Do you want to learn how to produce "As it was" by Harry Styles? In this article, you'll find the techniques used to remake this song.
Every sound, step-by-step, using mainly stock effects from my DAW. That way, anyone can learn it.
Watch the video above to listen to the audio examples.
Why remake "As It Was"
Remaking songs is the best learning experience a novice music producer can have.
It will help you know what works and what doesn't. Then you'll learn what elements to "steal" and use in your own songs.
When I started producing pop songs almost 10 years ago, I recreated several of my favorite tracks.
If you're beginning now, "As it was" is an excellent place to start because of its simplicity.
Also, it has a fantastic synth-pop vibe that really resonated with me.
The lyrics are so vulnerable.
I feel like dancing every time it plays. I bet the same happens to you.
Suffice it to say, remaking "as it was" by Harry Styles was a pleasure.
So let's look at my project so you can write songs in this style or make your own cover version.
Read the entire post, and I guarantee you'll acquire some valuable skills today.
How to Produce As It Was: Chord progression and vibe
The secret for this production is an instrumental full of layers with vintage sounds and spaces. Huge vocals and reverbs fill every gap.
On the other hand, the harmony is super simple.
This song is in the key of A major. The chord progression is IV-ii-V-I, so D-Bm-E-A.
Let's begin the tutorial with the most essential element: the lead synthesizer that plays the motif.
How to Produce As It Was: Lead synth sound design
I used Wavetable, an excellent stock synth from Ableton Live, to achieve that vintage lead sound.
Oscillator 1 has a Saw wave modified by this modern distortion effect, with 12% warp and 38% fold.
Oscillator 2 has a square wave, but its volume is lower than oscillator 1.
Adjust the amp envelope to get this plucky sound:
Reduce the attack and sustain to zero.
Leave some decay and almost no release.
Filter the high frequencies at almost 2kHz. Add some resonance and modulate the filter cutoff with Envelope 2.
Use it to ensure the initial transient passes before the filter closes.
Then use LFO 1 to modulate the pitch so there's a constant vibrato.
That is the secret to that lo-fi sound. Just a little bit, or else it gets freaky.
Add some Unison effect for spaciousness. I chose the classic mode, at 15%, with 5 voices.
You may need some equalization to further shape the lead synth sound.
I used an equalizer to adjust many frequencies until it sounded close to the original song.
Also, add a delay effect with lots of feedback.
Then a reverb effect. I used Ableton's hybrid reverb.
The preset is "Keys Bastille," but I tweaked the stereo width.
Then there's this Utility effect to reduce the stereo even further. And another to automate volume.
This last equalizer comes on during the singing parts only.
It reduces the mids and ensures this synthesizer doesn't clash with the vocals.
Now let's look at the drums, then we'll return to the other synthesizers needed to produce As It Was.
How to Produce As It Was: Drum pattern
The whole song is built on top of these 2 patterns.
The low-energy sections with just kick, snare, and closed hi-hats:
And the high-energy sections with these extra open hi-hats:
I feel the original song has the closed hi-hat loop playing alongside the open hi-hat loop.
Let's check the drum samples used in this As It Was remake individually.
I browsed through my sample library, looking for a kick that sounded like the original song.
Once I found a sample I liked, I used the frequency shifter device to tune it to the song's key.
Exceptionally, I added a reverb effect in parallel to create some sense of space around the kick.
It's the hybrid reverb on a preset called "car garage."
I had to tweak it a bit. And filter out the low frequencies to avoid muddying the song.
The snare was my favorite sound. I layered a drum machine snare with an organic one and consolidated them into one sound.
Pretty short and narrow.
To extend it, I added this effect rack with 2 reverbs. Also sent it to another reverb on a return channel.
The first hybrid reverb widens the sound and makes the sample sound thicker.
The second hybrid reverb makes the snare last a lot longer.
Lastly, the third reverb is the Valhalla Vintage Verb. It's there for the special effect: to make it sound huge in the intro.
There's an awesome snare roll towards the end of the song.
I chopped the samples and made changes to their volumes and pitches.
There isn't much going on with the hi-hats.
The closed hats play a simple eight-note pattern, skipping each bar's first and third beats.
They're panned a little bit to the left side of the stereo.
The open-hats samples overlap one another, and they're compressed. This layer keeps the energy levels high during the intense sections.
There's automation to reduce the high frequencies everywhere except for the intro. I noticed that in the original song and replicated it.
Every 8 bars, a unique open hat anticipates the next section — a transition hi-hat.
The toms are only used once in the song: on the drum fill before the last chorus.
I love the sound of those tom drums, and I noticed they used some sort of delay effect.
It goes from the right side of the stereo to the left side very fast.
So I made this audio effect rack that creates a copy on the left side and delays it by 37 milliseconds. Then added some reverb.
How to Produce As It Was: the Bass
The bass plays a simple yet syncopated pattern:
I picked a stock sound in Ableton Live for the bass' timbre. A preset called "Electric Bass Palm."
It's compressed, distorted, and filtered to emphasize the subs and remove the hi-mids. Then slightly side-chained to the kick.
Remove the sub frequencies and transients during the verse, matching the original production.
Producing As It Was: Synths, Guitars, and other Harmonies
Remaking AS IT WAS: Mid-range synth
Throughout almost the whole song, this mid-range synth plays 2 octaves.
You could probably produce As It Was without this synth. But it provides a nice background sound.
It's another wavetable with saw waves in both oscillators. Filter the lows and high frequencies.
In the effect chain:
- It's distorted with the saturator;
- Narrowed with the utility effect and;
- Side-chained to the kick to pump a little for movement.
Remaking AS IT WAS: Choir
I hear some choir sounds with lots of space in the background. I also used stock sounds in Ableton Live to replicate that.
There's a lot of volume automation, and the auto pan keeps it moving around in the stereo field.
Two layers, left and right, with delay, reverb, equalizer, and compressor.
Remaking AS IT WAS: Plucky Guitars
Plucky guitars create most of the atmosphere to produce As It Was.
I used 6 different guitar sounds to try to match the original version.
They're all Ableton's guitar patches. Guitar Open and Guitar Mute.
There's a high distorted guitar in the chorus with extreme delays and reverb.
One of my favorite sounds to recreate was the modulated guitar that joins in the second verse.
The secret is combining chorus, tremolo, and frequency shifter effects.
Reminds me of a Leslie amplifier effect. Nice vintage sound.
The next guitar plays a basic rhythm pattern.
And it has a flanger effect as a double to widen it.
Another guitar layer plays a distinctive reverberation effect of the strumming noise.
It happens only in the second verse, way in the background.
Another guitar plays 2 notes at the beginning of each bar, reverberating for a very long time.
It's a combination of reverbs and delays that later get compressed with a long release.
It lasts for about 2,5 seconds to keep the reflections from fading out quickly.
And the last guitar is an overdriven straight-forward pattern.
Remaking AS IT WAS: Vocal harmony synth
This cute background synth joins at the end of each chorus section to harmonize the vocals.
It's another wavetable synth made of 2 square waves against each other.
But the first oscillator has the Modern wave fold distortion. The second oscillator has frequency modulation.
Like the lead synthesizer, the envelope is what makes it so plucky.
It has no sustain and a bit of attack to remove the initial transient. That helps to place it in the back of the mix.
I didn't use LFOs. Only the filter to band-pass the mid-range.
In the effect chain:
- There's an overdrive;
- Another equalizer to focus its sound around the 2kHz range;
- And the usual delay/reverb combo.
Remaking AS IT WAS: Organ
In the second chorus, a sound also reminds me of an organ.
The synth of choice was the Operator by Ableton Live. And the preset is "Organ Formant."
The effect rack has:
- An auto pan with a 0-degree phase, so it becomes a tremolo effect;
- Then a flanger effect creates a double and spreads this sound wider;
- A reverb.
Remaking AS IT WAS: The glorious bells
And the cherry on the cake: the bells that join in the last chorus.
I found a preset that's so beautiful and fits perfectly! An Ableton Simpler Preset: Tubular Bells.
As It Was Remake: the Vocals
For a decent AS IT WAS remake, I knew I had to record many vocal tracks.
Every vocal track has a de-esser.
The main vocals go in the center of the stereo.
I've equalized verse and chorus differently for contrast.
This free plugin, Fresh Air, works like a harmonic exciter.
It boosts the high frequencies and makes the vocals airier.
As It Was Remake: Doubles and back-vocals
Two doubles sing in the same pitch during the chorus section. One panned to the left side, and one panned to the right side.
I needed 4 back-vocal tracks to produce AS IT WAS:
- Two lower octave harmonies panned left and right;
- And two higher harmonies also panned left and right.
The effect chain:
- An equalizer to remove the muddiness from the low-mids and;
- A glue compressor to keep the dynamics under control.
As It Was Remake: Bridge distorted vocals
Can't forget those distorted vocals in the bridge section. They sound like a police radio effect or something similar.
The secret here is over-compression, distortion, and bandpassing the mid-range with an equalizer.
As It Was Remake: Vocal reverb and delay
All the main vocal tracks go through the Valhalla vintage verb and delay to create that vast space.
How to Produce As It Was: the Master track
We're almost done remaking AS IT WAS! The final touch is Mastering.
On the master track, the Ozone Maximizer pushes the loudness a little.
But if you don't have this plugin, the stock Limiter from your DAW would work just fine.
The exciter module introduces tape saturation to make it sound more vintage. It matches the vibe of the instrumental.
Lastly, the Utility effect does volume automation for impactful choruses. It makes sure the chorus section hits harder than the verses.
Now it's your turn to remake AS IT WAS
I hope this article gave you a clear idea of how to produce As It Was by Harry Styles.
But keep in mind that the goal is not to replicate every step you just read.
You'll learn much more if you remake it freely.
Follow your instincts, and use your own presets and sounds. Try doing things differently.
It will be better for you in the long run.
If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.
For more tutorials on how to produce pop music, visit my website.