Lucky Date Interview

Jan 15 2012

I recently had the opportunity to chat with up-and-coming electronic music producer and DJ, Lucky Date (Jordan Atkins-Loria). He uses Reason to produce these fantastically phat dance tracks and remixes. Plus he regularly shares his production secrets on his YouTube channel, luckydatevideos. The music that he pumps out of Reason is truly inspirational, so I wanted to ask him about how he gets such a huge sound and what other software besides Reason is part of his production and DJ arsenal. He gave a great interview and had a lot of wonderful insight and advice. Watch out for Lucky Date, I predict he’ll be producing many mega-dance-floor hits in the coming years.

 

After returning from summer vacation in Hawaii I needed a little remixing exercise to get me back into a music production mood. The Kerli’s “Army of Love” remix opportunity on www.indabamusic.com looked like just the ticket. I signed up and downloaded the vocal stems. Technically speaking, they weren’t the best vocal stems I’ve ever heard. They downloaded as WAV files but sounded like they had been converted from MP3 files. And, there was some type of parallel effect or headphone bleed mixed in with the backing vocals. You could hear the original music in the backing vocals stem. But this is what everybody had to work with, so I got busy.

I timed the vocals into my Pro Tools session, made a slight tempo change, a few beats per minute faster, and found one of my tracks that sort of matched Kerli’s performance. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on this so using one of my already produced tracks made the most sense. With a key and tempo change, a few new chords, and a couple of structural modifications to the drums I was able to get a tight sounding mashup.

Then, I spent a lot of time making the vocal stems pop in the mix. The magic bullet for this job was iZotop’s Nectar, the “complete vocal suite” plug-in, and the always fun Stutter Edit plug-in (which I’ve blogged about previously, Stutter Edit by BT). I also did a lot of automation on the vocals to remove breaths, background noise, and bleed from the original tracks.

Whew, a lot of work, but I think it came out sounding pretty cool. It was definitely a good warm up before getting back into my busy composing and production schedule. Plus, I got to play with Nectar and Stutter Edit. All the synth and drum sounds are being produced by Reason 5, rewired into Pro Tools 9. Here’s the video tour of my remix session.

I also threw together a cool video montage to go with the remix. You can find it on my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/erikhawkmusic. (Like me on Facebook please.) And, if you feel inspired to do so, you can listen to and vote for my remix on the indaba music site.  Thanks!

Contests are a cool way to promote your songs and get your name out there. Here’s a good one that I’m in right now, the www.indabamusic.com Nightclub City Original Song Contest. The song I entered, “Super Star”, is a killer track from my new album that has already been heard on Ugly Betty (ABC), in a great scene with Vera Wang and Posh Spice.

Here’s it is in Ugly Betty, along with a montage of a couple of my other songs in popular television shows.

But, back to the contest at hand. This contest is for some potential airplay that could really help get my song out to a wider audience. Please take a moment and vote for me, it would mean a lot. I would love to finish in the top 25, right now I’m hanging out around number 60, out of over 1,000 entries. Please vote before October 7th, because that’s when the contest ends. Thank you!

If you like the song, and as a special thank you for your support, “Super Star” is available as a free download on my facebook page,
http://www.facebook.com/erikhawkmusic

My New CD is Out!

Aug 09 2010

I’m very excited to announce that my new CD is out, Erik Hawk & The 12-Bit Justice League. If you like electronic dance music fused with orchestral elements, I think you’ll enjoy this CD. Plus, the physical CD contains remix stems (WAV, REX, and MIDI files) for your remixing and DJ-ing pleasure. The physical CD can be purchased through CD Baby, and digital only downloads are widely available, from iTunes to Amazon.

Here’s the official press blurb:

The new album by Erik Hawk, Erik Hawk & The 12-Bit Justice League, plays like the soundtrack to an action movie. Every song could underscore a scene, from the opening action of “Introductions”, to the heroics of “On a Mission”, and the closing images of “Into the Sunset”. So, it comes as no surprise to learn that Hawk’s alter ego is composer/producer/remixer, Erik Hawkins. His music has been featured in countless film and television shows (from The Informers, to Ugly Betty, and CSI:Miami).

Joining Hawk on his musical adventures are several critically acclaimed musicians, including Gilli Moon (vocals), Christine Wu (violin), Lygeia Ferra (vocals), Craig Seganti (trumpet), and the album was mastered by pioneering hip-hop producer/engineer Michael Denten. Hawk wrote/co-wrote, arranged, and produced all of the tracks. He plays guitar, keyboards, and sings throughout the album.

To keep up with announcements, shows, placements, and contests, join me on Facebook.

And, here’s my official YouTube announcement:

Recent Interview

Nov 06 2009

Gerritt Tisdale of The Producer’s Alliance recently interviewed me. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about my background, I think it’s an interesting read. There’s also a little breaking news in the interview about my upcoming book and album. And, of course, a few tasty production tips too. Of course, I can’t do an interview without throwing some music production speak into the mix too! Check it out.

Here’s the link: http://www.theproducersalliance.org/producer-interview-erik-hawkins/

DJ Remix Cartoon

The usefulness of a good sampler in your production toolkit can’t be overlooked. It’s great for everything from developing your own custom sounds to consolidating your favorite samples into a single instrument. Back in the 80s, dance and hip-hop pioneers could put together an entire track using a hardware sampler with just 2 MB of memory (that’s MB not GB). On it they’d have all of their drum samples, bass and keyboard sounds, even guitar phrases and backing vocals. Working this way, with just a few MIDI sound modules and very limited RAM really forced you to be creative, to write solid beats and killer songs. Unlike today, you weren’t in a position to dazzle listeners with layers upon layers of neatly produced sounds because, frankly, you just didn’t have the tools. Instead, you had to focus on the basics, where every part that you played was integral to your song’s arrangement.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. It’s such a privilege to have all this production power in our computers at our fingertips, but having all of this power is no guarantee that we’ll be able to write good music. As an exercise in my Producing Music with Reason course I demonstrate the unbridled power of Reason’s NN-XT Sampler and what you can do with it when you truly understand how to milk it for all it’s worth. Students generally find the lesson to be an eye opener, but because it’s such a different way of working and thinking about arranging it can be a confusing lesson. So, in addition to the online lesson material, and the assigned reading, I’m posting a 9 minute video that follows me through the entire process of constructing a custom NN-XT patch.

Those of us that ran up a credit card bill in the 80s buying just one Akai or Roland sampler for around $2,500, well, we were determined to get the most out of our new hardware. We had excellent incentive, we had to write a “hit” to pay off our credit card bill. There’s much less incentive nowadays, beyond the personal challenge, to write an entire track using just a sampler. But, I’d strongly encourage you to give it a try because besides the fact that it’s a lot of fun it will force you to learn a sampler inside and out and to stretch your production chops and think in new ways.

Now, here’s some incentive: Imagine if you will that you’ve been caught in a temporal vortex and transported back in time to 1982 and the only way for you to get back home is to write a satisfactorily slamming beat with your Akai S900 sampler and 2 MB of memory. Now there’s a challenge, are you up for it?

Here’s my attempt to get back to the present, written entirely using Reason’s NN-XT sampler and a few effects devices. And, just to make things even more realistic, I did this in Reason Adapted, the limited features version of Reason.

Big Samples MP3

Big Samples Reason Song File

Download directions:
Right-click PC and from the pop-up menu choose, “Save Link as…”
Control-click Mac and from the pop-up menu choose, “Save Link as…”

A few pearly words of wisdom to start off the new year. You know how I’m always going on about finishing your productions, even if you don’t think it’s going to be a hit, just finish it. (Check out the blog that I wrote in 2007, How to Become a Great Producer.) This is the only way to build your catalog, by finishing your tracks. Now, for some inspiration, here’s a quote about hip-hop producer and artist Lil Wayne (taken from BMI’s MusicWorld Magazine),

“Lil Wayne is said to have made over 800 recordings in 2007.”

Admittedly, there might be some exaggeration going on here, but even finishing an eighth of this number of songs would be hugely impressive. Imagine completing 100 quality productions in a year. That’s adding to your catalog! Then, with your completed productions in hand you’ve got the products to promote, whether for film and TV placements, songs for sale to artists, or simply to show off your production skills.

In a Mix Magazine interview, Bruce Swedien, the engineer for countless hit records over the past 50 odd years, gave this advice,

“It’s much easier to be done than to be satisfied.”

Swedien is a professional that has worked with the industry’s top artists and producers, from Quincy Jones to Michael Jackson. He’s been there and knows what it takes to get the job done, to stop fiddling with the production and the mix and call it a wrap. Because, frankly, there’s no such thing as a perfect mix, just one that sounds solid and translates well over a variety of systems (from personal computer speakers to a swanky home stereo system).

Now, here’s the challenge, how many top notch productions can you complete in this coming year? Make it a goal and keep at it each week and every month and by the end of the year I’m sure that you’ll have some wonderful tracks to show for your efforts.

The Reason Bass Line Battle was a wonderful chance to flex your drum and bass production skills. Just 8 bars of rocking drums, funky bass, and swanky percussion using Reason’s Factory and Orkester Sound Banks and the Reason Electric Bass refill (or Electric Bass Demo refill, given away for free as part of the contest). And, you weren’t limited to just entering one bass groove, you could enter up to three!

This all sounded like too much fun and I couldn’t help myself, I entered two bass grooves. My entries are titled “Fat Spaghetti Funk!” and “Jungle Biscuit Bounce!”, under the username, “muzicali”. CLICK HERE to vote for me, this link will take you to a page where my submissions are right at the top. (Voting ends Dec. 5th, 2008.) There are about 338 entries, many of which are absolutely amazing. It just goes to show you how much talent is out there! Truly inspiring. (All of the bass line entries are auditioned as streaming audio, so you don’t need Reason to hear the entries on the Propellerhead’s Web site, you only need to log into the Web site.)

Besides having fun writing these grooves, I figured it would be useful to have these song files as production tutorials. Not only do they stress the importance of having a solid drum and bass foundation for your songs, they’re a good demonstration of how to mix drums in Reason (heck, how to mix drums period), and show off how great the Electric Bass refill can sound when used creatively and with purpose.

“Jungle Biscuit Bounce!” is a straight up groove, meant to demonstrate how tight a drummer and bass player can sound when they’re both sitting in the “pocket”. While “Fat Spaghetti Funk!” is a more flamboyant performance, meant to show how great a drummer and bass player who are communicating and really playing off of each other can sound.

That said, here’s a Zip containing both of my Reason song files and the Electric Bass Demo refill which I used to produce the grooves. After you’ve unpacked the Zip, simply move the Electric Bass Demo refill next to your other factory refills and the song’s NN-XT devices will find their samples fine. Have fun exploring these Reason racks and don’t forget to vote for me!

Click here to link to a page where you can download the Zip (about 26 MB).

Download directions:
Right-click PC and from the pop-up menu choose, “Save Link as…”
Control-click Mac and from the pop-up menu choose, “Save Link as…”

Copycat Cool

Apr 15 2008

There’s a saying, “Copying is the highest form of flattery.” Copying is also one of the best ways to hone your production skills. Taking the time to pick apart and recreate a song done by your favorite producer is almost like being an intern for that producer. You’re getting the benefit of dissecting the techniques used to produce their unique sound without the hazards of being an actual intern (you’ll never be shackled to the coffee maker nor asked to clean up after the band).

When selecting a song to copy, make sure that it is full bandwidth audio (like what you find on an audio CD), not a compressed audio file format (such as MP3 or AAC). You need to be able to hear every nuance of the original production, and a 128 kbps MP3 file just isn’t going to cut the mustard, there’s just too much audio content missing. You can audition MP3 files to find the song that you want to copy, but when you’ve identified the song, you should buy the audio CD to ensure that you’re listening to the best quality audio available.

The object of copying a song is to get as close to the original sound as possible. However, even though this is a great bar to shoot for, it’s not usually possible from a technical standpoint. For example, the producer used a $20,000 Lexicon 960L reverb unit, and all you have to work with is D-Verb (the Pro Tools LE factory reverb plug-in). Obviously, their sound isn’t going to compare. Fortunately, simply going through the process of copying the song as closely as you can is practice enough. Even if your copy isn’t a dead ringer, you’ll still be going through the steps and experiencing the techniques required to create the producer’s sound. Of course, ultimately, the idea isn’t to become a clone of your favorite producer, it’s to learn a variety of techniques and then to apply them in your own unique ways.

Neither is it necessary to copy an entire song, from start to finish. It’s fine to copy just a short section of the song. For example, the chorus, the bridge, or simply the intro beat. The production elements that you’re wanting to emulate are, more often than not, contained in only a few bars of the music. Copying just a section makes it convenient to loop the part, then beat match your session’s tempo to the loop. This also makes comparing your copy to the original song, right in your session, a total snap. Plus, with your session beat matched to the original, it becomes possible to extract the loop’s groove (using a tool like Beat Detective in Pro Tools) and apply it to your own tracks.

Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself when you copy a production:

copycat questions

Attached is a Pro Tools session in which I’ve imported and looped a short drum loop from Missy Elliott’s “Sockit2me” (produced by Timbaland). Then, I’ve used Xpand! and the Pro Tools LE stock plug-ins to copy the song’s basic production sound. It’s not perfect because of the limited palette of sounds I had to work with, but it certainly captures the flavor of the original beat. In fact, I even picked up an interesting production trick along the way: hard panning a gated reverb return to the left speaker, and then hard panning the original dry signal to the right speaker. See if you can hear this effect in the original loop and then find how I recreated it in my mix.

Copycat Cool Pro Tools

More Than a Mashup

Jan 18 2008

A mashup (AKA bootleg) is taking two songs and beat-matching them together to create a new blended mix of both songs. For example, the classic mashup of Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and New Order’s “Blue Monday.” It’s often done using full stereo mixes (with vocals), or, alternately, an a cappella and a stereo mix (possibly an instrumental). To hear a variety of well crafted mashups, check out Party Ben.

Mashups became such a hit on the dance-floor that some producers (such as Richard X) went on to remake parts of the original songs in order to clear the entire mashup for commercial release. For example, the 2002 UK hit by the Sugababes, a combination of the lyrics from Adina Howard’s “Freak Like Me” and the music of Gary Numan’s “Are Friends Electric?”

The point behind my little history lesson is, you don’t always have to play a traditional instrument, or even record a track, in order to be wonderfully creative with music. I have the privilege of working with music production students at all levels of experience, some are seasoned musicians while others are just starting piano lessons. Obviously, for our production project in class, I expect students to create their own tracks, one way or another. It’s a snap for experienced players to record a performance, but a serious challenge for students just beginning an instrument to record something decent. As an alternative, I encourage the use of MIDI files, a cappella mixes, and sampling. (For educational purposes only, of course.) These resources can provide a signal and a musical performance with which to practice your production chops whether you play an instrument or not.

However, if you have never worked with samples or imported a MIDI file, taking advantage of these resources can be intimidating. One of the best ways I know to explain the whole process is to show you in a song. So, without playing a darn thing, just using my ears and production skills, I produced a mashup in Reason 4 using an a cappella, a MIDI file of a cover tune, and a sample of the original tune — all items I found for free on the Web. This mashup features Tone-Loc’s “Funky Cold Medina” and Kraftwerk’s “The Model.”

You can download the Reason 4 song file below (it’s about 8 MB) and explore the production, from its samples to its mix. To download an MP3 of the mashup, visit my myspace page.

Cold Medina Mashup