How The Levels Changed My Approach to Writing Vocal Music

In the past couple of years I’ve been working on a lot of vocal tracks as part of our new project, The Levels.

I wanted to share with you something important I’ve learned while doing this.

In case you’re not familiar with The Levels yet, it’s a project with three people: me, my longstanding partner in crime Loxy and our vocalist Alia Fresco.

The Levels

The Levels

We’ve been making music together for a couple of years by now, but we only recently came public with the project and started putting our music out there.

To read more about us and listen to our music, go to our official website at www.thelevelsmusic.com.

 

Now.

Shadow Fighter is our latest track (not only the latest release, but literally the newest thing we’ve done at the time of writing this).

It is a result of a long process and the song which, for us, took The Levels to the next level.

It also changed my approach to writing vocal music.

 

What makes Shadow Fighter different then?

We made one big realization.

You have to keep in mind here that Loxy and myself come from drum&bass background. We were always about the rhythm, the bass, the vibe – but we never wrote a lot of music for vocalists before The Levels. There’s been a lot of trial and error involved in this.

 

Our pre-Shadow Fighter creation process was simple: Loxy and myself took some bits and pieces we happened to have going and Alia started creating her parts around them.

We then took what she did and brought it all together.

Just before the time we started working on Shadow Fighter I heard some of Alia’s acoustic performances. It was just her singing, accompanied by a single acoustic guitar.

And there it hit me – it really was a revelation. I realized that in order to give Alia’s beautiful singing the attention it really deserves, we need to approach the music creation process from a different premise.

From the moment we begin, we needed to tailor the music for the vocal from the ground up.

Because if we didn’t we would lose some of the detail and character in her voice (and indeed we had with our previous tracks).

A vocal like this wants to be in the spotlight. And it takes more than simply slapping it over a beat and calling it a day.

 

So, what does that mean in practice?

First it means thinking about the character of the voice and the details that make it unique. Every voice is different!

You then take that information and think about what is the best way to convey the character of the voice via the production process.

 

In our case, Alia’s voice is very intimate and the precision and detail is great, so we wanted to make sure not to mask any of that. There is also a certain color that needs to come through.

What I would do with, let’s say a punk vocal, would be different of course. Never the less the process is the same:

  1. Think about what makes the vocal unique.
  2. Think about what you can do to convey that unique character in the best possible way.

This way of thinking affects everything – from the choice of instrumentation to arrangement and mixing. Everything needs to be sitting in the right place in terms of musical ideas, frequency, volume, stereo image and dynamics. It’s a lot of details to get right.

In the midst of it all one must not forget the most important thing: conveying the emotion.

 

So this is the path we took with Shadow Fighter. We’ve learned a lot and we will venture further on that path with the music we do in the future.

I’m looking forward to what we learn next. It’s always a mystery.

One thing I know for sure though is that if I ever stop learning I might as well stop making music.

 

Check out The Levels here.

 

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