Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
I worked with a non-profit organization called Just Like You Films in 2015. We produced a TV spot that went on to win a Mid-America EMMY Award for best Community/Public Service (PSA) that year.
My role was writing and producing an original song to be used in the spot. I worked closely with the director and editor to get it right, found the process to be very rewarding, and am proud to be part of such meaningful work.
Analog or digital and why?
Whatever gets you there.
There are phenomenal records done entirely on both formats. I've learned that when I get romantic about certain kinds of gear or analog vs digital, it usually gives me an increased ability to make excuses for my work--and then someone will make another really good song that they wrote on a laptop while touring and I have no excuses. I'm left with the need to grow. I've learned to make the argument more about the work and not the format.
What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
People think songwriting is either easy or it's hard. It's actually both.
There are parts of the process that come incredibly easy, and other parts that are arduous, almost painful to trudge through:
Many stories get told about how a Top 100 song was written in 9 minutes--which is true: those moments happen and are incredible to experience. But they are rare: 80-90% of the time it's just about showing up, being there to make room for the work to actually happen.
The easy parts, the parts that come naturally, that's what gets you into the work. That's the line or the melody that sends you running over to the keyboard. The hard part is putting your butt in the chair to finish the work when you don't feel like it, to use the tools you've learned to connect the dots and finish the work. Few people do this. It is a difficult, humbling part of what we do.
What questions do you ask prospective clients?
In the last month, what are the top five most-played songs on your listening device(s)?
What recent work are you most proud of, the work you'd show the people you most respect?
What feeling do you want to have when you're finished with this project?
What feeling do you want your listener(s) to have when encountering this work?
How do you plan on releasing it and in which ways?
How would you describe your style?
Soulful, vulnerable, and simplistic:
I grew up in Hawaii, which has it's own style of reggae that permeates everywhere you can listen to music there. There's a soulfulness in the vocal delivery, and a simplicity in the music that I think heavily influenced the way I hear harmony and melody. It's fingerprints are all over what I write.
I don't have a "belty" voice, so I lean more towards a relaxed delivery, and am influenced more by artists that can achieve moving performances without having an epic, loud voice (like Feist, or Damien Rice). It's the tool I have been given, but is effective when delivered more gently (falsettos or other gently-sung verse sections can really give a pounding chorus that much more power because of the contrast).
All the years of becoming a recording nerd, I got really into producing Pop, Hip Hop, EDM--anything you can make on a laptop. Studying those genres really showed me the simplicity of good hooks, how to mix, and what to look for in a performance or song structure.
Is there anyone on SoundBetter you know and would recommend to your clients?
Bruce "Codak" Carter. Phenomenal songwriter, great mind, and a quality individual.
His writing, toplining, and vocal talent speak for themselves, while his approachability as a person and his attention to the craft make him a joy to work with. Go hit him up!
What questions do customers most commonly ask you? What's your answer?
The questions vary greatly.
What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
I've been a musician my whole life, playing in bands and working with multiple instruments, and have sang since I was 14.
Recording was on my radar in late high school and was dabbled with, but I really took the plunge in 2008. That's when I began studying production, writing, mixing--many late nights on the computer making music, and I was hooked.
Can you share one music production tip?
A common tip is to scoop the low-end out of sounds that aren't contributing to your low end. Take out what doesn't need to be there, and your bass instruments and kick have more room to play with, giving clarity and control.
But the same goes for top-end. Not every sound in your arsenal needs 20 kHz of air. Reducing the top-end of a sound (or group of sounds) down to what's needed can really smooth out the mix.
i.e. Using a LPF to tuck synths or guitars or drums back from 20 kHz down to around 10-17 kHz can make a noticeable difference in making the top end sound more open, and more pleasing to the ear.
What do you bring to a song?
Reduction: I know many talented singers who sing so many notes when writing a chorus or verse that you leave remembering they're a powerful singer, but find trouble remembering how the chorus went.
Hum your favorite song to yourself: It has a handful of notes. Probably repetitive. I'm obsessed with protecting melodic simplicity in the studio session. It makes for memorable work.
Structure: I make sure a song's structure doesn't get stale by varying what's there. It may be a two bar break to give the listener some breathing room; It may be a massive build into a quiet, all-vocal chorus for maximum effect. I avoid plateaus like the plague, and try my best to keep the listener interested.
What's your typical work process?
Top-lining: Instinct is everything.
I make sure to not "over-listen" to a track when hearing it for the first time. I'll record a few passes of vocal melody (not worrying about the words). After 3 or 4 passes, I'll take note of what's good so far, and what still needs to be established. If it's 60% of the way there for a single section (A decent verse, for instance) I'll move on to the Chorus, Pre, or Hook. If it gets your head bobbing, or your feet tapping, it's probably good enough to keep working.
Once each section begins to have a distinct melody that feels like it fits the instrumental in an honest way, I'll commit to improving the melodies by simplifying or strengthening what's there, and then the hard work of bridging the gaps between everything, making all sections work together, toward helping the whole song.
Songwriting: Honesty and Clarity.
I tend to write from a place of "feeling" first, and edit later: Feel the track, and write what comes first. This normally means many of the lyrics start out as tired, overdone, and childish sounding--but the feelings are honest, and the story is surfacing.
Then it's the hard work of (a) finding more honest ways to tell the story, (b) finding more artful ways to say any over-used phrases, and (c) making sure the delivery is musical and flows naturally.
Tell us about your studio setup.
It depends where I am working. Regardless of location, I like to keep it simple, preferring to use a smaller amount of high-quality components in the room.
I do prefer to have access to one pair of full-range, high-end monitors, which I mix check against a smaller, more mid-ranged focus pair (such as NS10s or Avantones).
What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
Tony Maserati: His generosity and willingness to collaborate with others, to hear people out.
Serban Ghenea, Manny Marroquin, and Jaycen Joshua: Their mixes are incredible.
Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Adele: The amount of raw story they bring to their skilled performance is valuable, rare, and inspiring.
Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
Helping them establish memorable melodies, often by streamlining what is there, or highlighting what is best.
Lyrically, I help ensure that artists are writing from a deep, meaningful place. I believe this makes for the best art possible.
What are you working on at the moment?
An upcoming single release of my own work.
What's your 'promise' to your clients?
I promise to make it right. If they're not happy with the work, we'll find a way to make it work. It's important to me that a client gets a level of work that they're still proud to show people months and years after it's done.
What do you like most about your job?
Getting to lean back in a chair, listening to something that didn't exist four days ago. And now it's this piece of work that you want to share with everyone. It's exhilarating.
What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
Look at the work. All the copywriting in the world can't replace taste. Look for people who do work that gets your head nodding, that inspires you to do more projects--then hire those people.
If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
ATC 100 monitors; Vintage LA-2A; Neumann U87; Mac Pro with UA sound card; Life raft.
Which artist would you like to work with and why?
Chris Brown. He's a great vocal talent, his career has spanned years of work, and he is versatile in which type of songs he can do (ballad, mid-tempo, and up-tempo).
What type of music do you usually work on?
Today's Pop / Top 40 sound. I also frequently work with Hip Hop and EDM genres.
What's your strongest skill?