Updated: Oct 14, 2018
Recently, depression had gotten the better of a dear friend. And music being a major outlet for emotional stress, I started putting together 'All My Friends'. But I needed some lyrical help, to cement a positive approach, and hopefully relay a message to anyone else who has been struggling with depression. Jake Moggy Hardy, aka WIZDOM, was the only man for the job.
This lyrical wit, and rapper extraordinaire has been a long-time friend of mine, and has been writing for much longer. His diverse vocabulary and vast writing skills are up there among some of the greatest. WIZDOM is quite new to the Australian Hip-Hop scene with his latest album 'Altered States' released in early 2018. Although, this local talent is yet to be praised in a way he ultimately deserves; with the blinders on, he treats his art like he's been doing it for a life-time.
'All My Friends' originated as an ode to the constant battles of depression, that we as humans, are constantly facing; after numerous people close to me had given up their lives to the dark disease. My father, Wayne Summers, included (rest his soul). It was the mourning of another bright, young, and talented mate, Jacob Nye, who had recently left us due to the illness, that sparked this lyrical idea. "All my friends are wasting away" is the chorus lyric, which, with all my integral might, will hopefully deliver a message among the many young lives who have been struggling with their demons. It IS a waste, and it IS preventable. Our goal is to hopefully reach a few people to make them understand that they're not alone in these dire situations, and that they can speak up. Your mates are there for you to lean on in these shitty situations, so just say the word! And, if for some reason you can't get onto them... there are a tonne of organisations out there that CAN HELP! Here's a few that work!
Headspace [We’re the national youth mental health foundation dedicated to improving the wellbeing of young Australians] - https://headspace.org.au/
R U OK? [Conversations need to happen every day. Encourage more people to ask R U OK? It could save a life] - https://www.ruok.org.au/
Beyond Blue [Support. Advice. Action] - https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
'All My Friends' naturally took the hip-hop route. I looped up a beautifully played grand piano sample, I had found on an old promo CD from a 2011 issue of Music Tech Magazine. The thing had been hidden in my drawer for ages. Then with a reverb drenched finger "snap" keeping my tempo, I poured out the lyric. I then threw put together a basic, 'kick snare' beat (which I later beefed up with shakers and hats) to carry the swing, and immediately shot it through to Jake (WIZDOM). I added some notes in the email saying...
"Hey Bro. Here's something for ya. I'm aiming for a mental health topic. For our mates who struggle with the dark holes in their lives. I want your heart and soul on this one."
I asked, and I received. Jake delivered a soulful and poetic context that really exceeded the impact I was after, within a day! He covered drug abuse, anxiety, stress, work, family, brotherhood, and offered options on how to make a change! More than I could have asked for. He sent me a perfect take and I got to editing. I asked for a couple more ad-lib takes to later layer up in those special moments. I tracked a few more things to really bring the song into its own. I played the Bass track alongside the piano, processing it to sit nicely between that and the beat. As well as, track a sweet little guitar lick to give some dynamic to the choruses.
Structurally, I kept it very minimal. I felt like less was more with this one. Leaving much needed room for the message in both our vocals. Though, when it came to mixing it down, the choruses sounded a little dull. I quickly realised that the vocals were getting lost, especially towards the end, where there are more elements for the vocal to dance with. I did some research on how to get a more prominent, pop style vocal to boost my choruses. I found this:
Valentina Bilancieri, aka Biga Creations. One of my favourite Youtube producers, mastering the modern RnB realm. She processes her vocals in this particular example, using a few common processing techniques. One of which was taking AUX sends from her lead vocal track, and creating a couple Pitch Shifter Busses, to ultimately spread the vocal, whilst still pushing it forward in the mix. Perfect for Pop, RnB, or any sort of bright, soulful lead vocal.
So here's what I did...
I set up a sweet sounding (plugin) vocal chain. Comprising firstly, of a subtle Gate; minimising the background noise. A UAD Neve 1073 Pre, for some colour. A Scheps 73 EQ by Waves; cutting the unnecessary lows, and slightly boosting the good bits around 12KHz. Then Logic Pro X's Vintage FET Compressor (a fast compression option), trying to restrain some of my peaks, whilst adding a little more colour. Then, another one of my go to's for any vocal, especially lead vocals... the Ensemble plugin. Giving the track some subtle harmonics. Then, another Compressor (it won't be the last either). This time a UAD 1176SE, smoothing out the vocal with its slower function, whilst lifting the overall level even further. And finally, some tape saturation by the UAD Oxide Tape... because, why not?
Next, I took on one of the Biga Creations production tips from her video. I bussed out three auxiliary tracks, and assigned each a different task:
Bus 7 = Pitch Shifter Left
Bus 8 = Pitch Shifter Right
Bus 9 = Group Vocal Compressor
Both Pitch Shifters were set up identically, apart from the Cents. The Left was tuned down by -6 Cents, and the Right, tuned up by +6 Cents. Then the Left channel panned hard Left, and the Right, hard Right.
Then, back in the Vocal channel, the bus levels were evenly gained up to about -8.0dB. This created a very organic, and subtle sounding stereo spread. Which in turn, creates extra harmonies for the lead vocal, pushing it forward in the mix even further. Then... you guessed it... another compressor. This time, another Logic doosy, the Studio VCA. Using a Type R Vocal 02 preset (suggested by Biga Creations, in her video), with maximum Threshold, and a lowered gain to suit, this ties all the extra Aux channels together, really driving the vocal forward, and making cut through in those stand-out moments. Thanks Biga Creations for the awesome tip!
Then to finalise my lead vocal, I gave it a nice complimenting Reverb. I only tend to use one Reverb for most of my projects. Aiming to make it sound like one room. Though, in saying that, for the more psychedelic songs, I will use a couple , which I tend to process in different ways to give a little contrast. For example, sometimes i'll use a short spring verb (0.5 - 1.0 sec), with the lows cut, and sometimes compressed, in contrast to a long hall/ambient room verb (2.0 secs <). This little technique can create a very unique sounding space around your sounds. Remember, with there are no rules!
And as for the rap... WIZDOM absolutely killed it... and in one take! He's been nicknamed One-Take-Jake for that reason. He's an incredible writer, with a delivery that a lot of aspiring performers envy, including myself. He has a stack of notebooks full of content just waiting to be released upon the world, so go give the man a follow. He spits bars every Sunday on his Facebook page, proving his scale of content. And if you haven't heard his debut album... it's right here: https://open.spotify.com/album/7cv5DBwWeVXHNz8aUYjkqR
To check out 'All My Friends', you can listen on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/track/0uF7qAtmXSMGiZLRvO74d5
Or, on iTunes:
Or, head back to the Stonewax Productions home page. Download it, share it, enjoy it. It's yours free, in the hope to spread the message.
I'm the kind of producer where nothing is ever finished. I hear my releases, and still think, "Man, I wish I didn't comp that kit", or, "That vocal could be louder in that section". But, I have learnt that sometimes, you just need to let things go. Over thinking can be a hole digger, and hindsight can be your worst enemy. When my father passed, I felt guilty. Like I 'could' have done something to prevent it from happening. And the same feelings arose for our mate Jacob. I understand things can be hard, when everything looks fine on the surface. Especially when, we... as humans, bury our issues deep inside ourselves, in fear of being judged, broken, or becoming anxious, because the world we have designed for ourselves, sometimes does not work out... and that's ok. Shit happens! But we can't let ourselves, or our mates, become so overwhelmed, that we allow ourselves to get to that point of darkness. If someone you know doesn't seem themselves... just ask them.. Are You OK? Or if it's you that's feeling alone, overwhelmed, or bombarded by pressure, discouragement, or misery... Reach Out! Find an outlet (mine... is Music. For Jake... he writes Raps)! Talk to your mates! Make a phone call! Jump on the internet and get professional help!
No matter what the circumstance is... there will ALWAYS be somebody who can give you a shoulder to lean on. Remember... #itaintweaktospeak
Dad, Jacob, and all of our lost loved ones!
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