This is a post about Obsession – not the personality trait, but the project!


Over the last year and a half I ran a project called ‘Obsession’. Its purpose was to showcase several of the artists I work with and explore the grey areas between  genres. It features twelve artists – most of which are singers and songwriters. We spent the whole of 2009 writing and recording the album, and the first half of this year preparing for a live show (which was performed in May this year).

From a production perspective, working on Obsession was an interesting process. There was a wide variety of collaboration and working styles. Some artists wrote the whole song and then gave me free reign to do what I liked with it. Others came only with a few ideas and we developed those ideas into full songs together. Some artists were fairly ‘hands-off’, only coming to a few sessions to record parts and keep track of where the song was at, other artists came to every single session (either to contribute to the production process or to just watch and learn). Some artists were very clear about the creative direction they wanted, some gently guided the process, and others trusted my judgement and let me drive.

For me personally, it was a great change from working on my solo album. Where my solo album was 100% my own creative direction, Obsession was a deliberate effort to hand creative control to other artists, to make every song a collaboration. I’d worked with other artists on projects before, but not on something this big, and not on something where I was taking personal responsibility for the outcome.

From an engineering perspective, this was a particularly interesting project to work on because it was so diverse. There was everything from rock/metal to hiphop to folk to electronica – and there were some really inventive sounds too! It was a challenge to bring it all together and give the album a consistency despite all the different influences.

Listen to the album here: http://kimlajoie.bandcamp.com/album/obsession

Some interesting things to listen for:

What If – The giant 808-style kick combined with the light electronic percussion and NO SNARE (!) gives this track a really floaty feeling. Not to mention the synth pads and the great vocals by Jayne. When I was mixing this, I thought I’d drenched the vocal in far too much plate reverb, but listening to the song later I think I could have made it even more lush by adding delays too. Interesting how perceptions can change over time.

Addictive Personality – The extended guitar solo at 2:50 goes through a lot of processing and augmentation to really blur the line between live performance and synthesis.

All I Wanted – I love how the chord progression for the chorus changes slightly and develops each time we hear it. I especially like the double-time changes in the last chorus. The reversed guitars and subtle vocoder are great too.

By Calvin Klein – This was a really odd collaboration. The vocalist is Randall Stephens, who is primarily a poet and spoken word performer – not a rapper. It was actually quite an involved process to fit his words into musically-useful patterns!

Here I Go Again – The acoustic guitar solo at 3:01 was me playing my old beat-up acoustic guitar with dead strings. It was a real struggle to fit it in the mix by keeping the dynamics and noise under control. The ‘pre-echo’ background vocals in the last chorus work really well too!

When Night Passes – I bet you can’t guess what the solo instrument at 1:57 is! If you listen carefully in the quiet sections of the song, you can hear the sound of people talking. It’s a recording of people in a shopping centre that I made years ago, and adds a really interesting ambient texture to the song. That sound at the end of the song is reverb feeding back on itself…

The Cloak Of Night – We were planning to add a cello part to this song. It was a great idea at the time (and listening to the song now, it’s still a great idea!), but the cellist we used wasn’t gelling with the song. Just because you record it, doesn’t mean you have to use it!

Stay With Me – I love the dirt in this song! The noise from the guitar, the saturation on the vocals and piano… It’s certainly not a conventional pop sound, but it works really well to give the song a real sense of character. The flutes were a last-minute addition at the request of the artist, but ended up fitting in quite well.

Kissless – The drum loop is sent through two spring reverbs at 0:39. On one side is a a physical analogue spring reverb, the other is a digital model. I can’t remember which side is which. There’s also a sequenced Juno106 bassline throughout the whole song, though it’s mixed so low I think I’m the only one who can hear it.

What Have I Become – Katie is one of the most dynamic singers I’ve worked with. She’ll often go from a whisper from a scream in the one performance. This is often a real challenge for compression – to keep the whole vocal sitting well in the mix without undercompressing the quiet parts or overcompressing the loud parts, while keeping the whole thing sounding natural.

Beautiful Deception – So many words! Maxine kept running out of breath during the vocal recording session, and we had to make some edits to the lyrics just to get enough air in! There are so many lyrics that there wasn’t time for a guitar solo or other instrumental break.

Perfection – The vocal effect at 2:43 is really interesting. It’s based around an envelope-follower… but where envelope followers are commonly used to drive compressors and filters, this one was used to drive a pitch shifter (mod delay actually)! The main vocal is compressed (so it’s all the same level), but the effect was triggered by the uncompressed vocal. You can ear the syllables that were sung loudest were pitch shifted the most.

I Love You Baby – I don’t know where to start with this one. There are so many layers, so many cool tricks. I just went crazy here – lots of pitch shifted vocals, lots of live-performed distortion and filtering. I even indulged in some trance stutter synths! The Guitar solo at 4:20 is one of my favourite sounds. I’ve used it on a few projects (hear it on Star at 1:37 for example). Does anyone else use this sound?

World Order – I almost didn’t include this on the album, thinking it was too avant-guard. Turns out a lot of people liked it, and it worked really well live! Loving the feedback – it almost sounds like a didgeridoo (especially at the end).



    • reflected
    • July 10th, 2010

    very inspiring production.
    love the mixing and the music…some really good moments.

    btw “Obsession” (the personality trait) is something that worth an article on its own :P

  1. @reflected
    Obsession (the personality trait) is certainly a double-edged sword! It can push you to create great work, but can result in ignoring other things (either aspects of music making, or other parts of life) that are also important!

    Glad you enjoyed the music!


    • Mike
    • July 10th, 2010

    Great work! Truly inspiring.

    If I could ask how did you get the drums so warm? As a matter of fact, how did you make everything so warm?! Everything has a beautiful texture in the midrange but never becomes unbearable or overdone. I love it!

  2. @Mike

    Hi Mike. The drums for the songs were a variety of source – some live performance, some samples, some electronic stuff. Each song had its own approach. Let me know which song you’re referring to, and I’ll tell you what I did.


    • Mike
    • July 10th, 2010

    Particularly the Piano and 808s in “What if”. And the overall mix of the track in general!

  3. @Mike

    Hi Mike.

    The piano or drums aren’t anything secret. They’re both mid-range samples (not even high-end samples), processed through several layers of anaogue-modelled EQ and gentle compression.

    It sounds rather sophisticated and mysterious to say it, but it’s not really. There was an EQ on each channel. The piano also had a gentle compressor. The mix bus had an EQ and compressor. All using the principals I’ve discussed in this blog.

    The approach reverb was a bit more interesting – I used two reverbs for the mix:
    – A thick plate, mainly for giving the vocals more ‘cloud’; and
    – A *very* non-linear hall, mainly for providing a lush ambience.

    The piano and the LF boom were both sent to the hall, and the other percussion was sent to the plate (because the plate was a bit more transparent). Both these reverbs added a lot of character to the mix.

    The first file is with no effects processing. It’s just the raw samples. This second file is the same section, but with effects processing. You can listen and download them from SoundCloud:



    • Mike
    • July 14th, 2010

    Thanks for the insight, it sounds like a lot of thought and time went into it. Keep up the great work.

  4. @Mike
    Thanks Mike! It certainly was a lot of thought and time – over a year of writing and recording!


    • darmowy
    • July 27th, 2010

    Thank you for this blog. Thats all I can say. You most definitely have made this blog into something thats eye opening and important. You clearly know so much about the subject, youve covered so many bases. Great stuff from this part of the internet. Again, thank you for this blog.

  5. Thanks Darmowy. I’m glad I can use this blog to help other composers, producers and engineers.


  1. July 9th, 2010
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