I met Gabby Michelle at Berklee College of Music (Boston, MA) back in 2014. She was a student there – I was visiting Berklee with the “Circuit Riders” (A band from Huntington Beach, California) and the “Carry the Love Tour”.
Fast forward 4 years later and I am driving in Oahu, Hawaii when I see Gabby on instagram post about her Album. I gave it a listen on Spotify and when I heard “How to Say” I knew that song had a rich, deep and meaningful story behind it. The song itself moved me and I played it for days on end. Then I thought, “This song would make a killer remix!”
So, I contacted her producer Belinda Huang (whom I also met at Berklee back in 2014) and asked for the vocal tracks and the possibility of a remix.
They both agreed.
When I saw your advertisement for a Music Production contest online it seemed fitting that this track should be entered – her voice is wild good.
This track consist of 2 main genres:
1.) Future House (hence the Don Diablo mid-high range Wobble on the drop and the 123 BPM)
2.) IDM (better suited for home listening than dancing)
…I am sure someone would want to dance to this track but its strong-point is the singer and her lyrics. (Making it more about the story the singer is conveying to the listener)
“Creating a new song is similar to the make up of a human being: Bones, Organs, Muscle Tissue, Veins, Skin and of course Exterior Features” (All of which are unique to that person/song – none are alike)
“THE BONES” (BPM, KEY and ARRANGEMENT)
I used Ableton Live V10 and always beat match the vocals to the time grid.
This is the most important part of creating a remix / new creation of a song because you want the audience to BELIEVE in the story and being on time with lyrics conveys strong emotion. (Not to mention professionalism)
I use the “Warping” function to clean up loose ends and the “Fade” function as well to create a seamless, full sounding vocal track from start to finish.
Once the Vocal Track is ready and sounding good with my tempo tap running at all sections of the song I move into the creative process.
I started with a grand piano VST and created a rough draft of how the song could go.
Once a “KEY” rough draft of the arranged song was created I begin with shaping those details.
“THE ORGANS” (What genre of Instruments will be used – Digital? Analog? Both?)
I decided to use a mixture of both digital and analog instruments. I think listeners are excited by futuristic instruments but can easily relate to a real kick sample or hat that has a touch of reverb.
These can “glue” the track together nicely. (Digital Excitement + Natural Analog Sound = Fresh Ear Candy!)
“THE MUSCLE TISSUE” (Melodies and Harmonies / Drum Groove)
I have been a big Don Diablo fan recently and after months of listening to his unique sound design I experimented with creating something similar.
Using the SERUM VST from Xfer Records I created a new, fresh synth wobble in the mid – high range that really catches your attention when it plays.
I didn’t even use multiple copies to layer this sound – it was so nice and clean by itself!
The Melodies and Harmonies were easy to create because Gabby had already created them through her lyrics – I simply extracted the melody and harmonies using Ableton’s “Extract Melody” and “Extract Harmony” function on audio clips.
The drum groove is created with a “start to finish” mindset. (Just put the kicks and snares where they go for now and I will EQ and Compress later)
“VEINS” (SFX and SWEEPS)
Adding SFX and SWEEPS can help or hurt your song. I am a strong believer in Moderation at this point – especially with risers and downsweeps.
After a while you can almost guess when a breakdown is coming if the song is predictable. So change it up and keep your listener on edge with SFX and SWEEPS to spice things up.
“SKIN” (EQ / COMPRESSION / SIDECHAINING / LFO / AUTOMATION / PANNING / DELAYS – the Mixing stage)
After the song is arranged and I feel there are no more places to add instruments or SFX I will move onto the biggest time consuming part of production – “The Mix”.
The Mix is important because no matter how much mastering you do, you can not undo a bad mix.
I start with EQ’ing the Vocals… then the Kick and Bass… then the lead Synths… then the Background Instruments that add body to the track… then the SFX and SWEEPS.
Then I repeat the process with Compression / SideChaining where needed (kick ducking/bass) / delays / panning… ect.
* If I could stress one thing here it would be to enjoy this process because it really does shape your song into what the listeners end up hearing.
* Maybe take some time off from your song before jumping into this part of the process so you can give it your full attention.
“EXTERIOR FEATURES” (MASTERING)
Just like the color of the eyes or hair on a person – its is often small details make that a person unique.
The same goes for a song and this final stage of Mastering.
I never get too in depth with this stage – mostly because I need more knowledge in it.
But I usually get the Gain and Levels of the tracks correct running into the Master and will have small amounts of compression , a boost of highs to make the final track sparkle (the human ear is fantastic at picking out highs)
And Limiting. (I never see the use in crushing or distorting a song just to get it loud… I would rather have it sitting at -12 if it sounds good.)
Remember – you are creating something unique and “that unique something” needs a little room to breathe. (headroom)
So don’t smash your final mix just to get it close to 0.0 db – you may lose out on the dynamics and beautiful tones you created early on.
Gabby sings her lyrics and I take the Notes and write them down … then create chords / melody / harmonies using those notes – whether it be Major, Minor or Inverted.
The song already has a KEY and I have found that every Key usually has 4 magic notes that correspond nicely depending on what mood you want to set. So I usually start there and move in a direction from that technique.
* The original song that was thrown out had a simple 2 chord change and it seemed so boring and uneventful – when the singer is obviously telling a dramatic and life-filled story!
Listening to what the singer is saying in his/her lyrics helps me determine what mood to take the song into… whether it be Happy, Sad, Intense, Mellow.. Etc.
I love to use Analog samples.
I think it just connects with the listener easily.
When I listen to old records and here a dusty snare or snare rim flam I get excited because it sounds so honest and unedited… So I tend to look for real instruments in VST’s or sample folders.
Omnisphere and Kontakt from Native Instruments are crazy amazing!
I have sent some of their sample kicks to producers and mix engineers and they always ask me, “Where the heck did you get THIS kick sample from? It’s fantastic!”
Innovation and Versatility
In no particular order:……………………….
Louis the Child
Armin Van Buuren
The Glitch Mob
They all bring a fresh sound to their music and give the listener a sense that “nothing is impossible”
I can flip from one artist to another and hear something completely new.
****The real secret of this song when it comes to VST’s and audio effects is “Sound Radix Surfer EQ2”
This EQ can do a pitch tracking equalization and compression within a return track to “Surf or follow” an instrument’s notes and duck another.
This helped make the vocals pop behind all those big horn stabs and buzzy bass lines.
Check it out for yourself and you’ll see why this plug in is a MUST HAVE in your toolbox.
It works for not only vocals, but ANY instrument.
My style is: Adventure-esque (living in Hawaii I am almost always doing something active and outside so I like to make music that can relate)
I will definitely keep tracking down this road – I love the reaction I get when I play it for people and they tell me… “I didn’t expect THAT!”
And I love just that – the unexpected smile music can give someone.
DREAM GOAL: To play my music for the world.
Whether its online, in person at a local bar or a full gig that’s sold out – just getting my music out there and sharing it with the world makes me happy. I love to dance and music creates an unexplainable energy when shared with others!
(I am sure the sample will be way below 40HZ)
Haha Who knows!