As a DJ, producer and remixer, Alex has to deal with a diversity of scenarios when it comes to making music. We asked him to talk us through his typical daily workflow and methodology. : As you mentioned earlier, you start writing on piano…
AA: “Yeah, a lot of times, especially if it’s writing with someone else. A lot of stuff comes from acapellas and songs that are pitched to me, and I’ll take the vocal and write something underneath; but if I’m writing with someone else, a lot of the time it’s better to do it on piano – it seems to connect with songwriters a lot more than a kick drum and a weird sound! Sometimes I plug [my digital piano] in and record it straight in – it’s got a nice sound.”
: How does the process go when you’re working with someone else?
AA: “You just sit in a room, play music ideas that you’ve been working on. I really struggle to begin with because it’s such a weird thing if you think about it: going in a room with someone and just writing a song. But after a while, you can judge what kind of thing somebody’s going to write. Sometimes, as I said, it’ll be all on piano – I’ll start playing chords. Sometimes I’ll have a bit of a beat ready, or I’ll play something that I’ve already made, and they’ll like it, so I’ll start something similar from scratch.
“I don’t write any lyrics, though – that’s not an ability I possess, unfortunately.” : Presumably, if you’re working with a singer, say, they’ll lay everything down
and leave it with you to finish without them being there.
AA: “Yeah, that’s the life of the producer. The songwriting’s often done in a day, then it takes however long it takes to produce up. Sometimes, as they won’t have been here for that long, I’ll scrap whatever I produced in the session and start from scratch again. Or if I do find something in the session that I think I’ll end up actually using, I’ll just loop it throughout, rather than sit there and really try and produce a big drop or something like that.”
: How do you decide what tracks to take on?
AA: “I can usually tell from working on a track for about an hour if I’m going to do it or not. But having said that, there have been occasions where I’ve worked on something for a week solidly and nothing happens, and then I’ll come back to it and it’ll just click into place. Generally, though, I will know straight away if the elements are there”
: And how about remixes?
AA: “People started asking me to do remixes after Make Me Feel Better started to do well. Remixes are big additions to singles these days, especially with streaming – if you’ve got a pop record that’s not danceable, you need a dance version to push it in certain areas. Sometimes I will get direction like that – ‘I want it to be slightly dancier’, or, ‘I want it to sound like this remix you’ve done before’… I get that quite a lot, which is annoying [laughs].
“Tracks get sent to my manager or me, and if I like it, I’ll take it and see what I can do with it. The timelines are generally pretty quick – a couple of weeks, normally. The Louisa Johnson one I did, they wanted in a day! It may have taken me around two days, but it was a very quick turnaround.”
: Do you make your sounds from scratch or do you use presets?
AA: “I find sounds and then adapt them. I’ll never use a sound that’s not been changed at all, cos that’s when things do start to sound cheap. I love Serum, it just visually pulls you in. I’ll make sounds with that from scratch – risers, etc. But I mainly start with a preset that I like and just evolve it.”
Take note: Alex’s trusty whiteboard helps him stay on track and keep on top of ongoing projects