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Wukah shares 5 studio tips to tighten your sound

Originally hailing from Cork, Wukah aka Gavin Desmond now lives in London teaching music production as well as supply teaching at schools in deprived areas. His music is immediately inspired by his environment, both in subject and sound. UK and Future Garage influences are blended with breakbeat, nu jazz and neoclassical tones.

Now, to celebrate the drop of his new ‘Flesh’ LP, Wukah invited EG to step into his creative zone for 5 advanced studio tips:

“Since creating the album ‘Flesh’ and having been asked about my production tips and best practices, and also taking into account my Youtube channel ‘Hollow Ground Productions’, where I hold forth about best practices when making music, I reckon I am probably the worst person at taking my own advice! Of all the rules I follow and habits I have once I get into the studio, there isn’t one single rule that I haven’t regularly broken. But I would say it is best to know as many as possible before you decide to fling them out the window!”Wukah

1.  EQ is your best friend: Mid-Side EQ at the end of all of your chains

It’s always important to remember that it’s not enough to use one instance of EQ rolling off the low frequencies at the start of your chain. After you have thrown a whole bunch of effects on your instrument/sample (especially compression and sidechain compression), you will have created a significant amount of low-frequency mud, and this needs to be cleaned up by putting one more hi-pass EQ filter as your final audio effect on the chain. It is also important to use the EQ in Mid-Side mode, so you can remove any mid-level build-ups from the stereo field. This is especially important with pads generated by digital instruments with a lot of reverb, which build up a lot of resonance. That stuff needs to be controlled! EQ is your best friend for this.

2. Don’t overuse the solo button when making your sounds. Everything works in context.

It’s very easy to spend hours perfecting the sound of your lead arpeggio and your main pad, and trying to make it sound as wide and as beautiful as possible. Let’s not forget that any sound you make has to sit comfortably within the overall mix, and depending on how much of the spectrum is taken up with your kick, bass, snare, and secondary drums (which is often most of it), you may well end up with limited space to fit your pads and lead. You may well also find that you fall in love with your lead and pad as they sound in solo mode and you don’t want to cut any of the mid or even low frequencies out because you think it sounds tiny and cheap. But sometimes, for the benefit of the overall power of your track, you need to learn to kill your darlings! If you don’t need it, get the hell rid of it; even if it sounds good in solo, it’s muddying your mix with something rotten. You need to start asking yourself, “Which parts of the frequency spectrum of each individual sound do I ACTUALLY need in my final track, and which bits can be cut out using a good filter cut-off?”. Again, your EQ is your friend!

3. Use audio effects racks

If you are someone who is an “In The Box” producer, like I am (the ‘Flesh’ album was made almost entirely within Ableton with no external hardware), then you may find it difficult to not only get started with creating musical clips and loops, but you might find it hard to add variety and movement to your sounds when you don’t have any knobs and macros to turn and play with [gently sidesteps a dodgy pun]. This is why when you are working within your DAW (I am thinking in terms of Ableton 11, but this is also doable on other DAW’s), you need to throw on a wide variety of well-chosen audio effects on the chain and group them so you can create a table of macros, and then choose carefully the most important 8 parameters of your sound that you want to live-manipulate. My go-to racks would involve the following macros.

  • Filter – To cut off or release the hi frequencies, usually at the beginning of the chain, so the effect is not too pronounced
  • Delay – I would macro the dry/wet
  • Grain Delay – I would either use a factory preset with a few tweaks or build my own parameters that I like, and macro the dry/wet
  • Reverb – I would choose the type of room for the reverb I like, and macro the dry/wet, 5 – Frequency Shifter – There are a lot of killer presets in the Ableton 11 ‘Shifter’ effect, and I would macro the Dry/Wet, and potentially also the rate,
  • Echo – I would throw on a Vintage preset for Ableton’s ‘Echo’, and macro the Dry/Wet and the rate, to create some crazy Ping Pong effects (Floating Points style),
  • Auto Pan – I would macro the amount and the rate on the same macro, and use the noise waveform.

Then you activate your loop (ideally a 16-bar loop. 4-bar loops get static really quickly), turn on the arrangement record button, and start twisting your knobs! Recording a full 2 minutes worth, then find the best segments and use them in your track. Your music has to feel alive if you want people to engage with it!

4. Source your samples from unique places. Get creative!

There is nothing inherently wrong with relying on sample or midi packs that you see on hard rotation on your unskippable YouTube ads. Some of them are genuinely decent. But don’t rely on them forever. You will really struggle to find your own voice as an artist. Trust me, there is nothing lamer than being at a music feedback session with other budding music producers, and 3 people back to back showing their tracks, all of whom ended up using the same loop from that Nico dude on YouTube who says “You want a beautiful melody, I Got you!!”, and everybody recognizes it! There is some serious face palming to be done there!!

You have got to start doing what the truly innovative pros do and listen to the real world.

  • Field Recordings – If you don’t have a decent Zoom mic, get started by using the mic on your phone, take some random household objects into the quietest room you can find, and start banging and clanging them together. You can make some really unique top-end textures with the audio file. Also, take your phone to the park, walk on some dry leaves, take it to the highstreet and record some buskers, or people chatting…..use this as background texture for your track, or even acapella vocals that you can chop up. (Top-tip: it is not advised for you to use field recordings recorded on a phone to make low-end sounds, like Kicks and Bass, as it’s better to get the highest quality sound recording for low-end.
  • Sample from Vinyl – If you want warm sounds, and you haven’t got a modular setup or synth racks, start sampling your parent’s old vinyl collection and rip it to WAV. Find really obscure dubplates, B-sides, start searching for moments in each track (usually the very beginning or the middle 8) where you have 4 seconds of isolated drums, or an isolated vocal, and compile your own library of sounds to use in your own tracks.

There are a whole bunch of background textures all over my album ‘Flesh’ that I got from walking around London and just recording on my Zoom Mic.

E.G: the sound of the London bus beeping as the doors close, the London underground, with a saxophone playing busker, The hustle and bustle of Mile End high street, etc. Also, even though some of the drums in some of the tracks did come from a collection of 2 UK Garage sample packs (Incognito and Out of the Green in particular) the drums for a lot of the tracks were created from Zoom Mic recordings of random drums and sticks in the music room at my school!

5 Let the track become what IT wants to be!

I will have to explain this one! Starting to make a track following a reference track is a perfectly fine means of making music, in fact in some cases it is actually advisable (especially if you are making a dance track of some description that you want to play out at a club or submit to be played out. You need to get the elements balanced correctly if you want a selector to consider playing it out between the pro tracks. However, if you are, for example, setting out to make a house track using a DJ Seinfeld as a reference, and everything is going well, but then you feel the drums aren’t working, and you are losing your patience and your muse, and the track is about 5 seconds away from being added to your collection of unfinished projects. But then, suddenly, in a moment of inspiration, you mute your current drums, move over to your MPC and start finger drumming a breakbeat over the pads and vocal you already have, and a completely new track is forming in your head, then GO WITH IT! The track may well go down an unintended path, but follow your muse and ride it for as long as close to the finish of the track as you can take it. The track has clearly decided that it doesn’t want to sound like DJ Seinfeld, but instead want’s to sound like Bicep. Go with it! Just finish the damn thing in whatever form and give it a name!

Quick fact – the track ‘Sleepwalk’ was originally going to be a full-on UK Garage-style track, but I couldn’t get the drums to fit the piano riff, and as the track was getting more and more emotional, I just dumped the drums channel and threw in some strings, and it became an interlude track. I ultimately prefer it that way.

Wukah’s new ‘Flesh’ LP is out now via In The Event Of Capture. Purchase your copy here.

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