In our latest Journal Entry, we sat down with the producer behind several Sample Magic classics, including Organic House, French House, and many more. We talked about his ever expanding synth collection, tips for beginning producers, and his unconventional, inspiring techniques.
What’s currently being used in your studio on a regular basis?
“Alongside my computer I currently use a lot of the Roland classics and an E-mu sampler. Recently I also seem to enjoy processing a lot of stuff through various pieces of gear like different compressors, preamps, synths with audio input like the Korg MS-10 or even the Electribe ESX.
The ESX has tubes inside – I switched the stock tubes to better ones because the originals distort horribly and you can get nice warmth out of that. I also have this pretty obscure two-channel preamp from the ’70s called Intersound IVP. It’s one of those things that makes everything sound fatter when used subtly. I think it was mainly used by guitarists and bass players as a preamp but it can be used for other instruments and more importantly synths too. It has a dual-band shelving equaliser, a very nice sounding parametric EQ and a tube switch, though there are no tubes inside – it’s entirely solid state! You can see this as a kind of analog tube emulation I guess” [Laughs]
What are your favourite pieces of gear that you currently own?
“For synths I’d say Roland SH-101, SH-09, Juno-60, Jupiter series. I guess I just like the Roland sound and they almost always fit the mix perfectly without too much additional processing. From effects, the preamp I mentioned above, Thermionic Culture Vulture and a FET-style compressor that my friend built with some heavy duty transformers inside. And of course I have to mention the magical stones that sit on top of my speakers, they channel creative vibe into the studio and make everything sound better!”
Organic House is one of SM’s most respected packs of all time. Tell us a little bit about the process and the inspiration for this iconic release?
“As I recall it the original brief was jackin / deep soulful house with a subtle live disco / jazz or even electro influence in the style of Riva Starr, Switch, Loko and labels like Buzzin’ Fly and most of what Defected was releasing at the time. It turned out to be less tech-y than originally planned and became influenced more by the the soul / jazz side of things. I don’t know / remember if there is really any electro influence in the library actually! I had lot of fun when producing this pack, I used a lot of rhodes, horn stabs and all kinds of other live instrumentation using some creative filtering and other effects to mould them into the genre. I also made sure I didn’t clean up the samples too much to retain the organic feel.”
What’s a unique, unconventional production technique that you would like to share with our readers?
“I don’t know honestly if there are any unique or new production techniques left to share in the age of “interwebz” but lately I’ve been using very short delays to create a wider stereo image to my sounds. Use a delay plug-in of your choice at around 5-10ms on one or both channels of your track. It can even work wonders on basslines to make them really wide but it is always good to check mono compatibility and possibly layer the stereo bass with a mono sub bassline or use a plug-in to filter low frequencies to mono.
“Here’s another for the price of one: if you want to get more prominent attack to your synth-slash-basslines, try adding a small pitch envelope to the sound. I use this technique a lot with my sampler for bass sounds especially. The decay should be relatively short so you get this almost ‘knock’ type sound in the beginning that works as a nice transient to the sound. Its great for adding punch to sub basslines but can work for all kinds of sounds. Remember to check the pitch envelope amount – if it’s too much and the decay is too long it just starts to sound out of tune.”
In the box, outboard gear, or a little bit of both? What’s your take on the matter?
“I use a bit of both. A lot of times I take a soft synth or a loop and run it through some hardware, best of both worlds! I know it’s a boring and predictable answer but I have to say that it is the end result what matters. It’s not important if you have done your track on Amiga and Protracker – which I started with by the way! Or in analogue studio filled to the brim with vintage gear. For me it’s about getting different sound and textures, but also about having a different workflow – you come up with different results depending whether you work with software or hardware. That said I do find analogue synths sometimes easier to fit in the mix, especially in the low-end. Analogue stuff – at least in my experience and depending on the sound – tend to be dynamically more consistent, kind of ’compressed’ already.”
What’s your current DAW, and what are you go-to plugins?
“Ableton Live is my DAW of choice. It is not perfect by any means but its workflow fits me well. I can get my ideas down very quickly with Live, much more so than with any other DAW and obviously Live is great for working with loops. I do use Logic from time to time, I find that the Ableton Lives MIDI editing and features are kind of rudimentary and if you do a lot of recording, Logic is better for that.
“When it comes to plugins, from effects I’d say recently I’ve been using a lot of the Soundtoys Bundle, Slate Digital Virtual Mix Rack, some D16 Group plug-ins – especially their bitcrusher called Decimort, it sounds beautiful if you can really say that about bitcrushers, Acustica Audio plug-ins, their ‘Purple’ Pultec emulation is excellent and the effects version of Xfer Serum that can be seen as a multi-effects unit. From soft synths I use a lot of the U-he stuff like Diva – and they are just coming up with an excellent Pro-1 emulation that I’m testing at the moment. For sample based instruments I like to use Ableton Live’s own Sampler or Simpler, then Kontakt for bigger libraries or if I need more gritty sound the excellent TAL-Sampler from Togu Line Audio that emulates some of the old samplers.”
What’s one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring producer?
“I feel another predictable answer coming up; but I find that the most important thing is to train your ears, listen to a lot of stuff and learn to listen to the right things. It is even more important in my opinion – at least when it comes to producing electronic music – than learning any musical theory, though learning theory or learning to play an instrument certainly won’t go amiss! I also believe more in hard work than talent, you have to have persistence. Keep on it and eventually you’ll get to something worthwhile. I’m still struggling often when producing loops, I might go over one loop for a lot of times before coming up with something that I think its good!
Also don’t obsess about gear at first, no gear in the world is going to make you a better producer if you don’t know the ropes first. You can learn with just freeware stuff if you don’t have a lot of money to spend.”