One of Ramsey’s favorite
Ramsey’s music strikes such a powerful blow that you don’t even know what hit you. The dark electro artist/producer’s track “See You Bleed”—on her eponymous debut EP—is a tale of pleasure and pain told through layers of breathy and bellowing vocals steeped in a sea of deep synth pads. Within the span of a few bars, Ramsey runs through a full range of vocal sounds. There’s no doubt she’s in complete control.
This 21-year-old Los Angeles-based musician has been singing her whole life, first in choirs and later in different bands, but she’s more than just a voice. Ramsey composes and produces dark electronic music that fuses trap and trip-hop elements with lush, cinematic soundscapes. Rolling snares and sawing synth pulses churn beneath sweeps of analog organ emulations and waves of reverb-soaked cymbals. Hi-hats rattle over low gliding 808 bass lines. The mood is consistently heavy, but musically Ramsey’s compositions are well-balanced across the frequency spectrum. She says, “I learned music production from a friend. He’s an engineer and not really a producer. He taught me about EQ and using space. A song is like a jar and you have to find a space for everything to fit.”
Ramsey composes in Ableton Live 9, monitoring on a pair of Yamaha HS8s or through Audeze LCD-2 planar magnetic headphones. She typically starts a track by experimenting with digital synths from her go-to libraries in Native Instruments Massive or Xfer Records Serum, which she triggers via an Arturia MiniLab or Yamaha MX61 MIDI controller/keyboard. For example, Ramsey started “See You Bleed” with an organ sound she found in Massive. “I didn’t do a lot to that synth; it already sounded so luscious and pretty,” she says.
Next Ramsey fills in the low-end spectrum with bass parts. For the chorus of “See You Bleed,” Ramsey achieved an aggressive bass sound by combining a low-sub sample with a high, hard synth that she distorted using D16 Group’s Devastor 2 plug-in. She then rolled off the bottom of the synth to make space for the low-sub sound. “The hard synth by itself sounds pretty puny but with the sub underneath it sounds like the apocalypse,” Ramsey says.
Before writing lyrics and vocal arrangements, Ramsey programs the drums using Ableton’s Push, a tactile DAW controller that offers drum machine playability. She especially likes the Push for creating the trap-style hi-hat parts. “By hitting the repeat button, you can choose how you want the hi-hats to play: quarter, eighth or sixteenth notes. That makes it so easy and fun,” she says.
One of Ramsey’s favorite drum parts on “See You Bleed” comes after the second chorus, before the outro. She chopped up several different drum samples then added distortion to create a tribal drum vibe. She also makes note of the snare, which “is nice and clean in the verse and distorted and reverby in the chorus. That gives it that awesome crash sound. That was my engineer Marc [Viner]’s idea,” shares Ramsey. “He has all this crazy analog gear that he runs the tracks through and he will distort anything if you let him!”
Once the tracks are built up, Ramsey lays down her vocals using a Neumann TLM 103 mic paired with Universal Audio’s Apollo Twin interface. Vocal processing includes iZotope’s Ozone and Nectar plugins. “iZotope is part of my template,” Ramsey says, “On my vocal channels, for example, my settings are already there.”
Ramsey adds effects processing in the final step of production because the CPU strain from the plugins can cause latency issues. “That can force me into starting a whole new project just to record vocals. Then I have to bounce the instrumentals. I hate working back and forth like that,” she says. “If I can’t move around from track to track in one session, and constantly change my mind and second guess myself, then it’s not as fun. The only way I don’t get overwhelmed with all of the different parts is because I tell myself nothing is set in stone.”
Ramsey’s most-used plug-in on “See You Bleed” was Dada Life’s Sausage Fattener, which adds saturation and power to beef up a sound. Other plug-in favorites are Native Instruments Guitar Rig, FabFilter’s Saturn, Saturation Knob by Softube, and D16 Group’s Decimort, Syntorus and LuSH-101. “I like D16 because all their plug-ins sound like spells from Harry Potter,” jokes Ramsey. “Decimort is a bit crusher. Devastor is more a distortion processor. And there’s LuSH-101, which obviously makes everything more lush. I love to play around with them and experiment with settings to see what I can get out of them.”
For her self-titled EP, Ramsey worked with engineer/mixer Marc Viner, who is also the electronic drummer for her live shows. Viner has helped mix and record scores for films like How to Train Your Dragon and Ice Age: Continental Drift. That cinematic experience shows up on Ramsey’s tracks. “That’s probably why he likes my music so much,” says Ramsey. “In ‘See You Bleed,’ there’s a snare in the chorus that is super distorted and very big. On the Ramsey EP, there’s another song called ‘Bow Down,’ with the same thing. Marc will always do crazy processing on my chorus snares to make them much bigger and much more cinematic.”