This week we caught up with Ali Jamieson, the producer responsible for Modular Electro. He took us through his Studio Setup & Gear List, the preparation involved when creating a sample pack, and also offered some advice for aspiring producers.
Tell us a little bit about Modular Electro and how you prepared for this release.
“Modular Electro was really just one of many names we could have picked for this pack as it covers a range of styles from techno to house, electro-clash to disco and everything in between. We prepared for it by immersing ourselves in the music, which I loved already and had a deep affinity with.”
What got you inspired during the creation of this pack? Any particular influences?
“From a more technical point of view I set up modular patches that relied heavily on chance but were clocked to a host DAW (Logic or Live) – it’s great having pseudo-random capabilities but when working with beats and bars you need things to stay in time.”
What was your biggest challenge in creating this sample pack?
“Sometimes interesting results happen when several layers hit a compressor or distortion at just the right level. Capturing that when seeming out samples can be a tricky balancing act.”
Tell us a little bit about your current studio setup.
“It’s an old 2010 iMac at the heart with a Digidesign 003 soundcard. The soundcard isn’t ideal as firewire seems to be being phased out by Apple but it has multiple inputs and outputs which is really key for my production.
I have a modest amount of outboard. Without listing it all of it I used for this release there’s a plethora of guitar effects pedals (all wired in parallel), various 80s synthesisers and an assortment of classic and contemporary drum machines. As well of course, an ever growing collection of modular.”
Top 3 favourite pieces of gear?
“Whenever I read these I recoil when anyone say their computer because, …obviously!
The modular got used extensively on this project but I use it a lot on other stuff too. Within it, the most important modules are anything that deals with MIDI or clock information. I totally respect people making weird experimental arhythmic music, but that’s not for me. Baring that in mind the Kenton Solos were really something that changed the way I used hardware.
My collection of rare(ish) distortion pedals is probably the thing I used the most on this pack. Other synths get used a lot that aren’t particularly sexy like the 106. I have a small collection of analogue echoes and reverbs too – they’re awesome for feedback loops.
Can I be boring and say my patch bay? I know that’s kind of cheating but it’s literally the guts to my studio and without it, I doubt I could be bothered to use half of the stuff I’ve amassed over the years. The great I get the most use pleasure out of is probably my Mk II Fender Rhodes though.”
What’s a unique, unconventional production technique that you would like to share with our readers?
“There are loads in the .pdf I supplied for this pack so I’ll recap without repeating too much. Using convolution plugins as EQs and experimenting with gain-staging, which works better in analogue than the digital domain.
Something that’s not in the .pdf is using a sampler to be an oscillator-like sound source. Virtually any audio source can be an oscillator if you set a loop point short enough. The trouble is tuning it so ensure you have a reference tone. The longer the loop the lower the pitch, however, if it’s too long it will sound like a stuttering delay. The shorter the loop the higher the pitch. Ensure you either have your sampler’s ‘snap to zero crossing’ enabled or use a small amount of crossfading.
This will give you timbral sounds impossible to achieve with synthesisers. It’s like a pound-land granular synthesis but far more practical.
Some FM synthesisers allow input of external audio signals and frequency modulation is great as an alternative to the ordinary clipping distortions.”
What DAW do you normally use, and what are some plugins you typically use?
“Logic and Ableton pretty much 50/50. I’d get too bored looking at just one and they both have huge advantages and disadvantages. I have Reason and Pro Tools kicking around but rarely find myself reaching for them.
As for plug-ins all the usual suspects like Native Instruments Komplete, Waves, Arturia bundles, SoundToys (until they revoked my NFR license), but loads of decent free and cheap plug-ins like ToneBoosters, Valhalla and Audio Damage.”
Any tips or advice for aspiring producers?
“Producers can sometimes get a bit lost thinking that music is just about production techniques and sound design but the most important thing in any piece of music is the idea – what about it makes it either unique, interesting or (in the case of most electronic music) dancefloor friendly? Learning about music from a more holistic approach is really important.
Find good friends or colleagues that can honestly feedback on your work. And when you play it to them if you find yourself constantly interrupting your music trying to explain production choices or justify decisions, it’s probably not a great track.”