“I’ve also started to pick up some hardware synths recently and I find turning to them when I’m out of ideas can be really inspiring. There’s just something about interacting with something tactile that gives you results that totally differ from using software. Its not about one sounding better than the other, its just a different workflow.”
When starting a new track, at what part of the arrangement do you start at? Also, how much of each section in the arrangement do you complete before you move onto the next section?
I’ll pretty much always start with getting down the main chord progression of a track first, this give me a good foundation to start building up layers and work on variations for different parts of the arrangement. I used to focus on completing each section of a song before moving onto the next, but I’ve found I can write much more efficiently If I just get the main ideas down for each part and then go back later to fill them out. It really helps with writing if you can see the whole arrangement laid out, even if it is just a rough sketch.
Electronic producers have a hard time with music theory. Either they don’t know what to learn or how exactly to apply the theory. If you use theory when writing your tracks, what specific parts do you use and what would you topics do you feel producers should know?
Music theory is something I’m constantly going back too to try and learn more about. No matter how much I feel I know, there’s always some concept I haven’t come across before and I find that really keeps writing interesting. I guess the advice I would give is just to keep in mind that there’s a musical term for pretty much everything. This means that there’s essentially no ‘wrong’ way of writing music, just some rough guidelines. You can hold down any random group of notes and there will be some name for the chord you’ve just made.
I quite often see people saying not too rely too heavily on theory because it’s too constraining, but I find it really helpful to have a loose guide in the back of my head while I’m working. It’s also really reassuring that no matter what you do, the chances are there will be some sort of theory to back it up. At the end of the day, as long as it sounds good and you achieve the sound that you want then that’s all that matters.
The progressions and leads bring your music to life and take the listener on an emotional rollercoaster. Are there any specific techniques that you use to get the emotion that you want out of these two musical parts? How do you go about writing these leads and progressions?
When it comes to writing chords or melodies you can quite often feel a progression pulling in a certain direction and it can be great to allow the music to flow in this way. However, it can really heighten the sense of emotion and add tension if you fight against this and take a progression in a direction that the listener wasn’t expecting, or even leave some obvious notes un-played. This goes a long way in keeping a track interesting to the listener in my opinion. I also wouldn’t get too worried about thinking of the progression and the lead as two separate entitles. The best leads are those that weave in and out of the chords, and as long as you bear in mind the relationship between notes and how different intervals play off each other you can come up with some really intricate, beautiful sounding musical ideas.
“We often found inspiration by testing out MIDI files from sample packs; finding progressions or melodies that inspire us can really help a lot. Other times we would spend an hour or two surfing on Splice.com to find cool samples, until we start getting nauseous then we stop and get back to producing.”
Many producers draw in midi notes with their mouse. This can lead to a stale sound that lacks those small little intricacies that real instrumentation and live playing provide. Do you have any tips for getting a real sounding instrument if you are just programing in your musical parts?
The first thing I would say is if you want a live sound and can play it in, then go for that. It’ll be much easier than it would be to program. There are however some relatively quick ways of getting a more organic sound without playing everything in. If you record yourself playing one or two chords in via a MIDI controller you can then copy and paste these chords and just change the notes in order to put together a full progression. You’ll be able to put together a sequence that would potentially be too difficult to play, but you’ll still have the human feel you get by playing in each of the notes at slightly different times and velocities.
Many producers that start out today just want to get their track as loud as possible and to write the next big hit with a larger than life “drop.” Your music shows that you don’t need to have a “drop” to write a compelling track. What are some techniques that you use to keep your ambient and downtempo style tracks interesting? Also, do you have any advice for the producers that are fixated on having loud tracks with “big drops?”
It’s really easy to become obsessed with production and forget the importance of the song underneath it all. I spent years working from the point of view that the underlying progression and structure was just there to serve all of the sound design and mixing which resulted in tracks that might have sounded quite good, but didn’t hold the listeners attention. It wasn’t until I started to really focus on songwriting that I started producing work I was really proud of. If a song can impact someone emotionally whilst only being played on a piano then you know you’re onto something. The production can then take this and really amplify it.
As for loudness, that’s something I’m constantly fighting with myself. I’m always torn between having a track that retains good dynamics and one that will also sound consistent in volume when played alongside other songs. With most streaming services now normalizing to maximum average loudness levels I think the loudness war is thankfully coming to an end. If everyone’s track is going to be played back at the same loudness level, there’s no need to ram everything through a limiter and there will hopefully be a return to more dynamic mixes. At this point Soundcloud is the only major streaming service not to introduce normalization. If they finally implement it we’ll all be better off!
Aspiring producers these days lack patience. They want to produce the next big hit after they’ve only been producing for a short period of time and they get discouraged when the results aren’t immediately there. What motivated you to keep learning and improving through the beginning stages of your music career and what advice would you give to impatient producers.
I’ve always just really enjoyed making things. When I was a kid, I got into game programming, then into film making, and then finally music production. I didn’t really mind what I was doing as long as I was creating, that’s what really kept me going. I see a lot of people posting on Reddit and stuff now a days saying ‘Help, I want to have a career In music but I’m not motivated’ and I find that really strange. If you’re not motivated to work on something then why would you want to do it in the first place? I think initially you’ve really got to look at any creative endeavor as a hobby, it should be something you enjoy so much that you just can’t stop doing it. Having said that I would say its important to not get discouraged at the start, this is something that can take years to make progress in so enjoy the process and don’t worry about the pace of those around you.
Most people are their own worst critic, but I think that’s a good thing. If you set a high standard for yourself, once you do start creating work you’re happy with, you can really be proud of it!
The last 10% of your track can be the toughest to finish. Are there any specific things you do to your track to get that last 10% finished?
Usually once I feel a track is just about finished I’ll bounce out a copy and not listen to it for a week or so. When I do go back to it I’ll listen to it in the same way I’d listen to any other song, through laptop speakers or in the car. This is usually where I’ll hear issues that I missed while working on the track because I’m just listening in a totally different way. As for specific techniques, I’m not sure I have any. It is always a different battle for every track to get it that last 10% of the way. Finding some good reference tracks that you know inside out can certainly help to eliminate some of the guess work.
What is in store for the future? An album? EP?
I’ve had the beginning concepts for an EP start to form over the past couple of months so I think that’s something I’d like to begin tackling soon but before that I’m planning to put out a couple more singles. I also had the chance earlier in the year to work on a track with an artist I’m a big fan of so I’m looking forward to hearing how that turns out and seeing what people think about it when it’s final released!