Jonas Saalbach is the owner of the label Radikon, producer, DJ and artist with every breath. His techniques are not always conventional, but the result is always stunning and makes people dance around the world.
We sat down with him in his Berlin studio, where he shared an intimate look into his production process. We have recorded an entire course where he deconstructs every element of his track “Transformation”. Make sure to check out the course - it's packed with many more tips and tricks!
Masterclass: Jonas Saalbach - In the Studio
In this article, we’ve picked 5 tips we found interesting - so let’s get started!
1. Collecting samples
When I start to build drums, I don’t want to have the usual “hihat, offbeat hihat, snare” - kind of elements. For this album (Headlights) I wanted to start with a more artsy element. I wanted to change my workflow, so I was just thinking about how to get started.
The first thing I did was - collecting samples. I made a sample pack just for the album - maybe with 30, 40 percussion sounds, 20 hihats - and I only used those all the time. And I think if you do this through the whole album making process, everything fits well together and it gives you a kind of signature sound. For instance I had these percussion sounds - and I used them in almost half of the tracks.
2. Starting with a drone
Sometimes I start with a background element, which is mostly a sample. I usually transpose it down until I find a note - and it gives me the root note of my harmony. On top of it all other synths are built, and it’s the starting point of my track.
If I start with a moody atmosphere, I know it won’t be a kind of happy house track. It needs to be very much in the background, it shouldn’t be super present. I might delete it at the end, so it’s just for guiding myself when I produce. If not, I play with the volume - I automate it so that it’s more present in some parts and fade it out in other. In busy parts I turn it down by -20 dB - so it’s almost gone, but it makes space. In a buildup for example I might turn the volume back up.
See also: 10 Music Production Mistakes to Avoid
3. Pad sound design
I often start with basic presets in Diva’s factory pack - then I’m just changing them. A dramatic effect comes from using the Crystallizer from Soundtoys. It’s something I use always on pads - sometimes just a tiny bit. It makes the high frequencies super crispy, and breathes a lot of life into the pads - especially when you open up the filter. By the way, when choosing presets, I always make sure that I can open up the sound in the track with the cutoff knob, which is great for adding tension and keeping the timbre in control.
See also: 5 Tips to Make Your Bass Sound Better
4. The peak moment
The peak moment of my track Transformation isn’t the drop, but the fragment when the arp is changing after almost 4 minutes - which happens during the break. At the same time there’s the bassline coming in - and it makes the idea of the track. When producing, I find the “peak moment” of my track and ask myself how to make this moment most amazing. In this case I had the switch way earlier, and then I realized that I want to make it as interesting as possible - because it’s the moment when people hopefully get lost in the moment. Using moments like these is my way of creating emotions.
See also: 8 Best Synth VST Plugins
You ask me if I compare my music to a reference. I think that can be very frustrating, because mostly if the reference is louder than your track, you think “that sounds better” - but that’s not the truth. Louder doesn’t mean it’s better. If you compare your music to other songs then make sure both tracks are at the same loudness level.
If the product is final, then maybe I start to compare a little bit - I think “Okay, in the next session I can do it differently” - but only when I’m done with the track. Comparing music to something else is super difficult because tracks are different. Referencing is important, but I think you should trust your own style, and keep in mind that it’s different music - tracks work differently.