Keep It D.L.
Happy 2021 everybody! Are you keeping sane, productive, positive? Yeah, me too. It’s tough out there. So far I’ve been keeping the tune taps flowing. Today I wanted to break down some of the process behind my brash and poppy synth-pop number ‘Keep It D.L.’. You can listen to the tune here.
Bedroom producers often ask a recurring question on where to start a song. The answer is of course different for everyone you ask, but often it boils down to a little snippet of something that inspires a fully-fledged arrangement. Bombay Bicycle Club’s Jack Steadman often digs through obscure folk records to find samples that kickstart his own ideas. It’s much the same for me. In this case, ‘Keep It D.L’ started with the drum loop. This was from a royalty free loop knocking around in one of my folders. I then whacked on a drum buss and some compression for extra punch.
With a punchy drum loop established, I needed an equally bolshy synth to go with it. Ableton’s Analog synth makes those jittery seventh chords. Inspiration often comes through taking a preset and modifying it. That’s what I’ve done here. The sound is called ‘Polysynth Delicate Comp’. It was originally a stock preset that’s had a good deal of additional chorus and reverb applied. I think it’s important to add uniqueness to your sound, even if it’s subtle.
I’ve come to realise that arrangement is everything, after writing songs for a little while now. By this I mean it’s important to ensure your various elements intersect and don’t crowd each other out. Whilst subtle, the synth bass is therefore off beat to fill the blank spaces and create a somewhat syncopated rhythm. Horrifyingly, it sounds like a donk record when soloed with just the drums! Thankfully, nobody will ever have to hear that (unless I decide to release a donk rework…).
Having established the foundational elements of a rhythm section, this track needed some balance in the higher end of the frequency spectrum. It was therefore time to concoct a groovy lead riff. Designed in Ableton’s Operator synth, the original sound was an imitation of an electric piano. I just shortened the decay time and increased the chorus effect to create a plucky lead sound. For some additional high end, I added another Operator consisting of 2 sine waves playing a monophonic lead. Again, it’s subtle but adds another layer of interest.
I seem to have developed a consistent approach to my vocals over the last few tracks. This involves recording 3 layers and applying some subtle chorus, reverb and delay on top of the standard EQ and compression. I like the way it sounds, and gives a slightly more polished feel to the finished result. My voice is not the strongest, so little effects like these can provide some effective enhancement.
Does the mixing stage come at the end, after all this? Personally, I sound the shape as I go. The hard work is mostly done but some overall adjustments are occasionally necessary. An insightful YouTube video makes the point that professional sound mostly comes down to how your parts were recorded and the arrangement. Whilst the mix is important, it will not save a track that hasn’t nailed these aforementioned elements. So there’s no hallowed ‘mixing stage’ where I will suddenly make everything sound great at the end. If it’s not sounding right at the beginning, the work needs to happen there.
Anyway, I hope this gives you some insight into the various things I’m considering when writing and recording in my bedroom. I’m really hoping to take some of these ideas out on the road as soon as we can! Stay positive, and I’ll see you on the other side (hopefully at a gig and with a pint).