Artists and producers are always hunting for the next big sound, effect, or recording technique that’ll jumpstart their careers and get listeners to lose their minds. But if you can’t innovate, imitate: no one’s above just copying the awesome sound some other guy just figured out a week ago. After a while, though, it gets ridiculous: you can only hear the Big Beat break or a telephone effect on vocals so many times before you’re ready to go postal on anonymous bedroom producer #46350. With that in mind, here are some of the most-overused production clichés that should be taken out to pasture in 2014 (autotune not included).
Hyper-compressed 808 kicks
When Roland originally released the 808 drum machine in 1980, it’s unlikely anyone at the Japanese company had any idea just how huge an influence their little rhythm box would eventually command over popular music. At the time, no one was particularly impressed with tinny cowbells, high-pitched taps for snares, and a handclap that sounded kind of like a branch snapping in half. The idiosyncratic, artificial sounds of the 808 sounded like an alien’s idea of a drum kit, which is why, for some, it was so appealing. Fast-forward to 2014, and you can’t spend two minutes on the radio or your streaming service of choice without hearing a low end comprised entirely of the stomach-punch boom of the 808 bass drum. Sure, since about 2003, everyone loves Shawty Redd hi-hat rolls and snare acrobatics (think every T.I. track), but having your bass be made entirely of an enormous bouncing basketball is starting to get old. Time to turn down the compressor and start writing actual basslines again.
Obvious, lazy sampling
Thankfully the dark days of the ’90s, when a grown man calling himself Puff Daddy would slap a break on a Police loop and say “Yeah” over it are behind us, but even today, producers can’t resist forking over giant stacks of royalty money in exchange for a recognizable loop. “HEY, ISN’T THIS…?” Yes, it’s “Baby Got Back” / “Float On” / a Motown song. Very creative stuff. I’m sure Nicki connected with the valuable frat uncle demographic and Sir Mix-a-Lot is happy spending his royalties on corrective back surgery for his dancers, but the rest of us want to hear things we haven’t heard a million times already. There’s a reason albums like Endtroducing… and Paul’s Boutique are rightfully revered by beatmakers worldwide; those records’ coolness is directly proportional to how many hours DJ Shadow and Mixmaster Mike spent digging for forgotten, obscure sounds. If you’re gonna go the sampling route, more power to you, but take a page from DJ Havoc on Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones (Part II)”, whose famous sample remained undiscovered for 16 years after its release in 1995 (it’s Herbie Hancock’s “Jessica”).
Cheesy festival builds and drops
When even latter-day Saturday Night Live is ragging on you, it’s time to re-evaluate your songwriting process. No one’s denying the appeal of freaking out in a K-hole screaming at the mechanical elves behind the veil of reality while a dreadlocked gentleman named Rain tries to talk you down, but it’s starting to seem like the rockists were right: electronic music is all just the same thing over and over. With all the limitless possibilities music technology offers, big room festival DJs seem content to set ‘em up (reversed hi hat rise) and knock ‘em down (BASSSSSSS) over and over and over. It’s hard to believe that the Steve Aokis of the dance music world aren’t sitting in their million dollar penthouses convinced they’re in some kind of ironic Twilight Zone-style hell. Get a new trick, and a new Ableton Live template.
For whatever reason, sounding like you’re performing in a giant cave became synonymous with sexiness sometime around 1981. The original spring and plate reverb units were meant to emulate the sound of different acoustical spaces, but back then, record producers would typically stop before reaching the “enormous empty military bunker” setting. Today, R&B artists are starting to sound more like floaty ghosts haunting moldy ruins than sexy singles haunting dive bars. That’s not to say reverb won’t forever sound amazing when used sparingly, but turning down the wet signal on the box doesn’t mean the girls are gonna follow suit.
Bland reggae influence
DON’T FUCKING DO IT.