SAE Liverpool Audio student talks about his work with LUNA, and X Factor contestant Anthony Russell

05 Jul 2019

An experienced engineer and producer, Daniel Alexander is a second year Audio Production student at SAE Liverpool. He’s been busy in the studio recently, working on two tracks with electronic pop artist, LUNA, as well as helping produce and co-write a number of singles for X Factor’s Anthony Russell. 

We caught up with Daniel to find out more about his various projects, and to hear more about what he is enjoying about studying at SAE. 

What made you decide to work with LUNA for your Advanced Specialised Project? 

I had been aware of LUNA through the local Liverpool music scene for a number of months. Not only has she built a significant following in Liverpool and across the UK, earning a reputation as ‘a rising star of the electronic pop scene’ (BidoLito!), she has also been labelled as one of Liverpool International Music Festival Academy’s Top 3 ‘Most ready’ Artists for 2018/19. 

What did the production entail - how many tracks did you work on, and what components were involved? 

LUNA had only recently written the two songs she wanted to work on, but during the writing process had created some demos. Having these demos gave us a pathway forward, providing me with a clear vision of how she wanted the records to sound. LUNA is an extremely talented producer in her own right, so this process was focused more on developing her sound, assisting her in realising what she had already envisaged. 

With LUNA being influenced by the likes of Kate Bush, Banks and FKA Twigs, we wanted to create records that paid homage to her inspirations whilst still being original and identifiable as LUNA, her own unique sound. The core elements of this production were drums, bass, synths and vocals. We decided that a combination, or rather a merging of, the digital and analogue worlds would allow us to create a sound that was pop oriented yet organic and glitchy, reflecting LUNAs artistic nature. This involved experimenting with digital synths and analogue preamps such as the Neve 1073, summing these using the SSL 4000 G+ console located at SAE Liverpool. Digital / VST synths tend to lack the warmth and character of analogue synths. Simply running these through analogue preamps and channel strips, increasing the gain and attenuating the output, we found that this approach created a warm and varied timbre, injecting some characteristically analogue harmonic distortion. 

The core production elements were created using Logic Pro X with the individual tracks being rendered and transferred to Pro-Tools, mixing the tracks using a combination of the SSL 4000 G+ console and UAD plugins. In my opinion, hybrid mixing offers the best of both worlds; the precision of digital plugins with the musical sounding character of such a classic analogue desk.






What was the most challenging aspect of this project, and how did you overcome any difficulties? 

For me, the most challenging aspect of this project was getting the vocals right. Pop vocals sit right out front in the mix, so processing such as compression and EQ have to be just right, Some people take a more mathematical approach to compression, but for me this is better achieved by ear alone. Having experience as a singer and a vocal coach myself, I have a good understanding of vocals and take a bespoke approach to the dynamic and sonic characteristics of each artist voice. 

LUNA has a unique tone and for these tracks we wanted to retain the natural characteristics whilst presenting this in a pop sounding form factor. Lucky for us, SAE Liverpool have a solid array of microphones, such as the Neumann U87 (Amy Winehouse, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce) and the Shure SM7b (Michael Jackson, John Mayer and Bob Dylan). I won’t say which microphone we used but I’m ‘sure’ the audiophiles out there will work it out! 

What are LUNA’s plans for the release of the tracks? 

LUNA intends on releasing these tracks in the near future and we are currently booked in for mastering with Mike Cave (Loft Mastering). Mike has just won yet another award, this time for his work on the No. 1 selling album Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent by Lewis Capaldi, so being able to sit in on the mastering process will be an invaluable experience for me as an engineer/producer. 

What are you enjoying about the Audio course at SAE? 

The BA/BSc Audio Production at SAE Liverpool exceeds expectations in every area. For engineers or producers like myself that have previously worked in studios and/or the professional domain, it allows you to expand your knowledge and awareness of the production process exponentially throughout the course. 

Having talented mix engineers to hand such as James McCormick, or a Doctor of Music (quite literally) like Mike McNeilis, really helps you develop your craft. Furthermore, the facilities are second to none, the staff are supportive, and being surrounded by talented and gifted people from many creative disciplines allows you to network and exchange ideas. SAE offers its students an incredible platform for creative collaborative convergence, and this is something I feel makes SAE unique.  

What are you hoping to do after graduation? 

After graduation, I plan on continuing my studies with SAE by completing a masters whilst working in the industry. I am also currently in the process of looking for bands and/or artsts to work with, and people are welcome to get in touch via social media (Facebook / Instagram). 

What other projects have you been working on recently? 

Most recently I have been producing and co-writing a number of singles for X Factor’s Anthony Russell, with Thomas Donoghue, Kevin Murray and John Dean. This is a really interesting project to be working on and will be released in the very near future. 

Watch this space… 

Follow Dan Alexander on Facebook and Instagram

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