Mixing With a Master…

I was recently fortunate to attend a week-long seminar, Mix With the Masters (MWTM), at Studio La Fabrique in Saint-Rémy de Provence.  Leading the seminar was one of my heroes, legendary scoring mixer Alan Meyerson.  If you’re not a massive music nerd like me, his name might not be instantly familiar – but I can guarantee you’ve heard his work capturing and polishing the scores of the world’s most prolific film composers.  Here’s a small compilation of some of my favourites.

Having been a great admirer of Alan’s work for many years, and already having learnt so much from studying his interviews with Pensado’s Place and various magazines (here, here, here and here, if you’re interested), I knew that a week in this master’s presence would be enlightening – and it absolutely was, but it exceeded my expectations completely!  Plus, I’ve never been a guy that enjoys a holiday lying on a beach doing nothing, so spending an August week at a beautiful recording studio in the South of France is pretty much my ideal holiday!

Arriving into Avignon, I was intrigued to discover that I was the youngest and most inexperienced member of the group.  This led to my being shy, but all of the other participants were very friendly and encouraging.  I was pleased that I managed to keep up with everything going on and, once things got rolling, I didn’t feel out of my depth.  That being said, I took a lot of notes and will still be digesting certain discussions for many months to come!


The first few days of the seminar were spent listening to Alan’s work from numerous films he has worked on, including Batman Begins, Tron: Legacy, Despicable Me and Wreck-It Ralph.  It was thrilling to get an insight into how these scores were put together, and the techniques Alan employed to achieve his signature sound.

This seminar was the first to employ a 5.1 playback, and it was a treat to hear the scores naked in this context.  I don’t think previous seminars held at the studio had been as loud/bass-heavy, as the entire room was rattling throughout the Tron: Legacy playback.  It was amusing to watch the studio assistant trying to dampen the rattling bookcases.


Whilst the MWTM seminars are typically aimed at recording/mixing engineers, with Alan this course was highly relevant to composers as well, since the production/mixing and composition within contemporary film music are inextricably linked.  Hearing the music was beneficial for my composing knowledge as well, as it was a rare insight into how things are orchestrated, arranged and layered, as many techniques are quite subtle and it is tricky to dissect and learn from a finished and mastered recording.

A few days into the seminar, one by one, each of the participants had some time to show Alan their work, receive his feedback/critique, and even have him mix the projects.  The standard of work displayed by all participants was exceptionally high, and wildly varied.  This meant we covered a wide range of styles and problem that required solving.  It was fascinating, and a true privilege, to watch Alan work and to observe how he tackled different challenges.  By his own admission, he was nervous at the prospect of enhancing our material within such a limited time frame, but he did a superb job!  Every time he would A/B the temp mix with his new version at the end of the session we’d cheer and applaud in awe of the magic he had worked!

Having Alan listen to my  ownwork was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life, but he was very complimentary and gave some highly useful tips and tricks.  He even remarked that my reverbs were beautiful, which – if you’re familiar with Alan’s work and his mastery of this area – you’ll recognise is quite a nice validation!


The MWTM seminar was meticulously organised, creating a relaxing atmosphere that allowed both students and master to feel comfortable.  It was amazing to see that Alan was humbled and energised by our willingness to learn, and his generosity with advising each individual member of the group was extraordinary.  Not only did the course offer a wealth of production tips, but also gave hugely valuable insights into the business side of the industry.  Plus, it was a rare opportunity to make lots of nerdy tech jokes.

The experience was perhaps the best investment I’ve ever made.  An added bonus was finding a new network of 15 extremely talented and helpful friends with whom I will continue to share and collaborate for many years to come!  Returning to my work, I find myself not just drawing on Alan’s techniques (thought that is fun!), but I also consider that my mindset and approach to mixing has been altered for the better and that I am now liberated to experiment and to forge my own techniques.


Thanks to Alan Meyerson, the MWTM-team, and to my fellow participants, for one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences of my life.


Once or twice a year, I am fortunate to have my music brought to life by the wonderfully talented Bristol-based choir, Harmonia Sacra.  On 2 December, it was the choir’s annual Advent Reflections concert, an occasion for which I have been invited to compose a new piece for the last three years running.

My latest composition, a setting of Veni Sancte Spiritus, can be heard via the SoundCloud player below.  It features a flattering introduction by Harmonia Sacra’s conductor and musical director, Peter Leech – plus you get to hear me doing a little bit of public speaking at the end.


As this was the third piece I have composed for Harmonia Sacra, I knew that on this occasion I needed to up my game and do something a little different.  Having received encouraging feedback about my previous setting of Christe Redemptor Omnium, with listeners having described the music as possessing an immersive and almost hypnotic quality, I wanted to see if I could expand on this notion further and create a piece that was even more transcendent.

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My process for composing these choral pieces is always to begin by studying the text so that I understand its full meaning: this then allows me to compose music that has the appropriate mood for each section of the piece.  Once I have determined how I believe the music should feel, the task of uncovering the music hidden within the words becomes far easier.  It is difficult to articulate this part of the process, as it tends to involve my sitting at the piano until I go into some kind of subconscious trance whilst improvising.  It is at this point that some melodic or harmonic idea usually reveals itself.  With my previous two choral compositions, settings of Creator alme siderum and Christe Redemptor Omnium, this process allowed me to conceive strong melodic themes.  I used these by stating them at the outset of each piece before subjecting them to variation and development throughout the remainder of the work.

During one of my improvisation sessions while working on the Veni Sancte Spiritus text, I stumbled upon a very simple four-note motif which fitted very nicely with the final word of the sequence: Alleluia.


I continued experimenting with this melodic fragment by adding accompanying harmonies and soon found I had developed it into several minutes of music.  Though these ideas didn’t fit rhythmically with any of the other text in the piece, they still felt relevant to the composition as a whole.  So instead, I decided simply to take the word Alleluia and repeat it over and over again.  My aim here was for the repetition of this word to act like a mantra during meditation, quieting the conscious mind and liberating it from the day-to-day worries and anxieties we all have to face.

Once I had sketched out this finale section, it provided me with a significant number of harmonic ideas from which I was able to derive material that could be hinted at earlier in the piece.  Whilst composing the rest of the piece, I consistently tried to keep in mind the four-note motif, and reprise or hint at it as often as possible.

With this composition, I also made an extra effort to pass the melodic fragment between different sections of the choir:  I did not want the sopranos alone singing all the most interesting lines, leaving the other sections of the choir getting bored.  I have come to realise that one of the secrets to composing music to be played or sung by real-life musicians is to strive to make it enjoyable to perform, as any sense of enjoyment is inevitably conveyed to the audience.

Once again, I found it surreal to be the only living composer featured in the concert programme:  the second youngest composer to have a piece performed at this concert passed away in 1894.  I think one of the factors that makes composing of choral music appeal to me is its potential timelessness: I love the possibility my music being sung long after I’m dead and buried!

We had a few minutes to spare before the concert began, and decided to capture a short video tour of the church.  The tour also captured several flattering testimonials from choir members!


Thanks again to Harmonia Sacra and Peter Leech for their hard work and support for my music.  And thanks to Alex Killpartrick and Sam Thompson for coming along and helping with the recording!

Address is Approximate

The following composition is another of my recent exercises in combining real and virtual instruments to achieve a symphonic sound that hopefully sounds realistic.

I stumbled upon this fantastic stop motion animation short, Address is Approximate by Tom Jenkins, and immediately felt inspired by the magnificent visuals.  The music featured in the original clip is a piece by the Cinematic Orchestra from their score to Disney’s The Crimson Wing.

Whilst the piece does complement the footage nicely, given that it wasn’t written specifically for this particular film clip, I didn’t feel overly intimidated by the prospect of composing something original which would be equally effective.

Many thanks to all the wonderful musicians who were kind enough to perform on this recording.  It was a pleasure to hear them bring the composition to life :)

Sheepy Mixes

I was pleased to be invited to help with several more mixes for MrSuicideSheep‘s YouTube channel.

Below you will find mixes entitled Approaching Farewell and Dark Passion, both of which consist of chilled out electronic music around the 140bpm mark.

These are always highly enjoyable to work on, and it’s very humbling as a DJ to read the nice comments left by listeners and to find that these mixes genuinely seem to make a valid contribution to people’s lives:

I’m also thrilled to see my recent drum&bass mix entitled The Journey riding high on Youtube – now with over 1.5 million views!  What’s even more surreal is that if you Google “drum & bass mix”, The Journey comes up as the top video result!

Post-university debriefing…

I was pleased to graduate in July 2012 from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama with a First-Class Bachelor of Music degree.  My time there was perhaps the most enjoyable and enriching four years of my life so far, but it was also certainly the most difficult.


I often find myself talking with friends who are contemplating applying to study Music Technology at degree level and being asked if I would recommend it.  For me personally, it was a highly beneficial experience and developed me as a musician immensely.

Considering all the experiences I have had at university – the people I have met, the friends that I have made, the projects I have undertaken, the variety of music to which I have been exposed, and the influences which I have absorbed – and the cumulative effect that all of this has inevitably had on widening my perception of music – I’m convinced that I’m now a much more well-rounded person and musician as a result.

I certainly wouldn’t have met all the inspiring colleagues, collaborators, instrumentalists and vocalists with whom I have had the good fortune to work; and perhaps I wouldn’t have met people like Dan Aperture and Dave Droneboy who have provided me with so many unique opportunities that have supported and encouraged my journey.

I’m sure all these factors have had a dramatically positive effect on developing my creative voice, allowing me to make interesting music. Although I’m not exactly raking in the mega-bucks just yet, I like to think that the skills that I have developed across a wide-range of musical activities will allow me to have a sustainable and fruitful career in the industry, and that I’ll reap the harvest in the longer-term.  After all, I’m still 43 years away from retirement, so would like to be able to explore a few areas over those years!

For anyone just embarking on his or her own higher education journey, I thought it might prove helpful if I wrote down everything I wished I’d known when I was just about to begin my own course.

1.  Don’t let others influence your creative voice …

In my very early days at university, I fell into the trap of writing music with the primary intent of pleasing my lecturers to achieve a good grade – even though this meant completely compromising my style and aesthetic.  This was extremely difficult to pull off with any sincerity or artistic fulfilment, and I soon found myself becoming highly frustrated – and this did not result in good marks either!

As I was still fairly new to music production, I had not yet persisted in attempting to realise the musical ideas in my head in order to get them out in a way that sounded convincing.  Thankfully, I overcame this lack of confidence in my own voice and, once I began embracing that, it wasn’t long before my material achieved a much higher standard.  My advice to any producer starting out would simply be to focus on becoming the musician or performer that you consider is missing from the world – and, if you work hard enough at it, sooner or later you’ll find other people who resonate with your output and who want to join you on your journey.

Another thing to remember when submitting work at university is that the manner in which you present your work is often just as important as the content.  If you can find a way to stand out from your contemporaries, this will often pay dividends.  It’s clearly important to get into this mindset when moving out into the real industry too, especially given the evolving platforms and the ‘copycats’ who over-saturate the music market!

2.  Find the enjoyment in deadlines …

I personally love deadlines and the positive effect that these impose on my work ethic and time management abilities: these are probably the feature of university that I’m currently missing most.

During one’s time at university, it often seems unfair that one has to lock oneself away for weeks at a time in order to meet the numerous impending deadlines that are inconveniently scheduled to hit within days of each other – though this is great practice for real-world scenarios in which people always want things delivered super-fast.

Even though, despite working hard, I often felt – when the submission day arrived – as though I haven’t had enough time, or that the music could have been better, or that there were a number of ideas which I hadn’t been able to get out of my head and into the computer – none of this really mattered: getting things finished and moving on is what really matters.  Now all I need is someone to put a definitive Tolerance album deadline in front of me …

3.  Make the most of the talent around you…

One of the most valuable aspects of university is being surrounded by like-minded creative people off whom one can bounce ideas.

I studied Creative Music Technology at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and was very fortunate in being a member of an intimate year group of just eight students.  Being in that environment, surrounded by incredibly talented people, forced me to aim as high as possible and, just under four years later, I graduated at the top of the class.  Had it not been for this great bunch of people, who constantly inspired me to work harder, I don’t think I’d be the musician I am today.

I have found that the most rewarding part of the music-making process is getting other performers involved and allowing them to enhance my music.  I am always very careful about whom I ask to get involved – and, fortunately, this seems to pay off, as I am constantly impressed by how people are able to elevate my music to unexpected heights!

When I first began integrating live performers into my virtual arrangements, I was initially slightly nervous about approaching people for fear of being rejected – but I soon found that people were  surprisingly willing to get involved, and often even flattered by the invitation.  I don’t recall anyone ever saying ‘no’.

During their time at university, students will often lend their services for free.  It’s therefore better to experiment with this at that stage and to develop proficiency in extracting killer performances from people within short time-frames, so that one can work more cost-effectively when finding oneself paying for people’s time out in the real world.  I also found that I initially made a few mistakes while working with other people – for instance by scoring instrument parts in the wrong clef: this would then have to be fixed while the musician patiently sat waiting!  In the real world, a mistake like this could be quite costly (not to mention embarrassing), and perhaps a professional wouldn’t be quite as forgiving.

4.  Explore all creative avenues…

It’s just as important to discover avenues that you dislike as those you enjoy.  During our first and second years on the Creative Music Technology course, we were encouraged to experiment with composing electro-acoustic music.

This particular style of music is not one that I find completely enjoyable.  However, I believe that working within this style had a positive influence on my orchestral/electronic music.  Having managed to structure several pieces that basically consisted of atonal plinks and plonks, my composing of tonal music with a developing structure subsequently became far easier. Additionally, it was a great way of getting to grips with sound-design tools such as Metasynth and Audiomulch, which I still incorporate into my Tolerance music to achieve a distinctive sound palette.

Whilst it is important to explore lots of avenues, it is helpful to decide what it is one enjoys most, so that one can specialize in the later days of the course, thereby making it easier to pursue a career in that particular field.  Fortunately for me, I realized what I wanted to pursue fairly early on, though some of my colleagues struggled with this.  I’m sure that if you keep exploring, you will find your own distinctive path.

Another thing I find helpful is to talk about one’s ambitious/aspirations when people ask – and not to hold back, no matter how overly ambitious the ideas may sound.  It’s hard to get what/where you want if you’re the only person who knows – and you might be pleasantly surprised at the synchronistic people, events and opportunities that arise to help you get there.

5.  Try not to lose your passion …

The moment you feel your love of music slipping away, take a big step back and remember that college is only temporary and not always true.

Visit lots of concerts and gigs to remind yourself constantly why it is you fell in love with this art.

6.  See the light: don’t fall victim to the inevitable politics in your educational establishment …

With the economy in a consistently dire state as of late, and the government continually slashing education budgets, it’s highly likely that all universities are going to be forced to take some cost-cutting measures.

If the university authorities are cutting budgets for new studio equipment, or are slashing the number of contact teaching hours, it’s worth remembering that the most valuable commodity during university is time, so definitely make the most of it no matter what is going on politically.  It’s definitely worth organizing plenary sessions with your colleagues to share work and ideas: it’s always a great way to get a fresh perspective on your work, and to be inspired by others.  Don’t wait for your university to organize these sessions for you.

7.  Keep in mind your long-run aspirations…

When I first started at university, I had only recently taken up DJing.  I had become slightly obsessed with it and knew then that I wanted to pursue it as a potential career.  A great deal of time during my first year was spent trying to get involved with the d&b scene in whatever way I could that would further my DJing – whether that be working for numerous event promoters, buying excessive amounts of vinyl and spending hours recording  ’promo mixes’, distributing flyers and helping other promoters, or organising events myself.  All of these things were enjoyable and educative – while also allowing me to establish a wide range of strong relationships – but they were a big distraction from making music, which is the thing that will get you places in the modern-day industry.  So it’s ironic that to make it as a DJ it’s probably best to take a long break from DJ-ing and to concentrate on producing!

8.  Approach lots of people…

I find it hugely beneficial to reach out to others for advice and help.  Not everyone will always get back to you, but, more often than not, people with whom it is really worth being associated are the very ones who are willing to help.  Presumably remembering when they were also in the early stages of their own careers and had people help them out, they’re more than willing to repay that debt of gratitude.  There are some incredibly nice, helpful people on this planet – go and find them!

9.  Get a part-time job…

As a student you’re left with quite a substantial amount of free time, and there are certainly more effective ways to spend it than watching daytime TV or playing computer games.  I was very fortunate in securing a part-time job that fitted conveniently around my academic commitments.  I found that balancing these two commitments had a positive effect on my work ethic, and really made me value the free time with which I was left to use it productively and creatively.  Plus if you’re like me and believe in karma, it’s also nice to have some spare cash to be able to purchase your music production software.  Again this really forces you to value the tools in which you invest, so that you study how to use them and make the most of them.  I came across plenty of people who would have torrented the Waves Platinum Bundle, but who wouldn’t know how to use any of the plug-ins as they didn’t feel the incentive to invest time into getting to know them.

10.  It’s not all about getting good marks!

Another thing to keep in mind, especially during your final year, is whether to focus on achieving the best mark you can, or to try and secure some work in the professional world.  During my final months at university, my thoughts were: “I’ve spent almost 4 years on this course, so it’d be a shame if I didn’t come out with a First”.  Fortunately I did manage to achieve this grade, much to the satisfaction of my family (I’m apparently the first Whitehead to secure a first-class degree).  However the novelty of getting a First did wear off quite quickly, as it’s not the most important factor in trying to attract record labels.  However, I do like to think that the degree classification demonstrates a high level of commitment and passion for the subject, plus the ability to sustain focus and to work effectively to deadlines.  Perhaps, though, it would have been better to focus on landing a secure job immediately – but then again, I suppose I’ve got the rest of my life to do that………

The Creative Music Technology gang

Many thanks to all the lecturers and students of the Creative Music Technology department for a fantastic 4 years!  Special thanks to Lucas Sweeney and Simon Denny who were my right and left-hand men throughout the whole process – I doubt I’d have made it without you guys!

Song of praise…

I once again found myself in the extremely fortunate position of having my music performed by the fantastic Bristol-based choir, Harmonia Sacra.  The choir recently put on a concert to celebrate the release of their debut CD.  To mark the special occasion, and to meet new audience demand following the success of their previous concerts, the venue for this concert was the magnificent St. Mary Redcliffe Church in the centre of Bristol.

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The programme largely comprised music from the choir’s new CD, though my first ever choral composition, which I wrote during the summer of 2010, was treated to a fresh performance.  I found it quite surreal being the only living composer to have their work on the concert programme… the others are long dead and buried –  though when you hear their phenomenal writing, it becomes clear why their music has stood the test of time!

I was pleased that my piece was once again very well received – clearly the music hasn’t aged too badly since 2010!  Who knows, perhaps people might still be performing my choral music in a few hundred years time as well – wouldn’t that be something!

After putting my last choral composition, Christe Redemptor Omnium, online back in December, I was overwhelmed by the positive response.  It was especially nice to receive encouraging feedback from people who perhaps wouldn’t usually listen to choral music.  I do believe the melodic and harmonic content of this kind of music means that it is intelligible for the audience that follow my electronic music output, so I’m excited to be able to make it somewhat accessible to those listeners.  It was particularly pleasing to have the piece endorsed by London Elektricity – I hope my electronic productions gain his support in the future too.

If you do enjoy these pieces, and would like to hear more in a similar style, I strongly recommend checking out Harmonia Sacra’s debut CD.  Click the link below for more details and to preview audio samples.  In my (fairly biased) opinion, it is brilliant.

The Journey…

I was recently invited to create another mix for MrSuicideSheep.  I always jump at the opportunity to produce these, as his YouTube channel provides a great platform for me to share my musical taste with a wide audience of highly receptive listeners.  I decided to build this mix around a selection of my all-time favourite drum&bass tracks, and create a roller-coaster ride which takes you through the many strands of the genre.

As much as I love vinyl for my live DJ sets, I am currently finding enjoyment in embracing the software alternatives for producing seamless and professional sounding ‘studio’ mixes.  Like with my 15 Years of Hospital Minimix, I again used Ableton Live to create The Journey, as the software provides an immense amount of flexibility, allowing me to perfect each transition whilst also shaping the overall structure of a mix.

I have to once again thank lucas for assisting me with Ableton programming.  He is a good friend of mine who is doing exciting things with the software, and causing me to re-think my approach to live performance in the process!  You might like to check out his interesting and entertaining blog to see what he’s up to.

I was also flattered to be asked to provide a guest-mix for the debut instalment of the Aperture Podcast series.  Click the image below to subscribe on iTunes and discover what the Cardiff drum&bass scene has to offer :)

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