Harmony and striking the chord
Whether it’s played on piano, guitar, organ, synth, or a string section, there’s something magical about what chords can bring to a song. It brings final harmonic context into the picture and helps support the lyrics and vocal melody.
With so many options at the fingertips, it’s easy to get carried away—it was and still is one of my worst habits—adding too many different melodic elements! I can’t emphasize the importance of focusing on only one or two different elements, especially if you’re planning on adding vocals. Piano and guitar lines, crazy synthesizer sounds, atmospheric pads: all of these have the potential to detract away from the vocals.
Just as the drums are the foundation for the rhythm and groove of the song, a chordal or harmonic instrument, like acoustic guitar, provides a home for the body of the song. Ideally, you want the vocals to resonate and connect directly with whatever instrument is supporting it.
After adding the lead vocals (and maybe a vocal harmony), you might have seven or eight tracks filled! It’s up to you to gauge whether or not you have room to add another element or wild card to make your record stand out even more.