Selah Weekes, aka “selah you did that?” is a 20-year-old music producer from Toronto. Raised in a family of musicians, Selah’s life was intertwined with music from the start. Now, with seven years of dedicated music production experience, Selah has honed his craft through programs like the Remix Project 16.0 and Toronto Metropolitan University’s professional music program, which helped him get into the heart of music production and the broader industry. As an active educator, Selah has garnered more than 100,000 views with his online tutorials, inspiring aspiring music producers in a captivating way. Although he’s just getting started, Selah has amassed more than 30 million cumulative streams across all platforms, and his love for music reverberates through his every endeavour. In 2023, as a summer student working at SOCAN Foundation, Selah led a series of both group and one-on-one workshops, engagingly educating SOCAN members in music production, beat-making, mixing, and sound design. Below are some of the tips and tricks he shared, in the art and craft of music production.
Even though it’s probably the most important effect, it’s often very hard to hear in a recording. It glues the sounds together. It levels out the dynamic range of a given track, and can make vocals sound more natural. This is the number one tool to get professional-sounding mixes. There are different styles of compression, different layers of it, and it can balance your mix, enhance it, glue it, or fix it. If you want to learn more about compression, and how to hear it, there’s a free 10-hour course on YouTube about how to use it.
In compression, the threshold sets where your gain reduction starts. A low threshold compresses more of the signal, while a high threshold compresses less of the signal. The ratio determines how much of your signal gets compressed, once going above the threshold. For example, a 4-to-1 ratio means that for every decibel (dB) of the signal that passes the threshold, it brings that part down 4 decibels. Infinite ratio blocks the signal from crossing the threshold – this is also known as a limiter. Attack and release are used to shape the compression, giving it some character. Attack sets how fast the compressor reaches its full gain reduction after passing the threshold. For example, of you have a slow attack, it’s like a slope moving toward whatever your ratio is, from 1-to-1, through to 4-to-1. Release sets how quickly the gain reduction stops after the compressor goes below the threshold. You can compress the entire track, or use multi-band compressors to affect each individual EQ curve.
A de-esser takes out harsh “S” sounds, around the 4,500 hz range, but you need to use it after the compressor, because compression can bring out these harsh frequencies more.
Reverb is probably one of the most over-used and wrongly used effects. It sounds good, but it usually muddies up the mix. Modern reverbs have a knob to make them not affect the low end. Use reverb to add space to an empty mix, but don’t clutter it up too much. Try to use one type of reverb in a mix. Types of reverb include Hall (replicating the sound of a concert hall, good for strings, muddy up the mix); Chamber (similar to Hall but with more clarity, good for vocals and guitars); Room (emulates the reverb of a room , much smaller, good for most things, doesn’t muddy up the mix very much); Plate (doesn’t copy a real space, artificial, very warm); and Spring (an artificial reverb that has a spring inside it, rather than a plate, brings a clean and bright tone, the kind of reverb found inside most guitar amplifiers).
Delay repeats the audio signal to which you apply it. Delay time is how long the delay takes to come into effect. Feedback sets how many times the delay will happen. You can mix between the “wet” (100% wet is all of the signal put into the delay) and “dry” (100% dry is the normal signal before putting it into the delay), and you can mix between them. Some delays have a ping-pong button, which means the delayed signal goes between both ears. You can also set the timing of the delay, usually by the sub-division of beats: half-beat, quarter-beat, eighth. Types of delay include Slap (short, single repeat); Doubling Echo (doesn’t add delay, but thickens vocals, making it sound like two vocal takes – but recording two takes is better); Looping (delays a sound enough to create a loop0; and Modulated (effects like chorus, flanger, and phase shifters are technically delays).
Buses, or “send” tracks, are tracks to which you send other sounds. Buses often have reverb and delays on them. You can route multiple track audios to one bus track. For example you can have a pre-master bus to try things before adding to the actual master recording. Buses are used to add effects to a group of tracks – for example, having a drum bus. They help to mix the dry and wet signal with less muddiness. They free up the CPU (Central Processing Unit) on your system by not using as many CPU-intensive plug-ins, especially reverbs, on every individual track. Buses also allow for greater complexity in layering effects.
Plug-in order – the sequence in which you apply your plug-ins, or effects – really matters. Different plug-ins will have different relationships with each other. So it’s a good idea to learn what each plug-in does, and determine what order works for you, and why. For example, why it’s best to use a de-esser after a compressor. There’s no set rule, so you can determine your plug-in order. Use your own ears, and your own discretion, and play around with it to find out what works best for you.
My plug-in order for vocals – though it’s subjective, and depends on the mix – is Melodyne, Autotune (or an alternative tuner), Subtractive EQ, Compression, De-Esser, EQ, Multi-Band Compression (for specific frequencies), Saturation (which makes the vocals warmer), then Reverb and Delay (on buses).