Beyond the Signal Chain with International Producers and Songwriters in Denmark

It is common to talk about the audio signal chain going from microphone to monitor, and that is correct in the sense that it is at the microphone that sound waves are transformed to become electrical signals – and then usually zeroes and ones. And vice versa, it is the monitors that turn the captured audio into sound waves once again.

But of course, a lot happens before a sound even reaches the microphone. All music production begins with an idea – a catchy melody, a cool riff or a captivating chord progression. We recognize that this is the initial premise for music to happen – and for music to be recorded, produced and ultimately listened to by the masses. Therefore, we were pleased to take part in an international producer and songwriter event in Denmark: Aarhus Calling 2019.

Photo: Morten Frøslev

Where It All Begins

Songwriter camps usually take place over a few days and as the name implies, the one focus and ultimate goal is to write music; ideally music with commercial potential that can be presented to top artists who may end up releasing the material. The concept of having both producers and songwriters is that they will be ‘paired’ by the organizers of the event every day, meaning they get to work together with many different people throughout the camp.

Aarhus Calling 2019 was the fifth edition of the event and it brought together one of the best line-ups of songwriters and producers to have taken part, flying in from all over the world. But as a special take on the concept, a total of 12 seats were also dedicated to up and coming, non-professionals, giving them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Daniel Heløy Davidsen and Mich Hedin Hansen (AKA Cutfather). Photo: Genelec DK.

Alongside the international attendees there were also some local participants, including producer Mich Hedin Hansen (AKA Cutfather) and songwriter/producer Daniel Heløy Davidsen, who is part of the songwriter duo PhD. Together, Cutfather and PhD recently wrote Katy Perry’s massive hit ‘365’, and they took some time to speak with us about their creative process.

“There is no recipe, as such,” says Cutfather. “If there were, anyone could write a hit. But there is often a certain song structure that you hear time and again, so in that sense, you could say that there is an overall sketch you can follow. But how you shape the elements you put into that sketch is where the actual hit potential lies. You know, music is kind of like fashion. It comes in seasons and it is constantly evolving. A certain sound, instrument or vibe may be what makes a hit one year, and the next year it may be something completely different. It’s our job to stay ahead of the curve.”

“As a songwriter, I often try to blend in a bit of ‘unexpected’ harmonic material,” adds Daniel Heløy Davidsen. “Of course, it still needs to have a commercial edge. But finding that balance is great fun and very rewarding when you succeed. There is nothing wrong with creating a song with those famous four chords that make up so many hits, but whenever possible, I like to push the boundaries a bit.”

Monitoring in the Creative Phase

At Aarhus Calling, a total of 10 studios were at work simultaneously, with songs written, recorded and produced right then and there. Genelec equipped the studios with a variety of monitors including  The Ones, SAM Compact Studio Monitors and SAM subwoofers, meaning they could be calibrated using the  GLM 3 system. We were curious to know how important it is for the creative process to have high quality monitoring.

Photo: Morten Frøslev

“It means a lot for the vibe and your ability to really feel the music and get into it,” says Daniel. “That is key to getting inspired. Plus, of course, since we’re mixing it as we go along, great monitoring is simply paramount.”

Photo: Morten Frøslev

“It may come as a surprise to some, but the songs that we write and produce at these camps are usually what ends up on the release,” adds Cutfather. “Of course, the artist will do the vocals themselves, but the main tracks are more often than not ported directly from our sessions to the final album. So in that respect, having great monitors is very important.”

Photo: Morten Frøslev

A Final Piece of Advice

We asked Cutfather and Daniel to share a piece of advice with aspiring songwriters who dream of turning writing and/or producing into a living.

“Never give up!” says Cutfather. “First, you have get comfortable with playing your songs to others, and then get out there. It can be a long journey and you may need to knock on a lot of doors, but never give up!”

Daniel’s advice is simple: “Make sure to have fun along the way. Even if you don’t end up as a professional songwriter or producer, nothing is lost if you had fun.”

We like it. Combining a can-do attitude and having fun is actually not that far from our approach to creating the monitoring solutions that musicians, producers and songwriters need to take their ideas from the studio to their audience!