You are an “Official Moog Endorsed Artist” – what does this entail?
Well it’s not long happened really, but at the moment I’m working on some patch and preset designs to go with the Little Phatty controller VST. The LP is one of my all time favourite synths now, what with it being a 100% analogue signal path but digitally controlled, it’s really taking advantage of both technologies like nothing else around!
Which is your favourite part of the job? DJ-ing, Producing, Audio Engineering? You do seem to cover a lot of ground….
Ha! Yeah I sometimes feel like a “Jack of all trades”, but they do seem to go hand in hand really. I started off DJing when I was a kid in the very early nineties before it all became “cool”. I was only about 10 or 11, so didn’t have my own decks or anything, I just used some friends. Then eventually, I washed enough cars in my street to gather up about £30 to buy some second-hand… I think they were SoundLab RT12D’s? They were shit!! They didn’t even have an enclosure, they were just sunk into a big white wooden box with “DISCO” written on it and a crossfader in the middle! I got them home and within a week, the pitch control slider had broken, so me and my mate Jakes stole his dads model railway set and ripped out the speed control/power-supply unit from that and botched it into the mains supply of the deck!!! Haha, I have no idea how that didn’t kill me! Anyway, then I got into the production side of things, which at the time was just arranging midi blocks on a vertical grid on an Atari, and plugging in synths that fed into a four-tracker tape deck! So really, I think the engineering started before anything but without knowing it. I came from a big family with no money, so I was always digging around skips or whatever picking up broken bits of gear and bodging them up! But as for which one I love the most? Crap answer I know, but I think they each have their own different rewards really. DJing has a more instant feedback with a crowd right there in front of you, but it’s also just as great to read a good review of a production or hear someone play it on the radio, and then again the same goes for the feeling of building something like a stereo filter from scratch and hearing it work for the first time!
How do you go about remixing a track? You get the audio from the artist and then what? Do you start with the lead? Vocals? Drums?…
I’m not sure if I necessarily have a set routine for remixing, but I usually starting by dropping in all the parts to Ableton session clips, and deciding which ones to keep or lose. Then I’ll usually start with the bass, changing the instrument to one of my own (and sometimes the rhythm of it too) and then build a fitting drum pattern. I’m currently helping Steve Duda (Xfer Records & Deadmau5 studio partner) building a new drum machine VST, so having built a load of content for that already I start with that. It’s by far the best drum machine I’ve ever used, but unfortunately I can’t say any more about it because it’s not even been completely finished yet!! Then once I’ve got what i think is a good groove going with the drums, bass, and melody, I’ll start to arrange it all out, adding parts as I go along. I never write a track with a plan in mind. i just see how it takes me.
How do you produce the loops and samples? It is different from producing music after all…
Well actually, I don’t do anything too different to producing a track. I’ll often have a drum beat on loop and start to write some basslines with a melody and harmony, and then when I’m happy with those I try a different bassline, and then a different instrument. I try to make them as though I was about to start a track for real, because that way I think they’re much more usable for the guys that get the finished product. I’d be stupid to write loops I wouldn’t be willing to use in a track myself. Although I don’t generally use any pre-made loops or even presets on synths when I’m producing a track. I think using Ableton with hardware is a great combination, because I can key in a few midi clips triggering the hardware, and then play around with the synth’s parameters until I’m happy, and then hit record on the audio-in of Ableton making a seamless loop, and then worry about processing it later.
What’s your studio setup? (software, hardware, monitoring, fx) Which one of these do you feel significantly contributes to your signature sound?
It’s actually pretty basic I guess. I’m a total Mac-head, so I have my iMac for studio use, my MacBook Pro for on the road, and then my MacBook for at home. As for hardware, there’s of course the Moog at the forefront, with a MicroKorg, a Nord Lead, and also a little digital XioSynth. I also have a fair amount of homemade kit, which is soon to be extended by a modified clone of an SSL compressor (G Series) i’m working on this summer, which will hopefully make my music melt like butter! I’ve just finished the test version of an analogue distortion unit with multi-switches to select diode types and paths giving really good control of the harmonics and clip levels. As for monitoring, I’ve used the NS10′s for years along with some old home hi-fi speakers to A/B between, but I’m looking at adding some new monitors to the list, possibly the Focal Twin 6BE’s. I was given a demo of them a while ago and fell in love with the clarity and power of those beryllium domes! Then for software, I try not to go too overboard. I barely have any software FX other than the built in Live devices, but I do love the GS-201 Tape Delay (unfortunately not got a real one though!). For soft-synths, I use FXpansion’s D-Cam Synth Squad in almost everything I do. I was one of the lucky early-bird testers for that and fell in love with it straight away, it just breathes life to the digital world, offering more control than you can imagine! I’ve just actually been asked to work on a new VST for them including original content and presets so I’m chuffed to bits with that too (although I can’t tell you any more than that at this stage!). To be honest, I think that’s pretty much it for VSTs! I have a few other VSTs like Vanguard, FM8, Zebra/Z3TA etc, but I rarely use those. So long as you have a couple of oscillators and know how to use them, there isn’t much you can’t do with a bit of trial and error. I also use Pro Tools 8 for any mastering and recording, and I have to take my hat off to Digidesign for the version 8 upgrade, it’s come on leaps and bounds! :)
Studio tip: don’t give us your best guarded secret. But we’ll be very happy to learn about the second best guarded secret… A piece of tech expertise, please
Master your synths! I know so many producers that have hundreds of VSTs (and even hardware synths), but they don’t know what half the knobs/faders do! 90% of synths these days use subtractive synthesis, and so many people don’t know what that is, but if you know what it is and how it works, then you can really learn to use your synths to your advantage. As for best kept secrets? I dunno, I think one of the main things to remember, is always subtract before you add… Especially when it comes to EQing: If you want your bass to be more prominent and less of a fartknocker, don’t just boost it, because by doing that you’re just using up valuable headroom in the frequency spectrum. Try working out why the bass isn’t prominent enough and what sounds are distracting you from it and then deal with those first. Boosting things in an EQ doesn’t add frequencies that aren’t already there. :)
Real-world tip: you are successful in the musical field – whether a DJ, a producer or a remixer. What kind of effort and mindset is necessary for an aspiring artist to embrace a steady path uphill, en route to the top?
That’s a tricky one! These days especially, there’s no set route to gaining ground, so you need to be able to dedicate all your time and energy into what you do. I think being a producer or DJ is one thing, but you also need to be able to treat yourself as a product or a brand ready to sell, so some business acumen is vital. For me, I work pretty much every day from the moment I’m up until the moment I go to sleep at night. Right now, I’m fully booked out for any studio projects until at least july this year, so you have to be prepared to put in the hours. But then again, I don’t really see it as work. I love what I do and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else! So as for any mindset, just make sure you enjoy what you’re doing, otherwise there’s no point trying.
How do you see the music industry evolving in the years to come – from the studio perspective. Small project studios have already put Abbey Road on sale…
Yeah it’s a sad time to see the possible closure of Abbey Road. I think it’s interesting to see things evolve though, it was only just over 10 years ago that the world seemed to be collectively throwing out every bit of analogue kit, and replacing it with digital ‘equivalents’ as a knee-jerk reaction. Yet now I’m seeing more and more analogue gear cropping up and starting to blend back in to the mix. Obviously the internet has changed the way consumers consume and we have to accept that things are changing and progress with that, otherwise we’ll soon be left behind. From the studio perspective, I think we’re in really exciting times now, with more and more exciting equipment coming out like UAD2 which really takes advantage of the power of computing. Let’s face it, we’re all just kids really wanting shiny new toys with lots of glowing lights and buttons, and I for one, can’t wait to get more! :)
Thank you Dom!
Check out Dom Kane’s new House NI Massive Presets Pack here