Even though summer is close to its ending, I thought it would be a good idea to make it last a little longer by writing a post about chill-out music, remembering all those long, warm nights, on a beach or some other nice place, just chilling out in good company.
Also, it might be interesting for those among you who’d like to start producing music in that genre.
About its origin and history, I’ve already written, you can find the article here on my site.
But I didn’t get into details of the music or present any listening examples, so that’s what I’m going to try this time.
First, one should mention that chill out music is meant to be listened to in an only half-active way, sort of what happens with ambient music, but maybe with a little more attention. That’s how it manages to have such a chilling and relaxing effect on the listener.
There are no fixed rules for what material can be used to write a chill out track, nor with what means.
It can as much consist of acoustic material, like some melody played on an exotic instrument on a strings background, that could almost be called world music, wouldn’t there be an electronic break-beat in the background, as it can be a fully electronic track, combining mysterious, slow melodies with synthesizer effects and drum samples.
You can find your inspiration in Latin American tunes, or music from Middle Orient or Asia, using some ethnic instrument, as well as you could prefer to create something totally free, played on some nice lead pad, for example.
Feel free to create whatever rhythms you like, also the structure of the track can be totally free, as well as the duration of the track might vary from 2 minutes to 30 minutes.
One thing to keep in mind, after you have your musical material done and are starting to mix and add plugins and effects, is that you’re looking for a warm, relaxing and “airy” sound, so allow instruments to have enough space between them (be it with delays and different reverbs, simple panning or equalizing), give the whole mix a slight cut between 1kHz and 2kHz aswell as make generous use of reverbs and “warming” plugins, like tape saturation, for example.
Even if you’re creating everything on your computer, think analogic, not digital.
If you want to use strings as your harmonic base, choose wisely which samples you’re going to use, they have to have little attack and sound warm, also be sure to compose in a way that chords have easy transitions (think common notes and always stay in legato). Stay within the natural register of each instrument and create physical space by panning the four of them (violin, viola, cello and contra-bass) in a logical way, forming a half circle: more treble to the left, more bass to the right.
If you’re looking for something exotic to use in your song or just for inspiration, here are some suggestions:
- Indian music (from sitar to religious chant)
- Gregorian chant and choral music (remember Enigma?)
- Shakers and other acoustic percussion instruments from all around the world
- Fusion with metal solos or classical music.
- Effects and background sound recorded directly from our natural environment (like wind, rain, the sea, etc)
- Vocal parts with poetic lyrics or at least enigmatic meaning (be sure to look for breathy and airy voice capture)
- Be creative, think out of the box, don’t limit to your synthesizers or samples and effects or plugins, look for sounds all around you.
- Combine electronic parts with live recordings of you or other musicians who you invite
- Look for the essential, go after the idea of “less is more”, leave space for each instrument and don’t use too many at the same time, not more than five.
Now that we have talked about some basic ideas, here are some listening suggestions to further improve your inspiration or just chill out:
Vangelis – Conquest of Paradise (remember him from the film Blade Runner?):
Thomas Newman – Soundtrack American Beauty
Jean Michel Jarre – Oxygéne (several parts, one album from 1977 the other from 1997)
Conjure One – Center of the Sun (Solar Stone’s Chilled Out Remix)
Morcheeba – The Sea
Chris Coco – Holiday