How One Musician Wrote, Recorded, Produced, Mixed & Mastered a Rock Song to Receive Positive Reviews and Podcast Plays

Background / Artist Focus

Tofu Boy is the latest project by Music Producer and Mastering Engineer, Josh Shirt.

On Tofu Boy songs, Josh is behind every part of the music, from song composition to recording and production, to mastering. Josh also plays all of the instruments in Tofu Boy and sings lead vocals.

His production has convinced uninformed listeners that Tofu Boy is a complete rock band (as in this podcast) and not one man doing everything himself.

In this blog post we take a look at all of the creative stages involved in making Tofu Boy’s first single Shark Attack – from song writing, to production, to release and reviews.

Song Writing

Lyrics

Shark Attack started life as a stream of thought about capitalism, celebrity culture and the impending doom of the climate crisis, scribbled into a notepad in a coffee shop in Philadelphia, PA.

The lyrics as they were written at this point had a fast-paced and sometimes irregular style, especially in terms of syllable count. Being a UK citizen now living in America, Josh’s words were also a mix of British and American colloquialisms.

Music

Josh searched through a “work in progress” folder on his computer containing musical ideas, riffs and hooks (saved from improvisational sessions on the guitar and keys) and found a catchy and powerful guitar hook, written about a month earlier, pinned with a note that it would make the “perfect opening” to a rock song.

And so it became the “perfect opening” for Shark Attack!

By using the riff’s musical key with the Circle of Fifths, Josh experimented and came up with the chord progression that’s heard in the verses and pre-chorus. Later, to keep things interesting, he actually added a key change at the song’s chorus – switching back and forth between different keys for alternating choruses.

The quirky melody heard in Shark Attack’s vocals emerged quite spontaneously. Josh experimented with singing the lyrics over the chord progression, captured a few phone recordings of his experiments, and then listened back and chose the best results.

Demo

Here is the song’s demo. It shows the bare bones of the song at this point, before lyrical substitutions, a chorus with lyrics, production, mixing and mastering.

Workshopping

Next, Josh workshopped the song with one of his American friends.

Following his friend’s advice he decided to swap some of the British colloquialisms for more universal ones (Living in the USA, Josh performs to USA audiences more often). To give an example of this, the opening line “Do you remember when video cassettes stacked the rack” became “Do you remember when VHS stacked the rack”.

Some of these lyric substitutions also allowed him to refine the syllable count and rhyming patterns in parts of the lyrics, which helped tighten up the lyrical rhythm and flow.

Production

The finished version of Shark Attack is a quirky mashup of pop and punk music.

In this section we’ll look at how and why Josh chose to shape the sound in this way. You can listen along to the finished song here as you read.

From Josh’s personal love of Garage Rock, Shark Attack was always going to be made into a badass rock / punk song. It’s also a song with a lot of nostalgia for 1980s, 1990s and 2000s pop culture – and this is how the pop sound also came to feature in the track.

Let’s go into more detail:

  • It was a known thing that the intro had to rock! This was achieved by processing the guitar sounds with a lot of distortion, and panning two different performances of the same guitar riff “hard left” and “hard right”. The hook was then mirrored in the bass guitar (a Gibson SG artificially shifted down an octave and layered with a “driving” software synth) and finally a sharp snare cuts through the mix like crackling lightning – rock intro done!
  • Before all of this happens however, he opens the song with the glitched and distressed sound of a dial-up modem – dropping the listener straight back into 1990s nostalgia.
  • When Josh started building and layering the track around the newly recorded guitars, some pop songs came to mind that helped inspire further production decisions: Britney Spears “Baby One More Time” has an opening piano hook that’s parodied at 35 seconds, and is a song that uses bells throughout to give a bright and chirpy sound. In Shark Attack bells are used in verse three as a throwback to 2000s pop music.

There are many more pop culture references in the cover artwork and audible throughout the track – see if you can spot them all!

Drums

Because Josh didn’t have a real drum kit to hand he chose to use electronic drum samples. This was actually an easy decision because Josh also has a passion for electronic music, and likes to cross-over the rock and electronic genres when he makes music.

From his Spotify “Liked Songs”, Josh knew that Beck’s 2018 song “Dreams” made good use of electronic drums while still being an indie rock song. The thud of the kick in “Dreams” gave a good reference when mixing and mastering “Shark Attack“.

Mixing and Mastering

Mixing and mastering work was completed in Ableton Live using Josh’s “Shirty Mastering” signal chain which includes Abbey Road Studio’s Studio 3 plugin and Izotope Ozone.

Once mastered, Josh went on to test the master recording on a variety of consumer systems (including headphones, tinny smartphone speakers and a 2.1 sound system) making subtle EQ tweaks to cater to the widest range of devices while not compromising the integrity of Shark Attack’s “in your face” rock sound.

Release

Reviews

Shark Attack was released via Distrokid on April 4th, 2021 and it went on to receive positive reviews.

Alt 77’s review especially recognised the humour in the lyrics and the production techniques used to bring the song to life.

Shark Attack also featured on Music Injection Blog and The JFJ Conspiracy Podcast and was included on numerous Spotify playlists.

Do You Make Music?

Josh Shirt is available as a second pair of ears, sound engineer, music producer and mastering engineer for your music projects – wherever you are in the world.

If you’re making music, you can view his full rates for studio work or contact him here.

Robert Shredford – ‘Shreddy Betty’ – Mixing and Mastering (Rock and Roll) – Featured in 303 Magazine / Aired on The Colorado Sound

It was a pleasure working with Robert Shredford on their new track ‘Shreddy Betty’. They gave us the stems from their recording session and we created a final mix. After a listening session and feedback from the band, we went on to create their master recording. Enjoy!

Featured in 303 Magazine 09/02/19

Feedback From the Band

Josh is a complete pro and lovely to work with. He mixed and mastered our Robert Shredford song “Shreddy Betty” with amazing results. He really put in the time to understand to what we wanted to achieve with the track sonically, he got immersed in music we are inspired by… and with his vast experience, attention to detail, and talent, he made the song sound badass.

Josh was communicative throughout the process and we are so happy with the end result. His rates are low compared to many others in the area, and he completed the project right on schedule.

Would HIGHLY recommend Shirty Mastering to anyone looking for mixing and/or mastering work.

– Jessi Reed, Lead Vocalist / Lead Guitarist

Before and After Mastering: Leyla Daze (Electronic Music)

Leyla Daze makes experimental, genre-crossing dance bangers tagged ‘neopsychedelia’, ‘electronic’ and ‘dream pop’.

This week we mastered Leyla’s expertly crafted final mix of track ‘Greylaw Hiveless’. We made the drums and bass heavily pump and the top end more crisp and exciting.

Here’s a snippet of the track, before and after mastering (listen on the best sound system you have available to you):

Mastered version begins at 19 seconds

Feedback from the artist

“Josh’s mastering process is detailed and professional– my track sounds so sparkly! Josh gave me very specific notes, and answered my questions with patience as I polished up my final mix. The track was elevated to a new level. Will definitely use Shirty Mastering again! “

~Leyla Daze

What Is the Difference Between a Demo, a Final Mix and a Master?

By Josh Shirt, Mastering Engineer & Music Producer


When creating music it can be hard to know exactly where to improve your track to make it sound as good as other music you love.

In this post I explore my track ‘Wave Patterns’ and show you behind the scenes of the music production process.

At the end of this post you can hear the demo version, final mix and mastered version of ‘Wave Patterns’ back-to-back.

Demo

‘Wave Patterns’ began life as a short loop which had a repeating two-note bass line as a predominant theme. I decided to create a progressive electronic track from this loop, which I fleshed out with dreamy synths, reverb trails, and delayed guitars.

Eventually I had a rough demo that was around 4 minutes in length and I felt I was onto something special. Next to other music I liked however, it sounded muddy and dull, and possibly a little cluttered.

Final Mix

So I subjected my track to a good amount of music production.

When listening to the demo of ‘Wave Patterns’, the track gave me a calm feeling and I found myself imagining a time-lapse sunset. After consciously identifying the track’s laid-back vibe, my main aim throughout my music production was to enhance it.

A slower tempo performance and stripped-out mix helped this to happen, along with considered mix placement of synths and guitar so that no sounds competed. In some cases, I achieved this by changing the rhythm of certain melodies in order to achieve more cohesion and less chaos. In other cases, I made edits to the track’s stems to remove unnecessary instrumentation.

During production, the calm vibe of the track was always at the front of my mind. I watched sunset time-lapse videos to keep my mind in that place. I knew I was on the right track when the music really complemented the video.

I went on to create a well-balanced, spacious final mix through a process of listening at different times of the day and on different monitors. I was happy to call the mix finished when the track washed over me, with nothing jarring me out of its hushed ambience.

Master

I mastered the track with a fresh ear some months later.

The master takes the strength of the final mix and reinforces it. It sounds polished and complete. The ethereal synths that pan from left to right are clearer and bolder, the lead guitar is sharper and the crunchy bass is warmer, anchoring the listener in the music.

Demo vs Final Mix vs Master

Listen on the best sound system you have available to you:

Demo is 0 – 26 seconds
Final Mix is 27 – 56 seconds
Mastered version is 57 seconds to end of file

You can hear the completed track on Spotify and Soundcloud.


I hope you found this post useful. If you are looking to improve your music, “Shirty Mastering” offers: