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A Song


Producing a song is much like creating a dish—the producer controls the arrangement, textures, volumes, and final presentation just as a chef controls the same dimensions when creating a dish.

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A Song


Producing a song is much like creating a dish—the producer controls the arrangement, textures, volumes, and final presentation just as a chef controls the same dimensions when creating a dish.

I was asked to produce a full-length album for one of my favorite artists in Los Angeles—Gabriel Mann. Gabriel has an innate talent for composing cinematic, emotional songs as evidenced by his current gig as the composer for the hit TV shows "Modern Family" and "Rectify".

Our collaboration began many years before his current commercial success on a song called  "To The Wire". The song was about the pressures and uncertainties of a young relationship and my objective was to translate his brilliant composition and its message into a studio recording.

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Research


For a music project, research starts with listening to demos, live performances, and band rehearsals. On each project, my goal is always the same—embody intentions of the songwriter to best represent their vision in a studio recording.

Research


For a music project, research starts with listening to demos, live performances, and band rehearsals. On each project, my goal is always the same—embody intentions of the songwriter to best represent their vision in a studio recording.

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While researching a song, I try to figure out why exactly a work moves me—why do I get excited at the pre-chorus? Why do I feel anxious when it gets to the bridge? I hone in on these moments and document them by transcribing them musically, lyrically and structurally.

What I discovered about "To The Wire" was that Gabriel's writing created musical expectations and anticipation. Sometimes, Gabriel delivered on those expectations with big musical gestures—harmonies, crashing symbols, and long sustained vocal parts. Yet, other times (the parts I really loved about the song) Gabriel built up to a moment only to subvert it by taking the music and mood into an unexpected direction. Clearly this was the work of an experienced songwriter who knew how to make the music reflect the message of his lyrics.

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Synthesize


The dance of withholding and delivering on expectations became the core design prinicple of my approach to producing "To The Wire". 

Synthesize


The dance of withholding and delivering on expectations became the core design prinicple of my approach to producing "To The Wire". 

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The next step in this production was to think about how to musically represent the core themes and messages of the song. "To The Wire" starts slowly with a sustained, open piano and little more. I liked the introduction but I felt that it lacked dynamics and arrived at the chorus a bit too quickly.

Reorganizing the structure of the first minute of the song created a great opportunity to establish the theme of playing with the expectations. Restructuring the song also shortened it from over six minutes to a more palatable five.

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Brainstorm


Once we decided on the song's new structure, Gabriel and I started thinking about instrumentation, texture, production style, and sequencing.

Brainstorm


Once we decided on the song's new structure, Gabriel and I started thinking about instrumentation, texture, production style, and sequencing.

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Gabriel and I extended the theme of playing with expectations to the instrumentation of "To The Wire". I arranged the song with contrasting instruments to help get narrative our point across—the splashy live drum sounds would work with a lo-fi drum loop; the big, buzzing electric guitars would interact with a tight classical string ensemble. The contrasting instrumentations helped build up to the songs big moments and then, if used correctly, we could musically "pull the rug out" from under the listener by dropping the energy of the song back down to the same levels at its beginning.

Gabriel and I felt that slow builds, unexpected thunderous highs and quiet lows mirrored many of the emotions we felt when dealing a fledgling romance. The question was if we could translate those feelings to the studio recording.

During the brainstorming process I met regularly with my mentor, Grammy-winner Larry Klein, to discuss my approach to producing "To The Wire." For me, working with a mentor is one of the fastest ways to improve my creative process and get desired results. 

Larry liked the idea of subverting expectations and challenged me to continue to emphasize the theme. He gave me musical comparisons and technical suggestions about how to articulate our musical and design intentions.

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Prototype


I sketched out the song structure, instrumental arrangements and recording schedule—we were ready to get into the studio and start recording. 

Prototype


I sketched out the song structure, instrumental arrangements and recording schedule—we were ready to get into the studio and start recording. 

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Although we agreed upon a detailed recording schedule, my experience was that it was important to be flexible when recording—some of the best ideas often came from the other studio musicians or even by happy accident.

We began recording Gabriel's vocals and piano parts, and then built all of the tracks around his core performance. Once we finished the 'basics' (piano, bass, drums), we layered all of the additional elements—electric guitars played through a Marshall stack, a string sextet, drum loops, harmony vocals, Hammond organ, and percussion.

By the end of two weeks of tracking live instruments and overdubs, we were ready to mix. If the recording process as the creation of a musical palate, painting the proverbial canvas happens during the mix. The decisions of when to use specific instruments and what corresponding volumes and frequencies to emphasize, or de-emphasize, are all finalized during the mixing process.

Since we'd used our studio time productively, we had a palate full of options. Our careful planning and efficient work during pre-production allowed us freely explore the mixing possibilities in the name of strengthening our vision for the final recording.

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Implement


"To The Wire" was released on Gabriel's album "Tug of War" along with several other tracks we recorded together. For me, "To the Wire" was the most successful track on which Gabriel and I collaborated—we came up with a clear design that resulted in a sweet sounding final product.

Implement


"To The Wire" was released on Gabriel's album "Tug of War" along with several other tracks we recorded together. For me, "To the Wire" was the most successful track on which Gabriel and I collaborated—we came up with a clear design that resulted in a sweet sounding final product.

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The Final mix

"To the Wire" has been licensed numerous times for television and film projects and Gabriel has gone on to become a mainstay in the world of television composition. You can currently hear Gabriel's music in the TV shows "Arrested Development", "Rectify", "Modern Family", "Marry Me", and the series "School of Rock". 

To learn more about Gabe and his music, click here.


More songs from Gabe + Danny

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