I wanted to start something new. I wanted to post some new tracks I have been working on for my new solo album and also working on for a long time collaborator and friend’s new album (both coming soon) and talk about the ideas, inspiration, and production techniques behind making them.
Drnem79 – 79 BPMs. This track was inspired by one of my all time favorite music producers of all time and his many classic collaborations with one of my all time favorite musicians of all time. This is the legendary Dr. Dre and his work with the shady one, Eminem. “What’s the Difference” from Dr. Dre’s second solo album Dr. Dre 2001, first came to mind when composing this particular track, based on it’s epic, large scale, orchestrated sound and how complimentary it was for Eminem’s crazy delivery and lyrics. If I recall, Dre actually recruited a small symphony to play on the track. For this one, I started with a simple string section and built from there. Obviously I don’t have the means to introduce an actual symphony on my track, but I wanted this song to have the same feel of a symphony playing. The best way to try to achieve this on a small scale, was to include many of the components or instruments you would expect to hear with a symphony and using the reverb and effect techniques to create a large open feel or create a good amount of head space in the recording with EQing and mixing techniques.
After the strings, I wanted to add a lead instrument during the middle of the verse sections so I decided to add brass as well as a piano lead. One thing I noticed with Dr Dre’s hip hop production specifically and generally, high level music production is that the song builds layers of instruments as you go along, almost like a crescendo effect to build a climax within the song. This is a departure from most hip hop production which is a lot of times, just simple samples or drum and bass loops played repetitiously and they then rely on the vocalist and or simple instrument or sample drop outs to create the variety and climactic action.
The introduction of the lead brass and piano were placed midway through each of the 3, 16 bar verse sections, in order to build a climax within the lyricist’s verses. Taking it further, I also used instrument drop outs and other mixing techniques to further build on the climactic effect and add to the variety with each verse section. One thing I always found appealing with better composed songs of any music genre, for example, “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys and “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, is that you have things to look forward to as far as musical changes and climaxes within the same song and you are not just subjected to a secondary instrument backing that relies solely on the vocalist to create these dynamics. When both the music composition and the vocalist can contribute to this dynamic and do it synergistically, you have a stronger song as a whole. Achieving this musical philosophy is a bit different and somewhat challenging in terms of my individual recording process and the typical electronic/hip hop work flow. This is because my own recording process consists of creating and producing the instrumental track nearly 100 percent before the vocals are created and recorded. Aside from this being my own approach it is also very common both in today’s electronic based music production and hip hop as a genre since the actual tracks are mostly composed entirely electronically and in a lot of cases the producer is the composer. Also it is common that the tracks are given to and often remotely, to the artist to record vocals over as opposed to the producer and composer actually working in the studio, hand and hand, with the vocalists before and during the vocal recording process. That said, for this track I had ideas of how the verse and knew where and when I wanted the verses delivered and composed the music around these ideas.
After deciding on all the instruments for the verse sections, for the chorus sections, I introduced a sustained electronic piano note and 16th note hihats, along with different effects and EQing on the other instruments in order to differentiate this chorus section from the verse sections and allow for the verses to reach a crescendo up to and into the chorus sections. This technique is used by Dr Dre constantly and in the track “The Difference” that inspired this one, the chorus section introduced a rather infectious, whining lead synthesizer in this same way.
Lastly, I imported this track into Pro Tools to put the final touches and mixing on it, before it becomes a finished track, and ready for the vocals to be laid. Although most of my levels, panning, and general EQing are mostly decided by the time it leaves my Akai MPC system, the Pro Tools phase is for further EQ tweaking, panning, and level setting and additional effects. Also during this Pro Tools stage of my recording process, I have some outboard effects I can and often introduce which further enhance the track. From here, there will be more overall levels and efffects added after vocals are recorded but for the most part this is all decided after this phase of the recording process.
Aside from the technical aspects of this track, artistically, I wanted this track to be near the beginning of an album and be an epic, anthem track that announces the artists return to the game. I left the overalls structure as a 3, 16 bar verses, with pronounced chorus sections which will make this an attention grabber on an album. The sparse instrumentation and mixing with a lot of head space and clean EQing, are made for consise and articulate lyrics, with simple intelligible deliveries, and meant to play loud and often. The highs are mixed very clean and the lows do not drown out the other instruments. The drums are crisp and stand out in the mix which will compliment clear, simple delivered vocals all done at a good, head nodding tempo.