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Electronic Music Podcast Pt 2

The Studios 301 Podcast E04 B Archie and Ben Central Station

Hi and welcome to the Studios 301 podcast where we chat with staff and friends of the studio about their recent sessions, studio insights and advice for aspiring engineers and producers.

Ben: Do you find from a mixing perspective that you end up taking a lot of layers out I suppose of records at times?

Simon: Yes, it definitely happens. There’ is definitely… I find it a lot with patches as well there’s a lot of… Well this was a really good one, but then we also found this other really good one

Ben: So we put them together.

Simon: Yes. And then there was a third and then some blend of that. And I guess there’s quite often the sense that we will throw as many things at it and sort of leave someone else to figure it out. In the way that I approach mixes one of the emails that I tend to send off to people is if there’s seven of something I want one… If you’ve been listening to it, unless you can hear there’s a really floored something in it, it’s like, “Here is the four kicks” and they’re balanced this way and that’s what you been listening to and you think that sounds great, unless there’s obviously a problem with it, like I just sort of want one kick

Archie: Just one really good sound.

Simon: I suppose so. And to be honest, if you send me four there’s a chance that all four may not end up being on it. And there’s a little bit of sound design that goes into that but I kind of… I suppose from a production and writing point of view I’m a big fan of the idea of if you think that… if there’s some sort of original catalyst or thing that you think works really well kind of committing to it and moving on. I even kind of suggest to people sometimes with their sing patch kind of things when it’s like I think that sounds really good. Once the initial idea is there almost just like commit it down to audio, maybe keep the midi track so if it all really goes to shit

Ben: You can go back and…

Simon: Yes. Or it’s like actually the whole thing is in the wrong key or the wrong the tempo or something like that for the vocalist you get then it’s not an absolute hassle to redo. But I think there’s something kind of nice about… it almost goes back to that sort of down sound kind of thing or the sampling aesthetics where it’s kind of like ‘this is a thing and it’s the thing that I have.’ Moving that one parameter one percent is not going to make any difference to how someone on Spotify hears this song kind of thing.

Archie: Almost like what you’re saying about the vocal and sometimes the initial idea and over thinking it is just not really the best way to bring something to life.

Simon: I suppose so. And I think as you were saying about this idea of ‘here’s an idea we’re not totally sold on’. I think basically you know when something is amazing and if it’s not. There has to be an element of kind of ruthlessness and it’s like I can almost guarantee that for 80% of what you’re going to do when it comes to picking patches or something like that, one really good one is going to be better and is going to do the job better than four ones that are kind of… maybe the bits are in there and it can… I suppose the other thing too, I suppose manage expectations kind of thing if you’re a producer and you’re looking to send something off to get mixed the reality of it is that the person is probably never going to spend as long online mixing it as you’ve spent making it, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing sometimes. But it means that if you’ve spent four weeks trying to get these four sounds to make one cohesive sound and still have kind of failed, the mixing guy probably has an hour most. It’s one thing if that is a song where it’s that patch and a kick and that’s the song, that’s kind of different to the sort of more pop approach where there’s obviously several different things going on, and realistically just in terms of focus they’re going to shape it a little bit, like maybe the whole sound needs a bit more low or a bit more high, maybe there’s something in there that’s kind of getting in the way and there’s a bit of carving kind of thing. But the realism is if you haven’t been able to crack it in four weeks it may be worth just seeing if just turning a couple… seeing if the idea underneath is maybe the idea isn’t strong enough, maybe the initial sounds selection is not quite on the money kind of thing. And yes, I suppose the mixer is going to approach it with a sense of focus but focusing on its place in the whole arrangement and aesthetics.

Ben: Do you give feedback? Just you’ve been sent something that someone wants mixing and you can hear those sort of mistakes in the track, will you try and fix those or just send those back? Or give the feedback and say “Look, maybe go and work on this and send me the stems again”?

Simon: It’s going to depend to some extent a little bit on deadline kind of things that there’s definitely a bit where today is the day and it’s going to be on SoundCloud tomorrow, or we’re doing something and it…

Ben: Do people still use SoundCloud?

Simon: I don’t know. What are the kids on these days?

Archie: Please don’t, that’s a whole other killer for you. SoundCloud is such a dirty word.

Simon: But yes, I guess with things where it’s like “Oh look, you’ve really got close but maybe the kick just needs a bit more bottom” or something like that, I’m not above layering in an extra little bit of bottom in the sample or something like that, that’s all fine. If it’s a writing thing or a tone clash or something like that, I find particularly in the bass heavier kind of styles if your monitoring is not great it can be hard to hear that maybe the kick is on and the note that you’re, if you’re using 808 or something like that as well the notes of those, unless you have a sub to really hear it maybe on headphones you can’t really notice how actually they are only like a semitone apart and it’s weird. But it’s then as soon as you correct it and like “Whoa, how did that…” Like the idea was really strong but the thing just needed that. Speaking for myself I guess I’m personally a big editor so I don’t mind kind of getting in there and reworking it a little bit if it needs. I tend to think of it in a big picture approach though where if it’s like this is the actual idea or the direction, it’s probably not ready for me yet kind of thing, there’s something the mixing will do to it but that’s not the thing that it needs.

Ben: It needs more before.

Simon: Yes. And that’s not to say throw more at it, it’s just be firmer about where it is you think you’re actually trying to go with it, where on that end it could just be the thing where it comes in and say “That’s great, just the vocals need tuning”, that’s not a problem and that can definitely get done.

Archie: I think the benefit of having a mix engineer and then obviously mastering is those sounds are going to come to life even more. So sometimes you will realize that you’ve got too much going on and just that initial idea is all you needed because it just needed a good mix and master to make it sit right and you had that strong element that you wanted in the first place.

Simon: Well yes. And there’s definitely an argument for at least trying to get it to that level. And you will find that as part of that process a lot of that stuff gets revealed as well. I suppose when you’re in the writing phase there’s a lot less of critiquing whether the whole track just has a little bit too much, 300 or something like that, that’s a great bass sound, that’s a great kick rhythm, great, bottom end sorted; at least from a writing point of view. And so it’s nice to give it to someone who’s not listening with the writing ears, who’s just like…

Archie: Approach it from a sonics

Simon: Yes, from a sonic point of view there’s a little bit more, there’s little bit less of that. And now is this what you kind of thought your core idea was, now that it’s sort of being shaped that way. But yes, as I said I think there still needs to be that focus on the actual idea underneath you think is the best thing that anyone’s ever done. And then after that you can worry about whether

Archie: All the technical bits

Simon: Yes, I suppose so. There seems to be… I sort of feel like there is this sort of 80/20 rule kind of thing where I feel like a lot of people it’s sort of like spend 20% of the time on the idea in a song and we’ll spend 80% of our time

Ben: Tweaking.

Simon: And changing a reverb patch and it’s just like…

Ben: So you’d advise “Right, right, right, right” then go back in and fix sonically, or do you just advise on doing slight adjustments as you go and not getting too caught up in it? Because there is two schools of thought on that, do you just write everything first, fix everything late, or do it as you go so you don’t have to spend as much time tidying it up at the end.

Simon: I think with, kind of what I said earlier, I like the idea of sort of committing and knowing that a phase, that a thing is kind of in place before moving on. So as a result if it’s down to sort of tidying up a performance or make sure that the vocal comp is the thing that you want I would kind of advise doing that as you go along so that each successive step knows what it’s building on kind of thing. And I’m not saying it necessarily has to be that you spend 80% of your time on writing and 20% on the sonics, but they’re definitely… if you’re interested in going into, interested in competing in this world of pop song kind of things or being on Spotify or SoundCloud or something like that with your one song that really catches attention, just understanding that there is that amount of care quite often taking in the stuff that you’re sort of competing with, it tends to not just be like “Oh, you know, words, there are some words.” I suppose particularly because there’s a lot more sort of collaborations with just conventional sort of top 40 artists now that are bringing that approach of songwriting into these productions. And it’s not uncommon in those kind of writing sessions to sort of antagonize about a melody kind of thing where it’s like here is the first idea I sung, all the words are great, the timing is great, what if this note was that note, and finding the best iteration of that. I think there is something still really strong to be believed in in the core initial idea, but if from there you can be made just a little bit better, it’s all a game of inches with this kind of stuff. And as I’m sure you guys have seen, a million songs that really nearly could earn it, with just two things changed that could have being the biggest song ever, but without those two things it’s obscurity for you.

Archie: We had done that with a song just recently where it moves in a different key and there is just different I guess vocal approaches and how it’s sung and stuff like that. So the version we ended up with was down two semitones, suits the vocals so much better, and it’s one of those things that’s like “Wow, that actually just makes so much more sense, just making those few adjustments.

Simon: Well that would definitely be something that I would recommend to producers that haven’t necessarily worked with vocalists before, or just something to bear in mind I suppose a little bit is this idea that singers, kind of like all instruments, they have ideal ranges kind of in the same way that you meet someone and they’ve got a deeper voice and other people have higher voices, it’s worth knowing that. Everyone has areas that they are more comfortable singing, and as part of that, especially when most of your production might be done with MIDI it’s really easy to do a quick chop and change with that, just move everything up even if it tends to only be a semitone or two and just see if that changes the tonal character or you know if there’s just… if you’re finding that the verses they’re not quite as strong and confident down in the bottom notes as you would like them for the kind of emotion, then that’s an option that you have to play with. And I kind of feel like the people that haven’t worked a lot with locals or live vocalists, there is… it comes from a little bit of lack of understanding of the tool kind of thing, but also there seems to be as inherent kind of fear of the whole thing, like that’s their thing and I don’t want to step on toes as well a little bit. And the beautiful thing about collaborations is that they are collaborations and singers are for the large part quite malleable in terms of what they’re capable of doing. There are people that have very specific tones and it’s like that’s the thing that I do, but  even within that don’t be afraid to be like “You know what, I’d feel like I would like to feel like you’re giving it just little bit more” or “I feel like you’re shouting, I’d love you to just… we’re going for something really, really controlled” And not being afraid to kind of give that feedback when you’re working

Archie: Direction

Simon: Yes. And it’s those little things, the human voice is the first thing that our brain learns to sort of pick apart and we know it so intimately from childhood in terms of what inflections mean in terms of danger or love or any of that kind of thing,, when someone says “Oh yeah, I’m fine” it’s like you’re not fine, the tone of your voice tells me you’re not fine kind of thing. And so not being afraid to sort of push and make sure that the singer is connecting with the message of the song in that way I think is something to not be afraid of, it’s something to try. If you’re working in a kind of duo kind of situation where let’s say you’re putting together a project and it’s you and this singer and you’re going to be working together on quite a lot of material, it’s really great to spend a bit of time and explore some of what they’ve got to give there, find out the keys, find out the sort of the ranges in their voice that they can work really well. You might find that it saves you a whole lot of time if you just start by making your ideas going on for that project in that kind of comfortable range rather than getting stuck again and again and be like “Yeah, I made this great one. Oh hang on that’s in one of those keys you can’t sing again.” Or likewise, “I really want this one to feel really tense and strained, I’ve deliberately put it in this range that I know is going to be awkward for you. I really want it to sound awkward for you.” For me that’s kind of like… I feel like a great example of that which I think I might have mentioned before is Chandelier for Sia and you can hear in the chorus it’s so up there for her voice and it’s like it’s sort of breaking and it’s like… but it’s amazing, it’s like the most emotive thing.

Ben: Adds to the performance.

Simon: And I kind of feel like if it had been like two semitones lower it would have just been really middle of the road and wouldn’t have any of that sort of angst that went along with it.

Archie: Is there any keys like sonically from I guess a musical perspective? I think I know that B minors we cater to mixed bass and what not in as well. Is there any from your end that like…?

Simon: I haven’t run into anything too specific. I guess it’s going to depend… I’ve heard arguments of this sort of where the tuning of the whole song is, the detuning for audio for… for whatever it is I was going to crack, for the 432 hertz thing or whatever because of the way the harmonics all stack up on top of each other is more musical or something like that. No, I haven’t run into too much. I guess it just comes down to the shaping of the kind of note you set your kick on and stuff like that and just find it might be that low B just ends up sitting just in a particular range where a lot of the kicks are just really close but not quite

Archie: Yes. So it throws off the bass element.

Simon: Yes. Maybe I have to look into that one.

Archie: I’ve had a producer before kind of whinge because he was like, “This is in B. I hate B minor.”

Simon: I can’t mix those in, or I want to send back those mixes.

Archie: I think it might just be a tricky bass frequency to play with, that’s all.

Simon: It could also well be to do with the monitoring in their room as well and perhaps there is a particular sort of resonant there or completely the opposite, they’ve got like a node and it’s like just completely disappearing and they can’t hear that one note kind of thing is entirely possible also. Do you see people approaching all of this more, I suppose as we get into this songwriter kind of thing, more from… is the level of kind of music knowledge behind what’s going into everything more or less than what it’s been of late, do you think that there is an understanding and knowledge and study of what other people are doing that really goes into the crafting of the really successful tracks? Or is it just someone has a great idea and it just feels great they don’t necessarily know why it works in terms of repeatability?

Archie: Yes, I think so. Sometimes you don’t know why an idea connects and I guess it also comes down to I guess how many people are involved as well. You can have a simple chord structure and then you can be adding like string sections and all these other bits and pieces on top which obviously take it in all different directions and build off that initial idea. But I know there are lots of producers out there that don’t have any musical training but they’re using I guess clever little apps and stuff like that which help build chords and progressions and stuff like that. So there are definitely ways around it, and getting quite technical and not really knowing how you’re getting to that point as well

Ben: There really is a plug-in for everything

Simon: I’ve got to definitely give a huge shout out to ProChords, that thing is the best app ever.

Archie: And I don’t think there’s any shame in doing that. Just like going to a mix engineer or a mastering guy because like if you don’t understand musical theory, having that little guidance and those ideas placed and planted in your song writing is…

Simon: I find it’s great, particularly where you have stumbled across something that’s really great and then knowing how to expand on it. I suppose the classic trouble for everyone is the sort of the breakdown of the middle eight kind of thing in a pop song kind of thing where it’s like “We have got an awesome verse, we have an awesome chorus, we just have no idea where to go.” Like how do we do something that’s not just rehashing those kind of thing

Archie: But still works and then has that turnaround as well

Simon: Yes. So even with those couple apps where they sort of have chord suggestion kind of things it’s like, “Well if you’ve already use this, you could go here, here, here, here” and you can very quickly flip through them, and like “Oh, that’s a really… I would never have gone there but that’s a very interesting place for it to go” and just bringing that, as you said, that sort of level of musicality to an arrangement is a kind of a cool thing. Having said that there’s a million great songs that are the same one or two chords for the entire song, there’s no shame in it, it’s a sound, it’s a style kind of thing.

Archie: And then I guess you’ve got those simple chords, a vocalists is going to approach it in a whole different way. Each vocalists is going to bring a different melodic approach to those chords as well. So sometimes it’s down to having just a basic idea that is strong, good sounds, good simple sounds, and then a vocalist I guess bringing to life an idea over the top of it.

Simon: Absolutely. So I’d like talk a little bit about the industry side of things I suppose. Let’s say I am in my mind an awesomely talented bedroom producer, I’ve got what I’m absolutely sure is a hit, what do I do next?

Ben: Send it to us.

Simon: Send it to us and nobody else.

Archie: Reaching out to record labels is the best way to do it.

Simon: Should I be looking at that before putting it online, should I be trying to be… Let’s say that at this point I’m not necessarily gigging or anything, should I be trying to… Do you guys put stock in how much of a following I have already? What would be your best advice for me?

Archie: I think just reaching out to a label and getting some input on what you’re doing

Ben: Yes, definitely get some feedback from the label.

Archie: I don’t think it matters if you’ve got a following or not. Of course that social media reach is always good from a marketing perspective once you do start to work with an artist. But I think as long as you are talented and you’ve got some good ideas and technically you know what you’re doing then everything else can usually follow from that. I mean Starley for example, she was just a songwriter, she went to London for a couple of years, worked a whole bunch of projects, none of them actually connected, she came back to Australia and she was going to give up music. She had no following, no one knew who she was, and then now look at us. So I think there’s no set rule to it at all. And Odd Mob is another good example as well, they were just a couple of DJs that were playing house parties, writing music in their spare time, sent some demos out to a label, and they’ve really grown over the last two or three years into something that is… I think they’re definitely one of the most exciting producers in the country at the moment. I wouldn’t say that just because I work with them, but I know they’re quite the envy of a lot of producers because they’ve really put the time and effort into building their craft and stuff as well. And I think that’s a really important thing is to really know your stuff and know who you are as an artist as well, and not just following trends just because they’re popular at the time. I think having your own identity is really, really important, and it will make you stand out to anyone that’s going to be listening to demos as well.

Ben: You can tell especially with Odd Mob that they craft their own sounds because there’s nothing else that sounds like them, and I think if you can master that you’re definitely going to progress a lot quicker than you would if you were just copying sounds that everyone else is sort of leaning towards.

Simon: I suppose there’s a level of remarkableness, this idea of it’s truly something that it’s not just patch seven, it’s something that not only do I like the musical idea but from a sonic it’s kind of like that’s definitely an interesting way to approach that sound.

Ben: They always have producers going, “How do they do that? How do get that sound?”

Simon: How do they do that?

Ben: We can’t tell you

Archie: I guess it’s more of a nerdy approach is when you start getting into building sounds and programming and all that kind of stuff, and that is a whole other level on top of I guess writing a cool idea or having like a novelty idea as well. So definitely if you can do the research it’s going to bring your productions to life and make them stand out on their own a little bit more as well, so I would definitely recommend anyone to be kind of I guess building that knowledge as they are moving along their musical kind of path.

Simon: You just draw me back to something there. What do you guys reckon over the last let’s say five years, what do you think is your favorite of the novelty releases?

Ben: Is it banger. It’s a no brainer.

Archie: Yes, actually I have to agree with that. Are we talking novelty genres?

Simon: I don’t know. There’s obviously a lot that’s going into…

Archie: Gangnam Style – I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite but, wow, that was big for all the wrong reasons.

Simon: I don’t know whether it was just that the popularity of the original so far outstripped any of the knock offs, but I kind of feel like I didn’t hear a whole lot of people really trying or at least getting anywhere with trying to go off the back of that. It kind of felt like it came out of left field and it just stayed left field and no one was brave enough to go after it.

Archie: Exactly. The other one is We No Speak Americano which there were so many different ideas and new songs that spawn from that initial song. And they were kind of like in their own little lane when they dropped that. So that I think is probably one of the most impressive ones as well just because it had such a big impact on music. And then I remember going to say ADE in Amsterdam and that whole next year after We No Speak Americano everything, all the demos I heard were exactly like that. And it definitely takes the wind out of out of the idea, but there has definitely been a few along the years.

Simon: And we’re definitely right in the thick of the, shall we say the remake or the revisiting of old songs

Ben: I thought we would be done with it by now to be honest, but we’re still there.

Simon: I’m going to  let you guys throw down the gauntlet now, and be prepared that this means you’re going to receive nothing but this, the song that you would love to hear someone redo but you’re absolutely sure no one could ever do

Archie: I don’t want to say it because I want to do it myself.

Simon: Things that feel like in no way do they lend themselves to redoing, but you kind of secretly want to hear someone have a go at

Archie: What’s that track “Take these broken wings.” I would love to hear someone do that. Was that from Top Gun? I actually kind of answer that one. I’ve got no idea. There’s definitely ideas floating around that are still untouched that are probably really good ones, but there’s definitely been a lot that have been ruined as well,

Simon: It feels like every couple of years it sort of comes up it’s like someone remembers that that’s a thing that you can do and then everyone does it for six months and then it obviously gets played out and then a few years…  I kind of feel like this round that we’ve had for the large part it’s not been too bad either.

Ben: And I think they’ve got good quality and tasteful

Simon: I sort of feel like it’s like everyone’s sort of really deliberately not wanted to

Archie: Just run it into the ground

Simon: Not just do a dunk kind of thing. Everyone has tried, or at least the ones that have done it have really tried to completely flip the sound or pick things that either start outside their genre really dramatically or take them into a very different place.

Archie: And approach it in a clever way.

Simon: I suppose so. The weird one for me has to be that Robin song that then went through all of the different… I guess it must be Call Your Girlfriend and then there are two or three cover versions that are now floating around. There’s the original from five or six years ago and then there was an acoustic version that a guy did and then there’s now a remix of the acoustic version, which almost stylistically goes back to what the original kind of sounds like. It’s very weird and it’s not even like it’s blocking a completely obscure track out of nowhere kind of thing. But I think on the large part I feel like we’ve had a more tasteful cycle this time.

Archie: I think you’re right, and it’s really unpredictable to know where we’re going to end up next as well I think.

Simon: Wanna hazard a guess?

Archie: Actually I have no idea. I think if we knew we’d be doing it.

Ben: I didn’t think Tropical House would be a thing and it became a thing so I have no idea.

Simon: And again managed to stay on for a little while, had a good year in the sun

Archie: The funny thing is I do notice a lot of the U.S. producers taking those trends where like trap music became quite big in its own scene and then I guess you’ve got pop producers that are leaning towards into those ideas in the production as well. So that’s usually a good sign that a genre has made it when pop producers are taking and stealing elements and I guess ideas from it.

Simon: I think for me I think that was the kind of amazing thing about the tropical house thing is that it felt like it really just stemmed from one song kind of thing and then just an entire three months of music industry time just was devoted to nothing else based on just like kind of one track. So be original guys, you never know what might happen.

Archie: That’s it, I think it’s going to be someone completely unknown that’s going to come up with something brand new and just a new idea

Ben: And invent a new sub-genre in the process.

Archie: Which is always exciting.

Simon: Awesome. Okay guys, well thanks so much for hanging out with us today.

Ben: Thanks for having us.

Archie: Thanks Simon.

Simon: If you’re an aspiring producer we thoroughly recommend that you submit something for the… is a banger contest? Is it a banger? I’m going to change it to is a banger. I’m just meming us immediately.

Archie: And I look forward to listening to music.

Simon: We look forward to listening to music.

Archie: That’s our slogan.

Simon: Thanks guys.

Archie: See you Simon.

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