Professional kitchens use a variety of practices and working methods to streamline the processes that get food from the kitchen to your plate. These rigid, almost militaristic methods have been developed over years and earn battle-hardened chefs Michelin stars and critical acclaim. Fortunately, you don’t need to put up with Gordon Ramsay’s verbal abuse to cook up serious beats, and in this post, I’m going to discuss a few ways that thinking like a chef will enhance your productions.
Serve elements three ways
There’s been a trend in the culinary world over the last few years to serve dishes that focus on a single ingredient, served in multiple ways. For example, take a three-way serving of cauliflower. You could roast the leaves in the oven, grill the florets and blend the stem into a purée. Serving food in multiple ways is not a new idea by todays standards, however, doing so is a clever way to make full use of the whole vegetable, sparing nothing.
We can apply this technique in production. Take for example an 808 kick drum sound. Obviously, its first use would be as a kick sound (the clue is in the name, duh). Pitched down and looped, it makes a pretty heavy sub bass. Anecdotally, the subs in my first productions and releases on Chestplate were exactly this. You could pitch the kick back up for a cheap and easy percussion sound, you could even make a trap style melodic phrase with it. Or how about this, trim and loop the first cycles of the waveform (the bit with the white noise tick in) to get a quick hi-hat, adjusting the adsr envelope can take you from a tight closed sound to an open hi-hat through to making white noise sweeps for FX.
Limiting yourself to using sounds in multiple ways encourages you to think creatively rather than critically. This is really important If you find that you’re having difficulty finishing tracks. Next time you hit a wall, see if you can write a beat using just one or two sounds. Perhaps it will help spark an idea that evolves into something really good.
Learn to season properly
If you’ve ever watched an episode of Masterchef, you might have heard one of the presenters scowl at cooks that don’t taste and season their creations as they go along. Seasoning, whether it’s a bit of salt and pepper or adding spice and flavour with chilli and paprika isn’t something that you can just chuck in at the end and hope for the best. The same applies to production.
I like to think of distortion and compression as a little bit like salt. Used too much, it can completely ruin sounds. I can’t think of how many times in the past I’ve put compressor on a channel hoping for the best and had to turn it off later on in the mix. Compression in particular, works much better when you use it sparingly. I’ve achieved far superior results in my own productions using a couple of compressors one after the other with low gain reduction instead of one compressor with a high gain reduction.
Of course, there are going to be times when you need a lot of seasoning. It’s a matter of taste. Having the ability to discern when and when not to use these flavour enhancements will improve your palette of skills as a producer.
Keep your tools sharp and minimal
There’s a myriad of gadget, devices and gizmo’s available online to help you up your kitchen game. I’ve seen some online that create more problems than they solve, others try to improve on classic tried and tested tools that have been around forever. You can’t go far without the basics, a couple of good knives, one or two pans for example (I swear by my santoku knife and cast iron pan).
It’s really tempting to splurge money on newer shinier versions of these items. However, by using the same ones day in, day out, and taking regular care of these two through sharpening and re-seasoning, I’ve developed an affinity with my tools. My muscle memory knows exactly where and how to hold the knife and I don’t think about how hot the pan needs to be, its almost as if I can feel it (not literally, unless I want to burn myself). This is a skill that’s developed over time and would need to be relearnt if I upgraded.
Again, this counts for a lot in the studio. When I first bought Cubase, I hated the compressor. It didn’t look very nice (I know), it looked boring, the presets were crap and I couldn’t get anything to sound good with it. So, having convinced myself of this fact, I downloaded a bunch of compressor VST’s. Some free, some paid, I picked up ‘classic’ sounding compressors, tube-modelling colourful compressors and even hardware modelled plugins to rival the real thing that I would never hear in a million years to compare. The problem with that is that when I wanted to draw for a compressor I was swamped with choice. I went from having 12 very loose example presets to over 300. That’s a long time listening to the same thing trying to find something that works! Spoiler, I never did.
Limiting yourself to using sounds in multiple ways encourages you to think creatively rather than critically.
My solution to this was to get rid of them all. Well, not all of them. Having forked out for some, it would be daft, but I did narrow my scope down considerably. I also took the time to really get to know the ones I stuck with. Nowadays, I draw for Cubase’s stock compressor over everything (I even assigned a hot key to it on my keyboard) and I’m far more capable of getting exactly what I need, when I need it.
So, don’t be an idiot sandwich. Next time you plan on cooking up something fresh in the studio, sharpen your knives and plate up something that sounds delicious.
(You knew I was going to have to stick some awful cooking related puns somewhere)
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