"If I only had "x" my track would sound so much better...."
Yes, we've all said it at one point or another. There is a perception that the gear used makes the biggest impact on the quality of the sound. A great mic makes a great vocal, a great amp makes a great guitar sound, a great drum kit makes me sound like so and so...
It's a misconception everyone has fallen to at one point. Even when I was starting out, I would search and make wish lists of incredibly expensive gear. Hoping one day I could get my hands on it, and I would sound so much better. As I started acquiring pieces of gear, a realization started to sink in... I sounded the same! The gear wasn't providing the "Magic" I thought it would. Somehow, the gear I purchased didn't make me sound "better", in fact I sounded worse! How could this be?!?!
Something I was lucky to learn early on is gear doesn't make the engineer. In fact, if you don't understand how to use the gear, you can end up making things worse!
"But Insert Name Here uses "X" piece of gear, and their mixes sound amazing!"
Yes, their mixes do sound amazing, but the gear didn't "magically" make that happen. The engineer made the mix sound amazing. The gear is there to be used. It's a tool, just like a wrench for a mechanic, or a paint brush for a painter. Some tools help you achieve your goal faster, but it doesn't do it for you. Having the understanding before you start using the tool is the key. If you do not understand what you are trying to accomplish and how to get there, then you won't be happy with the end result.
"So what is an engineer to do? How am I supposed to learn this gear without owning it?"
Well that's the kicker. You might already own it, or at least some version of it. No matter what DAW you work in, they all come with stock plugins. Most of these plugins are modeled after pieces of analog gear. Especially the classic and most used studio pieces.
"But plugins don't capture the 'Analog' sound of the real thing!'
Have you used the real thing? How many different versions of the same piece of gear have you tried? The best thing about plugins, they are each modeled on different pieces of the same style of gear. In the hardware world, no 2 pieces of gear are perfectly matched. Even the two 1176 compressors we have in the studio sound different at the same exact settings. This is something you have to learn about hardware, all the components inside have tolerances. Each little piece can be slightly off than the next one. These non-linearities is what makes that 'Analog' sound. With the digital world today, most companies have modeled analog gear quite well.
The best thing you can do before going a spending a bunch of money on new gear, is to learn what you already have. Sure, there might be a cooler or different sounding version out there, but don't get caught up in the hype. As you learn the how to use what you already have, you will get better at your craft. Eventually you will have acquired knowledge to make an educated decision on your next gear purchase, instead of a lustful one. Having knowledge of the sound and style you're going for, and understanding how to get there will lead you in the right direction.
Remember, it's just a tool to be used. If you don't understand how to use it properly, then it might not be what you need at that moment.
Now go make great music!
Wow! It’s almost the end of February, and this is the first time since last year that I have started writing again. Of course, every excuse I can think of has run through my head... Oh I haven’t had time... It’s been so long since I’ve written anything... No one reads these anyway... and the list goes on and on. But the simple fact of the matter is, I just didn’t do it. No matter what excuse I can think up, it doesn’t negate the fact, I just wasn’t sitting down to write. This could be true for a lot of stuff in life. Pick anything you’d like in your life, writing, drawing, practicing, going out, exercise, etc... It’s easy to make the excuse of why you aren’t doing something for yourself. So we fall into this habit of not doing it. Well, I’m telling you NO. STOP. STOP YOUR EXCUSES. There is no reason you should be holing yourself back from doing something. As that famous brand says... “Just Do It”
But seriously, take the time to do things that make you happy. Take time to do things that make you better. Do things that scare you, that push your limits, that excite you. Trying new things is a great way to expand your horizons. You can learn so much, not only about what you are spending time on, but about yourself. Last year, I had started trying my hand at video and content creation. It something that has always fascinated me. The video shooting, the production, the telling of a story or passing on of knowledge. So I went out and spent what little money I had saved up to buy some neat tools for recording. I spent time researching, studying, and examining how to create videos. Not just any videos, but really well done videos. They all had common themes of gear, lighting, sound, etc. that I couldn’t afford. And while they all stated, “We didn’t start with this gear, we worked up to it.” I couldn’t help but feel that my videos should look just as good. But after experimenting and trying to get the quality I was searching for, I always came up short. This was a hard blow for me. I always strive to do the best I can in everything I do. I spend a meticulous amount of time learning everything I can before jumping in. (Its one of my best/worst traits) With video production, I had found something that was giving me trouble, and it was frustrating. So frustrating in fact, I decided to not release any videos I had shot. I hated the way I looked, the way I addressed the camera, the way I talked, everything about it was terrible. So none of the videos have ever seen the light of day. I even ended up shooting videos for others, who were stoked about their products. But for me, I was so disappointed in myself and my performances....
But I came to a realization, that I had struggled with something like this before. Music. Playing it, recording it, mixing it, The whole process. I found myself in a similar situation when I had started my mixing journey. When I decided to start recording and mixing, I was terrible. I hated that anything I did never sounded like what I was hearing in my head. It took years of trial and error to start to get decent results that I was happy with. But it was so satisfying when I did! I absolutely loved whatever I could create well. When things started to sound like I wanted them to, I was hooked for life. But I had to struggle, to learn, to make mistakes. Its part of growing and becoming better. So many people give up on things before they never get to that turnaround. Its like running up a hill, you focus on moving one foot in front of the other, until eventually you crest the top, and the accomplishment feels amazing.
So why have I droned on and on? Its for you as much as it is for me. Keep striving to do better. Keeping trying to do new things. Or pickup old things, and keep working on them. You’ll get better the more time you spend on them. We all will reach that tipping point when all our hard work and effort finally pays off. I’ll be getting in front of a camera real soon, don’t you worry. So take the time to do the same with something you have been putting off. Again, it doesn’t matter what it is. Just don’t let you hold you back....
Creation - The act or process of bringing something into existence...
It is something we strive to do as artists everyday. Whether we are drawing, writing, playing, sculpting, painting, etc. Creating can be a tricky process. Especially when you are trying to stay “original”. In music, this is becoming very difficult. It’s the nature of the beast. There is only so many chords, notes, and combinations that sound present to our ears. As well as rhythms and melodies. So I beg to question, should striving to be original be a main focus when creating new material? In the end, if you are expressing what you are feeling, isn’t it original? I mean, it came from your head, heart and soul. Even if it is reminiscent of another artists work, you have taken the time and effort to make it your own.
Music copyright is a fickle thing. So many people feel they “own” the rhythm, or chord structure they designed. While we can all respect the time and effort one puts into their work, why must there be so much fighting and finger pointing among the community? Yes, money is great, and we all want a piece for ourselves. But isn’t music about the expression? But who really are the greedy ones? Is it the artists themselves? Or maybe the producers? What kind of pull are the labels having? Music is an art form of storytelling and entertainment. But at some point, wealth and greed got involved. While we all would love to be rock stars, most musicians would be happy making a comfortable living off of the art they love so much. Let’s face it, we didn’t get into the music business for the money. Well, most of us didn’t anyway. Somehow though, that is where the industry has taken the art.
However, a change is coming. It has been happening slowly, and continues to grow. As with anything, there is always pros and cons. While we could sit here debating the rise of streaming services, let’s take a moment and see what great things have come out of the connected world. Never before has it been easier to release music for the masses to hear. Not just in your area, but the entire connected world. Back in the days before the internet, getting your music into the heads and ears of people was a feat all in of itself. Now days, we can upload our new content on hundreds of different streaming sites, allowing people we have never met or seen, experience the art that was created. It has connected artists to millions of ears that there would have possibly never had access to. And while the big stars have the financial backing to push had and get streams a young budding artist could only dream of, it has leveled the playing field more. Is it completely even, no of course not, but its getting closer. I am exposed to new artists on the daily by friend recommendations, curated playlists, and downright browsing.
The downside is of course, getting lost in the fray. With so much available, how do you stick out? There could potentially be 20+ bands with the same name as yours, so how do you break out? Trail and error really. Yes, there are tons of tips and tricks, marketing schemes, and optimizations you could try. But none of them are guaranteed. Which makes it difficult to know where to focus your efforts. No matter what you choose to do, end up building, or trying, stay true to yourself as a person and artist. With so much “fake” in the world, people are finding enjoyment in the “real”. No I don’t mean like “real housewives of [Blank]”. I mean the real you. Warts and all. We are human, and we all make mistakes, have bad days, get sick, and just down right want it to be Friday sometimes. But that’s the great thing. We are all like that. Showing that isn’t a bad thing. It gives the audience, the listener, the aspiring artist a view into you. It breaks down the barrier of the “Hollywood Perfection” and shows everyone we are the same. That’s what we all connect to. Each other, and the daily struggles we all face.
Its not an easy thing to show the world your vulnerability, in facts its down right scary. With opening yourself up to this, you also open up to criticism, hatred, and abuse. It’s the unfortunate reality of the world. Some people find their enjoyment in making others feel bad, and no amount of your time will change that. Building a thick skin is a hard journey, but there will be more people on your side, than against you. Just stay original to you. Show the world your creations, and the joy it brings you. Relaxing your emotion into art truly does translate across. People will feel and understand you, as if you made that song just for them. That connection is something that cannot be faked. So go create, be original, and show the world what you’re made of. In the end, we all support each other, lifting up to heights we may not have thought possible...
Man, how do the pros make it look so easy? I can't seem to do what they do...
It really hit me the other day. Running through the mixing process in class, bringing up the faders and building a mix from scratch. As I started explaining what I was doing and why, I realized how quickly I can build a mix. It was second nature for me. But looking at the students, it made me think back to when I started. I started thinking about what it was like watching someone build a mix and it sounding so great. Every time I would try, it would never sound them same. I could never seem to get a mix settled in as quickly. As I explained the why and what I was doing, it made me question, "Are they going to understand, or is this going over their heads?"
Of course my hope is that they "get it". That everything I was doing at that moment was being soaked up, and they could go home and reproduce this mix quickly and easily. But sometimes it isn't as simple as that. I have spent years studying, watching, learning, and doing. Years of continually working on my skills, getting a little better each time. To the point now, I can quickly and easily build a mix. I am just talking about panning and setting levels, no eq, or compression. No reverbs delays, etc. Just the basics, using my ears to set the mix to sound balanced.
Of course I explained my methods. The "why" is very important, more important than the "what" I am doing. (At least in my opinion) In the end that's the theory behind what I am doing right? I'm teaching my thought process, the reasoning behind my fader and panning moves. However, my theory is derived from years of "doing". Yep, years of making stupid mistakes, what I now look back on as "bad" mixes, and eq and compression mistakes. At the time though, I really didn't know any better. I was mixing to the best of my abilities, using every tip and trick I knew. And while I want to spare students from these mistakes, I feel like they have made me a better mixer.
For me, I learn best by making the mistakes. I'm sure others would agree, we learn from our mistakes. The idea of me showing students, "Don't do this" is a conundrum at best. While I can teach and show the "do this" "don't do that" concepts, until they experience it themselves, will they learn the lesson? I never did, I had to make the mistakes in order to teach myself what was incorrect. Granted, not everyone learns that way. Some are able to watch and replicate. But If they are replicating what I ma doing, will they figure out their own methods?
It really boils down to the practice. As with most skills in life, you have to do it, learn your limits. Aim to grow where you are weak in order to become better. I know I fell a lot when learning to walk or ride a bike. So the same can be said about learning to mix. I can give someone all the tools to make a master piece, but unless they have put in the hours, it might not come to fruition. Am I going to stop teaching the little tips and tricks? Definitely not, I would have loved someone to give me pointers on honing my craft faster. Whether or not my skills would be where they are now faster is a matter of debate. The fact remains, help is help. Knowing how to do something and actually doing it is very different.
Make the best you can with the knowledge you have. Teachers and tutors can help you achieve your goals, but know you will still make mistakes. Perhaps even the same mistakes they teach us to avoid. But what a way to learn, to have experienced the silly, stupid mistakes that made you strive to be better. Don't forget to accept the failures with the triumphs. In the end, mistakes strive us to do better, and push our limits. Use your acquired knowledge to make the mistakes, and experience the joy of growth.
He's going for distance, he's going for speed...
What is it that makes you appreciate someone's business? We're talking from a consumer standpoint here. When you consistently go back to a place of business, what drives you there? (No I don't mean your car) It might not be something you think about, but something keeps you coming back. Is it the product? A business that puts effort into their product usually sees that effort reflected in sales, right? Is it the customer experience? There is nothing like being treated like royalty. You feel as if you are the most important person at that moment in time. It can be a great feeling. Is it the fact they are a friend? We all love supporting our friends. It can be a great feeling to help out friends.
Perhaps its all of the above? maybe all of these things come together, creating an immersive experience. Then again, maybe it's none of them. We each place value on things differently. So, for a business, how do they guarantee everyone will feel valued? We all do the best we can. Let's face it, everyone is human, we all make mistakes. Sometimes mistakes cost us business, but all we can do is learn from it and move on. It's a hard road to travel having everything you do reflect upon your business. In the end, if you own a business, the in turn makes you and the business one entity. At least in the eyes of your customers.
The best thing you can do is to go above and beyond. Every time, make it an awesome experience. To the best of your abilities of course. I'm not saying throw away money, or put other customers on the back burner. It's a balancing act. Like a man on a trapeze. swing one way too far, and possibly lose everything. Something that seems to excel in the investment world is the idea of going above and beyond. You promise a 20% return, but give them 30% instead. This shows the investor you went above and beyond to give them more. Your time was spent giving them more than promised. This usually makes people want to invest again.
As a business, we try to do the same. Providing excellent customer service, an exceptional product, and showing you genuinely care, are ways a business earns your trust. Whether it is a product or a service, all of these things can be accomplished. It takes a lot of effort to do this everyday, for every customer, but building a brand is not an easy task. Reputation is everything. It can lift you up to the highest highs, or stick to you like the stench of dirty gym socks. We all try to provide the best we can, and sometime we fall short on our marks. A business learns and grows, but only with time and diligence.
Strive to do your best in what you do. As a business owner, this is a goal every time we get a new or returning client. Seeing clients faces light up with joy is the greatest feeling around. But the same can be said from any aspect. Musicians that put their heart and soul into every performance gain followers. Adorations pour in as the listeners show their appreciation. Even when presenting food, going above and beyond makes the customer feel that time was spent in the creation just for them.
Go above and beyond, take it to the next level.
Effect? Affect? The Affects of Effects? Oh the joys of the English language... But I digress.
Space is a wonderful thing. It is how we measure an area. Is it big? Perhaps its small? It could be lively, or dull. Maybe for lack of a better word, it’s bombastic! Everywhere we go, and everything we hear is affected by space. Which means everything we have ever heard is influenced by space. That last concert you went to, whether it sounded good or bad, was being altered by the space it was in. Yes, even if it was outside. Any and every surface available, sound will bounce off or be absorbed by. Even the temperature can play its part on how sound is perceived. “Ok we get it. The space has an affect on everything. Why should I care?”
The average listener might not care. But for every gigging musician and audio engineer, space is everything. Even DJ’s should be concerned about space. If a DJ makes a bomb track that sounds lit, (did I use that slang right?) but it sounds terrible in the club, was it a bad track? Not necessarily. A guitar player in a gigging band gets their tone so sweet before a gig, shows up and starts playing. Once they are in the club, the tone doesn’t even come close. The live engineer sets up a PA and plays music through it, but the track just doesn’t sound like it should. It’s the fault of the space! Well, kind of the fault of the space. Part of the job of the live engineer is to adjust the PA for the room. This can be difficult if the venue is empty. Bodies make a huge difference, soaking up sound that may be problematic. But, the same goes for setting your tone on an amplifier. It may sound good in the rehearsal space, but that doesn’t mean it will sound good that room you’re playing in now.
Space can take away clarity, make drums boomy or mushy, muffle vocals, add unwanted reverb, or cause feedback issues to a rung out PA. “So, I should adjust my amp for each venue?” YES!!! Absolutely! Some of the best players tweak amps and pedals for each new venue. Sometimes it doesn’t take much, a small dial move here or there can bring your tone back to where it was at rehearsal. Small cuts or boosts in a PA system can tune it to a room, allowing vocals to be present and forward, making it easier for the crowd to understand what you are saying. Drums can be a harder to wrangle in. Tuning up for each venue can be time consuming and frustrating. But if you have the time, use it. Take pride in your craft and spend some time getting your instrument to sound its best. You may gain some new fans just because you made a few adjustments before the show!
”So, I sound good during my live shows, but I just cant seem to get the same sound recording. Help!” Oh recording... How fun you can be.... There is nothing like harnessing in your tone, working tirelessly, tweaking, adjusting, fine tuning. Only to have microphones put in front and it sound dull or lifeless. Yes the tone is good, even the performance. But something is missing... For whatever reason, it doesn’t sound like that killer night and the club. You know, the one where you melted faces with your 3 minute long solo? But why? Why doesn’t it sound the same? The settings are right, the amp tone is there, your even feeling inspired to shred it up.... Well, its the space! You were in a specific space, that worked well for your sound. “But I have reverb and delay on my amp, doesn’t that count?” Well, yes and no. You probably had those on anyway right? But that reverb, delay, and air throwing speaker tone still needs a space to be in. If you put the microphones directly on the grill cloth, you are capturing the essence of the guitar signal. But, we don’t listen to guitar cabinets with our ears to the grill. We hear a guitar cabinet in the room. With your reverb and delay working harmoniously in the space.
In other words, re-space your amp. If the microphones are on the grill cloth, they are picking up the raw tone of the amp. Without coloration of a room of space. You get to decide what kind of space it will be in. Big rooms, small rooms, rooms that are made of rocks. Remember everything we hear in a space of some kind. Even if it is small and tight, or large and boisterous. When in a recording environment, we tend to capture a more sterile and accurate picture of tones. That allows an engineer to place the instruments in any space they so choose. In so doing, creating a feel or vibe, adding character to the track. Space is a wonderful thing. Too much space however, can muddy and remove definition. It’s a fine line of adding just enough to create realism or vibe, or too much and drowning things out unrealistically. Use your ears when adding space to instruments, you’ve done it at every show you’ve ever been to. You listen and make a judgment on whether its good or bad, muddy or clear, dead or lively. You ears are king, so let them rule.
They say it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. So how are you going to spend your time?
10,000 hours: 417 days, 59 1/2 weeks, 13.6 months, or just over a year. The time it takes to master a skill. Broken down by a daily practice routine, 2 hours a day, 5 days a week, would take you almost 20 years. 20 Years?! That's a long time! While 20 years sounds like forever, this is just an estimate of the length of time it can take to master the skill. The basic principle is this; immerse yourself in the skill you wish to master. Learn it, live it, love it.
The cost of studio gear has come down considerably. This is great for aspiring musicians to get their foot in the door. The recording process used to be out of reach for so many people. Gear was limited to large studios and those with funding. While this accessibility is a great starting point, it has its downfalls. You can create great tracks as a musician, but you have to decide where to spend your time. Going back to the 10,000 hours idea, you have to decide where to direct your efforts. Will you spend time on your skills as a musician, or as an engineer?
With the drop of gear prices, this allows studio owners to purchase gear and pass on savings to potential clients. While there is still the value of the knowledge, accessible gear is a blessing. Coming to a realization of how to spend your time can be a long, arduous journey. At some point, all engineers made a conscience decision to pursue their career. Just as a working musician usually makes the decision to take their craft from hobby to career.
For some, like myself, it was a realization that I did not enjoy the hours of dedication to a skill that seemed boring when utilized by myself. I always found more pleasure performing in a group, than solo. So, spending time practicing solo was an off-putting experience. Others find it very rewarding, making a career as a performing musician. Once I started recording and layering myself, the spark I was looking for burst forth. I found myself enjoying the process of building a song piece by piece.
Knowing this about myself helped me hone in on a skill that turned into a career. I found spending my time recording and making other people sound the best they can. Immersing myself into the recording process, instead of practicing music. While you can still find time for both, focusing your time on one more than the other to further yourself as a musician or engineer can be beneficial. The world needs engineers, and musicians. Find what skill sparks passion and stick with it. Immersing yourself in your passion makes practice fun and no longer feel like a chore.
So spend your 10,000 hours on what makes you happy, and master your passion. There is always time for your other hobbies, just make sure you don't take time away from your skill of passion.
If I had a nickel for every time that question has been asked...
Now days, a lot less time is spent on the tracking/recording phase of an album. Most artists are on the road, recording their vocals in the bus, or on the hotel room. Perhaps they are recorded in sub-par environments, causing more work for a mixing engineer. While a lot of things can be fixed after the fact, this puts more strain on the mixer. Hours of work can be spent just to clean up, enhance, replace, or re-do parts.
The biggest question is why? Is it a push from labels? Or perhaps from consumers? The idea of releasing music constantly is putting a strain on the engineers. While we all do the work, taking extra time in the tracking phase of the song would eliminate a lot of time spent on the song. Budgets are not what they used to be, we all get it. As much as I would love a band to walk in with a $50,000 budget, it just isn't happening anymore.
However, with lower budgets and streaming services, it has leveled the playing field for artists. While the bigger labels can still afford to send their artists to the big studios, mid-sized and small studios have a chance to tap into the market. Pricing is always a struggle, so it comes down to providing excellent service. While we would all love to own / work in the Balckbird and Abbey Road type studios, there is only so much business out there. There are great smaller tracking studios out there, which can provide polished tracks for the mixing engineer.
A lot of bigger mixers have started working for lower rates as well. With this shift in rates, having your music recorded at a local, project studio, and mixed by a grammy award winner is within reach. Spending the time to get it "right at the source", so it sounds great as a raw recording helps the engineer take it that much further. Mixes can only be polished so much. Keep this in mind when you are planning your next album. Spend the time to record it properly, this will net you a better album in the end. Your mixing engineer will love you for it.
Dr. mister snob. We regret to inform you that your opinion means nothing. Try as you might to sound intelligent and all knowing, the fact remains that no amount of money spent on gear will make you a better engineer. Instead of wasting everyone's time by stating how horrible their gear is, go make music! -Sincerely, Everyone Else
Gear snobbery is real. It is a common misconception that the more money you spend, the better it will sound. While this may be true to a point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in, making that overpriced "clone" no different than the next. Am I saying "don't spend money on gear"? Absolutely not! Gear is awesome! Just be aware that by spending 10x as much, may and probably will not get you 10x the sound quality.
Lets look at analog compressors real quick...
UA 1176LN Compressor $2400
Klark Teknik 1176KT $400
2 compressors, designed similar, to compete with each other. One is made by the original company, using outstanding components, while the other is inexpensively built. One is 6 times the price of the other. But, does the more expensive one sound 6 times better? Probably not... So, should we only buy the cheap stuff? The short answer, no. If you have the budget to purchase the more expensive one, do it! Especially if it something you've always wanted to own. However, if you expect a massive sonic difference, you will be disappointed.
In most blind tests, it can be difficult to choose which original piece of gear vs the "clone" is which. And while there may differences, that will happen with all analog gear. Thats the joy of it! you can have many flavors, each for their own unique and special purpose. Now days in electronics manufacturing, tolerances have become much tighter. This allows gear to be closer "matched" without too much sonic difference. Something to keep in mind, is all that "coveted" analog gear is old. Like decades old. Tolerances of capacitors and resistors have drifted, making that specific analog gear sonically unique.
Which is where plugins come in. Since each plugin is modeled on a specific hardware units, plugins are not going to sound the same. I hear complaints of "why do we need another 1176 plugin?" The answer is, why not? If each plugin is modeled on a different piece of hardware, every plugin will have a slightly different sound. Meaning you can own multiple different 1176 compressors. All inside your computer.
The next time you read reviews about gear, and there are consumers talking about how its "not the same as the real thing" remember, at the end of the day they all do their job. Use the tools you can afford to get the job done. The tools don't make the engineer, but a great engineer can make great records using anything.
How often are you thinking about your arrangement when writing a new song? It isn't always about what instruments are playing. A lot oaf arranging has to do with what the instruments are playing...
Rhythmic vs. chordal support
When most of us hear the word rhythm, we immediately think of percussion. Drums, shakers, tambourines, etc. But many other instruments provide necessary rhythm to a musical track. Let's take a look at funk music for instance; "Good Times" by Chic has a killer guitar line that instantly sets the groove of the song. In The Knocks "Classic", the rhythmic guitar helps drive home the stomp clap groove from the drums.
Rhythmic bass lines is something we are all accustomed to as well. From "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson or "Money" by Pink Floyd, the bass guitar licks instantly gets us in the groove of the song. While these instruments can usually be considered melodic instruments, providing the key or chords of the song, they can play both roles quite easily.
On the other side, we have chordal support and pad instruments. These can lay down the foundation of the key, chords, and tonality of music. "It's Probably Me" by Sting has luscious chords, providing a "swimming" feeling in the intro. This can place the listener in a space, while providing a theme for the song. While there is plenty of rhythmic aspects, these support instruments give a refrain from the ever moving guitar drums. In "Ode" by LAIK, the symphonic strings and piano add a mournful, sorrowful feel, while the small rhythmic parts lift up the song in the chorus.
Balancing these two can help you create hooks and interesting counterpoints in your music.
When combining multiple instruments, timbre plays an important role. Many instruments share similar timbre spaces, which can create "masking" or the inability to differentiate each part. For example, having two guitars playing in the same timbre, yet playing different parts can be difficult to hear. If one guitar is playing an open G chord, while the other is playing an open G arpeggio, the arpeggiated part might not come through as much. However, if the arpeggio guitar were to play one octave higher, this could open up space for both instruments to be heard equally.
This is a common mistake when blending multiple instruments like guitar, piano, synths, voice, etc. Try to create a space sonically for each instrument, instead of trying to crowd them all together in the same timbre. Let the piano play higher octaves, the synths lower, and let the guitars split up. This way everything has its own space. Sometimes even taking some instruments out can help "free up" some sonic space for a more important part to be heard.
Utilizing these ideas can help you create a better balance in your next piece. Give them a try and see if it helps your arrangements come to life...