Ear Candy – noun – Sonic effects that are added into music to keep the listener engaged throughout the song.
Ear candy has always been one of my favorite aspects of listening to music. Even before I started down the road of sound engineering, I always liked the bits of fluff that were added into songs. Now that I’m far along that path, hearing ear candy and trying to recreate it has been a little hobby of mine. I think that’s what drew me to making electronic music: there’s an overwhelming amount of small effects sprinkled throughout those songs. When used correctly, ear candy can add intrigue to a song, while its overuse can take the listener out of the song and drive them away.
In my opinion, ear candy tends to be anything that is added into a song that isn’t comprised of the original instrumentation, usually in the form of an effect rather than as an instrument playing a part. Typically, you’ll hear more of this in music that is more “overproduced.” Two of the most common forms of ear candy I tend to hear are either reverb or EQ.
A piece of reverb ear candy could be dousing a vocal in reverb at the end of a phrase or reversing a reverb into a snare hit. You can hear this example in “A Prophecy” by Asking Alexandria, in the second half of the breakdown. When the guitars hold out, the snare reverb swoops into the hit. Asking Alexandria has a lot of elements of the “over-produced” sound as, at times, they are on the verge of “electronicore”, a mash up of electro and metalcore. Because of their sound, I think it is extremely fitting to ad bits of flare like this.
Another common piece of ear candy is the use of EQ effects. Filtering out frequencies on instruments can help add tension, ease in a new instrument, or make an element sound small or distant. One EQ effect that is quite common for vocals is the “telephone,” the idea being to have the voice sound like it is coming through a telephone speaker. This a great way to bring the dynamic of a sound down just before getting really big again. A great example of this can be found in “Bored to Death” by Blink 182. The vocals have the low end cut out of them on the phrase “I’m not coming home” just before the chorus kicks in with a lot more intensity.
There are countless other examples of ear candy, including reverse effects, panning tricks, stuttering glitches, and more. These effects don’t have to be used separately; using them in tandem with each other can make your song that much more interesting. A quick example off the top of my head would be using a reverse reverb that pans left to right into a telephone effect vocal before opening up to a giant choir-style chorus. I find making these types of effects a ton of fun, but there is definitely a time and place for them.
Overusing ear candy can certainly make a song tiresome to listen to, and it threatens to lose the essence of what made it interesting in the first place. If a metal band uses bass drops every time a new section arrives then the audience will get accustomed to hearing it. On the other hand, if they use it sparingly, say only in a bridge that gets heavier, then the effect has more impact and keeps the listener interested in the progression of the song.
When it comes to your own music, think about both if and where you want to add some ear candy. The idea behind the ear candy is to keep the listener engaged, so I think a couple great spots to add it in are for transitions, when a section is repeated, or when introducing new musical elements. Try to communicate to the engineer both the effect you want and what kind of impact you want for the the listener. Having an example from another song to reference is a great way to effectively show the engineer what you are after. The engineer may also have additional ideas for the effect to make sure it has the impact you, the artist, are looking for.
Like I mentioned in the beginning, I find ear candy to be super fun. Recreating weird effects I’ve heard in music has definitely given me a little bag of tricks I can pull from when need be, as well as fueled my love for sound design and creating new sounds no one has heard before. When listening back to your favorite songs, think about what in the song could be considered ear candy, and if it achieved an intended result.