Brian Trifon AMA Roundup
What's your workflow? I like to get all my instruments created first, make some generic beat or melody, do some preliminary mixing, then get the song itself arranged, then finalize my mixing and master the song.
I try to create a section or 2 sections that I'm inspired by and arrange them out in a basic structure. As I'm building these initial 2 sections I like to sort out my sounds. I don't like going back later and replacing them unless I hate them. But if I hate what I'm hearing I can't make progress. So I mix a bit as I go. Once I get a basic arrangement I refine all the details and refine the mix etc
When you produce, do you separate the composition/arrangement and sound design process, or do you do them simultaneously?
I like to separate sound design from actual composition and arrangement. Whenever I'm inspired and I start going tweak crazy on a synth I loose all perspective and get frustrated. I try to just arrange and build and record. Other days I'll only do audio editing or only sound design. Bottom line is I want to always make progress on something. So if I get frustrated with composing/arranging I'll switch gears and design some sounds or experiment. Once I get tired of that I'll go back to arranging or I'll record something. The biggest mistake is to get overly frustrated with one thing and hit your head against the wall --and waste time.
What's your general mindset when arranging and if you do use FX to propel your writing, how do you stay out of the tweaker trap?
I always fall into the tweaker trap... I just try to escape from it quickly. If I realize I've been tweaking fx for 30 minutes and I haven't made any real progress --- I take a break or just stop or work on something else. I'm sure all of us waste a lot of time lost in the FX abyss. But the hard part is that sometimes an hr of tweaking weird FX out of context pays off massively!! Thats why I still fall into the trap. I just try to remind myself that 95% of the time it's not productive.
do you have an idea of how you want something to sound and you create what's in your head?
It is definitely like sculpting -- A lot of producers/composers know exactly what they want and they make it happen. I don't. I usually don't have a big-picture in mind, but I have a lot of faith in my instincts and aesthetic. I figure I can start anywhere and I don't know where I'm going to go, but If I trust my instincts and make decisions along the way I will end up somewhere beautiful eventually. Usually I have a long journey with it's ups and downs and stumbles and falls... but as long as I continue to be free to create and at the same time critical and discerning --- I'll eventually arrive somewhere where I see the bigger picture. Once I get a sense of the whole piece of music I just revise and iterate until I can't make it better without totally starting over haha!
How do you avoid "idea cementing"? -- where you've heard a loop or sequence so many times you're hesitant to change it because subconsciously you think "that's how it's supposed to sound". How do you avoid stagnation while working on a track?
I usually have to work on something else and come back to avoid stagnation. Things are always clearer the next day or after a few hours of being away from an idea. I also religiously version control my projects. So any change I make I do a "Save As" and add a new version number. I have to create without fear... If I fear that I will fuck up the track I can't create. So I do a "Save As" and fearlessly destroy all the good work I did haha! Usually I make the right decisions --- if not I can go back to the previous version
What percentage of your production is outboard vs inboard?
Most of it is recorded instruments arranged and processed in Logic. So most of the time I'm working ITB. However I love for my sound sources to be recorded sounds or real instruments. I love softsynths too, but it takes more work to give it character and vibe.
Do you work better with midi or audio?
I prefer audio. But I can't live without MIDI. You need both... but I like things to end up as audio to have complete control.
What was your biggest discovery during production that changed your current workflow?
Templates! I think needing to produce faster for commercials and game deadlines taught me a lot about setting up template sessions. I made a Logic template with my "go to" soft-synths, channel strips and all of my custom trifonic sampler kits ready to go.. Templates have helped me start faster and get ideas put together faster.
Have you ever done drugs for inspiration? If so, do you find that it helps or hinders you?
No. I've actually never done any drugs (other than coffee!). I think a lot of people have really meaningful and important experiences on drugs -- but I'm not cut out for it. I'm too much of a control freak. I've never been drunk either! I think having life rituals is important for creativity. For me I feel creatively best if I exercise and get some moderate amount of sleep. I try to maintain healthy daily rituals but it gets challenging when I'm busy and stressed.
A lot of people smoke weed as part of their daily creative ritual to get in the mind-set of making music. It seems to work well for a lot of people. I guess it's important to do something to get you into the "zone" but drugs aren't necessary (for me at least.)
Any advanced techniques you'd recommend looking into?
Some of the spectral extraction/restoration tools are pretty exciting and creative. Izotope's RX2 is pretty insane. It's amazing for repairing audio, but you can also do very weird things with it too. Also Sony's Spectral Layers is another one that looks really cool too (but I haven't used it yet.)
Can you describe your writing process?
I usually start with whatever I'm inspired by -- usually a melody or guitar part and build from there. I try to trust my instincts and allow myself to make shitty music. The good elements come from revision. If I censor myself too early I can't get anything done. The best thing I believe a creative person can do is try to create without fear --- and that means even without fear of your own criticism. I also need a lot of space to reflect. So I'll work hard and once I hit a plateau I'll switch gears and design some sounds or work on something else. Then I'll come back to the original piece keep the things I like and throw out what I dont. This process usually continues for many days, weeks or months and unfortunately sometimes years :)
How do you start writing a track, is it an idea first or do you just sit down and go with it?
I usually just sit down and roll with it --- I never have a complete idea of the track. Hell I rarely have a complete 4 measures in mind. I make music through revision. The start to most of my tracks is laughable, embarassing ideas -- but that doesn't matter as long as it all comes together through revision.
Any tips on arranging/path to make a full song out of an 8 bar idea?
I get stuck in 8-measure-ville all the time!! I try to come up with at least 2 sections that are different that are both 8 or 16 measures before I start really building them out. That way I at least know I have somewhere for the track to go! A lot of the time though I don't plan it that well and I arrange out the 8 measure section for 32 measures or more and have things slowly build. From their I might start recording new parts and see where I can take it. Sometimes when I get stuck I'll make a whole new session with nothing but the drums and create something entirely new (but at the same tempo and key) -- and figure out how to make them combine later!
What do you do to make your songs longer than 2 minutes or so without being repetitive?
I don't worry about song length too much. Typically I'm not doing actual "dance music" so it doesn't need to be 8 minutes or anything like that. I focus on the energy flow over time. I want things to build and release and build and release with differing amount of intensity. I also like to throw in a surprise -- like right when you think you have the track figured out bring in something entirely new or slightly different than you expect. Arranging is all about setting and meeting expectations. You are guiding the listener along. Every once in awhile it's good to shake them up and avert the expectation that you set up. A good way to get better with arrangements is to copy the arrangements of tracks you like. Chart out when they bring in different elements and when they take them away etc. Learning from other peoples excellent work is the way to go.
What are some tips for new producers to make better music? Any tips to make songs more professional sounding?
I think it's really important to practice and try to find a distinctive voice that is your own. However, in order to craft your own sound you have to learn from others. It's a good exercise to try and imitate tracks that you like... usually you wont even get close! But that is good! That's how you learn and discover your quirks and your own voice. It starts with imitation though. In terms of sounding professional --- it's all about the details. Don't cut any corners -- get rid of any unnecessary sounds or parts and ALWAYS do things that serve the overall track. It's easy to fall in love with a single sound or riff or "drop" etc.... but if it doesn't fit the song... get rid of it! Things sound unprofessional when there are elements that are out of context or sound like they are "trying too hard" etc
How much weight would you put on music theory for new producers?
I think it certainly makes life easier to be well versed in basic music theory. It's not critical, but it is one less hurdle. I would say learn music theory enough to understand scales, modes, triads, inversions and seventh chords. Beyond that it's less relevant. You don't have to be a theory wizard, but it is nice to know in certain situations.
What is your average signal processing chain for a sub?
A lot of the time I don't process subs at all. If it's dynamic at all then I usually compress it and sometimes I'll LPF with moderate resonance to boost the sweet spot in the low frequencies that aligns with the cutoff point. The downside to this is that the "sweetspot" is different for every bass note! So if you're using a resonant LPF to emphasize the lowend you have to automate the cutoff to where it adjusts for each note. I haven't had much of any luck with RenBass and harmonic enhancers on bass. It's better if you can find/create or layer a sound that doesn't need any harmonic enhancement. Much of the time I have a separate sub sound that is a sine or triangle and then several different midrange bass sounds. If it's all one sound multi-band distortion can help a lot. Avoid distorting the low-freq (so you don't loose the balls of the sound) but disort the mid and highs in small amounts.
Triangle or sine for sub?
depends -- whichever sounds better for the track
how did you go about learning how to produce/synthesis? what's the best advice for newcomers to overcome the frustration?
Be patient and be disciplined. DON'T try to take on too many things at once. Set a goal to learn one softsynth entirely! Learn every feature and exactly what everything does. Read the manual and then go through it and do it again and again. Once you learn a few synths inside and out -- the rest are all small variations on the same thing. I wasted a lot of time in the past feeling pressure to learn too many synths and plugins and techniques at once. I got much further limiting my tools and learning a few things very very well. It also forces you to be more creative.
What synth would you recommend to learn inside and out first?
Something simple like Subtractor in Reason, or ES1 in Logic. A simple subtractive synthesizer is the best place to start IMO
What are your favorite granulizers you use for sample manipulation..?
I love Cecilia 4, Reaktor ensemble "GrainSynth" and a bunch of other ensembles. I also use Absynth 5 for granular sometimes. Also Logic's flextime is incredible for granular synthesis. Try monophonic mode on polyphonic material! Or the tempophone
Tips on ambience?
I love creating ambient sounds and moody intros. I usually don't create the intro until I have at least a rough sketch of most of the track. I try to find the interesting background parts that get lost in the density of the body of the track and feature them in the intro. So for example in Parks on Fire I have some reverbed clicks in the intro, a wood block sound and the sound of a reverb tail of an orchestral stab. Those sounds occur throughout the track, but they rarely happen in isolation. I wanted to feature them because they set up a certain somber mood. The other reason I like to have the intro feature background sounds, is that I don't want to give away the meat of the song in the introduction. The goal is to set-up simple motifs that will reoccur, but that more importantly set the emotional mood of the piece in a simple and elegant way. For ambience -- it's mostly created by reverb. In the case of Parks On Fire one of my favorite sounds in the lead up before the melody comes in is a pad that is constructed of a steel drum sample followed by an insert of 17 second fully wet reverb. Reverb!
How do you make that great guitar-like sound in the background of songs you've made like Lies?
Usually it's actually guitar! In Lies it is definitely guitar.
Can you talk about the approach you take for creating something like the spectral strings pad used in Ninth Wave?
The spectral string pads are based around some recordings I did of some violins and violas. I processed them with the Michael Norris spectral plugins and did some smooth time stretching with Melodyne.
Baalbek, like most of your music, is filled with dope soundscapes. Any tips on taming the tails or having sounds not interfere with each? Your sounds seem to weave smoothly in a wash of sound but are still distinguishable.
I usually print everything to audio and I do a lot of automation or actual chops to tails so that sounds don't overlap too much and get too muddy. My sessions look like audio tetris. It's the only way that it doesn't get too cluttered. Or you could argue that some of the tracks already are too cluttered haha!
There's this warbling/morphing melody in NW during the middle of track.
That is a processed violin sound. It is a real recording of a violin, but it is so heavily pitch processed that it has all these weird artifacts. I wanted that sound to be unidentifiable -- somewhere between a synth and a real instrument.
How did you get that lovely piano sound in "Calling"?
I recorded and made a multisanple kit of a baby grand piano. It wasn't perfectly recorded, so it's a bit noisy. That being said it sounds real. Imperfections add to the character and vibe!
Are you using a plugin to get [stuttering effects, as shown here]or do you chop up audio clips into tiny bits?
In Parks On Fire I chopped most of it manually. Some of it is granular processes -- but usually with that, I get a minute long audiofile of unusable glitch mayhem. So I like to cut out the really cool 1/2 a second glitchy bits and edit and place them. So one way or another it is all manually placed.
How often do you use techniques like c-sound opcodes to get wild textures?
I hardly ever use Csound. That's not to say it isn't extremely powerful -- but it is time consuming and it's a wormhole that most days I don't feel like going down. I prefer to use the simplest tools possible and get creative with those. One easy way to access some of the power of Csound is to explore Cecilia 4. It is a freeware program built on Csound's engine. It has a UI and it's a piece of cake to mess around in. Also, it's processes sound fantastic! I used to mess around with the granule and soundwarp opcodes in Csound, but I haven't touched those in years... Cecilia covers it for me.
What sort of subtleties (noise floors, random percussion hits, etc) do you add to your tracks that you're not sure if many people notice?
There are all kinds of sounds that I think people will never notice. I forgot about some of the really quiet layers in Ninth Wave until i was making archival stems! The not-so-secret signature is that in almost every track I've touched there is some sort of telephone sound -- wether it be payphone, cell-phone, landline. Most of the time it's so far in the background or layered that it's not noticeable. My hope is that after a thousand listens somebody could discover something that they hadn't heard in the tracks.
Favorite sample pack?
8dio Taiko drums, Shawn Lee's Planet Of The Breaks
I hear a lot of small ambient sounds like clicks in Trifonic's music. Often times these little nuances seem to be put in at random points, but sound fantastic nonetheless. Is it obvious to you when they should occur, or is there a lot of trial and error in the process?
It's a lot of trial and error! I never have things end up somewhere without intention, but I have to try placing clicky sounds in a lot of different places before I find what is right. I don't have the brain-power to imagine in detail what things will sound like. I have to hear it and then adjust.
Percussion is one of my favorite things about Trifonic music so I do wonder how you approach this aspect of sound design.
It's all about layers. I don't design every drum sound. I go to samples and find what works and layer things on top. Sometimes designing a drum sound might just be finding two complimentary sounds and making them work together. I don't worry about reinventing the wheel every time. Also field recording is a great way to get cool sounds that are great drum layers
How do you make your drums so powerful?
Hmm I usually don't have HUGE drums like some people -- I try to go for what fits best. I guess it is all about dynamics. I try to leave a lot of headroom while I'm working so I can turn up the drums more later if I need to. Things only sound big and powerful if other elements sound small and not as powerful. It's important to have complimentary and contrasting elements. If you have too many "samey" sounds in the same sonic range --- it all becomes mud butt.... and nobody wants mud butt (sonically speaking).
Do you tune your drums?
I usually don't tune drums exactly to key, unless it is an 808 and it needs to be. I'll pitch drums until they sit right, but I don't usually worry about key unless it clashes
Favorite VST -- that is impossible to answer, it changes all the time. I would say that I love samplers so EXS24 in Logic and NI's Kontakt 5 are probably my favorites. For FX I really love Reaktor, Sinevibes bundle, Michael Norris Spectral bundle, GRM tools 3, Valhalla DSP's Shimmer + Roomverb + Ubermod and Sound Toys bundle and the built in Logic FX.
Favorite 3 effect plugins?
NI komplete, Soundtoys bundle, Sinevibes bundle --4th Michael Norris spectral bundle
Favorite stock Logic plugin?
Sculpture stock Logic effect: Enverb, Bitcrusher, Compressor, Spacedesigner. Also I like the Overdrives too... It's too hard to pick one or even 5
Do you have a preference for impulse response vs. artificial as far as reverbs are concerned, or does it totally depend on what the 'verb is for? In what cases do you use one vs. the other?
I like the musicality of "artificial" reverbs -- IR's can be a bit flat... depends on the verb though.
What do you use enverb for?
weird gated verbs. I think the built in verbs in Logic aren't the best ever.... but certainly useable for a lot of things. I'm using less and less convolution for reverbs as well.. too static sounding some of the time. convolution is great for "real spaces" and rooms, but algorithmic is usually blends better and is better for lush sounds or reverb tails that blend in musically better.
if you could have a custom plugin/instrument/processor etc… designed for you, what would it do?
Hmmm custom tools.... Something that does spectral morphing as well as kyma, but doesn't cost 6k!
How do you feel about the use of negative space in music?
I love negative space --- but I'm a terrible person because I always cram music full of stuff. I'm jealous of minimalists.... i'd love to be that way
Could you provide any tips or guidelines to keep in mind with regards on how to work towards professional-sounding EQing?
Yes, generally subtracting frequencies/cutting is less damaging to the sound than boosting. The less extreme cuts and boosts the more natural things will sound. Furthermore high q settings/narrow bandwidth boosts and cuts are going to sound more awkward on lower frequencies than on higher frequencies. For low frequencies HPF and shelfs can be useful and more transparent. If you need to parametrically EQ low frequencies you probably want to avoid extreme high Q/narrow bandwidth settings.
If you need to radically change the tonal color of sound -- maybe EQ isn't the first tool to use. Saturation/coloration might be a better option followed by an EQ. Or multiband compression or dynamic EQ's will tonally reshape the sound as well. Of course there really are no rules and whatever works... works. Also - less is more. Carve out only what needs to be carved out.
Last but not least - you are usually wasting your time if you are EQ'ing out of context. Make your EQ adjustments while listening in context not in solo. Sometimes you will need to solo to listen to a certain aspect of the sound or to do some general bass cuts, but try to EQ in context!
Where do you find compression applicable? When applying, what approach do you take when adjusting parameters?
I use compression in 2 different ways: 1. Tame dynamics 2. FSU/abuse. The most important thing is to level match before and after compression, otherwise your ears play tricks on you. As soon as something sounds louder we can't help but like it better. So adjust the threshold and make sure to check it bypassed vs engaged and level match … Hyper-compression in parallel with uncompressed sound can be nice sometimes.
What is generally your plug-in sequence?
whatever is necessary -- so sometimes Comp> EQ or sometimes EQ>Comp>EQ etc. if you compress first and then EQ -- the compressor is reacting to the full frequency range of the sound and then you are shaping with eq after you have tamed the dynamics. If you EQ first the compressor reacts to the EQ'd signal and brings out different aspects of the sound as it limits the dynamics. There is no "right" way to approach it. Try it both ways and see what works best for a particular sound.
with so many eq and compression plugins out there, which ones are your favorites and why?
I really like the Cambridge EQ (UAD) and I use the Logic channel EQ frequently. I like transparent EQ's for cuts and I like to use character EQ's if I have to do any boosts. So UAD Pultec is nice etc. Compression I like the 1176 emulations and LA2A emulaitons. I also like the Logic compressor.
Any tips on getting acoustic/real instruments to mix well with synthesized elements?
It can be hard to get them to blend. It's all about making space for whatever the sound is (electronic or acoustic.) I like to make a lot of the electronic sounds out of acoustic sounds... that way they sound coherent together. Making sounds out of other sounds already in the track is a great way to tie things together... although you have to be careful of too much frequency overlap
If you had to give just one piece of advice about how to get sounds to sit together in a mix.. what would that be?
Don't have your sounds compete for the same space. A lot of mixing has to do with arranging. Well arranged music where sounds that are competing for space don't occur at the same time too much, almost mixes itself. Think about the best arrangement before you go too tweak crazy on the mix. Ultimately it is all about carving space for everything.
Did you use any hardware gear to mix and master Ninth Wave?
I didn't mix with any outboard gear. Obviously recorded a lot of real gear: guitars, basses, vox and analog synths. It was all mixed in the box though. I did have it professionally mastered by Mike Wells. He is great and definitely an outboard gear guy.
do you have any advise for learning how to get a solid master?
For mastering, I would say go with a pro. I don't like mastering my own music. It takes me long enough with production and mixing haha! I want someone else to do the mastering!
Can you tell us a little bit about the gear you're using?
iMac quad2.8 i7 Fireface 800 interface Focal Solo 6Be monitors UAD quad satellite Virus TI Polar Emu E6400 Ultra sampler SCI Pro One Roland SH-09 Too many guitars! antique mandolin several shitty electric basses and one nice G&L L2000
the software I mentioned earlier
[On the Emu E6400 Ultra]:
the z-plane peak/shelf morph is quite nice and I like clipping the unit. Also it's timestretch is bad in good way. Furthermore the emu has one of my favorite doppler effects of anything! The only downside to the EMU is it is sooo slow to work on. Processing audio on it takes minutes. We're all spoiled with the ridiculously fast computers we have. Nothing like an old hardware sampler to remind you of that!
What do you think of Ableton Live?
I love Ableton Live! I use it for live shows and occasionally for production. My only complaints are that it doesn't have a one-step offline audio processing solution like audiosuite fx in Pro Tools.... but neither does Logic (bounce-in-place works but is an extra step.) It also lacks some composing/scoring features that I can't live without. For example you couldn't change time-signatures in the arrangement page until version 7!! Eventually I'm sure it will have all of the scoring features of the legacy DAWs. Ableton is the best for working with controllers and creating custom nested fx chains or instruments... nothing else is even close.
Do you use controllers for your production work? Or are you pretty much strictly keyboard/mouse.
I don't really use much as far as controllers for production. I use my Virus TI as the controller to play in midi parts and I assign some of it's knobs to write automation etc... but mainly it's mouse mixing.
What sample rate do you produce your tracks at?(44.1,48,88,96, etc etc)
I work at 24bit 44.1 -- 95% of the time. The main reason to work at higher sampling rates is that some plugins sound better at higher sampling rates, but nowadays most good plugins are double-percision anyways (upsample) or have oversampling ---so it's not so much of an issue. The only other reason to record at high sampling-rate is if you intend to do pitch shifting with less artifacts. I've done some recording with HF extended microphones like my Earthworks QTC 40 pair (which captures up to 40khz) and recorded it at 192khz. I can transpose those recordings down 2 octaves and it still sounds natural. All of the 20khz and above material is shifted down into the audible range... so these heavily pitched down sounds still have a lot of natural sounding top end!
Anyway 44.1 or 48 is usually all you ever need. 24bit vs 16bit makes much more of a sonic difference than sampling rates above 44.1.
How do you use ableton for your live sets?
I like to create 4 or 5 stems for each song: drums, bass, melodic elements, SFX and guitars (which I usually have muted, because I try to play some of those parts live.) With stems I can drop out the drums or bass at certain moments or rebalance the track as need be. I usually have each tracks 5 stems set-up in a scene. When i trigger the scene it sets the master tempo to the tempo of that particular song and launches all the stems. I also have clips in the scene for each song that control guitar fx changes. That way I don't have to worry about guitar fx changes much.
With production becoming such a big part of the music creation process, what do you think is best way musicians can continue to showcase their work in a live setting, in an engaging way, without resorting to having individual tracks in a DJ set, or just pressing play on an mp3 player or sampler?
cheers! Oh man -- that's a hard one. I haven't totally figured out what works best for live performance. I guess the bottom line is that whatever you do you have to communicate something to the audience. For me I try to play the guitar and bass parts live and have different arrangements for the songs. I don't know how to DJ so I don't do DJ sets, I play trifonic tracks and try to perform the things that I can live.
I also have the tracks split into grouped stems : drums, bass, melodic, sfx etc. That way I can drop certain elements out and make it more of a performance
Ira talks about this gap that all creative people face when they are first starting up. How long did it take for you to close this gap or are you still closing it?
I'm still closing the gap. If you talk to my friends... they all know how critical I am of my own work. I have a hard time listening to any of it, because it never fully lives up to what I want. That doesn't mean I'm not happy with it or don't like it, but I've never completed anything where it got to where I wanted it to be. However, it's more important to get things done and do them as best you can for your skills at that moment. It's the only way to do better work over time. I would never get anything done if I needed to fully meet my own expectations and desires. My life goal is to meet that with some piece of music eventually, but if I never get there I'm fine with that. It keeps my hungry and it keeps me pushing myself. … I don't think I'll ever be satisfied. Like svenniola said "it's the neverending mountain." I totally agree. The person I was 5 years ago might be happy with the music I make now... but the me now is not entirely happy with the music I make now.
When did you realize you could make a living from music?
I started working for BT back in 2003 as an intern and then when I got hired fulltime in 2004 up until 2007 and I was working on albums, movies, TV shows and all of that I felt pretty confident I would be able to continue to make my living in music afterward. Experience gives you the confidence etc. That being said I was obsessed and in love with music since I was 10. I wanted to be a heavy metal guitar god... that never happened, but I new I would always be a musician
Can you describe the process of going from simply having good music to being able to live off of making it?
Making a living in music is not a simple thing. For me it means being diversified. Part of what I do is make the music for trifonic, part of it is working on video game scores and TV commercials etc. I try not to have all my eggs in one basket.
Can you tell us how you got into the video game/commercial/tv business?
Some of it fell in my lap based on the spread of trifonic's music. However a lot of it was through meeting people in those industries and building the relationships over time. I've done a lot of session work as a guitarist and electronic bits. So I did a lot of sessions for bigger artists and composers and built my list of credits up. Certainly it comes down to relationships and getting to know the people in the industry. Unfortunately talent beyond a certain minimal point is secondary.
Advice for marketing your music?
Marketing is tough, I'm not an expert on that. I think being involved in the community and giving back and helping other musicians helps in an indirect way --- all the good karma gets returned eventually. I guess the other main advice is focus on your product being the best it can be --- makes it much easier to market!
What can you predict in the next 20 years to happen to the development of electronic music?
Well in the near term --- I think people will backlash against wobbles, reeses and harshness. Don't get me wrong, I love all that stuff, but I think it is reached a point where people will want a break. But it will come back around again. In 20 years we'll be tripping balls on binauraul hallucination musical experiences....or I hope so
Whats your advice on aspiring producers who have been making (like me) a record this past year?
I think when you are starting it's all about building a name and reputation. First and foremost -- be excellent. The music has to be as great as you can possibly make it. If the music is good it's much easier to get people excited about it. Definitely consider releasing it for free (even if only for a limited time.) Bottom line is that you wont make any money selling it to nobody because you have no audience. It's important to build an audience and free music or pay-what-you-want can certainly help. Also a lot of people have built their careers's by entering remix competitions and just crushing everybody. Seven Lions comes to mind as an example of that. Also consider creating your own label! In the long run you can make a lot more money from controlling and owning your music and publishing than you will from a label. However it is a lot of extra work, but it is worth it.
What work did you do on This Binary Universe?
On TBU I did 85% of the guitar parts and a fair amount of programming on every track. I worked on it for over a year with BT so I spent a lot of time on it! Stutter Edit is cool -- I don't really use it because most of the edits and things need to be totally integrated into the track not a "special effect." So I still do a lot of the edit's manually or take granular processes and cut them up and assemble them manually. I don't have any comments on BT's other productions. Obviously he is an extremely talented guy that popularized a lot of production techniques and pioneered his own sound. I have a lot of respect for him in that regard.
How did you get in touch with BT? I've been doing a lot of stuff within the music industry, met a ton of people, internships, releasing tracks, and booking & playing shows internationally - but boy would I kill for an internship experience like yours.
It sounds like you are doing the right things! I didn't know anyone who knew BT back then and I didn't really care about working specifically for him... I was just looking to intern or work with an electronic producer in LA. I found out that The Crystal Method, BT and a few other producers all were managed by the same management company. I called the management company and asked if any of their producers needed an intern to make coffee and do tedious tasks. The management company said "No!" I asked If I could send in my resume for them to keep on file. I sent in my resume and I carried on with my life. I didn't hear anything until 6 months later. BT's assistant (at the time) called me and said he "might want an intern." I did an interview -- got the internship -- worked extremely hard and made an effort to make myself useful and valuable. I got hired and worked with him for several years, until I needed a change. It was good, but relentless --- high-pressure, high responsibility and low paying. The experience it gave me was worth it in the end though.
What is your opinion on Dubstep/Skrillex?
I love Skrillex! Let's face it -- whether you like it or not he developed a distinctive sound and a creative style that blends a lot of various genres and does it in an accessible way. That is no small accomplishment. From everything I know about him, he is apparently a very pleasant and humble guy too. With regard to dubstep, I like a lot of it. I've been a dnb fan for years and also a downtempo fan.. So dubstep combined the halftime with the dnb reeses and wobbles.
As a producer myself, I too am trying to keep my eggs in many different baskets. But, how do you ride out the general financial instability? Did you have work that you could 'count on'? And ultimately, once you were confident in your abilities, how did you start finding well-paid work? I feel as though I'm almost on the cusp of something, but need a little bit more time!
The financial instability is the most challenging part of being any sort of musician. Early on I had no illusions about what I was getting into. I pursued and received a degree in jazz guitar in college. I fully expected that it was possible that I might be a struggling guitar teacher for the rest of my life. I didn't want that to be the case, but realistically I knew that was a possibility and accepted that. It's tough to be any sort of musician -- I tell people all the time that if you love anything half as much as music, pursue it for your living! There is no shame in making a living however you need to do it. If you decide that you are only going to make your living through music -- it becomes a greater burden and the "fun aspect" is lessened by some extent. That doesn't mean it isn't great, but the weight of reality is heavier than the fantasy. So to answer your question yes you NEED some type of stable work to get the ball rolling. For me, I taught guitar lessons all through high-school and college. By the end of college I had 8 years teaching experience of teaching both kids and adults, dealing with students parents etc. During college I also made an effort to get "real" world music industry experience. I worked my way into an internship at the Fox Newman Scoring Stage in LA. I answered phones and made coffee and sat in the back of the room during the orchestral scoring sessions for Seabiscuit, Matrix: Revolutions, Angels In America -- etc. During my senior year of college I interned for BT and just did audio editing and time correcting for 5 or 6 hours a day after all my classes (that's what later led to my job as an inhouse studio guy at his studio). I was trying to soak up as much as I could and work really hard to build more skills. Bottom line I knew I could always scrape by teaching guitar lessons. Anyway, it took a long time to develop reasonable paying work and certain years when I was getting started I definitely struggled. Do whatever you need to do -- it's hard out there as a musician/producer.
is it frustrating to make complex, intricate music that often won't be appreciated as 'easily' as a lot of the more straightforward music that can generate a much larger fan base, and implicitly more financial opportunities playing the music out? Or is this counter-balanced by the diverse market for your music, i.e. the video game industry and film industries that can make use of such music?
No it's not frustrating. I can only do what I'm into and what I feel. If I like it --- some niche of people will like it too. Doing simpler production is really hard! I admire people who can do something simply and meaningful -- make a musical statement that is honest and intimate and doesn't need any complexity to hide behind. I'm good at complexity and I like density and texture... not because it's better, but because it's what flows from me. If I could make a conscious choice of what I want to sound like, I think I would be a minimalist. That being said I'm no good at it. I'm good at texture and density and emotion - and I'm okay with that. I'm just happy that there is an audience and that there is some group of people out there that feel what I feel and the music means something to them.
I'm also very happy that some of my music lends itself to film/tv/games etc. I love film and tv and love scores etc. So it's all good all around. I don't envy anyone else's mainstream success or money. Most of the people I've met or worked with that are really mainstream successful really mean and love what they do and work really hard. They do what comes naturally to them. I guess my point of this rant is you can only be what you are and make music that you mean to have any lasting success. "you can't fake the funk" :)
How and when did you first get started making electronic music?
I fell in love with electronic music when I was in high school 1996 - 2000. Aphex Twin, Massive Attack, NIN, Skinny Puppy, Photek, Goldie, Bjork and Squarepusher all blew my mind!
I wanted to get involved but I had no clue about any of it. I started by downloading a cracked copy of Rebirth 1.0 on to a floppy disk on a mac performa (wow those were the days -- sorry Propellerheads for starting with a crack!) I recorded bad acid 303/808 Rebirth jams on to my 4 track tape recorder and used the other 3 tracks for shredding guitar solos. I hope nobody ever finds those tapes! I got more serious about learning electronic production when I bought Cubase in college. That was when softsynths were just starting to sound alright. I read as much as I could about recording and synthesis and DAW's. The more I experimented the better things started to sound.
Has your previous musical experience helped with your current one?
I can't tell you how much of an advantage having a lifetime of discipline from studying and practicing music and ear-training gave me. It just makes things easier. Learning how to use a synth and a DAW is daunting for sure --- but it's a piece of cake compared to getting competent on an instrument. However creating, producing and mixing high quality music is an endless life-long journey (just like studying an instrument.)
Your musical skills will help you a lot. You might need to catch up on the technical side though. I would pick any DAW and learn it like you did the guitar. Learn everything about it and become an expert using it. Work on it everyday. Secondly -- learn synthesis. Learn about subtractive synthesis first and pick one synth to learn inside and out. Limit your tools and don't worry about all of the billion plugins out there. I think that approach will get you the best jump start. The rest is endless