

Great points, I completely agree with this!

With regard to the question of sound design versus musical arrangement, for me there are a few general aspects, options or potential aims to consider:

  1. sound design can be extensive, but limited to short fill-ins or moments or to quiet background elements, or even to specific frequency ranges or locations in the spatial field. It does not have to be a dominating part of the listening experience. Most things get boring faster than expected in any case, including great works of sound design imho.
  2. a minimalistic approach is often the way to go to make extensive sounds shine that are not so much limited in terms of frequency, time, volume or panning. Many great tracks that feature great sounds and are produced to be played in clubs are pretty minimalistic. I’m thinking of DNB stuff mostly since I have more experience with it, but I’m sure it’s similar for stuff like Dubstep or many four-on-the-floor genres.
  3. if there is a reason such as a clear idea of strangely designed elements that should go together for some reason but just don’t fit so well in terms of frequencies or the general aim to fit a lot of parallel elements into the track or the goal of an epic accumulation of sounds, working on the sound sources, panning and so on is not always enough to make it fit. Stuff such a dynamic EQing and frequency-specific sidechaning is easy to do nowadays, so why not take advantage of it… That stuff def could also be used to combine strange sound design and complex musical arrangements, I would just say be sure that you know why you want to do it that way.