One of the most time-tested truths of popular music production is that without a hard-hitting chorus, you don’t have a single. “Hard-hitting” can have a completely different meaning to every song and genre though. For rock and metal, it generally means exactly what it sounds like: big, wide mixes with massive guitars, brutal bass, and bombastic drums. For softer genres, that hard-hitting feeling may be more emotional than dynamic – lyrics can do as much to project a song forward as any instrumentation or production technique.
No matter the angle you’re coming from, there are a handful of simple yet effective production tricks that can make your choruses hit harder. Here’s how you can begin using them in your sessions…
Make Things Slightly Louder
Want a jumpstart for your choruses? Use a bit of automation magic to make things louder. I’ve known mixers that simply push their master fader up a dB or two for the chorus making it louder in a literal sense, but there are plenty of ways to increase perceived loudness without having to mess with your master bus.
Automating the amount of compression or limiting on a track can be a subtle (or not so subtle) way to increase the average RMS of your track for a louder perceived sound while barely impacting the ceiling you’ve set for your peaks.
This type of automation can be done just about anywhere in your mix – making it one of the more flexible mixing techniques at your disposal. You don’t have to commit to more bus compression, as an example – you can just boost the drums or guitars to make a particular group of instruments pop a bit more.
Tip: Automation works both ways – if automating up isn’t getting the job done, try dipping levels for sections like soft bridges to add to the contrasting dynamics.
Give It All You’ve Got
Perhaps the easiest trick to apply from this list; having the musicians you’re working with give 110% when they hit the chorus might be the most natural way to achieve a harder hitting chorus.
As much as we try our best to fix certain elements in the mix, there’s not a whole lot you can do for a performance that lacks energy. Having the band tap into the raw emotional connection they had while writing the song can be the perfect way to get just a little bit harder of a hit out of each note.
The effect is compounding – your drum will hit just a bit harder, in turn making your guitarist and bassist play a bit more intentionally, before finally wrapping with a singer who plays off that energy for a transcendent performance.
It doesn’t matter if you’re recording the full session at once or one part at a time – getting just a little extra push in the headphones is enough to hype up any artist!
Create An Experience
Listening to music while sitting around a radio or record player used to be a social activity. Today, there are still album listening parties and individuals that appreciate the quality of a hi-fi listening session, but the music industry has largely shifted to live music experiences as the primary focus of the average fan. Massive concerts and festivals create spaces where music can be heard and felt like never before.
As artists have shifted toward these festivals, they’ve begun creating music that’s best suited for these environments. They’re creating music that’s meant to be experienced as much as it is meant to be heard.
The best producers are programming their music in a way that takes full advantage of this. Using effects, stingers, and transitions, they make their choruses hit harder than ever. A well-timed riser that fits into your song can create some rising action and tension in the moments before your chorus hits – and when it does – you’ll have a much bigger sounding drop than a simple chord change could ever provide.
Building Your Producer’s Toolkit
A producer needs to have a little bit of everything at their disposal if they want to be prepared for a session. Knowing music theory and basic mix techniques can be helpful, but the producer’s goal should always be to help guide the creative vision that the band has for their music.
For that reason alone, a good collection of production samples is a must-have for modern producers. Things like ambiences, risers, and hits should be easily accessible for when you want to add that little extra touch to a production.