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In the studio with Sarah de Warren
Jaz from the RepostExchange Team
Sep. 26, 2023

From scribbling lyrics during school breaks to being a revered name in vocal production, Sarah de Warren's journey in the world of music is nothing short of inspirational. With a decade-long commitment to producing her own vocals, Sarah’s early encounters with music and relentless drive propelled her into the limelight. You may even recognise Sarah's vocals on her collab with BIOMETRIX and Mvrcus on the hugely popular 'HARLEY FVCKING QUINN'. She caught up with the RepostExchange team to pull back the curtain on her production process, from sharing the tools she swears by, to recording vocals in her car! Read on for more.

How long have you been producing music and how did you learn? 

I’ve been vocal producing for about 10 years now. When I was at school I spent all of my free time writing songs and when my piano teacher noticed this (shout out Dan Baker), he started showing me how to use the school studio to record demos of my songs. My dad got me Logic for Christmas when I was 15 and from that moment on I had full freedom to feed my obsession with writing and recording my own songs.

I spent the next few years messaging producers on SoundCloud and asking to sing on their beats. I recorded all of the vocals myself from my bedroom on a very basic setup, which is how I honed my skills in vocal production.

What DAW(s) do you use and why?

As my focus is on vocal production, Logic provides a really smooth workflow for recording, comping and editing vocals. Tbh, I’ve never spent much time on other DAWs but if it ain’t broken don’t fix it. 

What are your favourite pieces of gear and why?

  • Shure SM7B - I travel a tonne and I can literally throw this mic in my bag and record anywhere from hotel rooms to balconies to my car (yes, I've recorded vocals in my car) and I always get a great sounding vocal out of it.
  • RME Babyface - again this little interface is super robust and comes with a neat travel case. My whole recording setup fits in a backpack.

What are your favourite software plugins and why?

  • Soundtoys - I have so much fun making creative effects with Little AlterBoy. Anything from vocal chops to ad-libs and sometimes even lead vocals. 
  • Fresh Air - the SM7B doesn’t capture breathiness and high-end as much as condenser mics, so with this plugin, you can add high and mid-range sparkle. It’s a staple in my vocal chain. I put it right at the end after all my reverbs and delays.

How would you summarise your approach/workflow when creating a track?

As my process is more songwriting focussed, I'll answer from that perspective. In the studio, I'd say my best songs have usually started just with chords, and then I work to find a great melody. I will write most of the vocal melody and lyrics over the minimal chords, and then production will build around the vocal after the whole top line is complete. The lead vocals are recorded, after which the creative vocal production happens…vocal chops and drop hooks usually come naturally after production is more fleshed out.

What resources do you use to improve your craft?

I've mostly taught myself by trial and error and tips from friends/collaborators, but I recently dropped a vocal production tutorial on 789ten.com and they have a tonne of awesome masterclasses on their site for every area of production you could dream of.

What is the last YouTube tutorial you watched that you would recommend to other Re-Ex members?

I actually just watched this video where Finneas breaks down the songwriting and vocal production process of Billie Eilish’s ‘Therefore I Am’. It’s not super detailed, more of an overview of the process, but I found it fascinating and insightful.

What knowledge or advice do you wish you'd learned earlier?

That you don't have to own a crazy number of expensive plugins or have a perfect studio to be a great producer. I think there’s actually something kinda magical about being able to make something sound incredible from very little. 

What challenges related to making music do you face and how do you overcome them?

I always have dozens of projects running at the same time. It’s really hard to maintain a quality output when you’re writing and producing music all day every day and you have people waiting for demos from you. It really helps to have collaborators that I can go to to get top lines finished, lyrics dialled in, and vocals recorded. So learning to bring other people into my projects has been a game changer in terms of turning things over quicker whilst maintaining high quality. 

Do you use any online tools to assist with the production process?

I use Splice samples for songwriting starters. It’s a really efficient way to get an instant vibe for a top line. I usually find an inspiring chord loop, build out some percussion and bass and then I have a great base for writing vocals.

Do you try and get feedback or suggestions to improve your music? If so, how?

This is something I want to do more of with my songwriter friends. I currently rely on my manager and publisher for this feedback, but I think that asking other creatives would be a great perspective. 

Which track are you most proud of and why?

This is so hard because I am so proud of so many of my records! I released my own artist record ‘Sugar’ with Monstercat this year, which was a collab with Weird Genius, and it’s so unique and different from what I usually create. I wrote the verse about a year before the rest of the song, and it took another year for the rest to come together, but I stuck with it and kept pushing until it was perfect because I knew it was gold. The lyrics are pretty cheeky and have a lot of hidden meanings, the melodies are super interesting and fun, and the production by Weird Genius is pure fire. 

Has RepostExchange affected the way you make music? If so, how?

It hasn't changed the way I make music but I think it’s an awesome platform that I'm excited to be using. As I mentioned earlier, I want to be getting feedback from other creatives rather than just A&Rs and industry people, and RepostExchange makes that process easy.

Desert Island Gear

Top L-R: Logic Pro, Valhalla VintageVerb.

Bottom L-R: Antares Autotune, Shure SM7B Mic, Logic’s inbuilt VCA compressor.

Connect with Sarah de Warren on SoundCloud, RepostExchange, Instagram, and Facebook.

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This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.