Composing/writing/performing music is typically thought of as an Art, more than a scientific or mathematical thing. But, there are definitely "scientific methods" involved in composing and performing. Like composing, mixing/mastering/producing is both Art and Science.
There are no "rules", just guidelines and the best way to learn is to experiment, as a scientist would. However, there are methods and practices that make for More Effective Experimentation. The best rule of thumb is to make sure that you frequently try doing things you have never done before. Like in science, you can learn about experiments that other people have done: "peer review".
However, keep in mind:
Science can often give you (good-enough) answers,
but only to the questions you choose to ask...
Philosophy determines the questions you ask,
and how you use those answers...
Things being popular doesn't mean they are good. Duh.
Music and Art are some of the most unequal
trades to work in. There are MILLIONS of artists on this planet, but
only a few hundred that you will ever hear of, and a tiny few that can
make any money or have a career. Does that mean the 0.01% of artists are
just geniuses, infinitely more talented than everyone else? Of course not.
There is no "objective" criteria for "good" music.
Pretending this isn't the case is just an excuse to be mean.
FACT: Anyone can learn to produce music that sounds "good" for free and in limited spare time.
FACT: Free and open source software can sound just as "good" as expensive software and gear.
FACT: The music industry is not about albums/tickets/merch. It is not about retail sales. It is about production fees, royalties, contracts, legal fees, advertising, & systematic fraud
It doesn't take a profound, well-thought-out Marxist-Leninist critique of political economy to recognize this stuff.
I take a lot of my ideas from Steve Albini, who, in the early days of
grunge gave scathing critiques of the music industry's corruption and
inequity. Albini's criticism was shared by pretty much everyone involved
with Grunge. What set Grunge apart from punk and hardcore, and what
earned it so much hatred among those old-school punks was that Grunge
was never really afraid to "sell out" - as evidenced by the enormous
success of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, RHCP, and so on. I
think that Zach de La Rocha of Rage Against The Machine described the
idea of "selling out" best, describing that there was, for him an
agitprop purpose to music - instead of the extremely insular punk scenes
that preceded Grunge, which prided themselves on exclusivity and
alienating the public, RATM, while not necessarily Grunge, sharing the
attitude of many Grunge bands, were completely open to making their
music accessible and "radio-friendly", and questioned the Punk Orthodoxy
that doing so was inherently incompatible with making "authentic" music.
While Grunge is often sidelined as a prime example of Generation
X's perceived apolitical nihilism/pessimism, I think a re-evaluation is
long overdue. While the fact that Republicans can somehow unironically
play Rage at their rallies may seem to be a signal that not only has
Grunge long jumped the shark, but has been proven to be another instance
of impotent subcultural transgressivity, I don't think this means
Grunge has nothing to offer us whatsoever. Maybe I am just caught up in a
nostalgic love affair, but I have always felt like there is real value
in the attitude of Grunge. The way it expressed the dream-like stupor of
suburban life, the way it proposed the state of suffocating boredom
among Pre-Millenium youth as a possible unexpected path to Satori,
juxtaposing the mundane and sublime. Maybe this is just because it
speaks to me too personally, but I think it spoke to so many millions of
people (as evidenced by record sales) because it got at a concrete
universal human experience that just wasn't spoken to by the more niche
sub-cultures that came before and after.
This is one of the most important things about music. What is dissonance?
Dissonance is not something abstract or deep or complicated. It is simply destructive interference.
It just means that if you add a sound wave to its exact opposite, you get silence. In other words:
1-1=0 is why dissonance (destructive interference) in music production causes things to sound less "powerful" or "loud" or "full".
You can understand, then, why much of music avoids dissonance. it doesn't just "sound bad", but interferes with our ability to actually hear things
Whether you make EDM or punk or House or industrial or even noise music, you probably want people to hear it.
The primary cause of destructive interference in music production is phase cancellation.
The phase of a sound wave describes its angle over a given point in time.
Positive phases cancel out negative ones, so the more sounds/frequencies you layer at once, the more phase cancellation happens.
The opposite of dissonance is consonance. This is a bad name, though, so it is normally called resonance instead.
Resonance means two waves sync up making a louder sound. In other words:
On a side note, this is why folk, solo piano, and chiptune music is so "pleasing to the ear": it almost only uses positive intereference, that is to say, because you are only dealing with simple, square and saw and pulse and triangle waveforms, and because those simple waveforms are playing simple melodies, there is less opportunity for destructive interference, it is all just layers of positively-reinforcing vibrations.
So, now you know the foundational secret of music:
Resonance = nice because more sound. Dissonance = bad because less sound.
except... obviously, there is a little more to it.
One of the features of resonance/dissonance, is that you can create "imaginary" extra frequencies... If you play two notes that are close together, you will notice a "pulsing" effect. As the notes get further apart, the pulsing speeds up, until you start getting a lot farther and then it slows down again. Some people a long time ago realized this, that playing certain notes at the same time could make an interesting and complicated sound, that playing many notes at once could make a sound that seems "greater than the sum of the parts". This is how chords were invented. When it comes to composing music, all this is called harmony, or whatever...
When it comes to production, mixing/mastering of music, it is more complicated because you typically aren't dealing with simply note frequencies, but notes played on instruments that have complicated waveforms and each note has different frequencies, harmonics, etc.
You can think of mixing/mastering of music as similar to composing music but instead of dealing with notes at whole intervals, you are dealing a whole spectrum of phases, frequencies, and amplitudes. This complexity is why "producers" tend to be giant fucking assholes, because they think that because production is so complicated, they are geniuses for learning how to do it.
If you believe in weird sacred geometry stuff, maybe "Music is Math"? idk.
I like Boards of Canada, and that is a fun catchphrase, but doesn't really mean anything deep.
Math can describe anything, that is the point of Math. That is why it was invented... to allow us to describe the world.
A lot of sacred math stuff is just pointing out that Math is
doing what we want Math to do and then acting surprised that it does
Example: typical human hearing finds it easier to distinguish between two different high frequencies than two different low frequencies.
Example: typical human hearing can notice a difference in the
volume of quiet sounds better than the difference in volume of loud
High frequencies naturally carry more energy than low frequencies. This is why small speakers can't make as much bass.
Changes in the volume of high frequencies are more noticeable than changes in the volume of low frequencies.
Applications of the above?
When mixing, it is best to start with everything very quiet - you want more "headroom", more "space" for mixing sounds at different volumes.
If everything is loud, it is harder to hear differences between sounds, which leads to a less "full" sounding track and more "garbled" layers.
This is "objectively true" about producing music, but what you
choose to do with these experimental results/hypothesis/theory is up to
Starting off a mix on low-quality speakers is actually good practice in my experience.
If it sounds good on bad speakers, thats a good starting point.
Mixing with headphones and high-quality monitors gives you a... warped perspective on how your audience will hear things.
answer: it minimizes destructive interference that makes things sound less clear.
Dissonance is Destructive Interference.