John Dalhbäck is the latest to be featured in the Producer’s Corner. The Mutant Records label boss has a track record which speaks for itself, and has one of the most prolific releases habits of any of his peers. Needless to say, I was happy to shoot him questions about the gear he uses, his studio practices, and how he made his new track, “We Are Gods“.
PRODUCTION TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES
I saw in your Future Music video that you’re a Cubase user. What makes Cubase the preferred DAW for you? Did you ever try out Logic, Ableton or FL Studio?
Oh, I’ve tried most DAWs. I started on FL Studio, and it was great. Really inspiring and easy to use. Then I sort of thought Cubase was the next step and I’ve been using that ever since. It’s basically only because I know it so well.
What do you think Cubase allows you to do that other DAWs would not?
I guess they’re all the same in the end. I think Cubase is great for working with audio files.
What’s your preference for producing: headphones or speakers? Why, and which brands do you use of each?
In the studio, I have a pair of Tannoy speakers which I’ve had for years. They are really good; basically when it sounds good in the studio, it sounds good in the club too.
I’m also a good user of the good old Sennheiser HD25 headphones for productions. DJ-wise I use WESC headphones, because they look and sound great.
When you’re on the road, what kind of audio interface do you use?
I recently got the Balance interface by Propellerheads, which I think is amazing!
A lot of new producers fail to understand that you have to leave headroom in your mix for mastering. Can you share some tips with us for ensuring that you have enough headroom in your master buss by the time your mix is done?
Well, most people don’t master their tracks anymore, because it sounds really good when it’s being produced. I always leave a bit of extra room so that I have some space left for mastering them myself.
I think what a lot of upcoming producers do wrong is that they think everything should be as loud and big as possible, which is quite exhausting to listen to.
From your years as a bedroom producer, what were some of the biggest mistakes that you made, and would advise up-and-comers to avoid making themselves?
I don’t know if I’ve made any major mistakes in the studio. Everything I’ve done has made me better at what I do. But sure, when I was 14 years old and tried Cubase for the first time, and this was the first Cubase for Atari, I couldn’t even quantize or duplicate a certain part. So there I was, playing the hi-hats without quantize for 4-5 minutes. Other stuff later on might have been that I wasn’t using anything on the master bus or stuff like that, but it’s nothing I regret now.
TRACK BREAKDOWN – “We Were Gods”
“We Were Gods” features a lot of vocals. What are some of your techniques for fitting vocals into your tracks, in terms of mixing?
The vocals in this song are very light and not that complicated, which is why I can have stuff going on under it without sounding too busy. The only thing I had to do was adjust levels so that they sounded big and wide in the mix.
What synths did you use for those big saw stabs that come in at 00:38?
I believe it’s the first Init sound of Massive, but a bit adjusted of course.
A lot of people struggle with getting their bigroom tracks to sound massive and, well, big. If we look at your saw synths, such as the ones in this track, or even in tracks like “Life”, what would you say are some of the most important things you do to get a big anthemic sounds with your chord stabs and leads?
They shouldn’t take over a mix. Their job is just make things sound bigger. I always stereo spread leads to have them come out more.
This track has a lot of bass one shots and underlying bass notes in the chorus. Where did you get those from, and how were you able to get them to poke through all those saw synths and vocals?
It took a while to make all those short bass snippets. I had a midi file which I sent to the bass synths, and then rendered down like 20 different bass sounds which I later on cut out the best parts from and put together.
I also hear a lot of white noise blasts. Do you have any mix-down treatment for white noise, since it’s playing for sustained periods of time, along with the rest of the music?
I’ve made my own white noise rises and impacts, which I use a lot. They are made out of synths mostly.
In what part of the production for “We Are Gods” did things like distortion and saturation play an important part?
I guess on the bass shots, to make them come out a bit. I also used some overdrive on the chords to make them a bit dirtier.
Since this is a bigroom track, I assume that reverbs played a big part in making it sound the way it does. What reverbs did you end up using for the track, and how did you process them?
Not too much reverb though. Most of my reverbs are in the synths. On the vocal, I used a little more since they sent it to me “wet” already. I think I used Cubase’s own reverb.
Can you share some of most helpful production techniques you used in getting this track to work?
I had to do a lot of work after the first bounce to adjust the levels. So I bounced down the stems and adjusted everything afterwards.