Creating A Summer Sound
Sun drenched synths and hot hooks
Much like the weather, the change in seasons brings out a change in musical tastes for many. With the padded jackets firmly locked up in the wardrobes, and the back garden looking like somewhere you can kick back, the soundtracks that accompany the summer are very different to the ones which accompany our harsh northern European winters.
So what makes a good summer track? Certain artists and tracks definitely evoke those long, hazy summer nights better than others. For me, summer music switches from hard and heavy down to more laid back styles. Death metal gives way to hip hop and electronica. Your mileage may vary.
There is a definite summer style though. How do you go about creating a summer sound though? Let’s take a look at some of the components.
Tip #1 – Know the audience
Unless you’re one of the “I only make music to please myself” types – nothing wrong with that, incidentally – then it’s important you at least give some thought to the people who you hope will listen to your stuff.
Typically, summer music is made with summer vibes in mind. That means music people can kick back and relax to. Or getting worked up at a festival to. Or blast out in their car with the windows down.
Unless you suffer from inverse SAD, chances are summer puts you in a good mood. The sun being out has a hugely positive effect on people’s mood, so the music needs to reflect this. It’s all subjective, but maybe shelve the industrial metal for now.
Tip #2 – Picture the scene
There are plenty of places you might have in mind when thinking of a summer sound. Maybe it’s your mate’s house with a cold beer. It could be hanging out at a festival. Perhaps it’s just something to relax to when it’s hotter than the actual sun outside.
Having an idea about what you’re going for, before you begin, will help you greatly. Are you going for a Four Tet-style glitchy electronica vibe? Or are you looking to expand your dub reggae horizons. Decide on the what and you’ll arrive at the how in no time.
Tip #3 – Play the long game
If you’ve got designs on your masterpiece being the bonafide ‘song of the summer’, then you need to start thinking about it in winter. Banish those icy blues and start creating.
This excellent podcast from NPR outlines the process of creating the hit of the summer at the top end of the scale. Believe us, it’s no easy feat. To create something which will be played in the clubs of Ibiza and the stages of festivals takes time, talent and no small amount of good fortune.
Thankfully, the song of the summer doesn’t necessarily mean the song BBC 1 leads on in its Glastonbury highlights. It could simply mean the song of your summer. But there’s no point starting work on it in May, if that’s what you’re going for.
Tip #4 – Choose your weapons
Now for the fun part. Armed with your ideas, you can begin choosing the sounds which will make up your track. For this, you’ll need an arsenal.
The typical ‘summer’ sound would be light and breezy. Tempo-wise we’d recommend slow to middling. Start by building up a collection of drum breaks and synths. For this, there is no better place to start than with Native Instruments’ Komplete collection of plugins and samples.
You’ll also need some gear with which to compose and perform your summer banger. It’s hard to look too far again from Native Instruments, with their superb Maschine beat maker and Komplete Kontrol MIDI controllers. The way these units work in conjunction with each other perfectly means basic actions like selecting sounds and changing parameters is simple and intuitive, leaving you more time to concentrate on the important stuff.
Alternatively, you might consider something like the Akai MPC Live controller, which is a completely self contained drum machine, sampler and arranger. The beauty of this is that you can be creating music while you soak up the sun in your garden without being tethered to a laptop or desktop computer.
Tip #5 – Learn the lessons
As a composer or producer, you’re always looking to learn. Always looking to gain experience of new techniques in an effort to improve. The final tip here is simply that you listen with a more critical mind to what constitutes a great summer song. Certain tracks might not be to your particular taste, but try to identify the elements that make them undeniably summery, and work on incorporating that thinking in your own projects.