The barrier of entry into music production has never been lower, allowing anyone and everyone to dive into the art of making music. As such, many newer producers nowadays haven’t ever even stepped near an instrument before cracking open Ableton.
Conversely, some producers, like Josh Teed, spent their entire lives honing their craft as classical musicians to only then transition into beat-making and music production in their adult life. Now, Josh’s signature sound is shaped by his classic training and even goes as far as incorporating live violin into his DJ sets, setting him apart from the sea of other producers and turning him into a genuinely memorable and distinguished live electronic act.
To celebrate the release of his third studio album, we invited Josh to learn exactly how beneficial classical training is to music production and how a background in the world’s most respected genre can make for damn-dirty drops.
Stream Josh Teed’s Latest EP
Josh’s classical mastery over his craft is displayed throughout this 8-track album as he runs the entire gamut of sounds and styles that showcase his signature sound.
Tracks like “Nightmare Sonata” and “Recurring Dreams” take a more standard approach to implementing his classical instrument. In contrast, songs like “Ancient Illusion” utilize the disharmonious scrapes of the strings to create a genuinely ominous tonality. Sprinkled through the album are more delicate changes in style, where tracks like “Elysian Forest” and “Hypnagogia” show the softer sides of Josh’s musicianship.
All in all, Recurring Dreams is a masterwork that begs to be relistened time and time again and is a defining chapter in Josh’s upward-facing career.
Get In The Right Headspace
This is the first and most crucial step when you want to be coming from a place of pure creativity or shooting for the ‘flow state.’ You need to approach your creative process with your mind cleared. There are a million different ways to do this; the key is to find the best way for you.
For me, I like to do stream-of-consciousness journaling. I did this before practicing violin, and I do it now before I start work producing music. It’s just picking up a pen and paper and writing down every thought that comes to your head over maybe 10 minutes or so. I love this for emptying the cluttered thoughts from my mind when it’s feeling too busy up there before a studio session. Some people like meditation, exercise, or even have full routines. Just find what works best for you!
Layers Layers Layers
If you’re trying to showcase your instrument in a track, what better way than by making it the building block of the song? Orchestras do this all the time; I would play my violin melody alongside other string instruments to achieve a massive and full sound in the room.
The same principle can be applied to music production!
We can fully utilize our stereo field and frequency spectrum to layer many parts. We can even affect how the sound changes over time by using different layers with different envelopes to make one singular sound!
For example, I can have my lead violin front and center in the mix, with a primarily dry signal. Then a slower chord progression is put toward the back of the mix with a solid dose of reverb. Then I could pan rhythmic violin parts to either side of the mix. Going about it like this, we can layer various pieces together to create intricate melodies, harmonies, and call-and-response moments with just one instrument.
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FX and Ambience
One of my favorite things with my instruments is making effects from the samples! There’s an infinite variety of ways to approach this, but I’ll share a few personal favorites. In classical music, you only had so many instruments on the stage; often, different instruments had to fulfill different roles throughout the composition. Scraping the strings on a violin can create an ominous and tension-filled incidental effect, for example.
For starters, risers and crashes are always useful FX to have! One way I’ll make these is by taking a 16-32 bar loop and just washing it out entirely with delay and reverb, then automating the sample’s gain to become either a rise or fall. On top of that, I’ll usually automate a high pass filter’s cutoff on a slope that aligns with the gain automation.
Another way I like to create FX with instrument recordings is by going through and taking the things I’d typically cut out (bumps, squeaks, shitty notes, etc) and applying effects like distortions and delays to those samples, repurposing them as textural effects!
These are just 2 of the thousands of things you could do here!
Fill It Up
One thing you’ll find almost universally in all kinds of music is the use of fills at the end of a phrase. Resampling recordings to use as fills is one of my favorite ways to utilize instruments. Say I have a lovely 8-bar melody loop; I could cut off the last bar (or ½-¼-⅛ bar) of that, then use it in the drop as a fill on every 4th or 8th bar.
That’s an easy example, but there’s a multitude of directions you could take it. This is one of my favorite ways to add melodic spice to bass-heavy drop sections!
After studying classical music for most of my life, I realized that almost every instrument in the arrangement would have small fills and variations to some degree. This helped maintain interest in the core motifs while blurring the lines between sections.
Minding the Pocket
If the instrument gets drowned out in the mix, what’s the point of even putting it there? Utilize your EQ with intention. If the instrument you’re using gives you a signal prominently in the 8-12k HZ range, take the time to dip other elements that would interfere with that range to provide a pocket for the instrument to shine.
Taking those few extra minutes will bring clarity to that instrument in the mix.
Remember that classical orchestras didn’t have EQs and compressors and had to use just the instruments’ timbres and natural frequency ranges to create a clear and clean sound in the orchestra hall. The same principle can be accomplished in your DAW!