When Did You Realise...

 ...that all you ever wanted to do with your life was create music? Like a lot of my friends and collegues and maybe even you, I was unsure of what I wanted to do for the rest of my life at one point - this is how I got my answer...

Music heads, interviewers, friends, family and usually clients will eventually ask how long you've been a professional doing what you do and I rarely have an answer that I'm satisfied with as the truth. My official answer as a music producer is since I went to University in 2011, or sometimes when I studied music in college in 2009 but I was making music way way way before either of these dates. I've always taken my musical ability, like most creative people, for granted. It was never something I considered myself passionate about - just something I was able to do well and enjoyed doing.


The first thing one of my mentors (Raj Kotecha) ever asks anyone who doesn't know what they are passionate about is "what is your 4am subject." A simple concept question put to anyone who doesn't know what they are passionate about...  what can you tell me about in depth at 4am? Why 4.. well, 3am - you're probably leaving a club... 5am - you're waking up early so that's cheating but 4am?! Ha... good luck talking about something you're not interested in at 4am.

I never understood the power of the question until my first year at University.


On the first day we were given access to the smallest studios in the building it felt like Chistmas. Myself and my friend George stared at an empty booking screen as our successful introduction to the smaller consoles and miking techniques drew to a close. George looked at me and asked if we should do an all nighter... what..? Spend all night in a freezing room with the A/C too low, no food, no change of clothes, in front of thousands of pounds worth of equipment I can barely use yet and then go to lectures first thing in the morning?! Sure, why not. We hesitantly booked out two studios all night and fell in love with the experience.

Fast forward a few more weeks in and by this time we'd passed our studio exam and were now allowed to record within the studios for our production 1 assignments. Myself and George had teamed up to do our seperate projects together using each other as assistants. George being a very able drummer not only player the role of engineer but musician as well. Our first couple of sessions went horribly as we got to grips with recording drums with elaborate mic set ups, technical misunderstandings and generally being newbys at the whole process. If I recal correctly it took us 60 hours of recording to nail George's track and that was just the drums.

I'm sure none of this strikes you as something that'd inspire passion but wait for it...


I'd chosen to do a live cover of I'm On One - Drake for my assignment which was insanely complex and we had a lot of trouble getting the drums right. By the time I'd got around to my project I'd been drum tracking every night for 3 weeks with very little sleep and we'd barely made a start on my assignment. Half way though the second week I'd fallen fairly ill and it was getting worse, I had been assisting other assignments and making no progress on my own, I was tired and hadn't eaten a proper meal for over a 2 weeks and all I had in my system for the most part was a litre of Boost energy drink and a weird tasting tesco sandwhich or worse... a pasta with a yellow reduced label over the packaging. I'd go from afternoon lectures filled with electronics and math or physics straight into the studio until early morning, rest for 2 or 3 hours and then repeat. It finally caught up to me HARD.


I made the decision to come home on Wednesday night after countless nights of recording. The minute I stepped into my bedroom everything hit me. My mind turned off auto pilot, my legs ached and my knees felt as though a knife was lodged in the socket, my body had been ignoring its pain up until now and on tops of this sleep deprivation had gotten too much for me to handle. I didn’t know what to react to first, all I remember doing is bursting into tears; physically I’d never felt more run down and my mind had not been more worn.

I should have rested. A regular person would have called in sick at 20% of this - that much I was sure of. I was happy to be home until the realisation set in and a reminder went off on my phone. Studio: TASCAM booked at 3AM – 8AM. Prior to leaving the studio I’d left George and another friend of mine, Camillo (a student from Italy), to record drums for another track. We were going to do mine in another studio at 3 and I'd forgotten.

Initially I refused to go back – I felt like a poorly 6 year old who didn’t want to go to school. I could feel my muscles refusing the thought of it – I despised the idea of even standing up though my headache.

But after a short conversation with my mother we decided that I’d rest for an hour, she’d wake me up and drive me to the studio where I’d continue. This is where I realised I would be making music for the rest of my life. I didn’t disagree. This was my 4am. Despite everything telling me no. How weak I was and how much pain I was in there was a very strong but extremely powerful part of my mind reminding me that I want this. I wanted it so badly it’d hurt more not to be in that studio. I think my Mum knew that way before I did. That's when I knew this is what I'd be doing for the rest of my life...

If I was going to give anyone any advice - especially the people going to Uni this year with no idea what they'll do after - from my own experience, just do what you love. You won't be worrying about money when you're just fulfilled with your day to day tasks. And if you don't know what you love then answer the question - if you were asked to do talk about something at 4am - and do it - what would it be?

If you've got a similar story to mine I'd love to hear it; or any tips on how to discover what you're truly meant to be doing. Just comment below...

P.s. on a side note – I have the most supportive parents in the world. They perhaps do not understand what it is I do and that’s fine with me because some days neither do I but they’ll make sure I’m pushing myself as hard as it goes no matter what I am doing. Thank you Mum and Dad if you’re reading this.



The Mix - Panning Vocals

Panning vocals. Always centre for the main... so I thought. 

In 2010, my best friend and I produced and recorded a record entitled "maybe soon" in which Genesis Elijah (an established uk rapper) featured. He sent me his vocal and as soon as I imported his vocal into FL7 I saw something in the meters which I didn't quite get but it changed the world of panning for me. His vocal was panned ever so slightly to the left. It was uncomfortable to listen to for the first time but I grew to the idea. I should have corrected it - to this day I have no idea if it was even intentional on his end but receiving a vocal from a much more established musician than I with considerably more experience... I just went with it.

So for the following few records I thought the smartest thing to do would be to blindly pan my vocals slightly to the left... Soon after listening to my mixes with one headphone off it became obvious why this is in fact a terrible idea but not without its uses. 

What it did for me is broke me out of the thinking that lead vocals have to be dead centre for the entire track. Or that they have to be for any part of the record. An example of this is I Care Less Now on my portfolio where the vocals sit slightly to the left or right but never in the middle during the verses creating a conversation type effect between KYM and herself. Would I recommend hard panning a main vocal like this? No... but you can see how it works in moderation here. 

Waves by Esskay - mixed and mastered by me

To this day I play with the pan massively when mixing records. Leaving the main vocal or in fact any stem to sit in its place for the entirety of a record has to be a creative decision or else its just a lazy mix. I'm a big believer of hard panning in choruses and often I'll compensate a vocal that's been panned left and right with another set of layers closer to the middle to fill up the space if need be. A really good exaple of this is the record Waves (from Esskay's White Noise EP)  during the chorus (1m 23s) where I hard panned the backing vocals and some mains whilst having the stabs fill up the narrower stereo field.

For me, if something gets to sit in the middle it often becomes the focus of the record as if it were taking centre stage. There's no harm in moving the vocal slightly to the side or pulling it out wide just to show off a guitar solo, kick drum or whatever else you choose to present.

(Of course, the downside is that someone listening with only one headphone on gets only half the experience of the mix but... if you're going to listen to only one side you never really intended to enjoy it anyway and it could be mono for all you care.)

Oh Well - from the Soul Searching EP - mixed and mastered by me

Side note: I worked again with Genesis in 2014 (via Abby Power) on the record Oh Well and his vocals were sent to me yet again - this time he'd kept them centred. I suppose that answers the 'if it was on purpose' question.

What do you think about this peice?
Did you like it? Let me know in the comments below.



The Mix - The Writers Block

My latest project - The Writer's Block by Manny Festo.

Myself and the artist have never met - we were connected through a mutual friend who recommended me and handed me the files....

This is how it was mixed.


Manny Festo - The Writers Block

The First Play

I wasn't given a reference to this mix or any indication of how anyone wanted it to sound - simply handed the RAW stems and told to go.

Upon first playing the song there was a lot going on. The main verses had been layered twice though-out, there were two sets of adlibs and a massive chorus with those classic hip-hop stabs. For the sound of the record the project was substantial.

Vocal Mix

With Hip-Hop I always start with the main vocals. With this track in particular and the sound of the chorus I felt as though the track took on a semi-old school feel. Small plate reverb with a ping-pong delay scattered around. My initial thoughts were to make the vocal thin and very classic 90's budget studio but this changed to wanting thick wide vocals during the early stages of the mix due to the nature of the vocal and the chorus.

The main vocal comes in quite strong and made me jump the first time I heard it. To prepare the listener for this I added a reverse reverb to the very start of the first verse to bring it in.

Manny Festo's Vocal EQ

My vocal EQ was simple. Manny has a great delivery across the record with a strong male rap vocal voice. This pushed me towards bringing out the lower end of his voice at 150Hz and to balance it out a little pushing him at 3.5kHz to retain 'clarity' and the presence of the vocal and a little boost at 12kHz for some 'sparkle'.

Following the EQ I compressed his vocal fairly hard pushing the threshold down a little lower than I usually would to really squash the frequencies I'd just bought out with the EQ.

Backing layers left and right automated in and out of the verse (Click to enlarge)

I applied the same EQ with a high freq pass to his layers of the main verse and eased off the compression ratio ever so slightly as not to overwhelm the listener when all 3 layers are bought in and out frequently though the record.

The Chorus

The chorus is split into two parts. Repetition of "The writers block" including the whispers... and the stabs.

"The Writer's Block"

Main chorus Pan

For this part of the chorus I panned the 9 stems out from left to right only covering half of the stereo field. The predominant vocals were spread to 50% left and 50% right. 4 of these stems were the whispers you can hear in the background. 2 are panned ever so slightly to the left and right to wrap around a main chorus vocal panned center and another two are panned 50% left and right.

I then applied a chorus effect to the main chorus vocals but not the whispers to glue those together leaving the whispers to roam free across the mix.


The initial chorus is restricted to the first 50% of the stereo field which gave me the room to push the stabs hard left and hard right with one in the middle to ensure thickness in the vocal. There's no more than a little bit of compression added to these vocals leaving them as raw as I'd initially planned for the main vocal to be. They're pulled to the back of the mix with a slight level decrease and boost in reverb. They sit just on top of the whispers but behind the main chorus vocal.

Extra FX

I chose to keep the chorus playing at the end even as the beat to provide a much smoother transition into the second American Splendor sample and to add a bit of a conversation type connection between the artist and the quote which I felt Manny most likely connected with.

To add the finishing touches to the record I added a high pass filter to the intro and outro of the beat where the American Splendor sample is playing. I've also created a classic hip hop slow-down effect with the instrumental at 1:37 to bring out a lyric I liked and add a bit of flare to the second verse.

There's also a slight plate reverb (90:10) over the entire track to gel it all together. I also chose to do this also to add an atmosphere to the entire record which I felt it needed to bring the sound to life as if it was all recorded live in the same room (kind of...).


Was the process above easy to understand and is there anywhere I should go into more detail?

Would you have done it differently? If so, I'd love to hear how below...