Vocalist MYLK on her production techniques and the J-pop that inspires her

MYLK is a UK-based vocalist and producer who blends J-pop’s energy with the textures, sounds, and forward-thinking production of electronica music.

After crafting a batch of playful vocals with Varien, MYLK returned with her sample pack “Vocalcium” for a pop-ready set of sounds. For this blog post, MYLK sat down with us to discuss her gear, musical influences, and more.

To start, can you walk us through your creative space? Tell us about your recording setup, DAW of choice, go-to tools, etc.

My creative space is really nothing that special – I just have all the minimal things. I have old KRK Rokit 8 speakers, an Oxygen 8 Mini MIDI keyboard, my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, a keyboard, mouse, and screen, and HD 25 Sennheiser headphones that I usually do my mixing with. I only use my monitors to hear from a different sound source really, and to make sure the vibe is right.

Your synth sounds range from fun plucks to hard-hitting bass sounds. Can you walk us through your synths of choice? You work primarily with Massive, right?

I do use Massive, but I’ve been into Serum lately, especially for bass-y sounds. I always love my Chipsounds Plogue VST and I’ve been layering a lot of samples and creating strange and cool combinations through samplers, too. I don’t know why, but I love plucks – there’s something satisfying about them, but they also resemble bubbles to me, and I like to keep that as a signature in my songs.

Can you walk us through your mixdown process? What kinds of EQs do you use, and how you get things sounding clean? 

It’s all about mixing at low levels – boosting volume can always come later. I do go by my ear most of the time, even with synth creation. I actually use the default EQ that comes with my DAW, Presonus Studio One. It does the job! I’ve thought about using third-party EQs, but haven’t really got around to it. EQing everything is what I do, just to leave enough space for all the elements. Sometimes I exaggerate the EQing and compression on certain elements, but I feel like that’s what helps the crispness. I always make sure that the kick and sub bass aren’t too different in levels. It kinda keeps the whole balance of the song that way (at least for me it does).

Tell us about recording vocals. Do you abide by certain microphones? What does your vocal chain look like? What do you use for chopping and pitching vocals in your tracks?

I actually use a cheap microphone (Audio-Technica’s AT2020). I recently got the Rhodes NTA-2 microphone, which is nice too. My vocal chain is usually all in a bus – it consists of a compressor, de-esser, EQ, fattener, reverb, and delay (if necessary). I really love the Waves CLA vocal plugin – I really recommend it to anyone. It’s awesome. I don’t really use anything in particular to chop and pitch my vocals – it’s all just within my DAW for that matter. I just manually slice the vocal track and pitch it with track settings (I have custom shortcuts so that if I press + or – on my keyboard, it’ll pitch up or down on the selected vocal chop). If I want to pitch a vocal without it going too high or too low, then I use pitch shift plugins that I can edit the formant with.

Japanese music seems to have always pervaded electronic music, whether it’s future bass artists taking cues from Perfume or lo-fi artists incorporating influences from Nujabes. What elements of Japanese music inspire you? 

Styles from PC Music to J-pop like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Perfume have inspired me, as well as UK Garage, chiptune, jazz, and a lot of random anime music, too! There’s a lot of J-pop / anime-pop music that has a complexity in its production which I love, and that definitely inspired my way of producing and being really complex with a bunch of layered sounds. My sample pack was actually based around different eras of pop to suit varied genres – I provided variety so that it hopefully covers a lot for different producers out there!

On that note, take us through your sample pack – what kinds of sounds can creators find, and what do you hope people create with it? You’re no stranger to creating packs, having collaborated with Varien a few years back – how did you start producing sample packs?

My sample pack is divided into three categories: kawaii, commercial, and attitude. Each category has sections of vocal hooks, a couple songs, melodic one-shots, and spoken one-shots. I hope people can make all kinds of music with it. I made it so that it helps many producers of different genres (not just the ones I’m involved in). I always wanted to do my own sample pack, but I wanted to establish my brand first before doing so, which is why I didn’t do it straight away. Entering the sample pack world with Varien was a really good experience for me and it definitely helped me through my musical journey.

Despite this vast interest for and celebration of Japanese music, it sometimes feels as though Japanese and general Asian representation in western culture has ways to go. Do you feel like Japanese artists are still underrepresented?

I think it’s nice to see a lot of western people appreciate Japanese culture and bring it to life in their music or imagery – it’s really awesome! As for actual Japanese artists, I do find that they are underrepresented to a degree. K-pop is way bigger on the internet and I hope to see J-pop grow over the years, whether it’d be actual J-pop or the kind of J-pop you hear in the EDM industry.

What do you find to be the hardest part about making music? In the past, what has helped you break through periods of either creative or personal hardships as a musician?

Sometimes I feel like I’m too much of myself in my music, that it becomes too niché for the industry that I’m aiming to be a part of. I like throwing in random genres here and there in my songs – I like to just go with the flow with my tracks. I suppose the topline or the main chorus / drop can be a headache when it comes to making music. Sometimes, finding the right chords can be the hardest part – I guess it depends on how well my creative juices are flowing that day. I’ve mentioned in several interviews before that I definitely started making ‘happy vibe’ music to cheer myself up from my depressive life in the past. I hope my music cheers up everyone else!

How do you get over creative blocks in your music-making?

I hate creative blocks – they happen all the time! And I bet they happen to 99% of producers all the time. I just think of it as a phase and I let it wear down over time. If I’m going through creative blocks, I’ll listen to random genres of music to try and trigger the inner creative side. Sometimes it does trigger it, and I get over the creative block. Sometimes I watch a series online; music is used everywhere, so without even realizing it, sometimes the music in whatever I’m watching can trigger something (even advertisements)! Every now and again I’ll try and force myself out from the creative block by just giving songwriting or producing a go. If it’s a no-go, then I just leave it for another couple of days, and then repeat.

Finally, can you share three tips for new and aspiring producers?

  1. Be yourself and believe in your skill. Sometimes it’s nice to hear feedback and criticism from others, but at the end of the day there’s no rule to music. It’s a form of art and you should express yourself in it 100%.
  2. It’s good practice to try different genres. Getting out of your comfort zone and experimenting with production is key.
  3. If you get stuck, leave it but don’t delete it! You can always come back to it, or leave it aside and use it for another song.

Explore MYLK’s eclectic “Vocalciun” sample pack.

April 3, 2019

Ken Herman Ken Herman is a producer under the name Exitpost and is an editor of the Splice blog.