Student Spotlight: Samuel Shih on Getting Back to Basics with “Simple Things”

Samuel Shih

Samuel Shih

This reflection was written by Soundfly alumnus Samuel Shih, a.k.a. SHIHKUNIN, a Taipei-based songwriter, producer, and coding engineer, and details his experience working with a mentor in a recent Soundfly mentorship session.

By Samuel Shih

“What better way to spend time during the pandemic than to take a music production class and improve my skills?” I thought this to myself as I considered signing up for the Modern Pop Vocal Production course on Soundfly; and I’m so glad I followed through on that thought.

I had already been producing music for several years now under the moniker SHIHKUNIN, but I really wanted to step up the overall professionalism of my tracks, especially the quality of my vocals and how they interact with the beat and harmony. And that’s where the course, and especially working with my mentor, made all the difference.

The Process

The song that I chose to work on during the course was an original called “Simple Things.” I had recently gotten laid off due to COVID-19, so I wanted to write a song that captured how I was feeling during these crazy times.

The song would serve as a hopeful and positive reminder to myself that being locked up at home, although limiting, has also allowed me to spend precious time with my parents and reassured me of the things that are truly important. So, I wanted to impart a hopeful yet bittersweet background emotion into the song.

I’ll talk more about my process below, but do you want to listen to how the song turned out? Here you go!

When creating the instrumental, I focused on making something with a warm and uplifting vibe. Using everything from Omnisphere pads to vocal chopped samples, I experimented with many different sounds until carving out an overall sound that I was happy with.

From a songwriting perspective, I wanted to make sure that the chords would change in different sections of the track so that the song feels like it’s progressing towards something — and that it’s taking the listener somewhere.

“Her constructive criticism pointed out things that I never noticed about my music.”

I remember showing my mentor, Sırma Munyar, my rough draft of both the instrumental and lyrics. She did not hesitate to give me an honest assessment of what she thought could be improved. I really appreciated that, as her constructive criticism pointed out things that I never noticed about my music.

For example, Sırma felt that I sounded like I was trying too hard and thinking too much when doing vocal takes and made a point that people can really hear these things when listening to a song. She encouraged me to think more about the overall emotion and tone of my singing when I was recording and to be more in the moment during takes. She also mentioned that in general, the drums in my mixes needed to be fattened up and could use more saturation and compression overall.

I would email Sırma throughout the weeks with a list of questions and would get almost essay worthy responses back. She really gave her all in trying to help improve my music and that to me, made the course well worth it.

+ Learn more on Soundfly: Join Modern Pop Vocal Production and learn how to produce vocals at home that sound modern, polished, and professional without a $10k mic.

The Learnings

One thing that I felt I struggled with as an artist was really opening up and being vulnerable — not only in my lyrics, but in the singing process as well. Really allowing listeners to feel the emotion you want to express and emphasizing parts of the lyrics for impact.

While going through the course material, what I noticed about Sırma’s own process was that it was very meticulous and that there really is no substitute for hard work and doing the time-consuming tasks that will get your vocal where you want it to go. Nothing will replace the tried and true method of just listening to your song, thinking about what needs to be changed, and making those changes through trial and error.

“The song, in my opinion, felt more polished than my previous work and also gave me more confidence in my abilities as a producer.”

My previous approach to vocal production was just to get a decent take and just make changes in post-production; when in fact, I should focus on getting the best take I can possibly get and making the raw material sound as good as possible before enhancing that take with processing. Also, not relying so much on de-essers and compression and leaning more on vocal riding and manual clip gain adjustments, became a game changer!

Week after week, Sırma really pushed me to go the extra mile and not fall into old habits of ignoring the smaller details. Whether it was returning vocals or adding more time-based effects, I began to understand the notion that all of these little things done correctly and added together are what separate good vocals from great vocals.

The Result

After many hours of trial and error, experimentation, and a pursuit of taking things an extra step, I was really happy with the state at which “Simple Things” ended up. (If you want to listen to this song again, or follow me on Spotify head here.)

The song, in my opinion, felt more polished than my previous work and also gave me more confidence in my abilities as a producer. The mistakes I made during the course gave me a list of things I could keep note of in future productions to bring my music to an even higher level; one step at a time.

Overall, it has been a great journey and I’m excited to take my newfound skills and use them towards my future songs.

Ready for a session of your own?

Soundfly’s community of mentors can help you set the right goals, pave the right path toward success, and stick to schedules and routines that you develop together, so you improve every step of the way. Tell us what you’re working on, and we’ll find the right mentor for you! 

RJD2: From Samples to Songs

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