Mixing and mastering Skepta’s ‘Vicious’ and getting the lower-octave right

MSM Engineer talking about working with Skepta and how Amphion improves his workflow

London, UK – Proclaimed by some critics as “maybe one of the most impactful icons in British music” in the new millennium, Skepta has gained great momentum. The talented grime artist, rapper, songwriter, and producer appeared this year in A$AP Mob’s and Drake’s projects and even earned recognition from the likes of Liam Gallagher.

Michalis and Skepta

Last Halloween, Skepta released ‘Vicious’ – a surprise six-track EP. The album is a product of Skepta’s very distinctive approach to music production which has been witnessed by his recording/mixing engineer and long-time friend Michalis MsM Michael. “The process is specific to how Skepta works best, rather than conventional. We almost don’t separate the stages – I’m mixing the beat while he’s still producing and writing it,” shares Michalis. According to Michalis this is Skepta’s approach and “Vicious was almost a small moment embracing that. Making music how we did twelve years ago or whatever.”

Michalis has spent most of his career working with Boy Better Know and has developed an outstanding portfolio with credits such as Drake, P.Diddy, Ed Sheeran, Wiley, Professor Green. He has seen different work styles: “Some projects I work on are very structured, everything well-timed and organised and they can be great… Every artist has their ways.” He adds “But the crazy ones make for sick memories. “ With ‘Vicious’, Michalis says, they had a deadline by noon on Friday, in order to get it to the mastering in time for the Halloween release. “Friday, 11:30 am we were still recording vocals and we’d been in the studio around 22 hours at that point,” says Michalis. “We finished the recording and I had around half an hour to bounce everything and send to mastering.” At this point, the most important point for Michalis was trusting his mix work, because there was “no time to tweak.”

MSM Engineer studio in 2020

Modern music is very bass-intensive. This is especially valid for Skepta’s production. According to Michalis the lower octave brings the most emotion and movement in the mix while being “the fundamentals of the song that holds it together when mixing. Playing with a HPF with the right slope, very small tweaks can change the whole feeling/movement of a song,” says Michalis. He goes on to say that he cannot define, but rather feels when the bass is right. “Room acoustics. Good converters and good monitors” is what one needs according to Michalis, and adds: “The path has to be right and by ‘the path’ I mean the digital file to your eardrum, not just the gear. So much emotion and movement come from the low end that I want to make sure I have control. That goes with anything in mixing, I just want to be able to trust my ears and not have to worry.”

“It’s good to be able to trust what you hear,” also says Henkka Niemistö, who had to deal with the limited time for mastering ‘Vicious’. “This is especially important when working with clients like Skepta, as there is no time for a second master, you need to get it right on the first,” shares the Helsinki-based mastering engineer. What is in-common between Michalis and Henkka is that emotion leads them. All their efforts are directed at conveying the artist’s emotion. Another thing in common is that both are trusting the same brand of studio monitors. Michalis delegates his confidence to Amphion One18 and Two18 studio monitors, and BaseTwo25 system, and Henkka uses Amphion Two18 with the BaseTwo25. For both of them, Amphions come as a “totally natural choice” providing full resolution and just the right lower-octave to express the emotion at its best.

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