I listen to a lot of different styles of music and, over the years, I have produced across a number of genres. It’s pretty hard to pick out particular influences because I think most of the music I hear has a creative impact on me in some way or another and this has always been the case. Quite often I draw inspiration from songs I may only hear one time in a shop or on the radio. On some occasions it has even come from misheard rhythms from music playing downstairs or in a passing car.
When it comes to pop music; I love the song writing of Max Martin, Shellbeck, Emily Warren and Jake Gosling. I admire their ability to make simple and memorable music which has mass appeal. People often, falsely, believe that pop music is easy to write and create because of the ‘less-is-more’ approach to song writing adopted by a number of hit makers. To keep it so simple, however, and make a track sing along and commercially appealing is exceptionally tricky and writers like Max Martin have the ability to do it time and time again.
In terms of overall music quality and mix downs I have recently found inspiration from the production on tracks by Little Mix, Ariana Grande, Beyonce and Bruno Mars.
I produced, mixed and mastered the track. I also wrote the lyrics and came up with the vocal melodies and harmonies.
Quite often a track will start with me singing a vocal or instrument melody into my phone when I’m in bed at night, I have so many ideas just as I am falling asleep. The other time I find I get great ideas is when I am out walking the dog. I often wonder what people would think if they saw me in the middle of a field singing riff ideas into my phone, especially when it’s dark.
When I get into the studio I will play through any ideas I have recorded on my phone and then settle on something to work on. I more often than not start with a beat or rhythmical section then build from that. The only exception to that is if I have a particular concept for a track, for example in my latest instrumental I wanted to use an old saloon style piano and that was the first part I created.
I find once I have a beat or the start of a melody laid down the ideas generally start to flow, a particular riff or pattern will come to mind or I will feel inspired to record, for example, a guitar part. I tend to do a lot of mixing of my track as I’m creating, that way I can ensure I don’t add too much and the instruments and melodies complement each other rather than fighting for space in the mix.
Once I have a complete instrumental I will spend some time thinking of a theme for the lyrics, this is important because it has to complement the mood of the music and have commercial appeal. I generally find that as the instrumental is nearing completion I will often have a rough idea of this anyway.
I then spend a while writing the words and vocal melodies, drawing upon any recordings I have on my phone for inspiration. Once the words are complete I will often take a break from the track for a few days and then come back to them and make any edits. This distance helps me refine what I have been working on because I am coming back to it with a new perspective and fresh ears.
I then send the words and music to the vocalist I am working with and get them to learn and practice the piece. I spend a lot of time working with the vocalist to ensure they sing the words and melody in the way I envisaged whilst also encouraging their unique characteristic to come through. This is usually the time I begin to formulate the harmonies too.
Once the vocal is ready I will record all the parts and harmonies. Then it’s vocal production and mixing them to fit with the music.
I like to have a range of different voices to write for which is why I am always on the lookout for new artists to work with. In the past I have found vocalists through social media/website postings, BBC Introducing, networking or shared connections and I have also paid professional session singers to sing on tracks. I am quite particular about the people I work with because I have been let down by vocalists in the past. Therefore, before I work with anybody I spend some time relationship building in order to gauge their reliability and work ethics. Aside from that it’s really important the singer is versatile, has the right range, the right attitude to recording and a willingness to take instruction without taking it personally.
This particular track was a vocalist called Taisa, who I met through an online posting. She was looking to expand her catalogue and, when she sent her demo through, I felt her voice would work on a few tracks I was putting together. After sending the track back and forth a few times I invited her to the studio and we spent the day recording three different songs. We really gelled in the studio and that’s something that makes a massive difference to the free flowing of ideas and, in turn, the vocal performance. Having an open dialogue with any collaborators is essential because the producer/artist relationship has to be built on trust as well as shared vision.
I love to use real instruments and quite often record a guitar part or bass part that I play in myself. By far my most used VST in my set up is Native Instruments Kontakt! It has so much variety and I am always expanding on this with the, ever increasing, official and third party instruments available. I love how realistic and expressive they can sound and how it offers a producer like myself the chance to use instruments I would never usually be able to access. For my synth sounds I love using my Virus TI desktop and Omnisphere 2 as well as Serum and Avenger.
In terms of production tools; I have loads of Waves stuff and use their Scheps Omni Channel, SSL EQ and L2 in every track. I also love the Soundtoys stuff; in particular Decapitator for saturation, Little Alter Boy for pitch and formant shifting and Filterfreak for beautiful analogue filtering. I use Fabfilter Pro Q2 for more contolled EQ’ing and their Pro MB for multiband sidechain compression. My reverbs are generally Audio Ease Altiverb, I particularly like the studio reverbs for gluing drums together and putting them in the same acoustic space.
For pitch correction I use Melodyne. This, in my opinion, gives the most transparent results when it comes tuning vocals and instruments.
I have music production heroes from a number of different genres, mainly because of the variety of music I listen to. I love electronic music and producers such as Pegboard Nerds and Knife Party, with their clean, punchy and bass driven music. In my electro days I used to A/B my tracks against theirs and this taught me loads in terms of production and synth programming.
When I was younger I used to listen to a lot of hip-hop, my favourite group being Wu-Tang Clan. One of the members, RZA, was the producer behind nearly all of the early Wu-Tang stuff and his ability to step outside the box with his production was really inspiring. It taught me to not just follow rules when writing, to experiment and try different things.
These days I would say Andrew Scheps and Tony Maserati are real heroes of production for me. In my dance music days I was always obsessed with clean and loud production. When I started producing pop I soon realised how crucial the dynamics of a track are and that saturation, dirt and lack of perfection makes music so much warmer. It was the production of these two that played a massive part in that learning curve.
Every industry needs specialists in a variety of fields and it is no different in music. It is a huge undertaking these days for an individual to effectively develop every part of their music career and be able to compete in the pop market. After all we cannot be experts at song writing, production, marketing, management, PR and design – even though it feels we are expected to at times! This is something which is further compounded by the enormously competitive industry and huge players who dominate it with their budgets to employ teams of writers, producers, mix and mastering engineers who are experts in creating top 40 hits. Every link in that chain plays critical role in the creation of a ‘hit’ because they are specialists in their chosen skill.
There are sooooo many! I would love to write for (or with) Little Mix because I would really like to try writing for multiple voices on one track. I would also love to work with a voice as amazing as Ariana Grande’s. I really enjoy the darker pop created by Tove Lo and would love to work with her on something too.
As a nod to my days listening to hip-hop; it would be amazing to work with the rapper Method Man on something. His voice is so unique and cool and he makes everything sound awesome.
I love experimenting with lots of different styles of pop music and it all depends on where my creativity leads me at the time of writing. Sometimes I may have intentions for a song and it will grow into something totally different. This particular track started with a completely different instrumental but, whilst mixing the vocal, I felt the track was not coming together as I had hoped. I deleted all the music and started again from scratch, writing the music to fit with the vocal, and creating something a million miles away from the original.
I really like the way the main hook is the least complex part of the track; flipping the traditional format of a simple verse followed by a big chorus. The tempo change here really lifts the track whilst everything else is stripped back and that’s what keeps the momentum of the track going.
I would love to write and produce with lots of different pop artists as a full time career. I love the song writing process and have worked exceptionally hard trying to get my production skills to a level where they compete with records in the top 40. It would, therefore, be the ultimate recognition to have one of my tracks reach the top 40 charts.
I also have some dream bits of kit I would like to purchase for my studio and this is forever increasing. It would be amazing to be in a position where I am writing regularly enough with international artists to able to invest in these things.