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Punctual: Inspired by Jacob Collier, Julia Michaels, and a Chinese Restaurant

DJ/Producers Will Lansley & John Morgan share their thoughts on their process from inspiration, inception to the creation of a hit track.

Girl with Micro Braids

DECEMBER 12, 2019

Bursting with life, Will Lansley and John Morgan share their thoughts on their process from inspiration, inception to the creation of a hit track. They are an upcoming DJ and producer duo from London, UK. Being incredibly lighthearted, yet full lots of valuable wisdom on production and DJing. Our conversation left me feeling energised, inspired, and mostly wanting to hang with them as friends afterwards. They exude the energy of true musicians’ musicians: always wanting to get better and at the core of everything, truly loving the craft of their music. I can’t wait to see where they take their music as they evolve.

Was there a moment that inspired the start of your journey?

Will: It was always a dream, something we both wanted to do. We had some interest from a guy at Warner Bros. He was one of the first people to hear a tune we had done together. So we thought that if he liked it, maybe people would like our music. That’s when we decided to be a duo, and that this was our path.

John: It was a bit of a fluke as I don’t think either of us thought it would be a job. We started making music as a hobby from age 15 to now.

How did you meet?

John: My girlfriend at the time played French horn next to me in orchestra and she had a mate who produced Drum ‘n Bass. I did too, at the time, and he had a mate who produced Drum ‘n Bass too, who was Will. So the first time we met was in my bedroom, like a first date, just in music.

When you grow up in a small town, and especially 10 years ago, there weren’t that many people producing music. Although people are more connected now, back then finding someone else your age producing music was exciting and meant you had to make beats together.

Did you teach yourself how to produce?

Will: Youtube did! I both learnt in FL Studio but I also use Cubase. However I think that Cubase lacks certain functions, like when you lay out an arrangement in FL Studio and change it at the beginning, it repeats that throughout the track. You can’t do that in Cubase.

John: FL Studio gets a lot of slack. Yet Kaytranda, Deadmau5 and Martin Garrix use it. I don’t think it matters what you use. It’s all about ideas. A lot of time you make the same tunes whatever you’re on. I hope FL studio sees our support for them and sponsor us!

Your Influences?

John: We go through phases of who influences us. We were influenced by Kaytranda for our first EP. We wanted to get it out of the electronic quantized feel and let it be more human and imperfect - for instance my french horn is in "Fading Youth" right at the end. We programme in the drums and I play the keys in to make it feel more real - although it’s still in midi.

Will: Varying the velocity, especially with the hi hats, makes it feel more human. Yet it also depends on the type of music; if it’s more relaxed, you’d have the hi hat slightly off the beat to make it more chilled. We’re making a lot of dance music at the moment so then you want it to be super regular. For instance if you’re making house music, you wouldn’t want the kick velocity to be inconsistent. So it depends on the type of music: what feel you want to evoke, whether more soulful or more punchy and consistent.

How do you make your music so groovy?

John: If you can enjoy the music without the drums and baseline, then you’d probably enjoy it at the end. You know when you’re making something good if you’re dancing along in your bedroom. We have so many started ideas that haven’t made the cut, because they didn’t have groove.

Will: The more swing the more fun. The less swing the more serious. Maybe that’s a sweeping statement. Techno songs don’t have swing. But syncopated rhythms and swing definitely add groove!

Do you have a process when you’re starting to make tracks?

Will: If we get an A Capella, we’ll write chords around that. If we’re not working with a vocalist we’ll come up with an idea, and flesh out. But it’s different with every song - unless we’re in a session with songwriters.

John: We work with songwriters a lot and produce for other people. So you need to give them chords or flesh out a track for them. I write chords until I find something I’m actually interested in. There are obvious chord progressions you can go to, which I like to try to avoid generally. But the chords are the fundamentals of a track: a cool progression makes it exciting. If you’re going to spend the next 15 – 20 hours producing it you want it to be exciting to you. So yes: chords, then a nice beat.

Lessons learnt from working in sessions?

Will: We’ve had some interesting sessions. The first most important thing is to make sure they feel relaxed and you get on as friends. Then making sure that they like the vibe of the music you’re creating. Then there’s a range of things after that, which is why some sessions don’t go anywhere and some do. Lyrics are such a big thing. Sometimes someone has a great melody but the lyrics are a bit rubbish or you can have vice versa. Or the instrumental may not be that good.

Our favourite sessions are the ones we got songs out of. Quite often it’s the people we get along with that we get the most out of. We now write a lot with the people we’ve come really close with as friends, and they’re the most fun. You hang out with your mates as a job. It’s great! The ‘fading youth’ session was a highlight.

A lot of times we come up with melodies as a joke. But once you’ve got the chords and the melody, you have the fundamentals of the track. We’ve got a single coming up at the end of this year that we wrote as a joke in a Chinese restaurant. We made the beat, joking around, then made the song. When people are trying to impersonate artists and then come out with the best thing they’ve found all day, I think it’s not taking it too seriously, and having fun with it. It will come across. We’ve been there: where you make a song that you think people will like, but you’re not having fun making it, it won’t be good. No one will have a good song that they hated making. When you relax, and take it less seriously good things come.

How often do you create new sounds?

John: We don’t use presets. If you download a new sample library, we try not to use sounds from the same places. Then you build up a library of things you’ve made – presets you’ve made, and sounds you like. They’ll be little synth runs or little melodies on synths that you use on other tracks. Thus you build up a sonic without having to use all the same sounds every time.

Will: Apart from your key rolls!

John: Yeah I use them a lot! It’s often trying to emulate things. We bought a Roland Juno Synth a couple of years ago. We had a Korg MS10 synth, pretty retro, and used it to emulate sounds we heard. I think that is what keeps it fresh. Also if there’s a synth you really like, play around with the wave forms, different processing and you’ll find a new sound. On Serum, there’s a thing where you can take two favourite presets and combine the two randomly. It’s really cool. You can create totally new sounds that no one’s ever heard before?

How do you build your tracks? What challenges have you faced?

John: It depends on the type of track. With a lot of music there’s a formula people follow. Sometimes on tracks you need to go with what feels right even if it’s a bit unorthodox, and make up the structure as you go. A lot of time it’s like problem solving.

All the songs are out are the ones the ones that came the most easily. I hope this doesn’t come across as arrogant - but sometimes you have tracks that have too many of the same ideas that you like and you have to cull some. With those ones you often need to take a step back, stop listening and come back to it.

We usually do SO many drafts. We just finished a remix last week, and that was on version 12. They’re not wildly different from each other, but you’re always trying to make it better.

How do you know when a track is finished?

Will: We don’t. Sometimes you don’t feel they are. But time pressure can bring a deadline. The longer you spend listening to something the more you question it. So if I remember enjoying it and someone else remembers enjoying it then other people will enjoy it. Then finish it and put out. Sometimes simplicity makes a song great.

John: The most important listen is when you listen to it for the first time after making it. That’s the closest you’ll ever be to hearing a song like you’ve never heard it before. That’s when I know if I’ve got it. If it’s only just alright there’s no point carrying on. So step away from the idea for three to four hours then come back, and imagine you’re hearing it for the first time.

When you’re performing on stage like at Mysteryland Festival, what’s the difference between the mix and your radio mix?

Will: We wouldn’t play radio edits of tracks live. A month ago we released "Anything (For Your Love)," a piano - club crossover track. But we made a specific club version of that track though. We like things to be more progressive in a club atmosphere. You want to know where you’re at, have build up and stretch things out in a club environment but on the radio they want direct ideas. A lorry driver doesn’t want a long build up.

John: A lot of the music world is dominated by Spotify and people skip songs so much. People’s attention span is so bad. But if you’re at a festival or club, you have their attention: they have to stay! It’s a different ball game. On Spotify a lot of the big dance songs are compressed to two minutes, basically turning it into pop, so it’s very different from the club environment.

Will: Which is great in a way as it makes dance tracks more accessible.

What are the most important things to you for a connection with your audience?

Will: Trying to get John to step up to the mic!

John: You need a bit of a presence, to get people engaged. But we want to establish ourselves more before we order people around, telling them to move to the left and the right - because if they don’t do it then we look a bit stupid. You’ve got to know the crowd are loving it. Being flexible as a DJ is really important, because you need to be able to read the crowd, and see what they’re engaging with and then play tracks like that. Every crowd is different, at different festivals. So you need to be able to read their engagement rather than being stuck to a rigid set.

Any tips for DJs at Berklee?

Will: Get stuck in. Especially if you’re pushing your own music.