Music Production – Keeping Creativity Alive.
Music Production – How To Skin A Cat
There are as many ways to approach music production than there are styles of music and because so many people are recording their own tracks these days a music producer has to have a very flexible approach to working. At least that’s what I’m finding here at Offbeat Music Productions.
A case in point was a record I made with singer Mark A.G. who came to the studio from Brighton with ideas and musical parts he had created on an app on his iPad which only cost around a fiver. The piano parts Mark wrote turned out to be good enough to stick with right through to the the final mix, like on the excellent track featured on the audio player here entitled Louder.
His parts survived as midi exports which were then re-triggered with a Native Instruments piano that I had installed as a third party plug in on my Logic Pro-X DAW.
Working on his ideas on his iPad was perfect for Mark who didn’t want to get bogged down with gear just to be able to get his musical ideas across in the studio. In fact, I often warn musicians and songwriters not to get unnecessarily involved in recording equipment unless there is a real calling for them to become recording engineers and producers. The danger is that they stop writing songs and start becoming technicians.
The Tyranny Of (Too Much) Choice
The ridiculous choices of soft synths and samples available in digital workstations now can actually paralyse the creative process in some cases. Back in the days of 8 track studios and 16 or even 24 track recording you really had to limit what went into the recordings and in some ways this was useful. It’s fun being able to chuck everything into a recording and recently I did a track with a songwriter that had 74 guitars in it, and somehow it worked! But it can be problematic and things have gone too far if there are so many elements in a song the listener can’t actually focus on anything.
Back in the days of 4 track Portastudios, like the Tascam and Fostex machines that made multi tracking affordable for the first time for songwriters, it was pointless to try and create finished recordings on these hissy, noisy cassette based machines which were best used as storyboards for songs. I should know, I tried!
My wife Kirsty & I spent four months in a cottage in the Isle Of Skye in the early 80’s trying to make an album on a Fostex machine. Recording a sync track on one track to run a drum machine and keyboard, recording audio on two channels, bouncing to another track while adding something ‘live’ on the go and then freeing up the original tracks and recording over them again. Further down the line it became obvious that the levels in the original bounce were not correct and of course we couldn’t go back as the bounces were destructive. After several attempts to recreate the tracks from scratch the project was abandoned.
This approach was a mistake, it would have been wiser to just keep bashing ideas out demos and focusing on songwriting at that stage. I should have just used the portastudio demos as storyboards for the songs and recorded them properly at a later stage but OCD had kicked in big time. Some of these tracks actually sounded pretty good as demos though and when we started our own studio in Edinburgh we reproduced some of the tracks using analogue and midi multi tracking technology to much better effect.
Another great example of doing a demo of ideas prior to getting involved in music production was with a vocalist and talented songwriter I worked with last year called Tawanda Muchemwa who works under there name Big Tee for his Firebrand Movement album which I had the great pleasure of producing.
He arrived on day one of the session with all of the musical parts sung straight into his mobile phone. The drums, the bass line, the backing vocals, the lead vocals were all there. Within two hours we had established the first song for the most part. I heard the drum parts he had sung in (boom-cha style) and recreated them using 808 drum samples. His voice hummed bass line was reinterpreted and virtually copied by me as a real bass guitar part.
He then listened one by one to his own multiple backing vocal ideas on his phone and sung them straight into the recording using a AKG Solid Tube mic which suited his voice perfectly. This proved something that I had known intuitively for a long time as a songwriter. If you hear a part first in your head then 9 times out of 10 it works! You can hear how this worked out in track two of the player on this page with the song Stuck In A Rut .
A few years back I worked with excellent singer Eddie Elliott who was on tour playing at Edinburgh’s Playhouse on the We Will Rock You tour. Tired of playing exactly the same show night after night the only way to keep his creative juices flowing was to come into the studio and write a song from scratch there and then. He had no idea what he was going to do before he arrived and he didn’t want to know either.
I put a Shure SM58 into his hands and he started singing melodies which formulated into words during the time it took for me to work out musical parts for the ideas he had in his head. The resulting track entitled Oh, which took a few sessions to achieve, can be heard on track 3 on the audio player. Unless you have the courage of your own convictions this can be a risky and potentially expensive way to work.
Of course this way of working doesn’t work for everyone and there are many so many ways to approach writing a song and giving vent to creative urges. As long as you achieve results there are no right and wrong ways of working.
Kirsty and I are working on a new album of songs now under our name Harmonic Overdrive and are employing a range of music production approaches to achieve a fresh but consistent result for each track which will be discussed in my next music production blog.
Skyler Jett – Grammy award winning singer ‘at Offbeat’.
This extremely talented singer is full of energy and charisma and you can easily while away your afternoon listening to his many stories about his career in the music business.
Skyler not only grew up in a musical family but was surrounded by and sung with so many well known superstars over the years.
Skyler is now currently working on a new single called Heal The World in which the music was brilliantly composed in Switzerland by Andreas Svarc (pictured left) a very talented musician and songwriter in his own right who produced and wrote the track with Styler. The vocals were recorded and produced at Offbeat Studios Edinburgh with Iain McKinna. The drums were played and recorded in Munich by Tobias Haas. (pictured below) Watch this space for more details including the release date.
There were some great moments in Skyler’s session as he was putting down his vocals, and being the perfectionist that he is, enhancing the track big style as he effortlessly sang his vocals. At one point the fantastic resonance of his voice started to chime with a cymbal from the drum kit – stopping the session until it was removed!
It was pure magic watching him work. He microscopically went through each line and note to get the result he wanted which paid off, achieving a fantastic result.
Heal The World is a track that really showcases the brilliance of Skyler’s effortless vocal talent and his awesome sweet vocal harmony’s which were layered up with the most amazing perfection. In addition his lyrical content is thought provoking – there are very few artist these days writing songs about global issues. There’s a wellspring of tracks bursting to come out from this extremely prolific artist and we can hardly wait to hear what his next tracks will be. His extraordinary talent is right up there with the big boys and he deserves all the success coming to him, he is a very talented and true star who will be making a big noise this year. Over the Summer he will be touring with Sly And The Family Stone in America which he loves to do, singing backing vocals, also offering a great platform as publicity for his own music.
Having toured with The Commodores replacing Lionel Ritchie as Lead Vocalist for their live shows in 31 different countries, as well as touring with Sly Stone, he also played a really important role in encouraging Sly back to the world stage between 2003 – 2007.
He sang with Celine Dion on the title track from Titanic on the album version which earned him the Grammy award with the song My Heart Will Go On. as well as working with Whitney Houston on the song I’m Every Woman for the block buster hit movie The Body Guard which was movie of the year in (1992).
He also worked with Gregory Hines and Sammy Davies Jr on the film “Tap” with a song A Smile Like Yours with Greg Kinnear and Disneyland Hercules. Not forgetting the James Bond 007 Licence To Kill, Big Bully with Rick Moranis and Tom Arnold, and Ghostdad. The list of stars are endless Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Sting, Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey and Kenny G, he is very much in demand as his credits with famous celebrity singers are too many to mention here.
Skyler’s love of music stems from his childhood as his Mum, Aunt and GrandMa were Gospel singers in the Baptist Churches of Oakland, so he grew up singing from the age of 7 as well as meeting hosts of great stars as a child. His aunt, Elsie Davis, was the first black woman to hire entertainment for San Francisco’s Presidio Army base and she performed with such greats as Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr and Frank Sinatra.
In his teens Skyler benefitted from the mentorship of two uncles, Capus Hope, who managed Jazz Band, Donald Byrd & The Blackbirds and Arif Khaitib (right) who promoted Ike & Tina Turner. They instilled a valuable understanding of business acumen, professionalism and timeliness in the young man which stood him in good stead along his journey through the woefully unpredictable and fickle world of the Music Industry. His Mum and his two aunties were both in the music business so he grew up singing from the age of 7 as well as meeting a host of great stars as a child.
Skyler learned the ins and outs of the entertainment industry due to his very great talent of observation, and while he hung around all these great artists back stage at their live shows he realised that actually there was more to the music business than just having a great voice and so learned how to organise everything to do with putting on a live show, and then started offering his services to all the talented singers and musicians around at the time in the San Francisco Bay Area. His unique education in life has added depth and colour to his harmonies, making the tracks sound unique and special, which has given him the edge to really stand out vocally.
He also started Solutions Now Radio with S. Denise Newton a weekly internet radio show in America highlighting and discussing solutions of the most pressing issues of today, especially addressing issues of social consciousness, which encouraged him to bring out his song I Survived, reaching out to all the woman fighting breast cancer.
The most impressive and wonderful talent of Skyler apart from his effortless singing are his inspiring lyrics. He chooses topics close to his heart bringing the attention of current global and environmental problems. He inspires the positive and is a breath of fresh air as his lyrics uplift you to a higher place, reminding us that we can rise above the negative issues of today by listening to humanitarian heart felt music.
You really must check out his single This Is A Calling which gave me goose bumps when I first heard it. What a track. The ease of his vocal performance had me spellbound it was so great to watch, such a natural performer.
Skyler has just recently sang on one of Iain’s songs Something’s Wrong, which will be completed in the not too distant future.
Read another great article about Styler Jett!