Co-founder of Sweet Rains, Igor Kisil recently made the leap from producer to artist, finding a niche in the DJ market.
How does a dance track move through New York City's underground and onto the charts? This month's story is all about how one track found its groove.
Hopelessly addicted to New York City's club scene since 1989, Igor Kisil made the leap last year from busy producer to full-fledged artist through his project, Sweet Rains, with the hope of making a more direct impact on his fellow night owls. “The sound of a big bass system is intense and sometimes you really want to feel it on the dance floor,” he says. “I feel the crowd's reactions. When a track gets through and they're supporting it, that's exciting.”
Kisil and Sweet Rains co-founder John Brunkvist set out to build their own Billboard Dance Chart hit from the ground up, writing a sultry, driving electronic song, “Slippin' Away,” recorded with vocalist Lenaure belting the chorus' main hook: “Slipping away with every breath I take/You can get a girl so high.” To get the track started, Kisil recorded at Manhattan's AM Studios while keeping production as streamlined as possible to keep ahead of the dance world's fast-evolving tastes.
“Our main unit is the Apogee Trak2 preamp/converter,” Kisil notes. “When the music comes through that, it just sounds gorgeous and every track is huge and fat. The Drawmer Tube Station is a really nice compressor for keyboards and vocals, too. After we do tracking, I take it back to my house, where I'll mix it in Logic Pro.”
For Kisil and his label, Nostalgic Records (www.nostalgic-records.com), mixing and mastering “Slippin' Away” was only the first part of a strategy that would eventually take it to Number 4 on the Billboard chart. “Even if you haven't recorded a dance track, you can get your song played in clubs everywhere, but you need a remix,” he points out. “Every DJ in the world is looking for new tracks, and if you do your promotions, remixes are really helpful. It boosts recognition of the track, helps your artist get additional shows and then it can go on to different radio and Internet radio stations.”
A group of busy New York City-based DJs, including Mike Rizzo, Johnny Vicious and Bobby Rios, were chosen to remix the track into trance, progressive and other dance genres. “My goal was to show this song from different points of view. All of these remixers have their own followers and technique. Bobby Rios basically created a short movie in music form; it's a very artistic mix.”
Producer/DJ Mike Rizzo has worked on remixes for Luther Vandross, Brian McKnight and Jewel.
The version that eventually took was Rizzo's “Global Club Mix,” a rocked-up take that played extensively off the chorus and a marauding bass line. “Today, the whole industry's on AOL Instant Messenger,” Kisil says of how he initially located Rizzo. “One day, I just AIM'd Mike Rizzo and I sent him a quick MP3 mix of what I had. We chatted, and in a couple of days, he came up with the rough version of the mix. He was very quick. I made some suggestions and then we went to Webster Hall to play it. People were dancing, but then he saw there was a lag in the middle, so he re-adjusted it. His mix is really progressive, and I don't think I've ever heard anything like that.”
Rizzo's role in the remix actually began 10 years ago, when he crossed over to remixing and production along with being a top club DJ. “DJ'ing is my first love, but I always wanted to take things to their extreme by producing records,” Rizzo explains. “I like remixing because it's a way for every demographic to be able to enjoy that record, whether it's for the adult contemporary listeners who love ballads or the kids that want to hear an uptempo version with a remix. For Whitney Houston's song, ‘Try It on My Own,’ I transformed it for a younger audience so they say, ‘I get that now.’”
With other remixes under his belt for the likes of Luther Vandross, Brian McKnight and Jewel, Rizzo has the tools to work quickly. Once he has the vocal track in hand from the record company, he and his engineer, Robert Larow, will build a blueprint to follow in their Pro Tools|HD — equipped Manhattan studio. “You have to have an idea from the start with any remix,” he says. “The bass line is so important to me and I always start with that because that's the vibe of the record. If it's an emotional remix, I'll try and find dreamy synth pads to use. I try to build the whole vibe and then get the energy going at the end in the choruses with synthesizer stabs.
“With some remixes, they give it to us in dance form already, so what's our game plan there? It's all about the drums: keeping the energy flow throughout.”
It was only natural that Kisil would eventually work with Rizzo, and “Slippin' Away” was the perfect impetus. “A friend of mine referred Iggy to me,” Rizzo recalls. “He e-mailed me a demo version of the track and I liked the delivery. I knew how it could go done right. I told him how I would remix it, he sent me the stems and I did my thing: dark elements and heavy bass lines.
“It became a hit because it's all about the hook of the record. If it sticks in your head, that's a hit. ‘Slippin’ Away,' with that line, ‘You can get a girl so high’ — you know right away you can get girls to sing that record. It was a great element — a great piece of writing.”
Before the remixes hit the floor, some mastering was in order. For that task, Kisil selected Joe Yannece of Hit Factory Mastering after seeing his name on several of his favorite dance remixes. “All of these remixes and mixes in dance go to vinyl — that's the only genre where that's guaranteed,” Yannece points out. “Cutting to vinyl is one of my favorite things to do and it separates the mastering engineers from the guys in the den with a really fast computer. You still need a big Neumann cutting lathe to put it on vinyl!”
Yannece attacked the “Slippin' Away” remixes with his favorite mastering tools, including the Prism Sound MEA-2 EQ and MLA-2 compressor, Manley Massive Passive and Weiss EQ1. “These remixes didn't need a lot of EQ: Out of the box, they sounded pretty good,” he observes from his session notes. “We used mild compression to bring the overall level up, squashing a little of the dynamic range. We like to make it punchier and tighter. Mike Rizzo's version got a little top end using the Weiss gear: 12.5k on a shelf at +2 dB. I get to see a lot of different levels of quality mixing, and it always seems like remixers really pay attention. They're perfectionists.”
From Yannece's mastering room, “Slippin' Away” was on its way to the promoters who work the remixes to DJs nationwide in hopes that it will make it onto their rotations and get reported to the charts. The song cracked the Top 5 in March of 2004. For Kisil, it all added up to a remarkable journey starting in New York City's underground and ending up at the top. “I was with this project from day one to the very last day,” he reflects. “This song is my dream come true.”
Send your Metro news to