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Inside Track: David Kushner ‘Daylight’

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Jacob ‘Biz’ Morris By Paul Tingen
Published July 2023

Jacob Morris. This photo was taken in the studio he helped build for artist David Crowder.Jacob Morris. This photo was taken in the studio he helped build for artist David Crowder.

Today’s TikTok‑driven music market demands authenticity, as Atlanta mixer Jacob Morris found when he mixed David Kushner’s ‘Daylight’.

While it’s common knowledge that many new artists today break through via TikTok, few people seem to be aware of the scale of the changes the platform has brought to the music industry. For example, in 2020 alone, 70 artists that went viral on TikTok went on to sign deals with major labels.

TikTok has also greatly impacted music itself. It is the domain of short, home‑made videos, and an impromptu, amateur quality is often seen as an asset rather than a drawback. The fact that pop songs are becoming shorter and shorter is in part due to TikTok, and the question has been asked when the first 15‑second pop hit will be upon us. In addition, the amateur approach has begun to transfer to the music.

Artists now float bits of unfinished songs on TikTok to see if they get any traction, accompanied by what are called ‘evergreen’ pre‑saves, which allow artists to promote future music without a release date or even a song title. If and when these rough demos get traction, the imperfections of the demo often inform the end product.

American singer‑songwriter David Kushner is a case in point. Reportedly without having a music career in mind, he released the guitar song ‘Miserable Man’ on TikTok in January 2022. It went viral, and eventually became a major hit in many countries. The same happened, to a lesser degree, with his second single, ‘Mr Forgettable’. Both songs sound like embellished guitar/vocal demos, and were created on Kushner’s iPhone.

The two singles found their way onto Kushner’s debut EP Footprints I Found, and by the end of 2022, he had amassed half a billion streams and close to one million followers on Spotify alone.

Earlier this year, Kushner dropped a snippet of a new demo on TikTok, and pushed it with the meme “You look happier; what happened.” It went viral, and the rush was on to finish the track. Produced by Rob Kirwan, ‘Daylight’ was officially released on April 14th, and became Kushner’s most successful release to date. By the time this article went to print, it was in its third week at number two on the UK charts, and had reached number one in several other countries.

Don’t Fix It In The Mix

Inside Track

‘Daylight’ makes a strong feature of its imperfections, with a piano part that has pedal sounds and other noises, and distortion on the vocal. When Atlanta mixer Jacob ‘Biz’ Morris received the song for mixdown last March, he initially tried to fix some of these artefacts, assuming they were mistakes.

“The second chorus gang vocals sounded really distorted. You can hear the room and the mic capsule distortion — he’s really screaming in the thing. I did my best to clean it up, but received a mix note from David that said, ‘No, no, let’s keep it dirty.’ That chorus is everything in that song, and he wanted it really dirty and vibey.

“I’m not on TikTok, so I had not heard the initial version of the song that had blown up on that, but when someone played it to me, I was like, ‘Oh, now I know where he’s trying to go.’ It was really grungey. People had been listening to that on TikTok, so the final record had to match that. David wanted the record to fit the vibe that everyone had already heard.

“Because the song needed to be dirty, vibey and emotional, I stopped trying to clean things up, which would have taken the song too much into a pop direction. In fact, I dirtied up those vocals even more with the Soundtoys Decapitator. I also left all the extraneous noises on the piano. Once again, the rawness is what makes that song special.”

Top Of The Class

Morris first started to work with Kushner earlier in 2023. “David’s manager had been following me for a while, and reached out to me to do some work for another artist, and he then asked me whether I would master David’s single ‘Elk Grove’. David loved what I did, and when they knew ‘Daylight’ was coming, his manager told me they wanted me to mix the song.”

It was an interesting choice, as Morris is better known for rap and pop music. He won two Grammy Awards, and was nominated while still at college, for his work with the Christian rapper Lecrae.

“I’m from Dallas, Texas, and always loved audio,” remembers Morris, “and I was fascinated by how music was created. How the people behind the scenes got a good‑quality sound really interested me, and I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a recording engineer and a mixer. My mum was very supportive, and bought me gear, and by the time I was 14, I had an entire Pro Tools HD rig! I took it very serious, and went to the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences (CRAS) in Phoenix.”

It was while Morris was a student at the Conservatory that he had an engineering credit on Lecrae’s album Rehab (2010), which was nominated for a Grammy Award for best Rock or Pop Gospel album. Morris also worked on Lecrae’s Grammy‑winning Gravity album (2012), which also won a Dove Award, and there was another Grammy Award for Lecrae’s single ‘Messengers’ (2014).

“It was kind of funny to be learning in school from teachers doing their thing while I was the one going to the Grammy Awards!” remarks Morris. “After school I initially returned to Dallas, but soon moved to Atlanta, in 2013, because of my connection with Lecrae and Reach Records. I’ve been working in the studios in their headquarters since then. I do a lot of work for the label, but today I’d say that 90 percent of my work is with artists from outside the label.”

Morris’ recent credits include David Crowder — he also collaborated with Gavin Haverstick and the artist to build Crowder’s studio — as well as Social Club Misfits, Nobigdyl, Andy Mineo, Switchfoot, Lecrea, and many others. They are mostly Christian acts, something which presumably also fostered the connection with Kushner, who is vocal about his Christian faith.

Hit Machine

Almost all Morris’ work today consists of mixing and/or mastering, in both stereo and Atmos, in his room at Reach Records studios in Atlanta, with the help of several assistants, who use additional rooms. “I’m about 80 percent in the box,” explains Morris, “and regularly use outboard gear. My favourite pieces of outboard at the moment are the Tube‑Tech CL‑1B [compressor] and the Neve 1073 [preamp and EQ]. If I feel a vocal is missing something, I will often send it through the Tube‑Tech and Neve, and I ran David Kushner’s vocals through them. I also have a Burl converter, and I regularly route my kicks through a Drawmer MX40 gate. It can give you a tone and real punch. I also have the dbx 160 [compressor], and I had the Dangerous compressor for a while, but I just sold that.

“I love the tone outboard can give you, and I think it’s a tone that you can’t get in the box. I also enjoy being able to touch gear with my hands. Just using the mouse doesn’t get my brain going, I don’t get in that flow state. You have endless plug‑ins that have presets that you can just pick. You don’t have to work at getting a tone any more. But with outboard gear you have to know how to use it to be able to get it to sound right.

“The other thing about outboard is that it forces you to make decisions. Just print it and commit. I don’t even do recall sheets anymore. If something needs to be redone, I’ll restart from scratch. I don’t have a crazy amount of outboard, so sometimes I’ll go look for a piece of gear that I want to use on a particular song, and I’ll rent that in, or I’ll buy it, and use it and then I re‑sell it. It drives my team mad! I have to keep things pretty slim, because I always have to buy three of each piece of gear, so my assistants can have the same.

“My monitors are the PMC TwoTwo8, and I also have some Yamaha NS10s, and the Trinnov speaker calibration system. My whole room is Atmos PMC. But I’m building a new studio next to my home at the moment, designed by Gavin Haverstick, and I’ll be going back to Focal speakers. I used Focal Trios in the past. I tested ATCs and PMCs, because I was feeling like I was missing the midrange. But there’s something about those Focals. I can listen to them for 12 hours, and my ears don’t get fatigued. It’s not that the PMCs are bad, but I just miss my Trios a lot.

“My third child was born the day I received the files for ‘Daylight’, and with three children now, I want to be closer to home. I want my workflow to fit in with my family, not the other way round. The studio is designed by Gavin and has loads of windows, and it will be fully set up for Atmos. I hope to be able to move in next month. We’ll keep the four rooms at Reach, where my assistants will be able to continue working.”

Jacob Morris already mixes in Atmos and his new studio, shown in this mock‑up, will be equipped with a Focal immersive monitoring rig.Jacob Morris already mixes in Atmos and his new studio, shown in this mock‑up, will be equipped with a Focal immersive monitoring rig.

Be Prepared

“When people send me files, I’m dealing with Pro Tools sessions most of the time, and people on Ableton and Logic and so on send me audio files. ‘Daylight’ came in as a Pro Tools session. Although our baby was coming the same day I received the session, I said to my right‑hand guy Connor, ‘We gotta do it.’ So one of my assistants immediately prepped the session for me. This means colour‑coding, labelling, routing stuff and putting it into folders.

“Unless a track is like big pop or something, I do not want my assistants to clean up the audio tracks, because people may want the background breaths, or other things. For this reason I want to make those decisions myself. As I mentioned, on ‘Daylight’ there was a lot of noise on the piano, but the piano has a great tone, and the noises were part of the vibe. There actually was one part where David did want us to clean it up a little bit, but there was no way to do it, so we left it.

“My team uses a template, which is mostly routing and folders, and there also is a bunch of aux effect tracks that I can pull in at any time. They are Valhalla Room, VintageVerb and Plate [reverbs], some Soundtoys EchoBoy delays — eighth, quarter, half‑note and slap — the Waves H‑Delay and Doubler, and three different Audio Ease Altiverbs. Having all the routing in place and all the tools easily accessible means that you can mix much faster. My sessions are also organised in such a way that at the end of the mix, when the labels want the deliverables, we just hit go and the deliverables are printed automatically.”

Morris repeatedly stresses the importance of being very organised before he starts mixing. “At any time the artist can make a request, and you have to be able to go do it immediately. I’ve seen a lot of people mess up just because they’re not clean and organised. That could really hurt you as an engineer. Of course, what works for my team and me may not work for someone else. The brain of another person may work differently.

“I have the reference tracks right at the top, and after that everything is organised in folders. My sessions start with a bass folder, with all the bass tracks including synth bass, and then a drums folder. If there are live drums, I’ll also have a live drums folder. Then there’s a music folder, with all guitars and keyboards and so on. Underneath that there is an All Vox folder, a Mix Bus folder, which is where everything’s going, then the Master track and finally a print track.”

Respect The Rough

“With the session prepped, I start my mixing process by listening to the song a couple of times, trying to get an idea of where the artist wants to go with it. It’s vitally important to know that, because what you get is where they’re at. You have these artists who have already spent 12, 14, 16, even 48 hours crafting their mix. Ninety percent of the time, the music is already there, and I just need to do some volume changes and some master bus stuff to the music.

Jacob ‘Biz’ Morris: Some mix engineers want to be creative, and so they spent four or five, six, seven hours on a mix, and I’m like, ‘You’re doing too much, just focus on what the artist wants to execute.’

“In general, our job as a mixer is not to recreate the sound of a track, but just glue it and enhance it. It all depends on your relationship with the artist, but I think most of the time your job as a mixer is not to be a creative person. Your job is to read the vision of the artist and their song, and then execute it. Some mix engineers want to be creative, and so they spent four or five, six, seven hours on a mix, and I’m like, ‘You’re doing too much, just focus on what the artist wants to execute.’

“I don’t try to be the most creative mixer, unless I know the artist. Usually, most of the mix work is already done, and I just take it and move it to the next level, where I get stuff to pop out where it needs to pop out. Working on vocals often is a large part of that, to get them to cut through the track. That can be a lot of work. But on the music side, it’s often more straightforward.

“I always have the rough mix on a separate track at the top, so I can make sure I’m not straying too far from the feeling that they give. My assistants also make sure that the rough and the session sound the same before. I need the files that are coming in to 100 percent match the last bounce that they did. I need to be able to start where they ended. One client listened to his rough over 300 times! I cannot simply take a leftfield turn with my mix. Today, if I’m trying to fix things in a mix, I risk ruining it.”

Rapid Turnaround

In the case of ‘Daylight’, Morris’ process was slightly unusual, for a number of reasons. “The song was recorded the day before I got the session, so they were moving really fast, and they needed the mix, mastering, and the Atmos mix done in a couple of days. It was a really fast turnaround!

“I will normally have heard a song before I agree to mix it, to see if I feel I can add value to it, but in this case, I first heard the song when it came in. They were still in recording mode, and they re‑cut David’s lead vocals for the second verse while I was mixing, so I had to work them in while I was mixing. This meant that my entire process took three days instead of two.

“In general, once I have listened to the rough a couple of times, I’ll listen to each of the folders and get a feel for what needs to be done and cleaned up in each folder. From there I decide where to start my mix process. With the ‘Daylight’ session, I started my mix with David’s lead vocal. I soloed it and decided how to process it. His vocals are big, and I knew that they needed to sit on top. They’re the most important element, so I needed the best version of that vocal.

“After that I worked on the piano, which is the second most important element of the track, and from there it was background vocals, and then drums, bass, and music. Of course, as I’m working, I’ll be going back and forth between these elements and adjusting the processing on each.”

Getting The Treatment

“I used outboard on David’s vocals, the 1073 and CL‑1B, boosting a bit of high end with the 1073. After the vocals came back into the box, I de‑essed them with the FabFilter Pro‑DS, and then I hit them with the UAD LA‑2A plug‑in for even more compression. There already was reverb on many of the tracks, including on the vocals, but I added some of my own: on the vocals, the Valhalla Room, and some Altiverb as well.

“The two new takes of the second verse had been recorded on Logic in the middle of the night, and were ready to be mixed in. However, that second verse, if you listen, sounds different. It’s definitely more roomy. I sent them though my CL‑1B and 1073 as well, and dirtied them up further with the Decapitator. I also adjusted the tone with two FabFilter Pro‑Q 3 EQs. That EQ is such a good plug‑in.

David Kushner’s re‑recorded vocals for the second verse were grunged up further with Soundtoys’ Decapitator.David Kushner’s re‑recorded vocals for the second verse were grunged up further with Soundtoys’ Decapitator.

“I also used the Waves SSL G‑channel plug‑in, and the UAD LA‑2A again, to make it fill up, and the compression brings out the dirt. By bringing out all that noise behind him and between his words, we got that vibe in that he was looking for. Normally I cut that stuff out! By the way, I did not run the background vocals through outboard, they were treated with all plug‑ins doing really subtle things.”

“The piano had quite a few treatments. I’m compressing it quite hard with the UAD Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor, and then I add the UAD Ampex ATR‑102 and Decapitator, again to bring out that room tone out and the dirtiness. These are vibe moves. I’m also boosting the top end with the Pro‑Q 3, and I also have the Valhalla VintageVerb on the piano.

The UAD emulation of Little Labs’ Voice Of God bass enhancer was used to beef up the kick drum.The UAD emulation of Little Labs’ Voice Of God bass enhancer was used to beef up the kick drum.“After that I went to drums and bass. That second half of the song where they come in is so big. I am compressing the overall drums with the FabFilter Pro‑C 2 and the UAD Fatso, and doing a high‑pass with the FabFilter Pro‑Q 3. On the kicks I have the Pro‑C2, and the Little Labs Voice Of God, which is really good. I am also using a lot of Decapitator on the overall drums, again for the vibe.

“In addition to the drums and stomps there’s some bass that comes in on the third hook. They are a big thing. We used UAD Cambridge EQ riding some top on that, and also pushing up the bottom end. There’s a very big synth bass too, to which I added Altiverb, to push it back a little bit. You don’t want it up front. The main things in the track are the vocals and piano.

The piano was subject to multiple treatments to bring out the “dirtiness”, including the UAD Ampex plug‑in.The piano was subject to multiple treatments to bring out the “dirtiness”, including the UAD Ampex plug‑in.“There also are some subtle things, like acoustic guitar swells, but they are more of a feeling, and not very audible. I have the UAD Studer [tape emulation] on the Music folder as a whole, once again for vibe. Because of my hip‑hop side the low end and drums are very important to me. I’m getting a lot of clients outside of hip‑hop, and I think it’s because they’re wanting that hip‑hop low end.

“On my mix bus I have Jaycen Joshua’s The God Particle plug‑in, and the FabFilter Pro‑L2, for volume. The song was almost there, but because I knew I was also mastering this song, I did not do too much on the mix bus, and I simply took off the L2, and then printed the mix.”

Finishing Touches

“I work in a separate mastering session. I have a mastering template, but the only plug‑in that’s already in it is the TC Electronic Clarity Meter. When I’m mastering an album, I have to make decisions about how the entire album is going to flow, but even then I don’t feel like I can just open up a template with a whole bunch of plug‑ins. The only thing that works is making the decision at the moment of mastering. Sometimes it’s just a little bit of compression and limiting because the mix is already there, sometimes I do far more.

“In the case of ‘Daylight’, I’m using Oeksound Soothe 2 to clean up the low mids, the UAD Oxford Inflator to get a little more crunch overall, the FabFilter Pro‑Q 3 and UAD Curve Bender EQs, and after that I’m slamming it with the FabFilter Pro‑L2 for volume. I used to use the Dangerous [outboard] stuff when mastering, but I don’t have that any more. Mastering this song was all in the box.”  

Rob Kirwan: Producing ‘Daylight’

Rob Kirwan in Assault & Battery Studios, London.Rob Kirwan in Assault & Battery Studios, London.

Irish producer, mixer and engineer Rob Kirwan has worked with Hozier, PJ Harvey, Depeche Mode, Editors, Glasvegas and U2, and featured in our Inside Track series in March 2015, discussing his work on Hozier’s mega hit ‘Take Me To Church’. David Kushner is a big fan of Hozier, and the two artists have similar voices and musical directions, so it is not surprising that Kushner contacted Kirwan to help him with the production of a new song.

“David contacted me directly through my management,” Kirwan recalls. “He really liked my work on the first Hozier album and wanted to see if any of that sonic mood and palette would be applicable to his new song. He sent me a very early and quite short version of what was to become ‘Daylight’. Once I heard the chorus I knew that I could help bring a similar emotional journey and uplift to the song.

“David and I had a Zoom call and I proposed my vision for the song and he seemed very receptive. I asked for another demo version that incorporated some of the ideas we discussed, which David did brilliantly. We felt that the new demo was a real improvement, but the song needed some more work structurally and arrangement‑wise, as well as some different vocal approaches. As we were only doing one song, we decided that it would be more beneficial to continue working remotely.

“David recorded some more stuff, like piano and vocals, in LA. I loved the squeaks on the piano, so keeping them was a must! I don’t know what mic was used on his vocals, but I processed them through my Teletronix LA‑2A compressor and Inward Connections Vac Rac EQ, and I also used my Knas Ekdahl Moisturizer spring reverb and the Echoplex on both his lead vocals and the backing vocals.

Rob Kirwan’s studio is full of interesting analogue gear, including the Maestro Echoplex delay (top left) and Ekdahl Moisturizer spring reverb (behind the Echoplex) used on David Kushner’s vocals.Rob Kirwan’s studio is full of interesting analogue gear, including the Maestro Echoplex delay (top left) and Ekdahl Moisturizer spring reverb (behind the Echoplex) used on David Kushner’s vocals.

“I recorded guitars, synths, percussion, and did processing in my place. ‘Daylight’ was actually the first record I worked on in my new studio! It had literally been finished a week before and I was still covered in dust and plugging cables in the mornings, while LA slept.

“I felt that the lyrical content of David’s words was quite dark, but also uplifting, so that informed the grittiness and the weight of the production. Grit stands for distortion, with varying degrees of subtlety, and weight for bottom end. For me, it was crucial that the song remained as honest as possible. David has an amazing ability to convey real emotion without being over earnest, which is a rare talent.

“Funnily enough, as I was finishing the song in my studio, my 14‑year‑old daughter was already listening to the early version on TikTok. It was a very strange feeling. I’m used to the music I work on taking months to come out, and this was so immediate. I can’t say that the grittiness of the track came from imitating the TikTok version. I like dark and gritty in any case, and push most of my music and productions in that direction. My next release is the new PJ Harvey record!

“Biz got involved through Brent Shows, David’s manager, and I thought he did an incredible job. He kept the emotional journey of the song, while improving the sonics. That describes pretty much 100 percent what I’m looking for from a mixer. He smashed it!”


“I have a separate session for the Atmos mix.” says Jacob Morris. “It has all the stems and the multis [individual tracks]. Sometimes I use only the stems and I will pull in one multi if I need that one element. I don’t just make a copy of the mix session for the Atmos mix, because I don’t want all the processing in it. Instead I print everything, so everything is committed and the Atmos session has no plug‑ins in it. Sometimes we have to send the Atmos sessions off to the label, and I want them to be able to open it.”


A few months ago, Jacob Morris started a new online mixing service. GETMXD offers finished full stereo mixes for $500 per track, Atmos mixes for the same price, mastering for $125 and revisions for $30. For a Grammy Award‑winning mixer, these prices seem almost too good to be true. Morris offers a peek under the bonnet.

“My goal is to help independent artists. They have great art, but they don’t always have a great sound, partially because they can’t afford to get mixing and mastering done properly. I wanted to break that barrier, and I built a system to make the workflow easier and more affordable. Of course, there’s the value of my time, but if I can cut that down, I can cut the rate down.

“Five hundred dollars per mix is crazy, but we have created a whole system on the GETMXD site that streamlines the biggest issue, file management and communication. Sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s my right‑hand Connor who is doing these mixes. I also have two assistants, and we have a good team that works very well. I figured out a way to do it much faster, and it’s not taking me much time. I would say in general we work extremely fast. We have the system down.

“Also, because of the success of ‘Daylight’, DMs are definitely going! We’ve been pushing all these requests to the site. So we’re pretty busy, and some months we’re doing 30‑40 songs. David’s has been one of the pieces, but for the rest it’s word of mouth. I’m not big on social media. I don’t try to be out there. If the work comes in, it comes in, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”