Straight From The Rut? Beating the Production Blues with Brown!

What happens when your monster track, your soon to be #1, your epic Mau5killer, becomes a victim of the rut, aka the sticky blues, aka what the f@ck happened?

You know how it goes, this track is huge, it’s epic, seriously large, monstrous even madam. Then, weeks later, you’re either still struggling to finish it, hate it outright, or have condemned it to the dreaded Miscellaneous folder. What happened?

  • Your tune turned into the Never Ending Story. No track should take more than a week to finish. Any longer, and you risk losing perspective. It starts to get harder and harder to maintain objectivity after your nine hundredth listen.
  • You decided to go with the flow. The ‘let’s see where this goes’ approach can sometimes be a refreshing, liberating experience. Usually though, you just hit a dead end after about an hour, and wonder why you started the track in the first place. Ask yourself what you are attempting to achieve with the track. Are you trying to make the next Exceeder (please don’t)? Is it going to be a peak time club anthem, a moody introspective piece, or a filthy underground beast? Knowing the answers makes for a more productive production.
  • Your track had a beginning and a middle, but no real end. Always have a time limit in mind. Knowing that your track is going to be 5:30, for instance, with a minute each of intro and outro, means that the ‘meat’ of the track will be around 3 minutes. Establishing that before you hit the studio gives you direction, focus and confidence;  3 minutes looks achievable as opposed to that 9 minute ‘epic’ you will inevitably end up with.

So what should you do to beat the sticky blues?

  • Stop! Step away from the computer, and do anything for an hour. Anything at all. Go for a run, call your mum (using that antiquated device known as a telephone), play an old school shoot em up (R-Type), read a book, go for a drive (put that book down before you do), eat a burger (but don’t go to the pub-for obvious reasons), have a cuppa, anything at all. In my experience, the further away you are from the studio, the more you want to return to it.
  • What don’t you like about this tune? What’s the hold up here? Be specific and honest with yourself. Is the beat too flabby? Is the bassline not quite right? Is the tune crying out for a hook? Is it in desperate need of da funk? Do you have too much going on? In my experience, it’s usually not the entire track that’s at fault, just a couple of lazy players letting the side down. Find ’em, and eliminate. Be ruthless.
  • You know that epic outro melody you had in mind at around the 5 minute mark. Dump it! Sure, it’s a killer riff, and the crowd’s gonna go nuts, but it’s a bit too late to be bringing in a new element around the time the DJ will be mixing out of your track. Besides, having spent all that time on 5 minutes of tunage, do you really want to have to come up with yet another part? Leave it for a future anthem, and move on.
  • Need inspiration? Listen to some of your favorite dance tracks. Don’t compare and/or moan about how yours doesn’t sound as good. Just listen with non-technical ears. It can be a real joy. Watch some superstar DJs in action. Read some interviews from your favorite producers. Make fun of their accents/haircuts/wardrobes.
  • Stuck in the breakdown? Don’t over think it, and don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Listen to similar tracks in your genre, and make a note of the elements. Snare roll? Modulated noise wave? Vocal cut ups? Filtered madness? All of the above? What would work best for your track?
  • Have a play with your favorite synth, hard or soft, twiddle those knobs and caress those keys. You in the back, stop grinning.
  • Remember, the best dance tunes rarely have more than 4 elements and one main hook. Identify your ‘money shot’ and then run with it!
  • Also remember that even the biggest names in production occasionally experience the ‘stickies’ (that’s the industry term), and they have an army of assistants/butt-scratchers to bail them out should they bawl. If you’re an ‘underground’ guy, then you’re probably all you have, so go easy on yourself, eat some pizza, and watch some Seinfeld re-runs. Then go back and put that puppy to bed.

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Production Diary: From Blastoid To Welcome 2 The World

Collaborations are a magical thing. A transatlantic sowing of seeds to create the perfect musical baby.

That’s what happened here. More or less.

Luxembourg’s Yenn has been on quite a roll of late, with the brilliant Forward, Symphony (with Refracture), and the Mau5-ey Monzen. Mr. Y sent me a couple of ideas he had sitting around, and my favorite was the melodic and haunting mini song ‘Hemorrhoid,’ I mean ‘Blastoid’.

Right away, I could hear the progressive electro anthem it would become. The vocal was especially interesting. You see, Yenn had just become a baby daddy for the first time and another friend, Scott Willis, was expecting his second. Well not directly, but you get the idea.

Maybe it was all the baby talk, because the first time I heard Blastoid, I also heard the vocal line in my head. It was quite the hook, and rare for a dance track in that it was about a father welcoming his kid, as opposed to the usual ‘Do You Like Bass’, ‘Set Me Free’, ‘Dance To It’, ‘Love Your Booty Movin’ etc.

With that, I got to work. From Blastoid, I already had the key of the song, the stabby pads, the arpeggio, and the square lead. I needed a bassline that was muy musculoso. Heck, I needed two basslines. One to drive the groove, and one to add a little wap at the back end. Sort of a smack to the bum, if you will.

If you’ve heard any of my music, you’ll know my basslines are usually also the hooks of my tracks (I call it Electro Bass, as discussed here), so this one had to be special. The whole song, as it turns out, ended up being a bit special, as it’s about something.

The bass went through several revisions until finally, at 4 am on a Saturday morning, it happened and two became one.

Now I needed a vocal. The lyrics took me about as long as the basslines, and while they ain’t Wordsworth, they are effective. I always knew I was going to sing it myself. Why? First laziness, and second, why not? I’m no American Idol, but I’ve got better teeth than Justin Bieber.

Breakdowns can be tricky. Almost everything has been done already, so they require some serious thought. Ultimately, I decided not to go for a ‘mental’ Apes From Space type mindf@ck (it is about a baby remember), and pulled back on the gas. It actually served the track well. Finally, a mix and a rough radio edit and here we are.

I love it. Just the right amount of melodic ecstasy and dirt, with all the ingredients to be a summer smash!

Labels, are you listening to this?

Production Diary: Mr. Jackson’s Boys-From Firefly to simply Fly!

The Production Diary is back after a bit, and I am pleased to report that the Firefly remake that almost didn’t make it before mutating into something completely different, is now complete.

Ladies and gentleman, Superstar DJs, I present to you, Mr. Jackson’s Boys, a 7+ minute intense Electro workout (think Put Your Hands Up For Detroit, only better ;)) featuring the magnificent vocals of a young up and coming R&B singer from Gary, Indiana: Mr. M. Jackson.

The all important high hat is now present and correct, the arrangement (which is always tricky when dealing with a sampled vocal) is simply Shamon, and I am especially pleased with how the middle section leads into the breakdown and the outro. Ow!

There were some changes: the ‘digital’ bassline was ditched in favor of a warmer ‘analog’ one (Poly Ana), while the strings (Solina style-also Poly Ana) were pitched down to make them less obtrusive (thank you Robert Post’s child).

I used a warm toasty compressor on the drums and master, boosted some of the lows, cut some of the mids (smiley face EQ), and there you have it. Took me way to long to finish this, but I’m glad I did!

I am thinking of a Beatport/Trackitdown release date around mid April, immediately after the FTTP re-release on Noobish and the Aaren San remixes on Plasmapool. Busy month ahead.

Mike would be proud!

Production Diary-Firefly remake/mutation Part 2

In last week’s Production Diary, I had expressed a great fondness for Commodore 64 game music, and a desire to remix a tune from one of its most obscure ‘classics’. Well, as it turns out, the original bassline morphed into something completely different, so I ditched the remix idea and decided to focus on the mutation. A certain ‘cheeky’ sample was added (the tune wasn’t based around the sample, it just seemed to fit so perfectly it had to go in there), and voila:

Compare this to the original idea:

You’ll agree that the ‘update’ is quite remarkable (and a bit of a stomper if I do say so myself)! I am well pleased with how it turned out, and glad I rescued it from the recycle bin.

It’s also a reminder that if a particular track doesn’t seem to be working, you don’t have to end it, delay it, delete it, or change your line of work. Sometimes, a particular mutation is essential for the survival of the species. This is definitely getting a major release soon! All it needs now is some hats.

Goat Hat

Production Diary: Firefly Remake

Firefly is an extremely obscure Commodore 64 game that I played for about 15 minutes in the late 80s and then fed to my goat (yes, I did have a goat. His name was Raul. I’ll tell you about him some other time). Before I did that, however, I was careful to record the in game music to tape so I could enjoy it on my Sanyo Xtreme Bass Walkman.

You see, the Commodore 64 had some amazing tunes. Blessed with a state of the art synthesizer, programmers made full use of its capabilities and created soundtracks that made the PCs and Macs of the time seem absolutely prehistoric by comparison.  Even when the game itself was arse (as in this case), the music was class. Mr. Fred Gray, one of the top game composers for the Commodore 64 and Amiga platforms at the time, created this forgotten gem.

And we wonder why 80s kids are on drugs…

Taking a break from album work, I decided to give this little ditty the remix treatment. This right here is the very rough first draft:

I have sampled the original lead synth track and filtered out most of the low end, but I’m not sure if it works, as the Commodore’s famously gritty sound quality doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the production. I did try to recreate the lead sound, but I what am I but a mere child compared to Faethor Gray’s genius; the resulting riff doesn’t quite have the charm of the sampled one. It is a solid track however, and the underlying composition is timeless, so I am tempted to give it a go.

Thanks for reading!

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