Learn

Recording and Mixing Pop Music in Spire Studio

by Charley Ruddell, iZotope Contributor November 13, 2019
Spire Studio is a great tool for recording pop music.

Quickly capture amazing audio:

Spire Studio

iZotope email subscribe

Never Miss An Article!

Sign up for our newsletter and get tutorials and tips delivered to your inbox. 

Because pop music comes in so many different sizes, shapes, and colors, its sonic possibilities are limitless. Spire Studio’s pedals, like Big Air and Purple Phaze, make for colorful and palatable textures; Spire’s Spaces add space and depth to any vocal performance with authentic-sounding reverb. With Spire’s amp simulators, you can perform gentle guitar tracks with Verb ‘65 that sound like Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect,” or go full Brian May with Classic Stack

To create your own pop song, you’ll need to establish a solid tempo, a simple arrangement, a strong melody, and a punchy mix. Let’s dive into an example of our own using Spire Studio’s recording features. This is the mix we'll be working toward:

Final Mix

Photo by Nainoa Shizuru

Pop rhythm section

Unlike certain factions of hip-hop, EDM, and metal that are defined by their tempos, pop music can function and thrive in many different BPMs. Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” for example, is around 96 BPM, while Pharrell’s “Happy” clocks in at 160 BPM. The average pop hit runs between 110-120 BPM, although some studies have found that pop music is actually slowing down. For that reason, we’ll place our song at 90 BPM, just below the average pop tempo over the last few years. 

Having a solid and accessible groove is absolutely vital in creating a memorable pop song, and in most cases, the simpler, the better—just think about the iconic rhythm sections in “Billie Jean” and “Uptown Funk” for reference. Regardless of the subgenre your pop song might fall under, dial in that rhythm section to create a strong foundation.

The Bass Amp is a malleable tool that can blend into any style you like. Need a little reverb on your snare? Try using a Space like Acoustic Shaper or Warm Voice. 

Top tip: Want a bit of stereo spread on your drums? Try running them through the Big Air pedal and adjust the chorus to your liking.

Don’t shy away from adding any extra percussion in this step. Do your best to make your rhythm section sound and feel appealing without any added music on top. Here’s ours:

Rhythm Section

Pop guitars

Guitar sounds are extremely important in pop music production, so you’ll want to approach your sounds based on the style and feel you’re going for. For example, consider the difference between the guitars in The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” and those in Jay-Z’s “99 Problems.” Be mindful of your song and your options when tracking guitars.

Guitar in current pop music tends to either exist more in the delicate singer/songwriter space, or as a padded sonic texture—two examples of this would be Post Malone’s “Circles,” and Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance.” For a softer guitar texture that still has substantial weight and definition, try using a pedal like Big Air or Capratone instead of an amp simulator; save the Classic Stack or Tube 30 for something that needs more drive and features the guitar a bit more. 

Because our example won’t ultimately lean too heavily on the guitar, we went with a softer approach. 

Pop Guitars

Pop keys and melody

Keys and synthesizers in pop music are everything. Since the late 70s, keyboards and synths quickly took over pop instrumentation and catapulted pop music into the digital realm. Now it’s extremely rare, if not impossible, to find a Top 40 song that doesn’t use any keys or synths. 

Adding keys into the mix is really where your pop song will begin to define itself. The smash success of Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” and Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” heavily revolve around catchy keyboard parts, due largely to their interesting sounds and unique melodic qualities. Approach your keyboard parts with great care, and they’ll work for you in a major way.

The keys parts in our example double the guitar part, but add a different sonic quality to the mix that feels more current and mysterious. 

Top tip: If your keys parts are pads, chords, or melodies, try running them through a pedal. The pedal will roll off a bit of low end and allow the keys to sit in the mix with more balance.

Our keys parts are running through Capratone with a bit of delay and reverb, both of which give the synth a nice EQ balance and a comfortable space in the stereo field. We’ve also added in a synth melody in place of a vocal melody that is also running through Capratone.

Pop Keys

Pop mix

The defining element of a pop song is its melody, followed by its rhythm and song structure. You’ll want to pay most attention to your melody and make sure it works for you in the way you’ve intended. 

Keep your melody centered and forward in the mix. Mix your rhythm section to sit centered under your melody. Before adding in your other instruments, make sure that the melody and rhythm section have a distinct and clear blend—a great pop song could function just with those two elements at the top of their game.

Widely pan your guitars and synths to enlarge the stereo field. If you use two of the same synths, pan them on opposite sides. If you went with the softer guitar approach, tuck it in and keep it off-center. Keep any small overdubs to the sides of the field and try to keep them in line with the rhythm section. 

Final Mix

Conclusion

The beautiful duality of pop music is its flexibility in genre while keeping to a true and simple format. With Spire Studio, creating your own pop song is just a matter of writing simply, using the recording effects to your advantage, and balancing a melody and rhythm-heavy mix. Spire Studio has all of the tools, it’s up to you to put them to use.

Learn more about Spire Studio:

iZotope Logo
iZotope Logo

We make innovative audio products that inspire and enable people to be creative.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get top stories of the week and special discount offers right in your inbox. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Follow us

Copyright © 2001–2019 iZotope, Inc. All rights reserved.