Fresh from the recent release of Oscillations via Days Like Nights / Armada in September, multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer, DJ and film scorer, Eelke Kleijn, is here to share five top music production tips. There's a couple of truly excellent ones that'll help your tracks sound more polished.
Oscillations explores a really interesting cinematic quality to Eelke's music that few others are exploring. Drawing inspiration from his film composer heroes like James Newton Howard and Junkie XL, Eelke crafts an album that effortlessly blends club sounds with the melodic elements required for home listening.
One of the things I really love to do is layering drum sounds. Instead of just taking a clap from a sample pack for instance, select 3 or more and layer them together. Pan one completely left, one completely right and a main one through the middle. I like to do this using Native Instruments Battery which makes it really easy to manipulate and tweak the individual drum sounds. I offset them slightly from each other as well, just a few ms. If you want to go for a ‘live’ feel you could alternate offset each time the clap hits. You can then make additional tweaks using filters, ADSR and pitch manipulation to make all the individual layers work well with each other. This works great for things like hi hats as well and it doesn’t just add more impact, it can help you create a more unique sound as well. Try filtering one heavily with a LPF for instance, and layer that with another hi hat for a lot of extra body.
Nowadays I work in audio a lot more than I used to. A lot of my ideas start on the modular synth that I built over the last couple of years. When I’m playing around with a new idea, I like to record all of that while manipulating all the parameters. I usually go for a recording of at least 4 or 5 minutes. In my DAW I then cut this up and sequence accordingly. Some of the tracks from my album Oscillations have started like this, among others Control and M83.
The reason a lot of soft synths are often described as ‘sterile’ or ‘digital’ is actually not because they are digital, it’s because they are too perfect. Most of the famous old synthesizers were a real pain in the ** in the studio and would drift often. Sounds where one or more of the oscillators go off pitch slightly sound much more ‘warm’ and ‘natural’ to our ears, a guitar is not pitch perfect across all strings either! That’s why I like to program all of my synths, especially the more modern ones, to slightly drift off key. You can do so with an LFO or an ADSR envelope to pitch, but some modern synths even have a dedicated drift button for it. It makes a huge difference and I’ve made a lot of use of this technique on Oscillations.
I absolutely love spring reverb. It is so incredibly versatile and can add tons of character to your recording. I usually run all the drums through a spring simultaneously once a record is almost ready, it’s a great trick for ‘glue-ing’ your drums together and it adds lots of depth. I also like to record individual sounds through springs. Record a clap through it, and then play back the dry clap on the 2 and the clap with spring on the 4. Panning works great here as well, try panning a dry sound left and the spring sound right for instance. Spring reverb by itself sounds pretty nasty and I think it’s a reason why many people stay away from it, but for me it’s one of the best things for creating character and most of my tracks will have at least one form of spring reverb in the recording somewhere.
One of my main tricks for coming up with unique and interesting sounds and loops is using a grain delay. I have one in my modular, and I also use the Portal plugin from Output a lot. Running any source through there and recording the output while tweaking parameters can yield interesting and totally unexpected results. It’s a fantastic way of coming up with small variations, or just adding a little bit of depth and ‘unique-ness’ to a sound. These recorded bits are also great for looping textures, similar to looping the output of a tape delay.
Listen to new album here