/June 7, 2013

I’ve been talking to several mates in the music industry over the last few days and I’ve decided there are only two types of producer/studio owner/engineers: those expanding their equipment list and those downsizing.

No-one ever seems content with what they have. One of my mates was even telling me that he’s contemplating selling his house to pay for a studio refit!

“Whoa Nelly, now you’re starting to sound like a crazy person,” I chuckled.

He’s not normally so susceptible to the romance of studio ownership… but at the moment he’s right up there in my Top 10 list of studio nutcases.

I guess it’s no surprise; the audio industry is all about exploration and often the best terrain to explore is new terrain.



The last couple of projects I’ve worked on here at The Mill have seen me looking under every rock and crevice for everything from old synths to short-wave radios, and pretty much anything else that makes a degenerated sound. Compressors! Ha! I don’t care about them anymore. Well, not this week anyway.

Right now it’s all about sounds of all varieties, be they old or new, cutting-edge digital or horse-and-buggy analogue. Things that whir are in, as is anything that picks up garbled sounds from the atmosphere. I’ve collected some great sounding stuff, with lots more to come.

I like a studio to be a candy store of sonic exploration where anyone involved in the production process can pick up any number of instruments within easy reach and play something. Virtual instruments are all very well, but they’re not exactly thrilling to look at.



Of course, if you’re running a fully commercial studio, where strangers walk in and out of the place day and night without any meaningful supervision, chances are you won’t want fancy trinkets and cool instruments lying about all over the place… they may not last.

But if you’re more like me, and work with people most of whom are well known to you, the need for ‘security’ is far less of an issue. In that situation – let’s call it the private commercial sector – you’re much freer to leave things lying around for people to play and contemplate as an overdub, or as their inspiration for the next hit single.

I’m yet to experience a situation where a stereo compressor inspired a hit… but it has happened.

If you’re a producer of music you probably already know this but it’s worth reiterating. Musicians and instruments make music, not mics and compressors. In fact, without things that encourage musical exploration, recording chains are about as useless as a Penny Farthing at the Tour De France.

Expand your instrument collection I say… chances are the things you add to your stash will be far more likely to inspire musical performance than yet another preamp.



I was over at a mate Wally de Backer’s place the other day who has a small arsenal of instruments to play with. While I sat there playing an old Wurly as my dog Rupee sat beside me panting furiously (having just run around after a ball for half an hour), Wal quickly sampled us on a new, cheap-as-chips handheld sampler, looped it and made it into a fascinating little groove in about five seconds flat. It was the perfect example of how a good instrument is one that encourages interaction, quickly and effortlessly. Six hours later I was on eBay searching for one of these samplers for The Mill!

My concern at the moment is that a dire falsehood is spreading far and wide that goes something like this: “Everything you use in the studio must be repeatable, recallable or virtual. If a synth can be ‘soft’ rather than physical, great. If a sound can be dragged off a hard drive rather than performed, perfect. Why have a single tambourine when BFD offers 15? If you can take reduce your studio to an Eight-Core Mac and some monitors, awesome…”

The truth is most record productions don’t work like that. They require an environment that encourages happy accidents, colourful ingredients and inspiration at every turn. Whether it’s an instrument, a photo, a book or a video, every production environment worth its salt has been the spark in some way or other of countless overdubs, solutions to key melodies or whole songs from scratch.



I’m practising what I preach today and heading down to a Vinnies in a country town near here, in search of a decent toy piano an/or a Xylophone (or frankly anything else!). I have a tuner in my iPhone to check any I might find for tuning dramas… toy pianos are always out of whack; that’s part of their charm. But a poorly pitched Xylophone is worse than a trip to the dentist in the 19th Century.