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.
TAL software has some great effects plug-ins, some great reverbs. The Valhalla Vintage Verb is also good. Those are my favourite go-to reverbs. For actual plug-ins, Podalski and u-he have some great synths. Podalski is my favourite. BBC Symphony Orchestra, and a lot of the Spitfire plug-ins, have some great orchestral sounds; it’s like a whole orchestral library. Contact is pretty good. Labs, by Spitfire, is a great one. And Pancake is another great one – it’s an emulation of a pretty good Soundtoys plug-in.
You want to start with leveling and panning. In leveling, you’re using volume sliders to get each sound to an appropriate level in the mix, so nothing is levelled too loud or quiet. With panning, you’re getting the sound to be not too wide or narrow.
For leveling, you can mute all of the instruments, turn them down to zero, and start by leveling the loudest one (usually the kick/bass drum) first, then bringing other instruments up around it. If you want your track to sound more ‘high-end,’ you can turn up the volume of a high-end instrument in your track. You don’t have to have everything at the same level, everything just has to be at the level you want to hear. There’s usually an instrument in the track that’s the main thing, or the special thing, so if that’s the guitar, make sure the guitar is turned up more than something else. If it’s the vocal, then make sure the vocal is the most present thing in the mix.
Panning is a very under-used tool by beginners. This is how you get a wider mix. A lot of people, back in the old days, usually panned everything 100% right or 100% left. But with stereo, and in-ear headphones (earbuds), I don’t think that’s as necessary anymore. You can look at how the instruments in a band recording are placed in the mix, as a guide. Or if you look at photographs of orchestras onstage, see how the instruments are located – where the bass instruments, percussion, horns, and woodwinds are – to get a sense of how you might want to pan your equivalents in the mix. You can try to emulate how it works in real life. You can do the same with a four-piece jazz band.
A lot of people are kind of “iffy” on pitch correction. But on recordings of modern music that are being released on a professional level, they’re all pitch-corrected. It does give them a more professional, cohesive sound. If all your instruments are on-key, and the vocals are just a little off-key, it might be something you can’t hear at all – but when it’s on-key it just sounds a lot better. I usually use Melodyne and Waves Tune for pitch correction.
After leveling, EQ is the next step in mixing. It helps to understand the frequency spectrum. 0 to 80 Hz (hertz) is sub-bass, 80 to 250 is bass, 250 to 500 is low-mids, 500 to 2,000 is mids, 2,000 to 4,000 is high-mids, 4,000 to 6,000 is sibilance (where a lot of presence can be), and 6,000 to 20,000 is the high end. There are different types of “standard” EQ curves that many people use: low cut, high cut, bell curve, band pass.
Additive EQ boosts certain frequencies. Subtractive EQ takes out frequencies from the mix. Standard practice is to take out frequencies below 100 hz. The idea is to let each sound have its own space in the frequency spectrum. Subtractive EQ is usually what you should be using, taking certain frequencies out. For example, if I take out some of the low end, it’ll make the high end sound more present. Before adding stuff, which can add unwanted frequencies, try taking out stuff. Usually, cutting is better than boosting. For melodies, I’m usually cutting from the lower end to give more space. You can apply a low cut on the entire melody, or the entire track, so you don’t have to do it with each individual instrument. It can save you time.
To allow mixes to translate to multiple playback devices – cellphones, airpods, headphones, laptops, home sound systems, car sound systems – focus on the mid-range when mixing. Mixing headphones (designed for mixing) mostly focus on the mid-range when you listen to the playback. This is because most sound systems don’t have as wide a frequency range as your recording software. Some car sound systems have no high end – and it really drops off after 1,000 Hz. Airpods also don’t have a lot of presence, or low end. But their mid-range is similar to that of a car sound system, as it is for most listening devices. So you want to mix to that. If you don’t have mixing headphones, you can cut the low and high ends on your EQ, and listen to the playback like that, to see how it’ll sound on most devices.