There are far too many opportunities to add new (or old) and unique instrumentation to our productions to get caught up in following any genre-based rules too closely. Sure – every trap song needs a great beat, but what are you doing with your other instrumentation? Are you really making the effort to try something new and unique if you don’t throw in the occasional orchestral instrument?
I’m a firm believer that you can have your productions both ways. It’s completely possible to create a beat that’s impactful and hard while including instruments that may be considered childish or soft. There’s almost a haunting character to their juxtaposition that can make a song stand out from the rest when done right.
Well, what do you think – does glockenspiel deserve a place in modern trap beats?
If you’re going to record glockenspiel for your track, you’ll first want to determine what role it’s going to play. The benefit of instruments like glockenspiels are that they’re both tonal and percussive, meaning they can play a role both rhythmically and compositionally.
For most artists in this style, the beat itself takes care of the rhythm, meaning glockenspiel can be left to fill some of the more melodic elements required. In this case, a softer mallet can result in a less harsh tone; nothing will have quite as sharp of a transient, though you’re still hitting a block with a hammer, so some of that sound gets retained.
Alternatively, if soft mallets aren’t available, you can still record with what you’ve got and adjust with EQ. Rolling off the higher frequencies of a glockenspiel can help sit it further back in the mix whenever needed.
Of course, most artists today aren’t going to have access to a real glockenspiel. In these cases, toy xylophones can net usable results. There are also always virtual instruments and samples you can work with.
I bet you never realized how much flexibility you had in the studio when it came to glockenspiel options, did you?
Mixing The ‘Spiel
One of the things I love about working with trap music and other hip hop beats is how sparse they are. While the drums are generally very full and round, there’s nowhere near as much competition for space in the mix as you need to account for in hard rock and metal. A handful of instruments occupy the same space that hundreds of tracks might in other genres.
This approach to sonic structure really helps us out as producers and mixers looking to add something new to the mix because you don’t have to worry as much about fighting for space. A new track might only have one or two other instruments masking it, which is a whole lot easier to treat than you’d find elsewhere.
Heavy compression can also be used to help flatten out the glockenspiel if you don’t intend to use it as a percussive instrument primarily. By using a compressor with a heavy ratio and low threshold, the peaks of your sound get normalized, and you end up with a very static sounding sample – perfect for consistency with programmed instrumentation that’s equally consistent.
Remember – you’re trying to combine an organic sound with a very overproduced beat most of the time. Make your adjustments count when you need them to.
A great way to get organic orchestral instrumentation to play nice with polished productions is using time-based effects. Tape delays like Soar can work to bridge the gap in a similar way to our previous example of rolling off the high end to push the glockenspiel back in the mix. The whole idea is to round off some edges and make things play nice together. Just check out this example from James Thoubbs:
As you can see and hear, he’s taking some generic samples and relying on his effects to spice them up enough for the production they’re going into. It’s all about reading the room, or in this case, the session.
Finding Other Sounds
The search for new and interesting sounds for trap mixes doesn’t stop with glockenspiel, in fact, far from it. The whole point of using this element is to stand out and create something unique, but if others start to do the same, you need to pivot. You need to find a new and unique angle. Staying on top of modern music trends, or better yet, creating them, requires consistently looking for the next best thing.
If you want to start moving quicker in the decision-making process when adding synths and samples to your mixes, look no further than our eBook: The Producer’s Guide to Synthesizers & Sweeteners can be downloaded here.