Here’s another special guest appearance at Point Blank from an esteemed member of the world of electronic music, the inimitable Kate Simko. Currently based in London, Kate hails from the home of House music, Chicago, and has released tracks via labels such as Leftroom, Hello? Repeat, Spectral Sound and plenty more besides. Her music combines influences from both Chicago and Detroit, all produced with a professional touch thanks to her solid grounding in music composition and classical training. In 2011 Kate conceived her own audio/visual live set (in conjunction with Jeffrey Weeter) based on her album Lights Out and she’s a dab hand when it comes to controlling the decks.
Just recently her track Go On Then (with the vocal talents of Jem Cooke) became a ubiquitous hit, working its way into many a DJ’s record box, while her debut LP Lights Out served as a brilliant showcase for her production talents. Not forgetting her superlative collaboration with Tevo Howard, PolyRhythmic, which has been making waves around the globe. Check out her brilliant masterclass below.
A bit of background on Kate…
Kate started out as a classically-trained pianist, but she soon became enamoured by underground dance music and started DJing on her own show on college radio. In 2001, she moved to Santiago to continue her studies into music composition and it was there where she hooked up with Andres Bucci, recording two records together under the alias ‘Detalles’. They collaborated on an album called Shapes Of Summer, and set Kate on her current path.
After moving back to Chicago, she carried on working on her music, DJing all over town and carving out a strong reputation for herself with releases via some of the most respected labels within underground dance music, including Spectral Sound and Ghostly International. While her extensive background in classical music caught the attention of renowned minimalist composer Philip Glass, for whom she did a remix (Glasscuts, Orange Mountain Music). In 2008, Kate added film composer to her list of accomplishments, producing the soundtrack for the PBS feature film documentary, The Atom Smashers; the soundtrack was later released on Ghostly International.
Kate really started to make waves in 2011, releasing her first full-length album Lights Out on Berlin’s esteemed Hello?Repeat label. To accompany the album release, Kate unveiled a custom audio-visual live set programmed by video guru Jeffrey Weeter. The cutting edge set – featuring original HD video scenes from around the world, modulating to the rhythms of the dance floor – was performed at top spots around the globe, including he Rex Club in Paris, fabric in London and many more. 2011 also saw some noted collaborations for Kate, including her Sit Back EP with Anthony Collins on Supplement Facts and her PolyRhythmic project with Tevo Howard. Meanwhile Kate’s remixes of Guy Gerber’s Hate/Love and Laura Jones’ Love In Me held their place in the DJ charts for months. Back home in Chicago, the legendary Smart Bar took her own her as a resident, where she joined the likes of Derrick Carter, DJ Heather, Miles Maeda, and Justin Long.
2012 saw Kate continue her upward momentum with more high-profile gigs around the world at renowned clubs and festivals including Berghain, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, MUTEK, Eleven in Tokyo, and D-Edge in Sao Paulo. She also collaborated with Leftroom boss Matt Tolfrey on the Same Page EP and moved to London.
With a remix package of Go On Then featuring new mixes of the track by Ian Pooley, Franck Roger and Blond:Ish due for release very soon, and lots more besides, 2013 is already shaping up to be another big stride forward for Kate Simko…
Q: Welcome along to Point Blank Music School here in London where today we are very pleased to welcome DJ, producer and live performer Kate Simko for this installment of our live Masterclass series, which is brought to you in association with DJ Mac. Just before we get into it I think we’ve got a quick clip to watch of Kate in action so let’s have a look.
Hailing from the home of House Music, Chicago, Kate now resides in London, completing her masters at the Royal College of Music. She records for labels like Leftroom, Hello?Repeat, Spectral Sound and a lot more besides that. Her music combines influences from Chicago and Detroit and it’s all polished with a very professional touch, likely to be responsible for her strong grounding in composition and her classical training as well. So Kate’s here to give us a bit of an insight into her work in the studio. We’ll get to look at her approach to remixing, also original tracks and if we have got time we’ll take a look at her live set and possibly as well how she scores to film as well. And we’re also going to be putting your questions forward so make sure you guys get posting in the chat room and we’ll try and get everything across in the time that we’ve got. So yeah, that’s probably enough from me. I’ll hand you over to Kate and let’s just give her a round of applause.
Kate: Thank you. Cool. Well, thank you so much for having me today. I really appreciate it. And we talked about some ideas of what I can go over today and I’m going to start with a remix, which is a couple of years old and when I was looking at the file I was thinking… First I wasn’t going to show it because I was thinking that some things I don’t do anymore. I’ve found better ways to work and I used to get a little bit sloppy and I’ve heard people say in Logic as well, that they don’t find it as easy to work in there.
So I’m going to show that and I think it will be a good example because then I’ll show a newer one as well. So what I’m going to do is first play the original song—and I just pulled up BeatPort because it’s just a one minute clip—so this is the original and this song did pretty well… really well, I should say, a couple of years ago. So yeah, just listen to it and then we’ll talk about how to remix it.
Okay, it’s a sudden ending there but… So that is Guy Gerber off Supplement Facts, Hate Love featuring Dawn and only after I remixed it did I really put two and two together that Dawn—it makes sense—is a girl. It sounds like a man’s voice. It’s just pitched down. And I was just thinking maybe I have the original parts. If I do that would be cool. I mean every remix is a little bit different. Sometimes you get just loops—two bar loops, four bar loops—sometimes they’ll give you the whole track, which isn’t necessary really but all good. I think that’s what Guy did, actually, Hate Love stems… So for example, this was the voice—a lot higher pitch than we hear in the remix. So you’ve got this and… So that was one of the stems he had. This is the hook really, which is really good.
So I guess one thing—when I get a remix I try to identify first of all “What are the two most or a couple most identifiable parts of the song?” and then I guess try to consider if … The best thing you can do sometimes is just modify that—maybe just change a note of one thing or change the sound of it but in this track specifically, I just love the way that he did it. The way that that melody works is so perfect and it’s so quirky and then I tried to flip one little thing or change anything and I thought, “You know what? I’m going to add myself in in a different way and just keep this” because I thought, “This is the coolest part.” So that’s … Going into it I thought that—number one.
Number two—I thought, “Well, I’m a girl.” I’m doing a remix of his track. I think about breaking up with his girlfriend and trouble with dating and all this stuff so I was like, “Well okay, I have to keep the girl voice then.” You know what I mean? I’m not going to have it sound like the man voice on here so I’m keeping the girl. I’m keeping the cool part that I like the most and just checked out the other bits and tried to find some parts that were maybe buried in the mix. This is like nothing sounded right there. Had some good shakers and stuff like this so sometimes if there is a nice, loose percussion piece like that that’s buried in the mix, I might use it. I don’t remember if I did.
So what I did then—and again, this is from a couple years ago—so I’m going to show though how this was working. One of the first things I noticed when I looked at it yesterday was like, “Oh my God. When did I used to do this?” Called up an audio file, as you can see here and have all these little pieces. I mean a lot of people will say that they use Ableton Live, for example, instead of Logic because it’s really easy to go into their audio editor and just use an internal volume control. Anyone who uses Ableton will know what I’m talking about. Or you can just listen to a loop and take out a piece of it but it’s also really easy to put that back in, where in Logic and in Pro Tools, once you take something out you feel like you’re making a decision and you might not be able to go back unless you’ve gone back to an older version.
Now the way that I would work… I’ll just show you on this one. What I would do is, you can see it there, right? Like visually see where the loop is. What I would do is I’d say okay, this is a one bar loop, really only… Select these and I’m just going to make a loop out of it. What I did there is I just pushed escape to get the glue tool. Go like that. Create a new region, which totally disappeared on me. Hold on, it’s back here. It should be back here. Where did that go? Oh, there it is. Okay, so then it’s made this new region. Then what I would do—take that and I want it to be starting and ending on the bar. So I selected one that was on each side of a two bar loop because otherwise it’s not going to be exact and you’re going to see why I wanted it exact in a second. So take that. Delete this stuff. Erase the automation data.
Then what I can do is instead of having all of these little pieces that just like you saw when they asked me that question “Do I want to delete the automation data?” If you have all these little bits it gets just really hairy if later on you’re like, “Oh, I wish everything could just move eight bars.” Well, I have tons of little pieces here and if you have a lot of tracks and a lot of little pieces there is just a lot of room for an error or one little effect automation or one little thing to go wrong. So what I would do now is just take all this stuff. I’m not going to erase the automation data. I want to keep all that stuff. Go like this. Well, actually it’s only going to go until here because I wanted that one off. So what I’m going to do is go to there. Oops, I did not mean to do that. Don’t erase.
Then what you can do is just pull on the right top corner and go like that. So instead of having all these little files you have just one now. You can see all that automation stuff—it’s all linked to one big piece—it’s a loop. If for any reason you want to undo that you can always go to… Actually I think my laptop has a little bit different shortcuts than my desktop at home. Okay, well let me see. I have to do it like old school. There is a way here where you can just say “convert loop to real copies”—it’s probably region. Loops. Convert to real copies. So on a laptop it’s control-L, that is. So you could always do that if for some reason you’re like, “I don’t like that loop thing,” for whatever reason. I don’t mind it. I’m going to keep it but I’m just saying if you do it this way and you want to go back to like bigger loops that are on the bars you can do it like that. So I’m not going to do that for everything here but if I was going to look at this remix again I would definitely structure it like that—a lot less problems.
So I’ll take a look at what we’ve got going on here first with the percussion. This is a kick drum, another beat here. I usually use a couple of kick drums because I find that it’s really hard to find the perfect sound in one a lot of the times. You want to think about the high-end part of a kick drum too. You don’t necessarily want just the boominess. You want to have cutting through at some kind of midrange frequency and then add a lower one as well. So you can see like on this one I did quite a bit of EQing because the other one had some other stuff going on that I bounced together. So if I bypass this it had a lot… A lot of kicks will have that like high-end thing, which is good. I believe in this one—or it’s the next one I showed you—I’ll show you. In my newer tracks I’ve been doing that, where I actually… I do what this one has, where you layer in like a shaker that’s on the downbeat because it just makes it sound a little looser, a little bit off the downbeat to make it sound not totally straight and robotic.
So anyway, we’ve got this and this. We’ve got this lovely thing we just looked at right here. Getting a little tribal. Some more. This one I used… I don’t know why I just… Right there. I don’t know but just a little pickup. I would say that making beats… I’ll tell you in one second to look at that because that’s like one thing that I think is really key if you’re making beats is to turn things around at the end of a phrase, end of a two bar loop or a four bar loop and staying with classical music or jazz unless like a bass line… That turnaround—to keep it going—so it’s not like it ends when you’re starting again.
Especially for dance music though too, if you want to keep people dancing you need that pickup or turnaround. Got something here called fill beat. That’s why people sometimes don’t do that. What happened right here as I… the real loops—make a copy—because you have to be careful of that. So I’m just going to quickly finish what’s going on here with the percussion. I’ve got some hats going on here.
I started the track and I’ll play it from the beginning—my remix. Basically…
This is a signature sound of his. No kick drum. Just wanted to have a little bit of drama. Again, I think it’s about breakups and stuff so I thought drama. Don’t bring in the hook, I thought, for a bit. And you can actually visually see… Although I used the hook—the hook is this dark blue one right there. The track might be like six or seven minutes. I only used it for a small piece of it. So I think in a remix if you can’t live without something from the original and you really want to use it, maybe don’t use it the whole time. You could. But I was purposely trying not to use it the whole time because it’s supposed to bringing my own take.
Q: You want it to stand out from the original and be something different.
Kate: Exactly. Yeah. Exactly. I want it to have a sound something a little bit more like my own vibe. So actually this one right here—the Juno 106—these are some audio washes I used from that. I’m going to just solo those before we get over here. Maybe you can hear them. So that’s just a white noise wash I got off there and then these. So that was the synth I was using a lot at home at the time. So now with those un-soloed I’ll give you an idea. So I used that from my machine that I made at home to bring in his hook so it’s a play with all right, I want to use something of my own to bring in what people know.
Let’s see here. So then the vocals are going to come in, which are the female vocals. Here I added in a keyboard part of my own. You can hear this descending and just let it play through this section and then you’ll hear that there is a breakdown and there is some disco-y drums that are coming in.
And then after that I think in all kinds of music but especially in dance music, I think it’s really nice if instead of doing a traditional maybe like ABA format where you start somewhere, go somewhere else and then end up back. Another format that I think is cool, especially if you’re doing a remix and you’re trying to bring your own take on something is to end somewhere where maybe you really wanted to go but you think you might not want to make the whole song sound like that. So that’s what I did here. The end of it is a bit more chill and where I wanted to go.
Q: Do you tend to work like that a lot compositionally then, look at that angle, trying to end… You have an idea where you want to end up? You don’t want to get there too quickly?
Kate: Sometimes. I would just say if there is something… If I’m working on a track and there is a groove or something that I think is a little bit too chill for a full dance music track I’ll keep that and push it towards the right and just say okay, at least for the mix out or the last couple minutes I want to, if I can let this play. Let it have its little moment. And of course if a DJ wants to make an edit or something for an after party or whatever then you have a different vibe. But sometimes…
So here it gets like disco-y. I really for some reason decided at the time I wanted to make a disco. The name of it is “Liquid Disco Remix.” I tried to put in some disco-y treble drums here.
All right. Cool. So this is a bass line that I added right here and I guess talking about doing a remix—I think what’s key about a remix is that, if you’re just making your own track there is a lot of great things about randomness in the studio and just be like, “Oh, that’s really cool.” It’s different if it’s a song people already know and they love different things about it and they know what was already in it if they had listened to it a lot of times and X, Y, Z. So I think with the remix I approach it differently than one of my own songs where I really try to think about it or listen to it a few times, also internalise it if I haven’t checked it out as much as maybe some of the fans of that artist have or whatever. This case I happened to know it.
So then like I said, in this track specifically I was like, “All right. Okay, I’m going to use the hook because I really like it. I’m going to use the female voice and then I really want to bring in one thing that I think is like a signature sound of myself” and so in that case I was like, “All right I want to bring in a bass line that I think sounds more like a bass line that I would make—groovy, funky, Chicago-Detroit style.” So that’s what this is that comes in later, to me. So this is what I like in a remix where you can hear both artists together.
So this would be like the moment I like the best, I think. And that’s pretty much it. I mean it’s dancy. It’s not… It just keeps going basically. You know how it goes. You’ve got the groove and some things reappear and…
But that would be the general, the way this is set up. Let’s check it out really quickly. I don’t want to go too deep into this one because like I said, this is an older session. But the way that I worked here is just all the individual channels had their effects on them.
I’ll show you in the new session that I worked a little bit differently in a little bit. But yeah, here it was mainly audio because it’s a remix. I just had a couple of things that I added in as midis and then had all the effects spread out channel for channel in Logic, so did the whole mix sound and everything just here—no sub channels or whatever. And that was basically it and I think that’s about all I was going to say about that one. Did you guys have any questions specifically?
Q: Any questions in the room? Well, we’ve got one from someone online. It’s off topic slightly. Improv music has asked where you think music technology is going to be heading in the future—it’s a pretty open ended question.
Kate: Yeah. Well, where I think music technology is headed in the future.
Q: I know you’re not closed off to bringing new stuff to work with, whether it’s live or in the studio. Do you have something you’re excited about that is coming up for you in terms of incorporating anything new?
Kate: Yes. Well, I think you were outside of the room. I was telling them that I was excited. The next thing I’m going to buy myself is the Moog Voyager Synth, which is really cool. I don’t know. I always thought it was too expensive – It is really expensive. But I just decided I’m going to do it. Over Christmas I went back to the States and I played so many shows and I had this envelope full of money and I was like, “I am buying a Moog Voyager. This is what I’m going to do with it. What am I doing with this?” So that’s it. That’s my new thing.
I think as far as music technology goes you just have to keep up with it and also just see what goes on with these different companies. I mean it seems like Pro Tools is really strong and will stay there for the film music stuff and audio recording and I sure hope Logic is going to stay around and on the same level. I mean that’s where I have been working for a long time. I know Apple purchased them and there is always rumors of this, that and the other—what’s going to happen. I think you just have to do your best to keep up with different things and see which companies, like Focus Right, for example, has been really supportive and is making a lot of great stuff. I like their stuff. I guess I’m just always seeing what’s new and open to whatever is good, whatever sounds good.
Q: I know you’re doing quite a lot of audio visual stuff as well and that’s quite an important element to you. Is that something that you see potential for lots of new stuff to happen in terms of music and visuals and the live show, etc?
Kate: I hope so. Yeah, I mean I really hope so. There is definitely potential. I think the tricky thing is getting people that want to invest in the extra effort. Even for myself, after I finish the second tour of it last year I was like, “Oh God. Maybe I should…” It takes a lot of effort and for clubs and stuff. Sometimes people really want to do it—like Japan—the really want to do it and some places are just like, “Can’t you just show up with records?” You know? They look at the tech writer and they’re like, “What the heck? Play some records, you know?” So I guess it just depends.
There is so much room, especially as processing is getting faster. For example, this new computer has the HDMI direct output now so, all we’re doing is one cable out directly into this. Well, I guess you can’t see it but into the screen right there and that’s it. So it’s super easy. Anything that’s on my computer screen is just one cable away from being to a festival or a club. So I think yeah, audiovisual stuff would be great in the future and hopefully companies are going to continue to make good hardware that sounds good.
Q: Cool. I think that’s it for the questions at the moment.
Kate: Okay, cool. Well, I’m going to just close this one down then. So that was the remix. That’s how I do that one.
Now I’m going to pull up just a song that’s just a track from last year. Handed me this in March of last year. And then this one actually… What’s the date? February 11th. In 12 days there is going to be a remix EP of this track so I thought, “Well, you know, bring this one out.” This was on Leftroom Records, which is out of London as well. And you’ll see here…
Right here actually, I still have that bad habit going on where I’m muting one thing but besides that it looks a lot cleaner. These are all loops so some of them… Right here you can see that’s an eight bar loop. That’s just a quaver loop—we say quarter note in the States—quaver loop, two bar loop. So I’m just going to quickly play what the percussion sounds like together. Well, this is even muted. I mean really when I make my drums and stuff I try to really listen to the groove as far as what needs to be there or not be there. Again, thinking about the turnaround—you don’t want it to be too cluttered. You want it to be easy to listen to, a little high hat, got some claps that are coming in every eight bars it looks like. So we’ve got that going on. So that’s a basic beat.
And then from there, what I wanted to do with this was make a track that has like low end sounds. Let me… Click on that and push S. I can actually just solo this. So I wanted to have like quite a bit of sub bass. There’s tom, sub bass, pretty meaty and then on top of that here you can see in bar 33 the bass comes in. So I had three layers actually to try to get the sound that I wanted to get, which was inspired by some mainly, UK labels, actually, like Hypercolor and stuff like that, that had this really nice, low end… Losing Suki is another label that is really good at that.
Q: We do like bass here, I think.
Kate: Totally. So I was like, “I want to do a house track that has that … a sense of that low end vibe” and I don’t know how much low end is in this room or on the internet for that matter but…
Q: Yeah, get your headphones on…
Kate: Yeah. So anyway, here you can see these are all three… I don’t mind now. It’s been almost a year. I’ll just tell you guys what I use. I actually was asking around “How do I make that sound?” because it was like I had some old school bass machines and I had software synths and I was just like, “Man, I’m just not getting that sound.” So somebody recommended to me this one, which is Rob Papen SubBoomBass and I actually like it. Like I said, I used it three times. I used three layers of it together. So I’m going to try to see if we can even hear it in here. But here is like layer one. It’s at -9dB. So this one has a little bit of abrasion thing going on and some higher end frequencies.
And we’ve got number two, which is really low in the mix. Turn them up. So this one sounds almost more like a synth than a bass. This has more midrange to go with that other guy. Then I’ve got this one, which is actually more of like the low sub going on. So all three together. I’ll just play it in the mix. The levels are going to be a little crazy. Let me fix that. So that’s like just the bass and the drums. And then I’m just going to let it play actually for a minute. So the vocalist from London—Jem Cook. So actually I had the track completely done before she sang. So I think what I’m going to do is I’m going to actually show it without that first because vocals are like a whole other dimension and this track was done before she added that last bit so…
That sound right there… Another thing that a lot of times I try to think about when I’m making electronic music specifically is, how do you bring in a warmth or organic, for lack of a better word, feel? And one way that I’ve found can be good to do that is to either record something. Use a sample, an audio recording of a real instrument, which is great if you can record somebody really playing. Or use a sample of a real instrument instead of the synthesiser. So here is a Chinese zither is what this is. I’ll just play it here to see what it sounds like. Let’s see here. So this is what I’m calling effect score and so this is… It doesn’t really sound that good on the low end but… It has just a bit of a more organic… So I was like, “Okay, cool. That’ll be the organic element to go with the London sub bass vibe going on there.” And here…
This is another thing that I think is worth bringing up because actually when I remixed Laura Jones’ Loving Me and I saw the parts to that. Which is also cool, if you get to remix a track you really like—“How do they do that?” and then you get the parts and you’re like, “Okay, cool. Now I learned something.” Hope she doesn’t mind I’m sharing but this is cool.
What she did in there that was neat and I thought was cool was she doubled not all the notes in a melody, but if there was a melody to double with another instrument, the tones in that melody that really stand out the most, or that you wanted to highlight with a different voice. So what I did here in this one that’s called Now Doubled is I took four notes that were from the bass line instead of the whole bass line. When I layered that with the bass line it’s actually just making the bass line sound more melodic, if you will. So when you’re hearing the track all together and there’s a lot going on you might just think, “Oh wow. That’s a really cool bass line” but I think that the trick that she used in hers for her bass line is the hook as well was that she actually has another melody. So you think it’s just the bass line but it’s just that those key melody notes are coming out. So anyway, that’s what that is.
Then I haven’t looked at this in a minute. Two bar hook—we’ll see what this is. It’s not playing. It’s really low on the mix. I was going to say I didn’t think it had another hook. I think when I made this track… Let’s see what it sounds like if it’s up. I don’t think it ended up on the track. Yeah, that did end up… So that’s also just accentuating what’s already going on. So if you can hear that right there… I’ll play everything together. Turned it up way higher in the mix just like when I accentuate what I’m talking about but just the idea of layering melodies on top of melodies that are the same rather than making it busy. So that’s that. Let’s see what else I’ve got going on here.
I’ve got an atmosphere. This is in the XS24. And I’m thinking for people who are watching out there and might want to learn about producing and that’s why they’re into Point-Blank and stuff – let me take a second here and just … beyond talking about what the elements are. So the atmosphere—then what that was—was the XS24 and in the XS24 you have a lot of controls here. So I pulled up some kind of effect. I put a compressor on it to make it louder and then I’m basically just adding that.
The way I structure stuff is it’s drums at the top and then I’m putting bass usually below the drums and then midrange stuff and vocals and strings at the bottom, just so mentally I can see things when I’m making a mix or whatever. So basically one thing that I think is a cool way to try to put stuff into your production, no matter what it is, is to add an element that again is like… I edited it and made it a lot louder but it’s just a sound. It’s not a drum sound. It’s not a juno sound. It’s just like a weird sound and I think that again, like the Chinese zither makes it more organic feel…
So then put in a couple of things just straight from Logic actually—the EVD6, which is… It’s a bass. That’s what it is. Let’s see what it sounds like. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t sound exactly just like a bass. It’s a plucked bass but it’s pretty high up. So let’s take a look really quickly at the effects here too. One thing I always do when I work in Logic is the first thing on every channel is put an EQ and if you don’t have processing power issues, Waves has great EQs and definitely would use that. I actually am so used to using the Logic ones that I usually just use the Logic EQ8 on the channels themselves and then on the final EQ I’ll use Waves. You can see here that what I want to get out… This is a bass but I wanted to bring up the higher frequencies. I always usually cut out the bottom, even of kick drums. So this is what it sounds like on its own. Actually, we can just play it. But I’m playing it more like… around here somewhere. So you can see where the frequencies are. They’re like below 500.
So then I put the delay on it and this delay designer—there are so many different things you can do here—if you can hear. Again, I don’t know what the sound is like out there. I hope it’s all right. It’s like a little 16th note delay that’s going on there. On top of that I’ve got another delay—stereo delay—which is really low on the mix, just giving it like a more shimmering.
This is another thing that I’m using more and more is distortion. You might think that distortion—why would I want to make anything sound distorted? But it’s a cool way to add gain sometimes with a bit of color to it at the same time rather than just adding gain—it adds some texture at the same time. So I have been adding… trying by ear to add distortion to let’s say like a Rhodes or a Wurlitzer sound that might sound a little like cold and not very warm before just adding a compressor or something. So I added on this one too. Here we are with Software Synth. It’s supposed to be a bass.
Add a little distortion and then lastly, a little tremolo, which in Logic, by the way, no matter what you’re using tremolo, is a really good way just to get panning, essentially. I didn’t really realize that. They don’t have a panning, if you’re using Ableton or whatever, it’s pretty easy again, to draw the panning or there is certain plugins I guess that are automatic panning or random panning. In Logic there is actually not, as far as I know, a panning plugin. So if you use tremolo, like you can see here the rate of it’s three bars. So now when I’m playing this it’s going to go from left to right, back and forth in three bars. So essentially I guess all the stuff I did on that one was just to add some movement—delay, panning via the tremolo and then a little bit of a nicer sound with the distortion.
So where are we? Let’s see here. I’m going to just play the melodic stuff together just to get an idea of the sound. That’s the zither. Got that melody that’s doubling the bass. Add the bass back in. If I was listening to this the thing that I would be missing right now would be like high end a little bit. So I can see coming up ahead here I’ve got some strings that are about to come in. Quiet in the mix right now. So I could hear that. So I guess when you’re making a track just step back every once in a while and be like, “What am I not hearing?” and then of course the other thing to get bad is play it all together now are high hats that add that. That’s the breakdown. So you’ve got the high hats. That’s the upper stuff. The bass. So you get a nice balance there basically and then…
So this track, at that point I just thought it was done but before I moved to London actually a friend of mine was like… I said, “Do you know anybody who could maybe sing vocals?” so he suggested this woman in London, Jem Cook.
So I’m just going to really quickly play what she did over it because I was just like, “Wow.” I got these like two days before Miami Music Conference last year. Oh my God. I thought these were so cool and I was like, “I have to sort this out before I go down there so I can play it at the conference.” That was that. Turn them up. So she made these… This is what we listened to in the background. And that was it. But just also listen to the pacing and the mix.
I guess I would say that’s basically it. I mean just always thinking about if you can hear those little Wurlitzer things when you’re arranging something and just, I think arranging is like really key. So you can hear like this going… this little Wurlitzer twirly thing. That’s working around her vocals. So you can see it visually here, right? So it has a little moment where it’s like, then she’s going to sing something. Then it’s going to come back. Then she’s going to sing.
Q: Like a call and response thing.
Kate: Yeah, exactly. Totally. So I think when you’re making a track it just… Yeah, call and response is a really good way of putting it, to think about how the elements are responding to each other. So for example, she just sang on a track of mine and I’m going to try to do that again. Put her vocals in there and then think about maybe making something louder in the mix or taking something out, just so that it’s not like you just laid something on top of a track with a vocalist. That the vocalist is like inside of the track and it’s moving around her, if that makes sense—or him. Sorry.
I’m looking at the clock and I was so afraid I can’t talk an hour but this is going to happen and it’s going to be good. So I think if we have any questions on this one and then…
Q: We do. We’ve got a couple of questions from the guys online—a lot about drum programming actually—about you get a lot of groove into the track. So there’s a couple of guys who have asked first of all if you can talk about your drum programming in a little bit more depth and how you create that groove. Someone has also asked on a similar note whether you just sequence all your drums in Logic or if you use machine or any other hardware or anything like that?
Kate: Yeah. I brought one actually. Well, it’s down there but yeah, I have… I brought a drum machine with me as well. I had an Electron Machine Drum for quite a bit. I actually sold it though. It has like a screen that’s like this big and red and it was like, “My eyes are going to die.” I’m not the only person who has ever said that. I mean like the opening is like this big and it’s like a faint red light and you just feel like you’re inside this. You feel like you’re inside the box actually. That has really good sounds though. So I used that for a while, then I was like, “It’s go to go.”
And then I had a Roland 505 that Tevo Howard sold me and then he begged me to sell it back and I was like, “Fine.” I sold it back to him. This is like, “Why don’t we just loan each other…?”
Q: Did you make a profit?
Kate: No, I mean it’s so silly. I’m like, “Why don’t we just lend each other stuff?” But anyways, so he’s got it back. And then now I’m using the MFB522, which is like a drum emulator from Germany. Actually, I’ll show it to you guys. I’ve got it right here. It’s really small and so I’ve been using it on my tour and stuff like that because it’s like this tiny—really tiny—and lightweight.
So yeah, it’s the MFB522 and it’s like 300 euros or something so it’s not bad. And yeah, it has midi and you can do different outputs so just the stereo output or bass drum, snare, clap and high hat and it has the tones. You can control the tone of the bass drum to make it like more low-end or whatever and the volumes of them all. So this I’ve been using as well.
Q: Do you find it easier to work being a bit more hands on like that?
Kate: You know what though? I don’t. I think to be honest, when I work like that I usually end up just. I’m more inside of here. I guess I’m pretty visual person so a lot of times I’m writing the midi here and then yes, it’s really nice on the machine externally. I do like being able to control the tone or the volume, let’s say, of different things but I like to see… Let’s see what I’ve got in here.
A lot of times too I’ll just end up even making it into audio just so it’s less… Probably an old version of this has stuff that’s like midi or whatever but then when I’m getting towards the end I feel like if I just have audio, even just for the future if I want to go back to something in 20 years and that machine is way long gone, destroyed or whatever—then I have everything here.
I try to—unless it’s just Logic stuff… Like this is Ultra Beat so I can open that one up. Unless it’s a Logic Synth, which obviously would require that I have Logic to open it, I try to bounce it to audio when I’m getting to the last stage of the track.
Q: I think this is something I’ve spoken to lots of producers who tend to bounce stuff to audio. Also on a commitment thing, you know? Once you’ve bounced it to audio you’re like, “Right. This is what I’ve got to work with and now I’m committed, finish this thing.”
Kate: Right. Exactly. Yeah, I would have to say… I don’t know… This is going to sound weird. I’ll just finish saying it because I’m in the middle of it. I was going to say I don’t know what it’s like to be a guy but I think women are really indecisive and so I have… I struggle with indecision quite a bit and it’s like, “Does it sound good or should I do this? Should I…?” Oh my God. And I’m sure you all know women. It’s like… So it’s like yes, totally. Make a decision and just you’re done with it. So yeah. So I don’t have a lot of like the past versions. It’s like here we are and then from there being like, “This is what we have” but then cleaning it up. I find that sometimes I have too many layers upon layers sometimes. So then it’s like, “Okay, I need to get rid of stuff.”
But it’s better to be like, “Okay, everything is here.” I’m looking at it. I’m listening to it and I’m muting some things. But I’ll quickly go into the drums in Ultra Beat. I don’t use Ultra Beat a ton but if you need something for the groove—when he’s asking about groove… Let’s just mute these… or sorry, solo these couple things here at the top like we had earlier.
Basically this is just like a two bar loop. So this… I’m just going to go so it’s down to like kick and clap basically. Kick clap. Then this thing is like on the end, right? So let’s just add it—pretty straight thing. This thing is going to be between the first kick and the first clap. Helps if I solo it. Hold on. And then I have one muted per bar so it’s not happening every time but it’s like that. And then this part of the groove then… When you want to add something extra Ultra Beat can be cool for that. So let’s see what I’ve got going on here. Ultra Beat. And at first I was just like, “I don’t know how to use this thing at all” but it’s really not that hard. You’re just going all up the inside.
Q: It’s a bit of a strange interface but once you get through it it’s a great little synth. Yeah.
Kate: Exactly. Yeah. I would say that for sure. So maybe online if you have tutorials or somewhere online, it really only takes like ten minutes. But it took me like a couple years to actually open this thing and use it and I was like, “Wow. Why did I never use that?” So this is just… You can see on the left-hand side, I think, that this particular thing is like all the different sounds and that kit. So I’m playing a mid tone right there. I don’t know what I’m playing. Yeah, it says toms. So that’s basic toms.
So what you can do then is just draw in right here where you need it in that groove. So I’m going to actually just make a two bar loop so we cannot lose this little image. So we had a—remember—something right here on the and. So it’s like bump-badum. Then we’ve got something else that was, I think this might be doubling something else and remember that’s muted on that second half of that bar. So let’s hear what it sounds like together. So this is… If you click on this thing up here—probably most people know that—turn that thing green on the right and you can hear what you’re clicking on midi-wise. So this is a little higher pitch, conga tom thing, low thing.
So that’s… So I would say when making—to answer that question about the groove and stuff—drum machine, this, that and the other and then when you’re getting to the last stage I would recommend trying this Ultra Beat thing or another synth—even that SubBoomBass thing that I had open earlier, that had some drums in there but adding midi and just really like listening with your ears basically.
Same story. You love a track the first day and you’re like, “I’m making this cool new track” and day two you’re like, “Does this really suck?” You know what I mean? Like, “Really, is this terrible?” Then you just have to rethink the whole thing and the groove and everything. And then that’s where maybe when you’re getting to that point you start muting things and just try to listen to the groove and high hats and stuff too.
I guess the other thing too is just to try to think about… John Tejada had given me that tip that somebody gave to him, which is that the one thing when you make a decision about a sound is that maybe when you first start making music you have this idea like, “Well, the mastering guy is going to like fix it” so you’re like kick drum and this, that and the other and you’re like, “Well, it might sound like a little thin but once it gets mastered it’s going to sound amazing.”
Well, there’s only a certain amount they can actually really do so I would just say be really careful when you’re choosing your drum sounds to just… Let’s just pretend that’s just going to be how they are going to sound. So don’t put in too much room for that aesthetically. So I try to think about that a lot and… So for example, these claps… I’ve even bought tracks as wave files quite a bit or encoded vinyl because I so want the sound of a clap or a snare. Like Radio Slave has amazing sounding claps and snares and again, you’ll spend so much time “How do I do this?” I’ll just buy a record and just sample it sometimes because it’s driving me insane because you have to get… because it’s all about that frequency and that sound. It’s like these claps actually—I’m pretty sure I bought that track. It’s called East Claps. I think this is Alexander East. I bought his tune because I was like, “I really want that.” That was without the EQ. I think it was like… And then I panned it.
That’s another thing you can do if you want your drums to sound like a little looser is I have the claps… one pan to the left and one to the right and two kicks, like I said. So yeah, I guess with the drums it’s just like choose good sounds, layer them, pan them and make things change every so often. I can’t go inside every single one of these things but you can even just visually see like every eight bars or 16 bars try to have like a feature moment. Yeah, and then I would say that would be like clap effects. I’ll just quickly look at what that one is. That was on again Ultra Beat. So on Ultra Beat here. We’ll just listen to this little bit starting at 81 but just put on… I decided at a certain point I guess to add a little bit more of a clap. It’s just subtle but…
Q: It keeps it moving. Keeps it interesting, doesn’t it?
Kate: Yeah. Just so it doesn’t sound like if a CDs skipping. You’re assured something changed, you know? The CD is not skipping, which is of course… We’ve heard from people who don’t listen to electronic music. That is actually… It’s moving. Okay.
Q: Cool. Do we have any questions from you guys in the room?
Man 2: Yeah, roughly how long does it take you to compose a track?
Kate: That’s a good one—a good question. Sometimes you get really lucky. Like this track… Really lucky for me means a week. I’d feel really happy if it’s out the door in a week. Then there are other songs that just sit forever. But that’s another thing to get over, to just make sure you finish your tracks, which is what I’ve told a lot of people. I know so many people back in Chicago who are making really cool stuff and they play it for me at their house. I mean it was really cool and I would love to play it but then of course they’re using hardware. It’s not like on their laptop even. Like they can make a bounce and then it just doesn’t leave your house. So I think it’s just get it out of your house really. And just try to get it out there, have some people hear it.
So now I really do finish like 90% of my tracks but like I have one that I just recorded vocals on yesterday but it’s been going since last March. So that’s the time of this. It’s ridiculous. I’ve had vocals recorded on it three times. Yesterday was the third time. I think I got it this time. But it just happens where you just have something, you like the tune and you want it to be good and you send it to a label and they’re like, “The vocalist is off key” and you’re like, “Yeah, you’re right.” And you get busy—that kind of thing. But yeah, hopefully a week if you’re lucky.
Q: Anymore, guys?
Man 3: [inaudible 53:46]
Kate: Oh, when do I put vocals? Well, like for example, this track. That’s a good question, especially with this one because I thought it was done. But I also thought it needed one more thing and I would say that there are some times where I really try not to put vocals because now, especially that I have Jem who is an amazing vocalist, it’s so easy to just be like, “Well, some vocals would just be great” because they do add a lot—add that human quality and blah, blah, blah.
So sometimes just for the level of electronic music and how I used to love music without words and I love that idea of nobody singing to you what it’s about and I think coming from classical music background, that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with electronic music is that the story is whatever you want it to be.
So I guess I try to refrain from having vocals unless I can really just… I feel like it needs something else and I can’t think of anything else or it’s the concept of the project, like with Jem that’s the concept—that she sings on the tracks. Especially as you’re starting off, if you can make a track that sounds complete without the vocals and tells a story without it, that’s amazing. Because if you can do that you can always add vocals to something else that needs something else to pick it up. So yeah, I think as an exercise try to make some without it if you can. Yeah.
Q: Cool. There was another one, I think? Yeah, go for it.
Man 4: How did you get into the electronic music? You were DJing it or you started producing it and then you started after that also DJing?
Kate: I started in Chicago because that’s where I grew up, going to rave parties, honestly, when I was in high school. So I started there and then I moved to Miami Florida and then I joined the radio station there and that’s when I learned about IDM so Warp and Ingetune [sp]. That was like completely a game changer to me because that was on CD and it was really electronic music that was almost like classical music. Just listening music. So then I was like, “Wow. This is amazing.” I was super into that and just got my own radio show and was playing a mixture of house and IDM and experimental music.
Then from the radio show, then people started trying to book me as a DJ and I was like, “No, I don’t DJ. I just play tunes on the radio” and they’re like, “Well, come on.” And of course I’m a college student. I have no money and they’re like, “Just come on down to the bar.” I was buying records every week so I had tons of records accumulating and so I was like, “Okay, as long as you know I’m not a DJ but I’ll DJ.” And so that’s how it started.
That was back in Chicago then. I left Miami, went back to Chicago and so then I started playing at bars in Chicago and I would play like six hour sets that were soul music, hip hop, house, everything and not really mixed at the beginning because this was like all tempos and…
I was studying classical piano and then at that time I was like, “Well, I’m not really listening to classical piano in my free time. I’m playing a lot of records and not buying any classical piano records. Maybe I should change up the music I’m working on.”
That was a life changing thing going on in here and that’s when I shifted from being a classical performer to composer basically. So producer-composer, whatever you want to call it—trying to make the music that I like the most. That’s what I’m doing in London as well—studying music here too.
Q: Okay, cool. We’ve got another one from Tekeshi [sp] online who said that he’s previously seen you talk about it’s a good experience to listen through different speakers in a different environment, I guess when you’re coming to like the final stages of your tracks. He said that he quite often gets distracted by the results through different headphones or speakers and he finds it hard to know which one to believe, which one to go for. Do you always reference different speakers or do you have your go-to monitors?
Kate: Well, since I moved to London I lost that luxury because in Chicago I used to have a car, which I don’t here so the car was like one of the speakers.
Q: It always seems to be the producer’s thing—listening in the car.
Kate: The car. Yeah, the car is great because it’s like you’re not. Your head is like not zoned out… like zoned out a bit. We have to focus on some other things. So yeah, I don’t have the car. And I had the luxury of just having some old speakers around the house and I don’t anymore so I’d say that for him. What I found out is just really get to know one thing that you can trust. So I have… I brought my monitors from Chicago and they’re not that special but they’re the Mackie HR824s and I’ve just been using them for a while and some people will say, “Well, don’t they sound like too much this frequency or that frequency?”
I don’t even know anymore. All I know is I can make a mix on those monitors and then also I test them out when I play at clubs now so I have that bonus. So yeah, I’d say just get to know one thing.
Tevo Howard has like this old boom box. Maybe if you Google him or his studio. It’s like amazing. It has all these stickers all over it and it sounds terrible. Whenever we’re making a track he’s like, “We’ve got to listen on the boom box.” And I’ll be like, “Okay.” Put it on there and it sounds like totally busted and I’ll be like, “Yeah, we’ve got it now.” He’ll be like, “Okay.” But it’s because he knows… Somehow he knows what that means, that if there is a bass frequency. To me it still sounds bad but if it was bad or wrong it would be doing something crazier. So yeah, I think that’s it—just get to know one or two things really well so that you’ll know that if it’s wrong. Like in my car, the car would rattle if the bass was. If it was too much bass, literally it would start rattling around. Like, “Okay.”
Q: And I guess now you’re in the privileged position where you can take it to a club or different clubs and get them to road test it.
Kate: Yeah. It’s funny. It’s a privilege. It’s also better if you’re in your car by yourself though. You know what I mean? Not necessarily in public with a bunch of people looking at you like, “Nice.” But yeah, I mean maybe at a sound check or something is a good time to test it.
Q: We’ve got another question from Shabraka [SP] online who has asked “Do you process any of your audio through Outboard Gear?”
Kate: Not right now. I would love to though and honestly, that’s probably a step I should add this year. It’s a really good idea to do that or to even like take things out of Logic through a mixer and then back in. Record through, if you will. I don’t know how to do that exactly but there is a way to do it so you are going through a sound card and then back in and then some effects on the way. So I would recommend it. I have to learn how but I think it’s a good idea.
Q: Cool. Let’s have a quick look. Oh, so someone has asked about your track “Go On Then”. First of all they asked, “How long did it take to make that track?” And also they said, “Did it have a different name before the vocals came about?”
Kate: Yeah, it did. Let’s see if it. This track took a week. This is like the most successful track I had. It used to be called “What You Need.” My tracks on it used to be called “Got What You Need.” So you can see like this track—how long it took. It started as “Got What You Need” on March 14 last year and then ended to be mastered on the 28 of March but that was after Miami. I was gone for a week so that’s why I say it took a week. That doesn’t count.
Man 5: Did it help having a deadline?
Kate: Yes. You’re right. Exactly. That’s totally what helps where you’re just like you just have a week and sometimes with like a remix… I remember with that remix that I just played of Guy Gerber, I remember he was coming to Chicago on a Friday and he had given me like two months. Of course I had all this stuff to do and I hadn’t met Guy yet. I was like, “God, I’ve just got to get it done by the time he comes to town.” And I was like a little scared of how to do it because again, it was a bigger track so of course then it’s the last week and I’m like, “Well, if Guy is coming to town on Friday I’ve got to get it done.” And that’s when you get it done sometimes, when you’re up against a deadline and you’re like “Enough over thinking. You’ve thought about it enough—do it.”
Q: I think that’s the commitment thing again, isn’t it?
Kate: Yeah, exactly.
Q: Taking the plunge to make it happen.
Q: Cool. Any more, guys? Well, I think we’ve probably gone slightly over the one hour mark so anybody watching at home, if you do have any more questions—any technical stuff—then feel free to post in the comments section on the video and we will go through them and try and answer them from here at Point-Blank. But yeah, that’s it from us. Just say a big, big thank you to Kate for coming down. Give her a round of applause.
Kate: Thank you, guys.
Q: And keep locked to the Facebook and the blog as well—Point Blank Plus—where we’ll have all the information for future Masterclasses. I think we’ve got quite a few planned for February so keep locked to that and yeah, thanks for watching. We’ll see you soon. Bye-bye.