Posts filed under ‘Production’
Of the things I do (which are many), one of my favorites is writing for DJ Times Magazine, which I’ve been doing for a few years now. (For those who don’t know, I write DJ gear reviews and occasional features as well.)
The magazine also offers coverage of production and remixing, and I was recently tasked with reviewing Native Instruments‘ new software synthesizer and effects bundle, Komplete 8, which arrived the other day.
So far, all I can say is, “Awesome!” With all of NI’s flagship platforms (Guitar Rig, Kontakt and Reaktor), as well as all the key standalone synths (Absynth, FM8, Battery, etc.), Komplete covers an incredible amount of territory, especially given that there’s 80 Gig (compressed) of presets, samples and other content to go along with the 5 Gig or so worth of software—all of which is delivered in a “book” of 12 DVD-ROMs. (more…)
But first… Kyle is the sort of guy I’d like to be if I had my life to do over again. Well, at least from high school onward. I don’t claim to know Kyle all that well, but from the outside looking in, he strikes me as the sort of person who knows what he wants out of life, and just sorta goes and makes it happen.
I’m not the sort of person who has a lot of regrets, and I don’t regret the paths I’ve taken in life. But I do wish from time-to-time that I’d had the… Something… To have started my musical endeavors a little earlier in life. Like Kyle, when I know what I want out of life, I go and make it happen. My issue was figuring out what I wanted. But c’est la vie.
Kyle recently listened to some of my remixes for the first time, and forwarded back a surgically accurate set of reactions to them that sort of amazed me. (I still have no idea how he was able to listen to one of my tracks, and discern that I’d used a 707 drum kit on it, but anyway.)
It got me thinking about how I approach composing music—whether in the typical sense (my own songs), or when composing arrangements while remixing someone else’s track.
Here’s how I described it to Kyle in e-mail:
I dunno, to use a painting metaphor, it always feels like I’m slopping musical paint on a palette sorta willy nilly, and then sorta taking that and slapping it on a canvas. Sometimes I get lucky, and other times, the red blends with the green and you end-up with this shit-colored blob of “what the HELL was I thinking?” Then I scrape it off, throw it away, grab more paint, and hope for the best a second time. Maybe that’s how creativity works for every musician in a way, but I wish it was more deliberate, more planned, more intelligent and more informed. But perhaps I shouldn’t try and make music and creativity work like every other part of my life… It’s really not a binary, logical exercise, is it?
The point I was making is that I tend to want to make everything nice and tidy and logical and binary. DJ’ing has a nice logic to it. Computer programming has that nice binary aspect. And computer graphics strikes me as more logic-driven than creative (although of course it has creative elements too). But music?
Yeah, I work electronically. There is logic. There is a certain binary-ness to the effort. But at the end of the day (someone please make me stop saying that), it’s music, and it either works or it doesn’t. And it doesn’t matter if the beats line-up or not, or the measure counts in a block are in tidy units of 8 each, or the chord progression follows the “rules”—if it doesn’t work when your ear hears it, none of that matters. In fact, one could make the case that some of the greatest compositions by the greatest composers (the Gershwins come to mind) broke a lot of rules, and yet, not only worked, they exemplify some of the best music even written.
Interesting things to bear in mind, I suppose. Maybe I shouldn’t be so afraid of occasionally make shit-colored blobs after all.
Hey everyone, I figured I’d give everyone a very brief update of news on the production and remix front, as it feels like I’ve been locked in my studio for weeks!
The next remix to drop will be What You Do To Me, from Tania Mashay. I don’t have a release date yet, and last I spoke to the label, they were still waiting on some of the mixes from other producers to get wrapped-up. As soon as it’s out, I’ll post the links on my web site, and mention it on Twitter as well. (Follow me on Twitter!) Tania’s vocal is reminiscent of Rozalla, and she wrote the song. It has an interesting structure, and presented some unique challenges (each project does). But I loved the song the first time I heard it, and it was a pleasure to work on.
Soon after, look for my treatment of Ben Coen’s Check This Out. The song has already been released by Ben’s label, Sirenia, but my remix will be part of a follow-on batch of mixes coming in the next couple of weeks. I really like how it came-out, and I hope you do as well. Ben’s a good looking guy, and he’s got a unique, distinctive voice I really like. Again, I’ll post info as soon as I have it.
There was another remix nearly complete in here too that I’ve made reference to in tweets, but unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to remain unfinalized, and unreleased. If that situation changes, I’ll update you.
On the horizon is another remix (too early to talk about), and three other projects that are my own. It’s way premature to talk about any of them much, and it’s to be determined which of the three might get wrapped-up and released first. I will say that one of them will feature my own vocals, and one of them is with the incredible Court Clark, a fellow Denverite, and talented vocalist. We’ve spent some time together in the studio, and after some necessary hardware upgrades (the PreSonus channel strip I cryptically mentioned on Twitter recently!), we’ll be attacking this some more.
Court, my friend Carol Hahn, and I have something in-common… We’ve all said that we can’t imagine anything we’d rather be doing than working on music, and it’s so very true. In fact, I think I’ll go do that now.
I don’t do new year’s resolutions, but I have told myself that I’m going to get back into blogging more regularly in a form other than just posting playlists and chart updates. I also reminded myself that blog posts don’t have to be novel-length tomes.
I thought one subject that’s close to my heart in recent months that might be interesting to some of you is just documenting some of what goes into producing and remixing tracks, and since I’m doing a lot of that of late, there’s probably a lot to talk about. So look for regular, or at least periodic posts, about this.
One of the things I’ve realized in recent weeks is that every project takes a similar path that I refer to as the roller coaster. A project is either progressing very easily, or it’s a major struggle, and there’s really just not any gray area. “Roller coaster” probably isn’t the best analogy here; a roller coaster is a sine wave. These projects progress more like square waves:
I’m not sure why this is, honestly. But whether I’m producing a song of my own, or I’m remixing someone else’s song, I’m crafting an arrangement, and that’s about 95% a creative endeavor and about 5% a technical one (the mechanical effort of doing the creative work in my software of choice, basically, accounting for that last 5%).
I explained this to my friend Nathan, and told him that the process sorta sucks the life out of me (especially when I’m in the “struggle” phase of the square wave). His response was basically that creation is giving life to something, and that it only stands to reason that it would (temporarily) drain some life out of me.
Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy this process. (OK, I enjoy the “easy” phase more than the “struggle” phase.) But it can be exhausting and exhilarating at the same time, and I find that pretty fascinating for some strange reason. I suppose, if nothing else, it makes it easier to deal with the “struggle” phase knowing it’s all part of a pretty predictable process of bringing a song to life.
In any case, on the remix I’m currently working-on, I think I went through the easy/struggle cycle about 20 times over the course of the weekend. It’s a good feeling knowing that the track is mostly finished, but like a painter and his canvas, or a woodworker and her nearly-done chest of drawers, there seems to be a nearly endless amount of touch-up and polish to be done, and some of it—as you might have guessed—is easy, and some of it… Isn’t.
Regardless, it’s sounding pretty good now, and I’ll tell you all more about it very soon. Until then, keep the volume up.
In this age of Facebooking and Twittering, maybe it seems a little passé to roll-out a new mailing list, but that’s just what I’ve done. I’ve had a ton of requests from fans who’d like to get my weekly chart in their e-mail in-box (vs. getting a tweet and clicking to the web site), and with the number of new remixes I’ve been doing lately (not to mention the very first of my own tracks coming this quarter), perhaps many of you would like to get notifications by e-mail as soon as things are available.
So, I’m pleased to accommodate… Sign-up now! It takes a few seconds; you get to pick what you want to know about; and you can easily unsubscribe or manage your preferences at any time (there are instructions inside each mailing).
The mailing list is powered by my friends at MailChimp, so everything is compliant with industry best-practices for spam control. (To that end, you’ll need to confirm your subscription by e-mail; after sign-up, check your in-box for instructions.)
Weekly charts will start going out to this list next week, and as for the first newsletter, that’ll happen soon, too. I look forward to keeping you up-to-date the old fashioned way. (Well, I guess that would be a hand-written letter mailed to you in an envelope, but I’m not going quite that far…)
I was talking to a good friend recently about my latest remix project. While this friend (who shall remain nameless) is a dance music fan, I’d mentioned that I needed to wrap-up the project and get it into the label soon. He got this glazed-over look in response that said “Huh?” far louder than anything that could have come out his mouth. I realized that this friend, despite being a dance music lover, and despite being fully aware that I’m a DJ (and I thought being aware that I was a producer too) was actually clueless when it came to understanding what it was I was doing when I said, “I’m working on a remix.” This might also explain the nodding and smiling and glazed-over looks I get from my family sometimes, so I thought this might be a good time to take a stab at explaining this.
First, it’s important to understand how dance music releases work. Unlike the glory days of the music business, when artists would record and release full albums of different songs, in this digital iTunes / AmazonMP3 age, the world is a pretty singles-centric place. But while that’s new to pop and rock, it’s really the way it’s always been in dance music for whatever reason. An artist (which in dance could really mean vocalist and/or producer and/or songwriter and/or “band” or “group” and/or other things) generally records and releases a single at a time.
Each of these singles generally includes remixes from a range of producers (a/k/a “remixers”). That’s why on iTunes, AmazonMP3, and other places, you see track listings on releases that look something like this:
It’s the same song, in multiple versions, by different producers (remixers). Same artist, same song… But different “takes” on that song. More on that shortly.
In any case, when you see the list like this, those subtitles in parentheses are the remixer credits, usually with a mix type (e.g., radio edit, club mix, etc.) with the remixer name. So, here we see a VisionX mix, a Wesley King mix (that’s me!), a Groove Police mix, etc.
Taken as a whole, these are “maxi-singles” or sometimes “remix packages” for a specific, single song release. Obviously in the digital stores, you can buy and download individual mixes, or you can buy the “album” (the full set of remixes). Most people, I assume, download the individual mix or mixes they like best.
Most dance music releases work this exact way. Sometimes there are fewer mixes, often times more. But the fact is that most dance releases are put out with multiple “remixes” to suit multiple audiences.
Which is a good segue to the second point, different remixes are designed to suit different audiences. There are different styles of dance music, some softer and lighter, and some hard-edged and aggressive sounding. Some are house, some trance, some techno. By having producers create different remixes in different styles, an individual release has a better chance of commercial success. Kids who like techno don’t like the same music as 40-somethings who like filter house. And what works for radio may not work in a club (or vice-versa). And what works on the east coast may not work on the west. But if you release the same song in multiple styles, it’s entirely possible that track will find an audience with all of these people.
And now for the third point, what actually is a “remix” anyway? The term comes from an earlier time, when an artist would record a song on tape. Those recordings had multiple tracks… For example, there would be a vocal track, a drum track, a bass track, a synth track… Each distinct sound would generally have a track all to its own—all of which, when taken together (or “mixed,” literally, using a hardware mixer), form a finished song. A producer could then take that tape, and adjust the levels of each track in the finished mix. Perhaps some tracks would be removed entirely; perhaps new tracks would be added with new sounds. Depending on what the producer wanted to achieve, the finished result could sound entirely different from the original.
These days, everything’s digital. And when it comes to dance remixes, generally speaking, none of the original tracks—other than the vocal—are retained. A producer (a/k/a remixer, such as me) will take the vocal (acapella), and create the rest of the song around it from the ground up. In my software (Ableton Live), it looks like this, visually:
What you see here is time unfolding from left to right, and tracks from top to bottom. (I’m just trying to give this some visual context, not teach you about Ableton; if you want to know more about that, go here.)
In any event, there are still multiple tracks, and so it really is an exercise of adjusting levels, manipulating sound, adding tracks, taking them away… It’s just that the original recording isn’t the source of the work, it’s all rooted in the vocals.
Essentially, being a producer/remixer is being part audio engineer, part musician, part artist and part songwriter. In times past, these were all separate jobs, but with the advent of such powerful music technology for the masses, it’s all rolled-up into a single person when it comes to dance music remixing.
Anyway, I don’t know how other remixers work, but in my remixes, everything you hear other than the vocal is something I created, either through programming or performing. The drums? I programmed those. Synthesizers? I played and recorded them. Piano? I played and recorded that. Bass? Same thing. Some remixers use pre-recorded loops, which is perfectly legitimate, but not how I choose to work. In many cases, I re-arrange the vocal elements, playing songwriter in essence, structuring the parts of the song how I want them. I might retouch the vocal recording… I might create harmonies for those vocals… I might speed it up or slow it down from the artist’s original version. What I do to a track depends on the song, how I feel about it, what inspires me, what hits me in the moment.
I’m sure some remixers work quickly; perhaps many use templates, recycling stuff from older remixes. To date, I don’t do much recycling, and I don’t tend to work that quickly. Each remix is started from a blank canvas, and it usually takes me several weeks to get a foundation put together with the song parts arranged, percussion roughed-in, and other common elements (like the bass) roughed-in. From that point, it’s an exercise of polish… Fixing vocals, adding filters (manipulating sound), adding pads (which are flowing, ethereal sounds), adding other new synthesizer elements, trying things, adjusting levels, adding effects, or pulling things back when I take them too far.
In some ways, it’s like a painting… It takes time to get things roughed-in, and then it’s an exercise of cleaning-up, embellishing, and adding details, and taking it where you want it.
When that’s done, it’s time to get it released. This is where my friend comes back into this discussion; I honestly don’t think he understood that the end point here is making these available for sale. But once I get commissioned to do a remix (by the artist, the label, etc.), yeah, the point is to get it where it needs to be and then hand it off so it can get released to iTunes, AmazonMP3, and other places.
So, the next time you see “Wesley King Mix” (or something like that) attached to a dance track in a digital download store? You now know why it’s there, and what I did to make it happen.
On the heels of the release this coming week of Carol Hahn’s Take Me and Dance, which includes a remix from yours truly, I’m pleased to let the cat out of the bag on the next remix… The Reason, from New York’s Vincent Medugno.
Medugno (pronounced “muh-DOON-yo”) is a new artist whose first release, We Are Meant to Be, hit the Billboard charts within the past few months. He’s got a strong tenor voice, and a bright future.
This next release is a cover of a rock ballad, originally from Hoobastank. The Reason is a lyrically beautiful song, and it struck me as a very unusual choice for a dance cover when I first received Vincent’s acapellas. In fact, my first reaction was something along the lines of, “What the heck am I gonna do with this?”
But, it didn’t take long to sort it out, and I’m very proud of the end result. Reason takes a different route from Dance, and while still very much dance music, you could say it’s mellower and perhaps more mainstream. The arrangement is rich, and Vincent’s amazing vocal shines through the mix nicely.
You’ll hear it show-up during the DJ Wesley Friday Night House Party mixshows starting today (September 4th), and I’ll be posting previews soon. It’ll be out in the next few weeks on Casa Records, and as always, I’ll keep everyone posted here on the blog, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
I hope you enjoy it.
As is often the case with music projects, things seem to take a bit longer than planned.
That being said, I’m expecting that Carol Hahn’s new release, Take Me and Dance, for which I provided a remix, will be back from mastering within the next day or two. Once it is, it’ll all be off to CD production and in the pipeline to get posted on iTunes, AmazonMP3, Masterbeat, and other digital download stores. Given how Apple and the others operate, it’ll likely be another 2 to 4 weeks before they’re actually online and available for sale, but I’ll post news here as soon as I have it.
Thanks, everyone, for your interest in the track… Much appreciated, and I’m really pleased that so many people like my remix and are clamoring to be able to snag a copy of it.
I spend most of my blogging time talking about dance music while wearing my DJ/PD hat. But today I’ll wear my producer hat, since I’m pretty stoked about a particular new purchase.
I’ve known for months that I’ve needed and wanted a new software synthesizer (softsynth) that does really good analog modeling. As the proud owner of two of Cakewalk‘s flagship synth products—Rapture and Dimension—it seemed logical to consider z3ta+ (“Zeta”), the third rung on the Cakewalk synth stool. I’ve been playing with z3ta+ for awhile now, but have been pretty unimpressed with the quality of the factory sounds, and found it difficult to work with to create my own sounds. The factory sound banks are poorly organized, and not sorted, grouped or even named in many cases to know whether a particular sound is a bass or a lead or an effect. And just touring the factory patches left me with the feeling that I could actually use (or use as a basis for customization) about 10% of the sounds. Maybe fewer. So while it was only $99, I didn’t find it worth even that.
For the record, Cakewalk’s Rapture is an absolutely incredible wavetable synth, with an amazing array of sounds that meet a pretty wide range of needs. Dimension is equally good, excelling at reproducing real instruments; its pianos are probably the best, most realistic piano reproductions available in a softsynth, and I can spend hours playing some stunning grand pianos that are so real I swear I can see them in front of me.
Anyway, my aim initially was to look at softsynths that modeled specific vintage analog hardware synths, primarily, the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5. Back in the day, I wanted a Prophet 5 so badly I could taste it, but I was just a punk kid at the time, so there was no affording that. I’ve toyed with buying a Prophet ’08 hardware synth, and I still aspire to do so in the future, if for no other reason than to say “thank you” to the legendary Dave Smith for resurrecting it.
As an aside, I even briefly considered Native Instruments’ synth bundle, but $1,200 or so was out of the question, and besides, I have found their Service Center software activation to be a pain on occasion. Like when their free Kore Player synth just magically forgot it was activated, and its included content just vanished. (And no, I didn’t touch a damned thing; it was working one night, and was completely broken the following night.) After hearing a similar story from someone who owns the bundle, I decided I didn’t want to buy a $1,000+ thorn in my side.
Arturia has a bundle as well, the V-Collection, which includes not only their acclaimed Prophet V, but their very widely respected Minimoog V, a nice Jupiter emulation, and a few others. For around $600, I could probably justify the cost. However, Arturia use a Syncrosoft USB dongle approach to copy protection. I’m not terribly bothered by that in and of itself, but amazingly, Arturia require that you already have a Syncrosoft USB dongle—just to run the downloadable demo! It’s absolutely insane, and absolutely arrogant to assume that all of your customers use Cubase as their DAW (which also uses the Syncrosoft dongle). Besides… Dongles? Please. This isn’t 1986, and this isn’t a copy of WordPerfect 4.1 for MS-DOS for chrissakes…
As an aside, I recognize that there’s a real problem with piracy of music software. (OK, all software.) But making potential customers jump through hoops just to try the demo is penalizing legitimate customers to thwart those who aren’t. They do allow you to buy a Syncrosoft key to try their demos, and return it for a refund; gee, thanks… Nothing like waiting a week or two just to try and demo, and even longer if you decide you want to buy it.
Besides, judging from the fact that Google search for Arturia has tons of results for downloading cracked copies of their synths, it seems that the Syncrosoft dongle system is hardly bulletproof. As I said, let’s penalize and make it as inconvenient as possible for customers and potential customers, while doing absolutely nothing to prevent people from pirating your software. Stupid. Just… Stupid. I’m not spending $250 for one synth, or $600 for the bundle, without knowing that it’s what I want and need.
So, Native Instruments and Arturia were both off my list for different but similar reasons, so the search continued. Two different artist friends of mine had mentioned a synth called Sylenth1, sold by a one-man company, LennarDigital, and representing (from what I understand) about two years of the life of its owner, Lennard Addink.
Sylenth1 appealed to me for a lot of reasons, and I’d like to spell them all out here.
- Sylenth1 uses a simple license file. No activation, no stupid dongle. It’s an old school approach that recognizes that every copy protection scheme… Every single one… Will be broken by someone, at some point, given enough time and motivation to do it.Unfortunately, Sylenth1 is widely pirated, as it too has been cracked. But I pay for the software I use. Period.
- The fact that LennarDigital is a one-man shop, and the fact it’s widely pirated, gave me extra motivation to buy the software. Lennard spent a huge chunk of his life making this software, and I rather like the fact that I can reward that. I want people to respect and support (and buy) my work; how can I have that expectation if I don’t treat the work of others with similar respect? I can’t, and therefore, I won’t.
- Of course, I wouldn’t have bought Sylenth1 had it not sounded f*cking amazing! It’s easy to listen to demo songs and what-not and be bowled-over by how good they sound. But let’s face it… Shitty tools in the hands of a skilled craftsman can still produce pretty amazing work. The difference was playing with Sylenth1′s patches as provided with the downloadable demo. Which brings me to the next point.
- The factory sounds, even the limited number included with the demo, were absolutely stunning. Stunning! I was having eargasms left and right. There wasn’t one single patch that I couldn’t envision using in a composition at some point. Not one. The beautifully rich sounds just rocked, and in many cases, all I did was change the program, press a note on my keyboard, and I was transported emotionally to a different place. Playing a few notes, and I started to hear new compositions. That’s the sort of creative tool I wanted. One that inspires me, one that invokes emotion. And one that just plain sounds incredible. Sylenth1 does that.
- The user interface of Sylenth1, which I have heard maligned in forums, seemed perfect to me. In fact, unlike z3ta+, I found it to be completely intuitive. Starting with factory sounds, I tweaked and tinkered and it felt like I’d been using Sylenth1 for months, not just a half an hour. With the huge array of factory sounds, and the intuitive interface for tweaking them and building new ones, I suspect Sylenth1 is going to keep me occupied for a long time to come.
So it was a no-brainer last night before bed to pull out a credit card and buy a copy, and this morning, the license key and registered version download directions were waiting for me in my e-mail in-box. I can hardly wait to start tinkering with the full version and exploring its potential… And the timing is perfect, because I just started a new production project that will really benefit from this killer softsynth.
Stay tuned; I’m sure I’ll have more to say about Sylenth1 in the months ahead. In the meantime, my personal thanks to Lennard for creating such an awesome synth, and for not making me jump through hoops and promise my first born children just to try it, buy it, or use it.
I’m assuming it’s not just me when I make this statement, but it’s funny how one can live with one’s brain, and in one’s body, for quite some period of time and still have these sorts of “d’oh!” moments when something strikes you about yourself you never really saw before. I had one of those moments on Saturday.
Before I get into that, the observant will notice that this blog posting is in the Production category, my second post here. The intent was to blog about a project I’d started and follow it along. In addition to having trouble with the vocal I’d sung and recorded, I just couldn’t seem to get the project moving in the right direction, and I think for now it’s best to table it for later.
The more interesting thing is that I’ve started working on a project, a collaboration, that definitely is going someplace. It’s too early to talk much about it, but it’s been both fun and interesting to work on it so far.
Which brings me to the observation: Music, I’m suddenly finding after all these years, is more a process of discovery, than of creation. Or, it certainly feels that way.
When I was working on Butterflies late last year, I had this same sort of feeling but didn’t quite realize it in the same way. I started out that project thinking that I was going to make a thumpy, clubby track, and that’s not at all where it went. While Butterflies can work alongside other club tracks, and I’ve played it in a mixshow a couple of times, it’s more ambient chill with an unusually fast beat. But that’s really where the song and the vocal took me when I was working on it.
With the current project, when I listened to the original rough recording, Latin immediately came to mind. I envisioned putting some brass with it, some nice piano in a place or two, and a beat that emphasized that Latin feel. That’s what I tried to do at first, but it was almost like the song was fighting me, and it wasn’t really working out very well. When I let go of that, and starting playing with some other ideas, things started to come together, which is where it sits right now. I’m anxious to get back to working on it this week.
In both cases, it felt more like I was on a mission of uncovering something than creating it. Of course, that’s not really true, but it does seem like it. And it makes me start to wonder if the project I just tabled for now wasn’t a case of the same thing working against me… Maybe the song wanted to go someplace I wasn’t letting it, or wasn’t seeing.
In any case, now that I’ve had this “a-ha moment,” I’ll see if I can use what I’ve learned to my benefit as I continue work on this current project. I’ll keep you posted.