Producers’ Roundtable: Problem Solving

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By Francis Preve

We’ve all encountered it at one point or another. A musical element that we want to use (or in the case of a remix, need to use) that just doesn’t fit. Sometimes it’s a janky vocal, other times it’s a riff that just doesn’t sit with our groove correctly. One of the things that defines a professional is the ability to solve production issues effectively, so that’s what we asked this month’s team of producers: Describe a problem solving technique that you’ve used recently. Got a question for our experts? Email me at

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When a vocal is hard to get in time, I’ll sidechain it to the kick, so it ducks down to the beat. It doesn’t work for all vocals—it’s very hit-and-miss. It depends on the syncopation of the vocals and the timbre of the voice. Sometimes I use it to de-emphasize the voice, if I like an instrumental hook better. You really need to let the song be your guide and do what is appropriate to make it shine, while adding your own touch.

Depending on the key, sometimes a bass line can be so deep that it leaves a hole between the mid and bass frequency ranges. Situations like these can also give you a bass line with very little tonal clarity in the low end. However, if you like the subby sound of it all, layering the bass line with a different bass one octave up can solve this without sounding like you’ve merely transposed the bass up and added a sub-oscillator.

Recently, I worked on a track where some of the demo synth parts were not quite in time. The sound and the part worked well, but I didn’t have that particular sound to replay the part, so I quantized the audio in Pro Tools 9 using its “Elastic Audio” feature to solve the problem. It worked really well and the problem was solved in five minutes.

I recently finished a remix that took about seven different versions before I was finally able to settle on it. There was a melody from the original track that I’d been trying to use, but for whatever reason it just wasn’t gelling well with anything I put behind it. I started running the melody through my Eventide DSP4000, looking for something to modify it in such a way that hopefully it would fit. Using an algorithm that has two pitched delay lines (one at +1,200 cents fed into the input of the second delay at -500 cents, with feedback on both) followed by a chorus and a gigantic reverb, a couple of simple piano notes became huge, slowly-evolving pads and swells. Suddenly the entire direction of the remix changed. I stripped out almost everything else that I’d already done, and built from the ground up again using these piano “pads” from the Eventide, and it all came together within two days after that. Happy accidents are king!

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