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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 of a plate of food.

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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 of a plate of food.

I was contracted 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'.

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

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Research


For a music production, research begins by listening to demo recordings, live performances and band rehearsals. My goal is to embody the choices and intentions of the songwriter so I can best represent their vision in the recording studio.

Research


For a music production, research begins by listening to demo recordings, live performances and band rehearsals. My goal is to embody the choices and intentions of the songwriter so I can best represent their vision in the recording studio.

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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 value of my approach to producing "To The Wire". 

Synthesize


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

The next step 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 "game" of playing with the listener's 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.

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 crippling lows mirrored many of the emotions that 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 emphasize the theme. He gave me musical comparisons and technical suggestions about how to pull off what we intended.

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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. 

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. Mixing is where I do most of my work as a producer -- I think of the recording process as the creation of a musical palate, and 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, yet, the direction of the final mix felt obvious from the start. Our careful planning and efficient work during pre-production allowed us explore creatively, while also strengthening our vision of the final product.

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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 plan and a message that was sweet sounding and clear in our 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 plan and a message that was sweet sounding and clear in our final product.

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 upcoming series "School of Rock". 

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