I find it interesting to find out more about what creatives do, and how they use their tools. Many people don’t create anything – the same cannot be said of you, Rich (Tricky DJ), and I think that the stuff you do is awesome, and I think that it’s work writing about. Some of the questions aren’t entirely applicable to you, so we’ll have to adapt slightly – so ‘What was your first Mac’ becomes ‘What was your first computer?’
So what was it? What was your first computer?
Oh crikey. My first computer was probably a hand-me-down laptop from my dad. The first one I bought was a little Dell, it wasn’t even a Pentium. It was really small, it didn’t really do a lot, but it did just about enough to get a few audio programs going. I started off doing stuff in Reason then I moved onto Cubase.
Yeah, I remember you using Reason and liking that… and also Wolfenstein!
(Sigh) Wolfenstein! That was a classic game. Absolutely loved that.
It was good! So what computer do you use currently?
At the moment I’m pretty much all on a laptop. It’s just an i5 processor, it’s only got about 4 gig RAM in it. The software that I run is so processor friendly – I can pretty much do everything on that. I then take the finished idea over to the studio and then work on it in a proper controlled environment. My idea was to have a laptop that mirrored my desktop so that I could work on a lot of ideas out and about, and then finish it off on my desktop. But this suits the way I work, so when I upgrade my PC I’ll just get a bigger laptop, a more powerful laptop, and just take it around everywhere. You find more and more producers are doing that. They might sit at a massive fat desk, but they’ve just plugged their laptop in.
That brings me onto my next question which is… What peripherals do you use with your computer?
Ahh right. Well Access Virus TI is my synth of choice. It’s actually the only synth which has managed to nail the software – hardware hybrid. It is a standalone synth: it works in the normal way with MIDI, but it also plugs in via USB and you have a plugin which you load up into your DAW and you can control it through the plugin, or through the knobs and buttons that you have on the actual hardware. Other people have integration between software and hardware, but no ones put the effort into nailing it that Access did – not that I know of. I also use a Focusrite Saffire Pro sound card into Genelec studio monitors.
So the Saffire sound card – is that an external sound card?
Yes. It’s got a load of preamps in and things. But I also just plug my headphones into my laptop and use Sonarworks Reference which can test your room and your headphones and flatten your response so that you’re mixing as clean as possible, without the room or your speakers affecting the sound, which is the biggest problem for any kind of studio. It also has a headphone function so various headphones are pre-calibrated – they already know the frequency response.
What hardware do you regard as being ‘key’?
The Virus. Absolutely key to my sound. It’s such a versatile synth as well. It pops up in so many people’s setups, from Depeche Mode through to rock bands which use it. It’s the signature sound of Trance and Hard Trance, along with Roland. And my studio monitors are so important. By a mile, they’re the best speakers that I’ve heard, to the point that I’ve had sound engineers come around and play reference tracks on them and they’ll hear something that they’ve never heard before. So detailed.
It seems to me that many speakers that people buy these days concentrate on the bass to the detriment of absolutely everything else.
So many are really bass heavy, yeah. They think that a lot of bass equals warmth, and that’s fine – but you don’t want that in studio monitors. The problem is that bass is the hardest thing to control in a room. Dave (Spinout – my production partner, and head of Highfish Records) and I find that the room is the most important thing when getting your productions sounding good and sounding consistent. The room and referencing. After so many years of producing you think “Ah yeah, but if we buy these speakers or whatever, or if we do this, it’ll sort it all out.” Really you just need to get your room right. Then you’re on your way to getting it nailed. You don’t want to sound like everyone else, but for the sort of music that I’m doing, which is going to be played in a club, you need to make sure that all the right frequencies are covered and you don’t mix your track so that it sounds really weak in the low end or in the fizz of the top or anything like that. Then you can work on bringing out the power and the sparkle.
Is there any hardware that you’ve regretted buying?
Not really regretted. I got some motorised faders which I ended up just not using. They were great, they worked really really well but I found that they just didn’t really fit into my workflow. I ended up selling them.
And your favourite software?
I’m going to split this down into a few, the first being the DAW that I use. I switched a couple of years ago to PreSonus Studio One, which is an absolute eye opener. It’s so user friendly. They really listen to the users. Some of the things that it can do I’m just amazed by. When you first see it you just think “Why doesn’t everyone do this?”
I think that it’s really important that developers are responsive to their users.
It’s got a really loyal following because of that, I think. They know the fact that they’re not going to be everyone’s first choice DAW at this stage, but you can set it up to respond to Cubase shortcuts, Logic Pro shortcuts, Reason, whatever, so it eases the transition as well. It’s little things like that.
As far as plugins are concerned, I’d say probably Cableguys VolumeShaper has changed my life in the studio. Essentially, it’s just an envelope plugin but it’s so versatile.
Can you share any tips for success?
I’ll let you know when I get there! Don’t get too distracted. Concentrate on the most important thing for you to do. I find that with being creative it’s so easy to get distracted. A track is never finished – it’s just kind of abandoned. You can always work on a track and polish it up and make it better. It’s improving the whole time. Set yourself limits – for example, in the studio today, this is what I’m going to work on – and I’m going to finish that track by x date. Then put it away. If you do want to come back to it, then come back to it at a later date – even if it’s released you can do a re-release. It’s easy to get tied up in just wasting time trying to get something to work when it’s not really going to work, when you can tie that off, finish it and move onto the next thing. The fun part is always creating a new idea, but when you get to the final 5 or 10 percent you’ve heard it hundreds of times and you’re just thinking I really want this to go away!
I know – I’m the same. Just let it be done.
So many people say the same thing though. It’s not just me. Pretty much everyone is the same, but to get it really polished you do have to listen to it hundreds of times before it comes out.
I think it’s the same with all creatives. How did you first get into making music?
I first got into making music when I was in a band, back in my teens. I’m sure you remember…
So yeah. I got into making music through Clemency, got to Uni, wasn’t really playing but I started DJ’ing: mixed nights, eighties nights, and I learned how to read a crowd which was really useful. I then started playing more and more dance music, and randomly bumped into people who were making their own music. I was lucky that I found a lot of people who were really quite far ahead with it, and they helped me out with teaching me the software. I met up with Dave Spinout , and just kind of went on from there really.
Do you see yourself making a full time career out of music?
I’m probably going to say No, because if you’re going to do that then you need to do just that. You can’t just say “Well if I get to the stage where my music takes over, I’ll switch”. I don’t think that you can get to that stage unless you are doing nothing else. You’ve got to give it the respect that it deserves, you can’t expect to be turning out high quality huge genre defining tracks unless you’re putting every waking hour into it. You have to be prepared to risk everything. I’m probably too old to be making that kind of decision!
I know. The same thought has occurred to me. It doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped trying! Okay, what would be the perfect gig for you?
Now then. I’m going to be greedy and say that the perfect gig would be playing the main arena at a festival, something outdoors. Transmission? But that’s not outdoors. Then going off and playing a back room somewhere, something underground. I love the idea of playing to so many people, that buzz must be incredible, but I also love the vibe of a smaller room. It’s my background. My first residency was literally an underground club, no glitz, no sparkle, no mirrors or… nothing. The phrase “bare-back ravers” comes to mind – people don’t really care about how you’re dressed or anything – they’re just there, punching the air, really getting into it. If it’s a big event then there’s going to be both types of rooms, so I’d have to say double dipping!
Who are your influences?
They change. One of the biggest is probably Scot Project, Jon the Baptist – I find a lot of influence coming from that sort of side, so many times I’ll write stuff and Dave will say “ah yeah, that’s really Baptist”. It happens without really thinking about it. Scot Project is immense. I really like the softer side as well, people like Mark Sherry, I really like the stuff that he does. Loads of people! I try to take influence from all sorts – I’ve been working on a whole load of tracks which are only just now starting to see the light of day. It was going to be an album, but we’ll be releasing on different labels and spread things around, and I was trying to work on different styles. A slightly different feel to everything, that involves picking influences from all over the place. Spread your net wide with regard to influences and that’s got to be a good thing.
Tell me something good, or inspiring.
This is nicked (from Robin Sharma) but I thought that it was good for getting a really positive mindset. Make your ‘I can’ bigger than your ‘I can’t’. Make your ‘I can’ bigger than your ‘IQ’ as well. You can overcome a lot by believing in it. You do need talent, of course, but belief and blocking out negative stuff really helps. We don’t really need to be told about our mistakes, block out the negative stuff and focus on the good and you’ll produce a load more good stuff.
And your favourite gizmo or gadget?
At the moment it has to be Sonarworks Reference. It’s absolutely insane. Without it it’s like trying to work through fog. Sonarworks clears it. It’s amazing. Absolutely amazing.
One last question, talk us through the work that you feel most proud of.
It’s the stuff that we’re doing at the moment. You tend to improve all the time, and I feel as if I’m just starting to get more consistent. I also really like the work that I did on Innecto…
I really like that as well
…that was something different. It’s always good to get a different feel. I really enjoyed doing the down-tempo versions as well. Really pleased with that. We’ve just done a remix for HTE Recordings, which we’re really pleased with.
Best Music Making Software (Beginner Guitar HQ)