iLL BLU: 5 things we’ve learned about music production

Formed in 2008, London-based production duo iLL BLU (AKA James and Darius) started out on the UK underground funky scene and have remixed the likes of Hot Chip, Naughty Boy and Sam Smith.

With their stock continuing to rise, they’ve recently been causing ructions with single Chop My Money, which features Krept & Konan, Loski and ZieZie and has received support from Radio 1Xtra.

As they begin what they’re calling a new chapter on their musical journey, we asked James and Darius to reflect on their production story so far, and to tell us what they’ve learned from it.

1. Don't forget the top line

“In the beginning, we used to pack our productions with a lot of interesting melodies and counter melodies, which made our instrumentals great to listen to. However, when we started working with songwriters, to craft full songs some of them found our productions hard to write to as there was no space for a top line melody. So, you should always allow room for it.”

2. Don’t use plugins for fashion!

“Don’t go for the 'in' plugins. Simply use the plugins that work best and you can manipulate your tracks how you want efficiently and within the time frame you have set.”

3. Don’t clutter!

“Cluttered tracks don't sound great in clubs. Focus on getting an earworm melody with an interesting instrument. Something that you can listen to over and over again without losing interest. Once this has been established, make it the focal point of your track and build around that.”

4. Arrangement!

“Keeping things simple is vital. And when it comes to keeping things simple, arrangement is key. You can always keep things interesting by the way you introduce and bring instruments in and out of sections.”

5. Get a good drum sound

“Aside from an earworm melody, drums are the heart of our productions. You don't always have to use lots of compression to get your drums sounding punchy. Choosing good quality drums sounds first, using the right amount of EQ and volume is sometimes all it takes. This is certainly something we've found to be the case over the years.”

Final thought...

“You’re not always on fire every time you sit down to make a track so don't beat yourself up if you feel you don't produce a banger every time. Inspiration comes and goes; for us, one way we get inspired is to go on an old classic music video binge sometimes. Take a break and come back with fresh ears.”

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.