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Does this sound familiar to anybody? This is a recap of a day in the Digilantz studio that was supposed to be really productive, but ended up being anything but. I won’t go into too much detail, but here is a recap.  We were working on a track that had a great vibe and really strong parts, but without realising it we were trying to turn it into something else. (Probably something we had heard and really liked the energy of) so we had been adding bits and bobs (particularly to the drop) for a while to capture this sound and I thought I could spend a couple of hours tidying it up one afternoon and get it sounding perfect. The day went like this…….

3pm…
Hit the studio. Up early and thinking all day how I was going to finish off this track. I’d been working all day and was dying to get back home and fire up Cubase. The track was nearly done, we just have to finish of the drop elements and end up with a good strong sounding mix. I have a cup of tea, biscuits and I’m all set. My production partner is going to get an awesome burn later via email and we will go to bed happy that we have another banger under our belts.

3.15pm
So listening through its sounding… decent, but somethings not right. It sounded better last week for some reason. The snare roll is different from the main snare and we are trying this filter thing which sounds kind of cool by itself, but isn’t sitting right in the context of the mix. There is a one bar gap before the beat hits with a crazy tom roll. THAT sounds heavy, but it could do with something else behind it. A quick synth stab should do it.

3.50pm
Been through all our sample banks and cant find anything that fits. Had one that sort of fit, but 25mins of processing got nowhere. Time to fire up Massive. A quick pitched note should do it.

4.15pm
Not really feeling it. Not sure what I’m after now… scrap that idea. Maybe the Tom roll needs looking at.

4.30pm
Tom rolls gone. Now there is just an empty gap. That definitely won’t do unless I can find something else to fill it in.

4.50pm
Tom roll is back. Perhaps move all the riser elements including white noise to cut out earlier at the end of the bar.

4.51pm
That sounds weird. Everything back to its place. Start again. Let’s look at this snare roll as originally planned. Also, the bass is filtering in, but it’s just not having that impact when it drops. Will try a notch filter, change the frequencies a bit.

5pm
Eureka! The snare transient is hitting wrong. The main snare is in A (track is in F#m) so I need to change the pitched roll to match it. THAT’S why it sounds so weird (right?) Must not forget to play around with that bass filter after I quickly sort this out.

6pm
Done all that… not sure if its better or worse. The new snare roll sounds good, but not SO much better than the old one. Automate some reverb maybe? Come to think of it – is the main beat snare right?? Sounds a bit clangy now… We really wanted this to have a certain vibe, but that’s not happening…

8pm
Gone over it again and again and literally looked at everything… even the main elements of the song. Starting to doubt if anything works at all. Changed the bass pattern about 4 times. Added part after part only to remove it again. Do I even actually like this track anymore??

And finally at about 10pm in a fit of frustration it’s time to call it a day. Forgot to eat as I was tearing my hair out over what I wanted this track to be and what it was. The fact is, the track sounds great and I should have followed the original vibe and let it become what it wanted to be. There is a great quote by John Lennon who said this “Id spent five hours trying to write a song that was meaningful and good and Id finally given up and had a lie down. Then “Nowhere Man” came – the whole damn thing – words and music as I lay down”

I’m not sure how John Lennon would feel about automating filter sweeps and programming a Reese bass on a DnB banger, but the message is the same. Overthinking literally kills creativity. Have you ever started playing around with nothing much in mind and before you know it you have the beginning’s (and usually a lot more) of something you get really enthusiastic about? That seemed to come out of nowhere? And it’s as if the music is flowing through you – you are merely a transmitter, and suddenly you have gold. This can only happen when you are not trying too hard. Then using focus and imagination you can hone in on the rest. So a piece of advice I have learned is: If it’s not working then stop. Immediately. Then work on something else. Or else completely walk away and don’t think about it. Go have fun and come back another day. In the case of this particular track I didn’t listen to it for a week (probably out of frustration) and then when I listened to a previous mix I heard quite clearly what it needed. I wasn’t even listening critically, it was just suddenly obvious. I won’t go into detail, but it worked. Strangely it involved taking stuff away to make it simpler. Moral of the story – thinking is awesome, but overthinking is most definitely NOT. And sometimes it’s better to keep things simple!

Written Ben Adcock of Digilantz
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Keeping It Simple

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