I feel so close to you right now

I have become obsessed with Calvin Harris. I started listening to Motion, his new album, about a month ago. It’s grown on me. Now I’m trying to write a song that sounds like his. And here I thought I was happy doing hip hop. I even recruited a friend of mine to write lyrics and sing on my new (but doesn’t exist yet) Calvin Harris-ish song.

I spent a bunch of time today pulling apart “Feel So Close” and the genius is in how simple it is. He just picks the right notes, and catchy melodies, and rubs cool things against each other. But it’s not complicated.

I’m always trying to make things more complicated than they need to be. Calvin reminds me to keep it simple.

When I’m coming up with a chord progression I’m trying to add extra notes: 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, etc. Calvin keeps it pretty straight.

Then I’m trying to swap one of the major chords for minor, or do something that’s not in the scale. Calvin keeps it pretty straight.

Then I’m trying to layer lots of different instruments. Calvin keeps it pretty simple: just one or two things going on at a time.

And he gets his synths to sound just right. And to sound good together.

Really it’s just four steps:
1) Write a great song
2) Make the synth programming and the rest of the instrumentation really sing
3) Record and mix the vocals well
4) Mix and master the track

Couldn’t be simpler lol.

My guitar still sounds amazing

I’ve been playing with AmpliTube a bunch. It lets you hook a bunch of virtual amps up to your guitar or bass. Some of the amps are unicorns that I wouldn’t want to buy or maintain. I owned a real tube amp (Fender Super Twin) for years and it sounded amazing. I loved the clean tone. But it was expensive every time I wanted to get it rebuilt (by the way if you ever need your tube amp repaired take it to Blackie Pagano — he’s the best). And it was heavy!

I finally sold that amp when I moved to Miami. So now I need a way to get that tone from my computer. And AmpliTube comes close. I can swap in the different amps, play with the settings, mix and match pedals, and then mic up the virtual cabinet to get the sound I want. I can even move the mics around to adjust tone and room sound. People love AmpliTube because it responds realistically to how the guitar is played, so you can get clean tone at softer volumes and satisfying crunch when you hit the strings harder.

It’s pretty darn cool.

They’ve got a paid version that comes with a bunch of gear, and a free version that only comes with a few things. But they’re doing a special this month where you can buy two extra modules for the price of one. So I bought the Fender collection for my guitar and got the Ampeg collection free for my bass. Now I’ve got more gear than I know what to do with and I paid a total of $99 (half the price of the full version).

It’s hours of entertainment.

You can check out the AmpliTube deal here.

I like putting guitar into my tracks. It’s hard though, especially when I’m also trying to put synths in there as well. The guitars and synths eat up the same frequency, plus they compete with the vocals, so a song can get crowded fast.

The more I listen to non-band music on the radio, the more I realize that they’re just using one or maybe two main instruments. They saturate them so they fill the sonic space and then lay the vocals over the top. If they add other instruments they’re very light, and mostly used just to vary the rhythm. It’s not like a full band.

When producers use guitar on radio tracks they leave sonic space. Check out “Style” by Taylor Swift or “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus — there’s pretty much only the guitar when it’s playing (plus drums and bass).

Bands have it easier, of course. Maroon 5 can record songs that just sound like a band is playing, even though they’re heavily produced.

I listen to a lot of Taylor Swift

And Katy Perry. And Pitbull. And a lot of other top 40 stuff.

Not just because these songs are catchy, but because they’re produced by some of the best in the business: Max Martin and Dr. Luke. Those guys not only write great songs, they make them sound amazing.

This week I’ve been listening to “Style” over and over again. I’ve been trying to hear all the little details about how the song is put together.

Take a listen to the reverbs, echoes, and delays. Listen to the vocal harmonies. Max Martin’s team has done an amazing job, as always.

In the first few seconds of the song we hear a mostly solo guitar line, and then the bass and drums kick in. The guitar floats over the top. And those are the instruments that carry the entire verse. That’s all that’s needed to fill up the space.

Matt Shadetek, one of my teachers at Dubspot, pointed out that there aren’t secret instruments at low volumes. Great producers use just a few instruments. That’s all they need.

And even though the space feels full, Taylor’s vocals still have room to come over the top and make the song…even bigger.

I know where I’m trying to get to with my own work.

I still think the producers were listening to “Boys of Summer” when they wrote “Style.” There’s even a beach scene at the beginning of the video.