How do I produce music? The reveal of the single that I am working on

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

Hey, and thanks for joining me! 

For those who do not know me, I am a self-produced and self-released singer-songwriter based in the UK, Cornwall. In the upcoming spring, I will be releasing my first album. Hence, I decided to take you with me on this journey and share my creative process!

 Today I will be talking about one of my upcoming singles that I recently wrote and started working on in the studio. The song has interesting, complex lyrics that focus on feminism. For some reason, since the beginning of writing it, I felt like jazz/blues genres approach is the most suitable for it. None of the instruments yet are real besides the vocals. Vocals I recorded in the studio, so it has no echo that could cause problems for mixing them later on.

Recording vocals

Firstly, I would like to talk about the interface. The main one that I am using is SSL. It is pretty recently released interface which produces high-quality sound at a low price point! Moreover, it has "legacy 4k" button, that the company says is an enhancement mode inspired by its SSL 4000 console series to “add extra analogue character and sparkle to your input sources” (Deahl, 2020). To sum it up, it is crucial to use a superior interface. You can find the right microphone, but if your interface is very cheap or performs like it, then your recordings will not be as significant in terms of quality and a tone too. 

Moving on to the microphones, my voice always sounded weird to me, so the choice of a microphone is vital to me. I usually go for Neumann U87 Ai or NT2000, if I can. The choice of it mainly depends on your voice. What suits it and also the genre, style, approach you are taking, what you are aiming to sound like. For sure, there are plugins, effects that you can use to change or fix the places which you do not like in your recording, but first steps done well, make it easier for later.

And the most important thing - before recording digitally, set the right levels. Leave about 12-15dB of the headroom to avoid the peak, because if it occurs, it is hardly fixable.

NT2000 - on the left and in the middle, SSL 2 - in the middle, Neumann U87 Ai - on the right

Editing and Mixing vocals

First of all, I always fix the pitch first using flex pitch, just after choosing which take/takes to use. While editing pitch I do not use anything, not even reverb, because it can mask mistakes and pitch becomes not so obvious. I tend to do pitch correction manually, it takes a lot of time, but then you have full control of how it will end up sounding and, since I don't like vocals sounding fake, especially pitch, it helps it sound natural.

Another important thing is the EQ. It can change the sound completely. I think EQ is a pretty personal thing when it comes to the vocals. We tend to enhance and cut off different frequencies depending on our aim, again - how we want to sound like.

Moreover, the compressor needs to be used. However, whether you use it before or after EQ makes a difference in the sound, its tone. For a warmer sound use EQ first, for clearer sound, use EQ after a compressor (Hawkins, 2008). Read more about it here.

Reverb is essential too. It makes everything blend nicely together. However, the amount you are putting on on vocals or other instruments, especially low-frequency ones, should not be too enormous because it will make your mix sound muddy. 

Consider, if you wish, using echo, especially on the vocals, but it tends to not only repeat the sound and create a massive space if you use a lot of it.

Overall mix

I would say everything depends on your approach, genre and your ears - how do you want it to sound. Each producer would produce very different work using the same material. However, there are a few things that everyone uses - at least most of the people who produce music and find them important to get great results. 

First of all, as I mentioned before, use EQ, Compressor, Limiter, Automation where needed. Echo is rarely used in the overall mix unless you aim for something different, artsy sounding product. Make sure whatever you record in midi to quantize first, for the tracks to play on time with each other.

For vocals use all of the above, according to your taste including DeEsser, which is good at reducing sibilance in vocals. Read more about it here.

It is also very important that you like all the instruments how they sound alone in the mix first, and then start putting them together and balance, even out the mix.