Show Off Your Studio – The best studios of January 2019
This month, we travel to Portland, Oregon, check out techno upstart Raffaele’s studio, and visit a sleek yet cosy recording space.
Interviewee Johnny Clash
Johnny’s studio really does mix things up. It’s a kind of freeform space based in Portland, Oregon and we think you’ll agree, it really is quite a setup…
- An entire band’s worth of gear in one room
- Apple and Ableton DAWs
- Choice compression
- Lots of guitar gear
- Nord and Moog synths
Tell us about your incredible studio.
I’ve been working here for a little over a year. The structure is a 1920s craftsman house with nice original wood floors, so it sounds really natural, with lots of character.
What are your main pieces of gear?
It’s really a mix of old and new stuff. For recording, I have 24 channels running through an Apogee Ensemble. Compressor-wise, I have an APII/JDK, FMR Audio RNC and PBC-6A ‘vintage-y’ and an Avalon U5. There’s also a Black Lion Audio Auteur mic pre and various guitar cabinets and speaker combos, including a hand-wired Fender Vibro Champ, Marshall Handwired 18-watt, Custom Vox AC15, and vintage Mesa/Boogie Mark I. Finally, I have Fender Precision and Jazz Basses plus Gibson and Fender guitars and a tonne of cool effect pedals. Lots of stuff and super fun.
Which DAW do you use and why?
Ableton and Logic. Most of the music I work on has band-style arrangements, with a mix of analogue and digital sound sources. Ableton flows very smoothly and doesn’t slow me down when I’m in the creative zone. Logic is more straightforward, in a traditional DAW sense. They’re instruments in themselves; so Ableton mainly for creative songwriting and Logic for more traditional multi-track recording and for mixing.
What’s your favourite gear?
You can’t beat real instruments. The old stuff has the vibe that gets me excited and inspires me to do something. I’d say the Sound Machine keyboard is pretty sexy, or my Pin-up Custom ‘T’.
How do you use your studio? Commercially, or for your own work?
I’m lucky, as I get to spend a lot of time working on creating music and recording music and it’s fun on top of that! Although all my time is spent doing this, the money is not the reason to do it. So I do it for the passion, I guess; as a serious hobby that sometimes brings in a little money.
Next on your gear shopping list?
I’m always after old keyboards and guitars. I’m used to hardware and moving quickly, which is quite different on a computer. I wish someone would create a DAW controller that’d actually work. Ergonomics and workflow are critical; the less I use my mouse and keyboard, the more enjoyable it would be.
What is your dream gear?
I wouldn’t mind a Radar System with Pro Tools and a nice console. I learned on tape and analogue gear and the workflow is natural, and you can reach out and control stuff without a mouse. A Neve console with a patch bay would be really cool.
Anything annoy you about the setup?
I suppose using a mouse to control virtual knobs and faders on screen is really my biggest annoyance.
What is your top production advice?
Keep it simple, sucka! Use what you have, it’s all you need. Love what you have – it’s the only way to stay sane.
What’s your top studio advice?
Have a dedicated building with a dedicated slab and clean electrical power. Treat your room and get good microphones. And focus on the music, not the gear.
Interviewee Raffaele Fontanella
This neat and tidy space is rising techno producer Raffaele (aka Ralef)’s studio. With multiple releases across half-a-dozen labels, he proves that a few choice pieces of gear are all you need…
- Hands-on, with hardware drum machines
- Analogue Korg synthesis
- Volca modules
- Logic as the main DAW
Tell us about your studio.
My studio is in Angri, a town near Pompei in Italy. I built it up gradually, one piece at a time. I started four years ago, when all I had was a laptop. I started just for fun, listening to my music using the car radio, other stereos or my MP3 player. I decided to improve it and create a proper electronic track. That’s how my passion for music, especially techno, started, so then I bought some more professional equipment.
What gear do you have there?
I own a pair of Yamaha HS7 monitors, an iMac 22-inch and an M-Audio ProFire 610 soundcard. To record vocals, I use a small Samson Go Mic microphone. The newest piece of equipment I own is a Korg Minilogue analogue synth. I also have MFB Tanzmaus and Roland TR-09 drum machines; Novation SL MkII, Arturia KeyStep and BeatStep MIDI controllers; and finally, Korg Volca Sample and FM modules.
Which DAW do you use and why?
My DAW is Logic Pro X. I started using GarageBand on my MacBook Pro and later, I used Ableton but, in my opinion, Logic is the best, because I can easily implement my ideas within it. At first, I found it difficult because I had never used professional music-recording software, but with a lot of patience, passion and the great desire to create my own music, I got the results I hoped for. I know I still have a lot to learn and to improve, but creating music is exciting. I hope I never stop doing it – it’s been my dream since I was a child.
What is your favourite studio gear?
My Korg Minilogue. The sounds you create with digital synths and a mouse can never be as good as the ones you create with your hands and real synths. You can adjust filters, oscillators, envelopes and sustains with your hands; the results are more satisfying and professional. The original sound of the analogue synth is pure and hard to copy.
How is the studio used: for your own music, professionally or just for fun?
I started working just as a hobby. It was a kind of game but, as my passion grew, I did my first track, Never Too Late, and I submitted it to an Italian record label and signed a record deal. My first EP came out in 2014. It was in the top 100 techno releases on Beatport after just two days. Now, I have produced 10 EPs for seven different labels, some of my tracks are on compilations and I have also done remixes and online radio shows.
What’s on your gear-shopping list?
A Roland TR-8 or Native Instruments Maschine MK3. It’s important to have the right device to create drum and percussion grooves, as using both hands instead of a mouse improves speed and accuracy.
What’s your dream gear?
A pair of Adam A7X monitors. They sound fantastic but they’re very expensive. I also like Moog synthesisers – the best in the world, in my opinion.
Any production or studio-gear advice?
Focus more on mixing than the equipment. Synths and drum machines are important, but the real musical machine is the person. Perseverance, passion and hardworking are the secret to overcoming your limits.
Also, pauses are important. Believe me, even if you are in the best moment of your track and you don’t want to stop, do it – just a few days. You’ll find that your track will sound different and you’ll be able to improve it.
Interviewee Michael Cabezas
Michael’s setup is based around a couple of DAWs and a classic piece of Novation synthesis. As you can see, though, not everything is black and white and hardware is the key…
- The Roland AIRAs take centre stage…
- …as do both Logic and Ableton
- A classic bit of Novation kit
- JBL monitors
- Moog Taurus (out of shot)
Tell us more about your studio.
Michael: From the age of 12, I knew that I was really good at playing the piano, so that’s when the journey started. I am now a professional producer, originally from Colombia, but I’ve been living in the USA since 1995. I started with a PC and a Novation 25 MIDI controller, playing in heavy-metal bands as a keyboardist.
Give us an overview of the gear…
I always try to change the components in my studio, like changing a car each year. Technology is always important and each year, there are tonnes of good gadgets you can add, without investing too much money. It’s always fun to have a new device, because it gives you some new excitement when doing music. At the moment, I have a Novation X-Station 25 (a great old synth and MIDI controller), a Roland TB-3, Roland TR-8, Ableton Push 2, Korg Volca FM, Akai MPK49, Akai APC40 MKII, Yamaha MG10, Focusrite Solo (second generation), JBL professional monitors, NI Traktor X1 and a Moog Taurus.
Which DAW(s) do you use and why?
I use Ableton Live and Logic Pro – they match perfectly in the studio. I use Ableton because it has lots of features for live performers – something that I always do when making a track. I think music is better when you play it in a live situation. It gives you a deeper experience of what you really want to show to the listener and Ableton is a must-have for it. Logic is a powerful tool, too, but I mainly use it for mixing and mastering. That doesn’t mean that Ableton is better than Logic. Both DAWs, when you know what you really want, are just tremendous.
What’s your favourite piece of gear?
The Novation X-Station. It’s a powerful synth and it has been with me since the beginning. You can create your sounds in a matter of seconds: from a kick to a powerful lead.
How do you use the studio? Professionally, or just for fun?
I use my studio for recording friends and small bands. I don’t have a big room to record a huge number of musicians, and I mainly use my studio for my own professional compositions.
Next on your studio-gear shopping list?
Hard to say it. Each year, there’s a tonne of good stuff released, but recently I started saving up for a Moog Sub 37.
Anything annoy you about your setup?
Yeah! Nothing is perfect. When using external synths or machines in Ableton Live and/or Logic Pro, the MIDI Clock gives me a hard time when I sync it with the DAW. I would love them to work on that a bit more.
What is your best production advice?
Not to compare or copy from other well-known producers – don’t sample things from other artists. You need to find your own sound and that comes when you realise that you’re unique. If you find your own path or style, keep it and try to do your best to take your ideas to the next level. Don’t try new gear if you don’t know how to use what you already have. Keep it simple and lovely to your ears. Don’t saturate your ideas with a bunch of instruments or samples. Keep your productions clean and in order.
What’s your top studio advice?
Having machines, plug-ins, and VSTs help you work faster, but they are not going to make the music for you.
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