Chris Carvalho is a music producer and founder of UnlockYourSound, where he provides regular advice and tutorials via his blog. He also coaches private clients in production and engineering, and specialises in Logic Pro tuition.
In this insightful interview, Chris provides essential advice on mixing, workflow and the importance of a positive mindset.
Who is Chris Carvalho?
For any LearnMusicTech readers who may not have heard about you before, could you provide a bit of background on yourself and the services that UnlockYourSound has to offer?
Absolutely. As well as producing my own music, I provide services to music makers in the form of Coaching, Logic Pro Tuition, and Audio Engineering.
How long have you been producing music?
I first started when I was about 14-15. I was mixing records at home and later on an independent radio station, which naturally developed into a production thing. I started with FL Studio on the home PC. Life changing.
Who or what are your biggest influences (music, art, business or otherwise)?
Back then, I was actively involved in the early (real) dubstep scene here in Croydon. I would go to Big Apple Records in Surrey Street Market and buy records off Skream himself. Those guys massively influenced me with regard to production and sound design.
With regard to life and business, Gary Vaynerchuk. I’m listening to his audiobook ‘AskGaryVee’ for the second time over now. It’s just the way he thinks that is fascinating to me. I’m also reading Elon Musk’s autobiography. What a guy!
Who are you listening to right now?
I listen to different styles of music all of the time. More and more I am listening to music that has a sense of space and separation.
Obviously a good song is a good song on it’s own merit, but I really want a sense of 3D in what I hear.
I seem to get this mostly from old records. Miles Davis is on right now.
Can you describe your biggest production breakthrough (no matter how simple!)?
Layering. I also want to throw parallel processing for the sake of your readers, but layering is one of those amazingly simple yet powerful things.
MIDI and instrument layering. MIDI layering is great, where I basically set up multiple track headers for the same instrument and just layer lots of MIDI in the same key to it in a 8-16 bar loop, all going to one synth.
Then there is also sending the same MIDI to layers of instruments which is the more common method associated with the term I think.
With my arrangements, I tend to go vertical then horizontal without much overlap. I am trying to reverse that at the moment, just for the sake of breaking my own process.
If you could give one piece of advice to improve a mix, what would it be?
I know the convention in popular music is to mix kick and/or bass first, but more and more now I think it doesn’t make sense to me. Obviously all things are relative, but if you want a loud mix without the expense of dynamics, then mixing kick and bass last or next to last, actually makes more sense to me as you will be less inclined to mix too much in.
It’s amazing how many times i’ve been sent a mix to master which has 4 dB of dynamic range, to gain 4 more decibels of dynamics when I simply pull back the bottom end.
Also, our ears are way more sensitive to mid-to-high range frequencies, so mixing the content of the song first, those more high-midrange frequencies makes sense. I know many will disagree.
I would also like to say that separation is essential to a good mix. I know this is obvious, but I mean separation out in the three-dimensional space. Imagine an equilateral triangle with two corners at your speaker and the other behind them, behind your screen or console. There needs to be stuff back there if you want to create depth. I find de-essers/dynamic EQs to be great for this.
Do you have any tips or advice that other people may find surprising, controversial or that perhaps contradict general convention?
Quantity over quality. Sam Matla mentioned this recently and it totally resonated with me. You have to make a bunch of bad stuff before you make anything good.
The more you make, the better you will get.
It’s a craft and many easily forget that. I say this from a pure empathetic standpoint though. Think of it as getting the bad stuff out of the way. Every bad song, you are closer to a good one.
What’s the one part of your setup that you couldn’t be without?
I do everything in Logic Pro. I’m not married to it, but I can do everything in it. So in reality, that’s the one thing that helps me get it all done, including all of the stock plug-ins and synths.
What are your three favourite plugins (stock or third party)?
Retro Synth. Freaking love that thing. So versatile and easy to use. Also makes for a great synth to teach Sound Design due to its simple workflow.
Gain. Fairly pretentious answer but it’s too useful not to mention. Level management is key. I use it for mono reference as well.
Compressor. Logic’s stock compression unit is very good and has a nice range of ‘sounds’ due to the various circuit emulations.
Are there any free tools that you would recommend?
What do you do to stay inspired and motivated?
It won’t surprise you to hear that I think mindset is the biggest variable in the creative process. Any way in which you can manage your own expectations will prove beneficial with regard to getting more done.
I do my best to drill down on the one thing that I need to do now and not think about anything more than one thing at a time.
This is why I talk about goals. Goals allow you to use the reverse engineering process to drill down to the one thing you need to do now to move forward. When i’m making a chord progression, I am making a chord progression. When it’s done, I move onto the next thing, and only the next thing.
I used to get fed up and frustrated with what I was making, until one day I realised that it wasn’t what I was making that frustrated me, it was what I was making RELATIVE to my expectations. I’m not saying people should lower their expectations, but it helps to manage them.
What is the biggest challenge that you have faced so far in your career (music, business or otherwise)?
Historically, fear of failure. My thoughts on failure these days are the complete reverse of what they used to be.
Failure is essential.
It helps to ‘unlearn’ that failure is a bad thing. Failure and success are two sides of the same coin in my opinion. You can’t have one without the other. A child learning to walk. Just keep getting back up.
What’s been your biggest achievement to date?
Starting my business and generally becoming more business-oriented. I’m still at humble beginnings but every success no matter how small is 100% for me. I really feel like i’m being useful to the community and it shows in the continued business I get from people.
What resource, method or philosophy has had the biggest impact on your workflow?
I love it when something happens that is beyond my understanding. When you hear a sound like that, you appreciate it more on its own merit. It’s just there, and all of the noise about ‘how’ isn’t. I like to create an environment that is unusual and complex to the point when the unexpected is expected.
I like to go in and break things.
It doesn’t necessarily show in the music I make, but it is there, I just tidy it all up after the event. Pushing Squares is a more audible example of this.
Are there any resources that you recommend?
Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck. She goes deep into how our fear of failure is basically a tragedy and detrimental to our development. At least that was my takeaway.
Can you tell us more about your latest service offering?
I’m in the services business so I would have to say coaching. My clients use me as a means of holding them accountable as well as generally advising on all things in which I can.
Music Production is a long and difficult journey with way too many distractions, especially in the tech.
I do my best to filter out the noise for people.
What’s currently in the pipeline?
I’m releasing my own EP which is planned for late February. Watch this space. Pushing Squares is available for pre-order now and out January 7th.
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