Merijn Scholte Albers and Harm Coolen—the Amsterdam-based electronic duo known as Weval—discuss production & mixing efforts on their latest album, The Weight, and serve up 6 simple tips for adding depth to your music and staying committed to the mix.
By David Ampong, Waves Audio
Weval is an electronic duo that doesn’t identify with a specific subgenre of music. Instead, they deliver an accumulation of music that inspires them. Merijn Scholte Albers and Harm Coolen became friends while attending film school. During their first meeting, they did what any other aspiring filmmaker or director would do—they only talked about music!
Since then, their paths have taken a pleasant detour towards the music industry and have evolved into live shows, international festivals and their highly anticipated 2nd album entitled The Weight. We managed to catch Merijn and Harm during the final mixing stages of their latest album and got the chance to discover their dedication to the craft and why you never know where the musical journey, or the mix will take you!
Tip #1: Add Life to Dry Sounds with Effects
Merijn: If there is a sound that we feel needs more life or has to move more, then MetaFlanger is the main phaser we use. We use it to give movement to drum fills, and on cymbals it’s really nice. H-Delay is also great for putting mono sounds, or sounds that are a little flat, into stereo and giving them a place to live in the mix.
Some of the other effects that you can hear all over this album are from the GTR Stomps. We’ve been using these since we first started creating music together and finding our own sound. The Vibrolo pedal is the tremolo effect you can hear on almost all the guitars and synths on this album—it’s great for turning a melody that sounded too ‘happy’ into something melancholic. The chorus pedal is also one that we use a lot, and also the Spring [Reverb] pedal is a stomp effect we found really nice on snares.
Our go-to if we need a good slap back delay on a vocal is the J37 Tape plugin. We like the tape stuff, but we really love that delay. I think that’s on almost every bus, channel and send.
Harm: For the really long delays, if we don’t use the J37 then we use H-delay. It’s also good for getting some nice psychedelic, weird stuff going on when you modulate it in real time—you get this super weird kind of pitch sound that we love! Most of the time you hear that specific sound on the album, it’s the H-Delay.
We used the OneKnob Filter for a lot of the filter shifts in the songs. What we like about it is that it’s really fast, and if you’re making music, the most important thing is to get the idea you have in your mind out quickly. It’s very straight forward; you just put that filter on and you’re done!
Tip #2: Don’t Hesitate When Inspiration Hits
Harm Coolen: In the moment that a new idea happens, you’re super happy with it. Feeling ambitious, you think; “Oh! I should do this, and then I’m gonna do that… and work really, really late til’ the moment the creativity stops!”. It’s important to catch these moments of inspiration because you never know when it will hit you again! The song: ‘Are You Even Real’ for example, which was one of the first tracks we made on this album, we started it on my laptop with just some MIDI chords and a drum pattern. Immediately we thought this is something we should work on, but we didn’t know exactly how it would drop, or how we could structure it into a song.
Merijn Scholte Albers: One night our friend singer/guitarist Koen-Willem Toering came over to our studio to pick up his guitar, but we thought it would be a good idea to have him try and sing something on the track. He ended up singing in this high-pitched kind of voice, and after about twenty minutes we had the song. He’s really fast with these kinds of ideas—it was like he already had the lyrics in his mind. We got a lot of energy from those takes that we would go back and mess around with during the mixing stage. By the end of the night, we had a structured song.
Tip #3: Treat the Low End
Harm: A lot of times you have a lot of bass pressure happening around 50 Hz for example, which in the studio may sound nice, and then you listen on smaller speakers or in your car and your whole low end is either gone, or in some cases way too much because modern speakers are mostly too hyped in the low end. It’s a bit of trial and error to gain some of this warm feeling right in the low end without blowing up your whole mix. The MaxxBass plugin was a great tool for us when we needed to add some warmth to stems or get the low end sounding better harmonically.
Merijn: We discovered MaxxBass during the making of our first record. We would listen to how our kick drums translated across different speakers. This plugin helped make the kicks sound better harmonically and added more pressure, so they would sound really good across a lot of speakers. Our sound guy Freek de Greef also uses it live a lot. There are so many places where the bass is horrible or even non-existent, so our sound guy adds it in to give our sound even more low end when we need it.
Another plugin we used a lot on this album was Reel ADT. Not just on vocals, but also on bass—whether it was a bass guitar, synth bass or just a synth sound, we used that a lot just to make the lows aggressive in a nice way.
Tip #4: If It Feels Right…Keep It!
Merijn: The majority of the time the source is the most important. But sometimes, it’s about the emotion in the performance. In some cases, we were either away from the studio or in a place without any equipment. We wanted to record the idea and get something down, but all we had was the built-in laptop microphone. The sound may have come out crappy, but there was something about the emotion of the vocal in that specific take that we really liked. We actually ended up keeping some of the vocals that were recorded this way because when it came to re-rerecording with a really good microphone, sonically it was better, but the feeling wasn’t the same. With tools like X-Click, X-Crackle and X-Noise, we were able to make the sound much cleaner and better.
Tip #5: Rearrange Your Ideas
Harm: When we started out making the song ‘The Weight’, we made a lot of melodic ideas—which is a difficult thing because sometimes it can feel super stupid at the moment you are trying to create one. It’s really difficult to make a good melody and heel a sense of freedom while doing it.
The whole track came together in fragments. We had all these different ideas for melodies, choruses and different sets of beats. At the end of the track, for example, Merijn played these nice octave parts on a synth that were intended for the outro. But in the end, we thought it sounded ridiculous and a bit over-the-top. So at some point we said; “Let’s try this at the beginning. Maybe it’s not that crazy.” —which is more or less the big synth line on the first drop on ‘The Weight’ when the drums come in. That was one of those moments that a track really came together with minimal rearrangement.
Tip #6: Stay Committed
Harm: Every track that we make, we more or less fall in love with. At some points, we don’t like it anymore because we’ve heard it too much. Sometimes it can take us months to mix—because we try to push every track from liking it, to really, really-extremely liking it! We’ve done up to sixty mixes on certain songs, only to find out in the end that we actually destroyed it—having to go back to mix number fourteen or something; You tend to go a little mental! After a while, you don’t know what you’re even hearing anymore, but then you think; “No, I have to make this work. I can’t stop now.”
Merijn: For me, if I can still hear it after like two thousand times, it’s a good sign! When we mix, we spend like one hundred extra hours on that track. But a lot of tracks slowly change during this process of mixing. In the end, I feel good that we took so much time so that we could compose it better and give it the best possible mix. If I still get goosebumps and don’t get bored, I know we have something special.
Find out how to give your electronic music that human touch in this interview with KSHMR or check out these plugins and instruments for electronic music production.