26 Recording Experiments: The A-Z of Trying New Things in the Studio
Experimenting in the studio is one of the best parts of being a musician.
But inspiring ideas aren’t always on hand when you need them.
Trying new techniques is one of the best ways to get out of creative ruts.
We put together an alphabetical list of experimental techniques to get you inspired to break new ground.
Aleatoric is the term for music that relies on an element of chance. It’s a fancy way of saying that randomness and the unexpected can be important parts of a composition.
Try introducing a bit of the unknown into your tracks by using some creative plugins that rely on randomness for their effects.
B. Beat matching
Beat matching is the process of manipulating the tempo of two tracks playing simultaneously playing
This essential DJing technique can help you uncover hidden rhythms and melodies in your existing tracks.
C. Crank it
One of the simplest and most visceral sonic experiments you can do is simply turning something up to eleven. The sound of music machines pushed to their limit has inspired artists for generations.
There’s plenty of gear that’s particularly prized for its desirable saturation qualities. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover the next sought-after method of sonic destruction. Wouldn’t that be fun?
D. Double tracking
Double tracking is the classic studio technique of stacking multiple takes of the same part on top of each other.
You might be surprised how much a sound can change when it’s layered with itself!
The subtle variances between performances can create a massive sounding effect.
Audio effects have transformative powers. Think of your effects chain like your palette of paints. Use them to take your existing sounds to new experimental worlds.
Don’t worry if your new sounds are unrecognizable from the originals—just see how far you can take it!
F. Field recordings
Bring the outside world to your DAW session with field recordings. The sounds of a real environment can set the stage in ways plugins and samples never can.
So take it outside, with whatever mobile recording method you have at your disposal. Even your phone’s built-in mic can be enough to get a convincing sonic image of place.
Gates are for more than just eliminating noise.
You can get seriously creative with gates and expanders by using them on non-traditional sources or routing their sidechains to other sources.
H. Humanize it
Let’s face it, the grid is boring. Snapping every single note event directly to the subdivision is old hat.
Get yourself off the grid by nudging hits, manually entering parts or using MIDI humanizer tools.
When was the last time you jammed in the studio? Pressing record without knowing what’s about to happen is a perfect way to experiment.
The spontaneous feel that improvised playing brings out can shake things up in surprising ways.
Variety is the spice of life. Emphasizing the contrast between competing elements in a composition is a creative way to highlight your experimental side.
See how big of a gap you can bridge between disparate sources in the same track.
K. Key change
A key change can be the most dramatic part of a song.
Whether it’s a simple modulation to refresh things for the final chorus or a radical departure to an unrelated key, moving a song to different harmonic center is a perfect way to shake things up.
Layering multiple sounds and samples together can turn your tracks into something more than the sum of their parts.
Experiment with stacking sounds on top of each other to take advantage of the elements you like in each.
Stuck in the same old scale? Trying one of the modes of the major scale could be what you need to break out.
Each mode has its own unique colour and mood. Their melodic signatures can bring a lot of drama and freshness to your sound.
Noise to some is the opposite of music. To others it’s fertile creative ground.
You can experiment with noise by turning up the noise oscillator on your synth patches or tuning into online shortwave radio and scanning the airwaves.
O. Oblique Strategies
Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s classic card-based creativity tool is the original studio experimentation handbook.
From overcoming creative blocks to outside-the-box thinking, shuffling the deck and turning up a random oblique strategy can work wonders for your workflow.
P. Parallel chains
Processing your tracks in parallel is a great experimental technique. Blending dry and effected signals allows you to get the best of both worlds.
Check out our guide to parallel compression to get a taste of what parallel chains can do for your sound.
Quantizing is normally used to bring MIDI note events into time on the DAW grid. But you can get much more creative with it if you throw the rule book out the window.
Try quantizing a part using “incorrect” note values and just seeing what kind of patterns emerge.
The sound of audio played in reverse will never stop sounding mind-bendingly uncanny. It’s a classic experimental audio technique that’s been around since the psychedelic sixties.
Try reversing your tracks and samples to create new and unexpected textures.
Samples can be truly experimental. There’s nothing like digging through a bizarre SFX pack to find the perfect experimental flourish to add your track.
Be aggressive with your sample choices and try things in the most far-out context you can think of.
There’s no rules when it comes to samples.
T. Time signatures
How often do you change your DAW’s time signature to something other than 4/4?
Even if it’s just a basic triple meter like 3/4 or 6/8, switching it up is a great way to experiment in the studio.
See how different time signatures affect your phrases and rhythms.
Set a time limit and try to stick to it. Make it a sprint and just run with your first ideas. Sometimes a ticking clock can force you to try something new.
Harness that sense of urgency to bring out the unexpected.
Varispeed is another classic tape technique that’s still fresh and experimental today. Manipulating the speed of your recordings can completely change their sound.
You might find things you never expected lurking in the depths of a track that’s been radically time stretched!
One way to get experimental is to focus on the appearance of the waveform itself.
Throw auditory feedback out the window and use an oscilloscope to dial in your synth patches visually. Using a visual display only can really take you out of your comfort zone.
It’s easy to get stuck using the same few instruments on every track. Maybe you always start with a drum beat or a loop. Time to disrupt that pattern. Try starting with an instrument (or sample) you’ve never used before. Such as…xylophone. Why not!
Let’s bring it in for a second. The most innovative studio experiments come from you and your imagination.
Don’t put any limits on experimentation in the studio and try anything that pops into your head. You’re in charge!
Artists and musicians have looked to the heavens for inspiration for centuries.
From the Music of the Spheres to 20th century tone rows, the signs of the zodiac can point your inspiration in interesting ways.