Timofey Reznikov made a name for himself recreating tracks by famous producers. Now, he mixes their tracks!
“My mix sessions tend to be very simple. It’s about the treatment choices you make, with your samples, and how you mix them. I don’t take whatever sound or sample and then try to change it. I always take my time finding the right sound, and when I put it in the mix session, it only needs one EQ, and it sounds good. When I treat it, I treat it in a wise way. If it doesn’t need treating, I don’t treat it.
“Overall, a dance or EDM song can be made to sound great with 50 to 70 tracks. If there are no complications in a track, I tend to spend another six hours to finish and mix it. I like to sleep on it, because your brain gets too used to what’s there, and in the morning I re‑listen to the mix and master in perhaps 40 minutes.”
Timofey Reznikov has been turning heads over the last two decades with his mixing, mastering and production work, as well as various other activities. In all of his work, Reznikov displays a striking capacity for keeping things simple, and for clear‑minded thinking. His career path explains many of his exceptional talents. “My mother played violin in an orchestra, and my dad taught contrabass at the conservatoire, and I was always into music. I was never a fan of classical music, so I studied jazz trumpet. My parents also bought me a computer, on which I learned how to make music with tracker software, which involved operating sequencers with text forms.
“In 2001, when I was 20, I enrolled at the Conservatoire Royal de Mons, Belgium, where I studied piano and electro‑acoustic music. When you finish conservatoire, it’s not like there are vacancies for the job of composer that you can apply for, so for a while I was living a quiet, poor life in Belgium, doing basic jobs like being a truck driver or delivery man, and in my free time I was doing music and trying to get people to notice.”
Always early to spot an opportunity, Reznikov was one of the first to create his own samples and upload his tracks to Beatport. “I had been working on the Cakewalk Sonar DAW, but in 2004, I switched to Ableton Live. I think I started with version 2, so at the very beginning. I liked that with Ableton you could just drop a sample into a session and it immediately was at the correct bpm, and how quick and easy it was to use in general.”
Reznikov’s next step was setting up the Abletunes website, which is still going strong today and sells Ableton templates and music projects, sample packs, synth presets and plug‑ins. “I started Abletunes in 2008 with a friend, and we still run it together today. Other online stores sold loops and samples, but we sold project templates. The philosophy was that everyone could open them in Ableton, and they were very easy to use, and sounded great just with stock plug‑ins, so without external or complicated setups or plug‑ins.”
During this period, Reznikov earned an online reputation for his exceptional capacity to recreate well‑known synth sounds from scratch (see box). “At the time everybody was asking what plug‑ins and synths people were using, and at the same time, nobody wanted to share their production secrets. There were many conversations trying to find the secrets, for example behind the sounds in Deadmau5’s track ‘Ghosts N Stuff’. I was quite good at sound design, and started doing projects that sounded really, really close to the original, like 99 percent, and I showed how I did this on YouTube, and also provided a download link, so people could see how I had made the sounds. It was the early days of YouTube, and I was one of the first people doing music production on the platform. I also created a website with descriptions and download links, and I started giving lessons to music enthusiasts and doing ghost productions for DJs.”
Reznikov also worked with the famous Belgian DJ duo artists Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike. Then, in 2018, his career suddenly went into overdrive. “I wanted to grow as an artist, so my manager and I went to LA to network. We knew some people, and were also meeting people randomly, and hoped something would happen. My manager happened to have David Guetta’s email address, and sent him a message, as a shot in the sky. It turned out David knew my name, because 10 years previously he had downloaded some of my Ableton projects from my website! I also had met the producer he often worked with, Fred Rister, who had mentioned me to him. So David invited me to the studio he was working in, Serenity. He really liked my demos, and I played him my recreation of the track he had done with Justin Bieber, ‘2U’.”
Reznikov ended up staying at Serenity Studios for two months, working with Guetta on the Frenchman’s 7 album from 2018 (www.soundonsound.com/people/david-guetta), gaining an additional production credit on the hit single ‘Don’t Leave Me Alone’ (featuring Anne‑Marie), and co‑writing and co‑producing several songs on disc two of the album, the Jack Back project. Reznikov has since worked as a mixer and producer with several top artists, among them Belgian DJ Regi (Reznikov was heavily involved in the making of ‘Kom Wat Dichterbij’, one of the biggest songs in Belgium of all time), and of course Guetta. Reznikov co‑produced Guetta’s 2019 hit ‘Stay’ featuring Raye, and most recently, he mixed and mastered Guetta’s latest monster hit, ‘I’m Good (Blue)’ featuring Bebe Rexha.
Reznikov still works in Ableton Live, these days mostly at his purpose‑built studio near Valencia, on the Spanish east coast. “First of all, my room is professionally calculated and designed and sounds amazing. This is very important. I work almost exclusively on Focal SM9 monitors, which are extremely precise. I also have ADAM A7X monitors, which are very musical, but you never know how things will sound somewhere else. The Focals are not as musical, and maybe it’s better to work on the ADAMs when I’m just making music and not being so technical, but I’m so used to the Focals, I don’t switch any more. My DAW controller is the PreSonus FaderPort.
“My hardware consists of the UA Apollo x8 Thunderbolt audio interface and PreSonus DigiMax DP88 preamp and I/O. I also have a rack with the Neve 8803 EQ, SSL Fusion [mastering processor], a Bettermaker mastering limiter and a Bettermaker compressor, and I recently got a 500‑series rack with units like the Heritage API mic pre, SPL BiG, and so on. I don’t use the hardware much, because I try to do all my mixing and mastering in the box, but I use the Fusion a lot, because it is such an amazing piece of gear.
“I work on a laptop, the latest MacBook M1 with a 4TB SSD, because I have to be able to travel. I’m super happy with the M1, as it is really fast. I have all my favourite sound libraries in the MacBook and then use an external SanDisk SSD for stems and so on, things that don’t need to load as fast. I also use the Korg NanoKey, which is really cool, and I have a few synths, like the Roland Jupiter‑80, a Korg Prologue, a Korg Minilogue, which all play back via Focal Shape 40 monitors. The keyboards are not connected to my computer, I use them purely to quickly try out melodies and ideas.
Timofey Reznikov: Our ears and brain understand that there is one compressor on the entire mix. It is not just a technical issue to make it louder or sound right or something, but also a musical thing. It makes the brain understand that it’s one piece of music.
“Ableton has obviously developed enormously since I first started using it, and I continue to be very happy with it. I think it’s the best DAW for composing music. It has so many tools to create and to chain effects, and I love seeing the entire chain at the bottom of the screen, and the ease with which you can scroll through them. You can use controllers to launch parts that you’ve pre‑composed, and I think they built limiters and compressors on the master so when you go in the red the sound is still OK. It’s also super quick to use. For me, using Ableton is like riding a bicycle. I don’t need to think, I just go.”
Reznikov finished work on David Guetta’s track ‘I’m Good (Blue)’ at his studio. The track is a remake of the 1998 hit song ‘Blue (Da Ba Dee)’ by the Italian group Eiffel 65. Guetta and singer Bebe Rexha first collaborated on a new version in 2017, after which the Frenchman played it on several festival stages. However, it was never released. When a snippet of the demo started going viral on TikTok, Guetta decided to update the remake and release a proper version. He provided Reznikov with a production session containing barely 40 tracks, consisting of two kicks, another 12 percussion tracks, two Serum bass tracks, synths and piano from Serum and Korg Wavestation, several tracks with effects, noise, pads, a riser, two stereo vocal tracks, and a master track. Notable are two tracks named Reference and SideChain Impulse.
“The Reference track is very important, and is part of my template. You can create your own shortcut keys in Ableton, and when I press the M key, it solos the reference track with the mastering section turned off. It means that I can hear the reference track with the original volume, not affected by my own mastering chain. When I’m working and want the same energy as the reference track, I can compare quickly using the M button.
“The SideChain Impulse track is also part of my template. It has Ableton’s Operator synth on it, with an exact square wave, because the sidechain trigger needs to be at the same maximum level all the time, with an immediate start and cutoff. I can of course adjust the length of the wave. But the wave is either at maximum volume, or not there. By contrast, the waveform of a kick will have a transient and then tails off, and it means your compressor will not react properly to it. This Operator waveform is super‑precise.
“I then use the Ableton stock compressor for the sidechain, and I can play with the ratio, release, and so on. All the other tracks can be connected to this sidechain, and I’ll adjust the sidechain compression on each part as required, using the threshold setting. For example, the bass will have a lot of sidechain, the piano less, and the vocal only very gentle sidechain compression, with the threshold only at ‑10dB, as it’s the most important part of the song.”
Applying The Glue
Managing compression is particularly important with today’s electronic music, as Reznikov explains. “I’m also always working with compression on the master chain, in this session the Cytomic Glue compressor. It is not there to just to make it louder, but also to make the sounds interact. I may have a kick, a bass line and an aggressive synth lead. When the kick is playing, the compressor will react and reduce the volume a tiny bit. It will reduce the volume of the leads at the same time. But then there are the sections between the two kicks, where everything will go up a little bit. The compressor blends all elements together.
“Our ears and brain understand that there is one compressor on the entire mix. It is not just a technical issue to make it louder or sound right or something, but also a musical thing. It makes the brain understand that it’s one piece of music. When you listen without any compression on the master channel, you hear the bass line playing in its own corner, and it doesn’t interact with the kick or with other elements.
“When you’re in a concert room, or a studio with musicians playing together in one room, our brain understand that it’s all in one space. Whereas in a digital space, we don’t have this information for the brain. For me this kind of glue mastering thing helps a bit to make everything part of one unique picture, with everything working together. That’s why I do it. Of course, I don’t overdo it. I use it wisely.”
Reznikov is continually mixing while the production comes into being, and then creates a final stem session with everything bounced down as audio parts. This session contains very few plug‑ins, as most of his treatments are already baked into the stems. “I create a stem session for final mixdown and mastering for several reasons. One advantage is being able to see the waveforms. Plus the project looks simpler and more organised, as there are fewer tracks, and fewer or no plug‑ins on each track. Everything is much cleaner to work with. If I have a filter on an arpeggio, it can vary the volume, and I may not notice this. But when I can see the waveform, I can check this, and use volume automation to reduce peaks where the filter is open. It will sound smoother and more organic. I’m not talking about 6dB or anything. It’s about very small details that make the difference between a good and a great mix.”
To illustrate some of the treatments he applied while working on ‘I’m Good (Blue)’, Reznikov zooms in on a few aspects of the mixing session, starting with the percussion. “I’m using the Saturator for a warming effect, and Ableton EQ Eight, and then the Waves Vitamin, to make the hi‑hat a bit wider in the high frequencies. I also used the Waves L3 Ultramaximizer, for a technique that’s maybe cool for every mixer. I’m cutting almost inaudibly. You won’t really hear it if I turn it off or on, but it is cutting the very, very strong peaks, and when you later go to mastering it makes your life much easier because these peaks are not jumping out so much and your mastering compressor is working better. So this is a technical treatment. I’m cutting peaks early, because it prevents problems I will encounter later on. I’m making the final mix smoother during mixing, not during mastering.
“On the bass group I first have two Ableton stock plug‑ins, the Multiband Dynamics and the EQ Eight. There are two basses, both made by Serum, and they are very aggressive and very bright. I made them even brighter because they needed to be one of the main elements of the drop. What I like in the Multiband Dynamics plug‑in is that I can give different frequency ranges a consistent volume, so they are always audible. I also have the Waves Vitamin on the bass group, and the SC Compressor, with the threshold at ‑59.6dB, so it’s heavily sidechained.
“The piano melody has the EQ Eight, [Soundtheory] Gullfoss Live, Auto Filter and SC Compressor. The Gullfoss is a very cool plug‑in, which automatically shapes the wave frequencies to the most pleasant for your ear. For example, if you have a singer with some resonant frequencies on some notes, it will directly cut those resonances. It has a similar function to the Oeksound Soothe. I use the Gullfoss here to make the piano brighter but not aggressive to the ear. The sidechain is less deep, with a threshold of ‑22.6dB. Especially in the drop you need to hear that the piano is there, because the melodies are important.
“There are two vocal stems in the session. One is clean with some words changed, and the other is dirty, and for the rest they are exactly the same. The vocal stems I received were mixed, so I did not need to do much. There was some very minimal feedback, which meant that I added 1.36dB at 3.03kHz, for more volume and a little more brightness, so they cut through better. On top, the Oxford Inflator added presence in a very organic way. It’s a magical little magical plug‑in that works great for me. I also added a bit of room reverb. As I mentioned earlier, the vocals also have the sidechain compressor, with a ‑10.9dB threshold, for a gentle touch.”
The Master Touch
“I take off the Cytomic Glue compressor when I print stems, and on the master of the stem session I always use the same tools: iZotope Ozone 9, and the Ozone Tonal Balance. The latter is purely for analysis. The Tonal Balance is my lifesaver when I’m travelling. In Ozone 9, I first start with a multiband dynamics [module], which does very minimal changes. Without touching the other frequencies I can just reduce the low frequencies, for example of only the kick, if it goes in the red. If I’m missing some mid frequencies, I can slightly push them up.
“Then there’s a Vintage Compressor for the glue effect. I just compress gently. I think it also adds some harmonics to the mix. Then there’s an EQ. I add a bit of 65Hz there, it’s where the punch of the kicks usually is. This is again related to psycho‑acoustic stuff, and how we hear frequencies. I add more presence as well, because this is a commercial track that people will listen to on the phone, in the car, and so on. For that we need those mid frequencies a little brighter.
“The next plug‑in is the Imager, which makes everything from 0 to 60 Hz mono. I do this in every club track or dance track. Then there’s a Maximizer. It’s sort of a compressor. It’s very fast and makes everything louder, without adding distortion. The Vintage Compressor does an extra 0.5dB, just to make everything sound round. If I turn it off you probably won’t notice. But it’s adds just another half dB. In commercial dance music you have to make it loud. If you listen to this track against other tracks on playlists, it is really loud!”
“I am sometimes quicker at creating a sound from scratch than finding the right preset in a synth sound library!” laughs Timofey Reznikov. It’s a testament to his years spent meticulously analysing and recreating other producers’ tracks. “Recreating sounds is about knowing basic, simple rules. It’s about using your ears and knowing the basic rules. There are only four waves in a synth sound — sine, sawtooth, triangle and square — and there’s noise. You have to know how they each sound in a pure way. You have to teach your ear to know how they sound with a filter, with the resonance.
“Ninety‑nine percent of electronic music right now is made with the simplest filters and sounds. The percentage of how open the filter is, how much the sounds have a little bit of distortion or maybe a chorus effect, is about basics. And no, I don’t need the original synth. Instead I mostly use Xfer’s Serum. I like it because everything you need is on the front screen, you don’t really have to go far to create the sounds. For example, a Juno‑type saw wave has a slightly different peak, and then the wave falls different degrees.
“I think I got into this because of the electro‑acoustic music education I received at Mons Conservatoire, which means that I have a very academic way of looking at sound. There were these very basic and simple things that I had to learn, and it gave me the right way of analysing sounds when I started working by myself. I know why a sound sounds the way it does.
“Sometimes a lack of understanding of sound design means that when producers try to recreate a sound they create four layers where one will do, and they end up with sessions of hundreds of tracks. A sound may be based on a supersaw with a reverb and a little bit of flanger, but they take a normal supersaw, add an extra layer without the flanger, and then they hear a noise on the top and don’t understand that it’s a reverb, and they try to fill it with another layer. It makes it far too complex.”