The masterclass has now taken place. Watch the recorded broadcast below:
Next up in our Live Masterclass series is the mysterious Zombie Disco Squad. We’re very excited to be welcoming along the Squad to the Point Blank studios on Tuesday 21st August at 6pm (BST) / 1pm (EDT) for a Music Production Masterclass to provide an insight into how main zombie, Nat Self, works in the studio and the production techniques. Tune in to this masterclass right here.
As always, it’s free to come and sit in the audience however, places are limited and will be allocated on a strictly first come first serve basis. So to be sure to guarantee your place, email firstname.lastname@example.org and reserve your seat. After his session, the Squad will be taking questions from the room and everyone watching live via our Be At TV channel.
A bit of background…
Zombie Disco Squad were raised from the dead in 2006. Starting out as DJs, their parties across east and west London quickly became the thing of legend. Meanwhile, residencies at the likes of Dalston-den Catch and Central-London playground The Social, a slew of internet based mix tapes and a track ‘Straight Boy’ given away for free clocking over 10,000 downloads meant that Zombie Disco Squad soon found themselves touring the world bringing their own version of haunted house to the masses.
Things have changed since those days with Lucas Hunter recently departing the Zombies and leaving Nat Self as the last Zombie standing. Whilst the line up may have altered the philosophy has not; Nat’s sound is inspired by everything from classic house, ghetto tech, disco and hip hop. It’s this off-kilter approach to dance music that continues to see Nat in demand as a DJ, playing at the seediest rave dens to the biggest brightest clubs, including a residency at Berlin’s Watergate for ‘Made For The Night’, tours of Japan, North America, Australia, all over Europe, as well as back in his homeland of England.
Past releases on labels like Jesse Rose’s Made To Play, Dirtybird and Sound Pellegrino as well as remixes for big hitters such as Cashmere, Black Box and Groove Armada mean that Nat has proved his versatility and demonstrated his natural skill for reworking tracks. The debut album ‘Brains’ on Made To Play is a case in point; an all-out assault on the senses that fully deserves it’s place in the spotlight as Made To Play’s only album release this year.
Make sure you tune into the Live Music Production Masterclass on Tuesday 21st August at 6pm (BST) / 1pm (EDT)
Luke: Welcome along to Point Blank Music school here inLondonfor this installment in our Live Master Class series where today we’re joined by Zombie Disco Squad, who’s here to give us a bit of a master class and insight into how he works in the studio. The Squad’s now helmed by Nat Self alone. They’ve had releases on the likes of Jesse Rose’s Made To Play, Dirtybird, and Sound Pellegrino.
Nat’s remixed the likes of Groove Armada,Cashmereand Black Box. He’s a man with plenty of skills in the studio. The debut album for Zombie Disco Squad is also out to buy right now on Made to Play, so make sure you go and grab that.
As I say, Nat’s going to give us a bit of an insight into how he works using Cubase, Ableton Live, as well as Native Instruments, Kontakt, and Battery. We’ll also be putting your questions forward at the end of this session, so make sure you get posting in the chat room.
As ever, if you do want to learn a bit more about music production, and what we do here, then make sure you head over to PointBlankOnline.net or PointBlankLondon.com.
Without further ado, let’s get into it and give it up for Nat Self, Zombie Disco Squad.
Nat: Thank you very much. Just to start off with, I just really want to talk a little bit about my production technique which is that I would kind of feel that I’m a DJ that then produces rather than a producer that then DJs. I kind of think that if you’re getting into music production now, and especially for dance music, if you want to make your tracks work for the dance floor, it’s super important to go out and play as much as possible.
Whether that’s even playing a crappy bar and having to be maybe playing music you don’t want to hear, just learning how the dance floor psychology works, learning like what tracks work when, etc., etc., I think will really benefit your production later on. Also, just going to watch DJs, and watching how they build peaks and troughs in their sets, and so on, and so forth, will then go on to help you with making your own tracks.
Having said that, let’s start with the first track, which is one of the songs from my album. It’s called “Twerk.” It’s featuring DJ Funk. In case you don’t know it, I’ll play a little bit of it.
Well, that’s it. With it being a dance music song, not a great deal happens after that. That’s sort of the bare bones of it. By the way, I have to tell you, I am going to be swearing quite a lot, so if you are offended, switch off now, or leave the room, either/or. Because I’m an unorganized motherfucker, as I was saying, all of my projects are slightly chaotic. What we see here is quite an early version.
I actually, unfortunately, bounced all of the drums and then deleted the patterns as I went, obviously not thinking that I was going to be coming into Point Blank at some point. But, what I do have is all of the bounces of the stems. I will just take you through the bits and bobs.
For the bass line, what I did was I took just two bass noises. Let’s see if we can hear them. [music] That’s both combined up. I turned that into a real simple pattern.
Bear with me a second, I’m normally a PC man. There’s probably going to be a couple moments of this where I’m going, “What the bloody hell is going on here?”
Just mad simple. Then, what I’ve done with this is that I’ve bounced these two elements separately to make the bass time, because I wanted to EQ them slightly differently. We can hear those down here. [music] The lower tone, and this one has got a bit more sub in it. Actually, that’s not really a lower tone, it’s more of a hollow tone.
Then, here I’ve added an r-bass to just bring that out. I don’t have waves built into this computer unfortunately, so I can’t really show you what it did. Basically that is just ultimately what they call a psycho-acoustic bass effect, I believe. Basically, it just makes it more bassy. It’s pretty straightforward. It’s kind of just useful if you just want to pump up the mid-low ends. The beat on this is fairly straightforward, just a 404 kick, claps. I think we actually have two claps.
A technique that I quite often, which I haven’t done on this one, is to double up the clap, pitch one very slightly up, and one very slightly down, and pan them left and right, and then just add a tiny bit of track delay on one. I find it adds a super nice, kind of stereo clap effect. Here we have the full drums. [music] Mad simple. I use Ableton a ton [inaudible 06:02]. Here, we just have a Vengeance loop [inaudible 06:08]. That’s almost off.
I tend to add quite a lot of these as a kind of seasoning, I suppose. They’re not really part of the main beat. What they do is add just a bit of groove. It’s a fairly lazy way of doing it. I’m a bit slapdash when it comes to a lot of this stuff. I kind of feel, as I said, I’m a DJ, then a producer, rather than a producer then a DJ. I’m kind of more interested in just getting it down rather than jerking off over compression techniques or whatever.
Just going back to the Ableton project, and how I constructed this track, basically I just straight up jacked a massive section from DJ Funk. I mean, I can play you the original song [music]. As you can hear, it’s just like, yeah, there’s obviously the main bit of my song. What I’ve done in Ableton is I’ve taken it, pitched it down, warped it, EQd the low end out a bit. You’ve got some reverbs that open and close on the breakdowns. Then I’ve doubled it, like cut the “hey” out, which then opens it up. We’ve got the main loop and the main section. As I said, it’s a little bit slapdash, but then I kind of paid for it, sampling has cost me a shitload. DJ Funk’s definitely got a new watch off the back of me.
Just going back to other bits in Ableton, apart from the main samples and the loop, I’ve got this which comes from another track. I think it comes from one of my first productions of dance, actually. It comes from the VST CVAT, I think it’s made by Arturia. It’s just like a mad simple rising noise, if it’s going to play. [sound effect] Like a kind of airplane thing. [sound effect] You’ve got this kind of like rim, sort of percussion, noise. I don’t remember where that comes from, but it’s just a mad simple pattern I made earlier. Then, actually I think I’ve got another clap. [music] Oh no, we’ve got this weird little loop.
Just to talk a little bit about structure, there’s like a lot of big dudes at the moment who may be producers, then DJs, who have been starting making these interesting intros to their songs. I think if you’re making dance music, you need to cut that shit out straight away because the DJ’s going to be put off by playing a song that opens with like mad, crazy shuffled beats. It just makes it a nightmare to actually play the song. I’d like to say every song on the album, you can mix in fairly easily even if after that it goes a bit nuts. The intros and outros are always quite simple. I’ve got a fairly straightforward structure on this song. It’s just intro-mixing beats, [music] which then just expand out.
One thing I always try and do is make it so that after the first “x” amount, it has elements that just keep on dropping in so that when you’re mixing out of a record that probably drops in just a beat, it’s planning on top. It’s really made to be DJed, rather than listened to, this first section. The idea is as one’s coming out, the other’s coming in, this is building, but hopefully keeping your attention as the track stacks on top of each other. Obviously, a vocal is coming in. Bass comes in, or the lower of the two basses.
We’ve got the obligatory airplane noise, reverb on the [inaudible 10:36] sample. And, you hear that. And then a little synth shot, we should play that. [music] Then, just this little synth blast, which I actually did on Kontakt, but, again, because I’m an unorganized motherfucker, it’s not safe in here. That was just like a single synth short. I just played like ding, ding, ding, and bounced it. Like mad simple.
Just some other little tips on Ableton, some stuff that I find really useful. I think I’ve actually got an example of it here. But just the automations on Ableton are so easy, just using audio, It’s mad easy. I really like using the freeze effect. What I quite often do is, I can actually do you one live now is do is . . . What I like to do is take the freeze, or you also have this on one of the delays, turn it on, and then add other effects after it. It just holds it and you can turn a clap here into a totally different riser noise. We could add, for example, a frequency shifter. [sound effect] Boom, like that, you’ve got an airplane rising noise.
You can also do this with the ping-pong delay. You can use it in a good way. That’s not good English. It’s not very eloquent, but I think you get my point.
One thing I like to do is turn the sync off, put a left-field whatever, like click on the re-pitch which means that when the delay changes, so does the pitch. Freeze it again. We’ll just put that in. Then I like to change this and it gives a kind of like robotic effect. I’ve been doing this a lot at the moment. [sound effect] There you go. You can get some pretty cool effects that way. That is pretty much Twerk, I think.
Does anyone have questions on this before I go on? All good? All right.
Next up, we have a remix I did for Kolombo & LouLou Players, which is out in September on Sutra Music. The original of this song was a kind of ketamined-out, not quite hit of the house, because that makes it sound a bit shitty. I mean, I play it too. It’s not what I would describe, for me, is peak-time dance music. I really like the song, but I just wanted to make it a bit more lively and a bit more interesting for me, personally. As I said, I do like the original.
It’s definitely got a nice groove to it, but it’s nearly eight minutes long. For my personal taste, not enough happening here. You’ve got the vocals, and a bit freaky, then it goes a bit mental. I really think it needs a bit more jacking. I want to keep the feel of the original track kind of like a little bit sort of spooky, a little bit haunted house-like, maybe, kind of simple.
This one, once again, I think we’re on Kontakt. As you can see, I’m a big fan of this. [sound effect] We can hear like a mad simple bass line again, which occasionally bends. I don’t know how many of you use Kontakt, but I do think it’s awesome. It’s just in one of these presets. If you go to the script editor, you can then just go here, and you go to unisono-portamento. I’m not actually going to click on it, because that’s going to ruin the preset, because I can’t get it exactly right. And then, you can just set it to do it’s thing. In the actual pattern, once again, mad simple. I kind of like very much favor like very simplistic in a lot of things. Partly because I’m stupid, partly because I just think it’s effective.
What I did on this is I added a bust, which has got a distortion. Which unfortunately, again, is not installed. But, all that’s doing is it’s just adding a very small amount of signal which are then EQed to take the bottom end out of which is just making it a little bit more dirty. You’re going to have to use your imagination a little bit on this.
I quite like to do this a lot of time on drums as well. Let’s see if I’ve done it here. I’ve got a parallel drum channel set up here. I actually haven’t inserted it. But, what I quite often do is just smash the fuck out with the parallel compression. Just to add like extra dirt, and just like an extra bit of grime over the top. Just to try and make it a little bit more, not organic, that’s not the right word, because I’m after an analog annihilation. But, just something that’s just a bit more filthy. If we go through the drums once again, straight 404 kick. In fact this drum is [inaudible 17:21].
Once again, fairly simple. I’ve got a loop going on Ableton, once again. I think you can see a pattern emerging on how I work.
Like crazy simple. Just top loop with other bits that come in. I particularly like this one. I don’t know where it comes from. I think it comes from some super-ethnicked out sample pack. Just a nice, slightly low sticks, which is just adding a little bit of groove to the track.
Just slightly talking about setting up presets when you work. I think for workflow having your own preset is probably the quickest way to get you going. For my Cubase preset, I don’t actually use logic, so I don’t know how it works. I imagine you have something similar. Whenever I open a project, basically I’m presented with none of this business here, but I have my drum kick already set up.Batteryis already wired up so each drum will go to its own channel. You’ve got the kick here. That’s clap. That goes through to here, and so on, and so forth. What that means is you can just go straightaway.
I really recommend usingBattery. It’s probably one of the best drum machines around. Having this good to go it means that you can just turn it on and go, and not have to piss around setting up sending the kick out to three and four yaddah-yaddah. It also means that you can just instantly process these.
Talking just a little bit about usingBattery, one of the really useful things I find on it is the layering of drums, which I haven’t done here. In theory, what you can do is double these up so that you can have one that’s pitched down slightly, and a bit lower. Especially on kick drums, quite a lot of time I find that to get a really punchy kick, you need to have one that’s got a little bit more attack on it, and one that’s a little bit more subby. So, in this case, if I was going to add another one, I would change the endpoint so we’d just be getting the very beginning.
Another small tip on this is to always make sure that the start and end point comes where there’s a gap in the waveform, because otherwise you’re going to end up with a nasty click. You can also achieve this by just slapping on the volume envelope, so we’ve got our Attack, Release, Sustain, and Decay. As you can see, we can kind of achieve the same thing that way. Quite a lot of the time when I start off a song is I’ll double the kick. I’ll copy this cell, paste it, and I’ll have one that starts off like this so you don’t get the main release of the kick, you don’t get the full oomph. The start of the track you have little kick, and then it comes in with a big kick later on.
As a I said before, in terms of claps, the technique on this, which I was describing earlier with having the nice stereo clap that’s got a slight bit of movement to it. You take a clap like this, copy it, paste it, tune this one slightly, pan this one slightly left, slightly right. I’m not actually going to do it, because I don’t know how to use Cubase on Mac that well. But the point is to add a simple clap here. Then you would add another midi channel with a simple clap on the copied cell, the one that’s slightly pitched.
Then, you would reduce the time delay on here slightly and increase the other one up. Then you’ve got the effect I was going on about. You can also do this quite effectively with high hats. Some people do it on kick drums, but you have to be mad careful with that because what will happen is you’ll get a slight delay on the kick and that makes it mad difficult for people to mix the track.
Anyhow, going back to this song, here at the beginning we’ve got what [music] I was going on about, a little kick. I put the original vocal that you heard in the original I played you a second ago. I just cut it, warped it, and then exported it. I’m kind of sad that I don’t have that to show you. But, I think it’s fairly straightforward how to do it in Ableton. You just sort of warp it, loop it.
I don’t remember if you remember, but on the original there’s this weird synth noise. What I did with this is I took a very small section of it, looped it up, and turned it into a riser noise. You can barely hear it, but it just kind of rises up. I added a delay to that, just to ping-pong, in Ableton, plus used an auto-filter just to bring it in and out.
On the main vocal, as a way of introducing it in the breakdown, rather than fading it in, what I did was I took the reverb and I made it more and more dry as the buildup is going on. The vocal kind of fades in, but it comes from being very reverbed-out into being dry, once it comes in. If you listen on the breakdown it’s kind of loose. When the track comes in, it’s dry and you can hear it clearly.
On the little snot snip, as I call it, I pitched this one down so that when it’s doubling with the main vocal, you’re getting an emphasis on here. I found that that adds like a little bit of groove in this particular track.
Just on the arrangement on this one again, it’s like a super simple house arrangement. Hasn’t got that much intro, or buildup, drop. Just again, talking about the introduction, and the movable elements, if you listen between here, you’ve got the vocals, I didn’t want to overuse this vocal because it’s really simple. It’s just ultimately a vocal loop. It’s too short in this section to bring it to the second breakdown in the crazy snip that I was going on about before.
What they’re doing is they’re replacing the vocal [inaudible 24:49], hopefully anyway. What you’ve got on the dance floor is your ears are staying interested. That is kind of a trick, I think, to a lot of dance music. Especially house, and more that’s a simpler, lesser of like fast crazy, things like Godstep or whatever, where it’s very quick. Songs are under three, four minutes. It’s to constantly crazy to be adding little bits, which are very subtle, to keep your ears interested and keep the dancers dancing, hopefully.
On the second breakdown, I introduce this, which is a pre-set on Massive, which I messed with. Massive is a synthesizer. I still don’t have my head around it. I’ve had it for like three years or something. In this case, it is a crazy one that opens out with a delay as you can hear. [inaudible 25:50] I’ve coordinated the volume so it fades in. Just a standard ping-pong delay. Massive has its own built-in effects as well. I’ve just automated that.
We’ve got just a couple openings and closings. It’s like a classic trick. It’s sort of one of the simplest things to do. Just open a synth up so the [inaudible 26:22] comes out. You can also do with the release. So again, it’s going like quite loose and then just comes back a bit tighter. It’s crazy simple. Just a synth line followed by the vocal. Hopefully it’s been effective. When I’ve played it, people have danced. That’s a start anyway.
Just a little thing I’ve really been into at the moment is adding fills as a precaution before things come in. I find that a fill with a crash prepares you for the next thing to come in. I’ve also been finding when I’ve been putting those after a massive breakdown, like this one, it just makes people go ape shit.
Cool. Any questions on that one?
Luke: We’ve actually got a couple of questions from the guys waiting online.
Nat: Go for it.
Luke: First of all, just to give a couple of shouts. Ready? We’ve got people locked in fromL.A., fromMoscow, fromKuwait.
Luke: FromAntwerp, and from [inaudible 27:55]. So, we’ve got Andre, who’s asked why you tend to kind of bounce things to audio to work with them?
Nat: There’s two reasons to it. The first is because it can make projects a lot cleaner. On these ones you don’t really see it. On some of my other projects, you can see it where I’ve taken something like a delay and I’ve gone nuts on the automation. Especially in Cubase, Ableton’s a bit more simple, but you’ll end up with these crazy, endless sort of amounts of automation. If you change one bit, it all changes.
What I will do is, let’s say this is a delay, and I wanted to repeat it later on, I would note that down as an audio file. Then, I can just copy the audio file, rather than having to piss around with writing all the automations for the whole song.
The other reason is due to power constraints. My computer is not that powerful. I’ve started using Diva quite a lot, which is an amazing synth. Like as VSTs go, it’s fantastic, but it kills the CPU. It’s just a combination of the two things.
Luke: Okay, cool. Another one. [Sintronics] has asked for a little recap on the freeze function in Ableton. They’ve just said can you kind of just demonstrate quickly again, because it’s something they haven’t’ seen before.
Nat: No sweat. Okay. Let’s go ahead and do it on this one. [music]
Just talking about presets quickly, one of the other things I do on Ableton is I will have all of my channels on here automatically, we can see the ins and outs, pass through to Cubase so that they all have their own channel again, just for ease. I tend to find that if you overdo it on the master on Ableton, especially when you export, what you do is you get horrible distortion. I think the second hit, “Red” on here, it sounds like shit, basically. It’s actually one of my main gripes with Ableton, why I don’t use it constantly is that I find that it’s hard to push the master without getting it to sound like crap. I know loads of people that use it effectively, but I’m not good enough at it. Anyhow, so let’s just go back to the freeze.
I’ve got one prepared here on the crash. What we’ve got here is a simple crash. What I’ve done is I’ve turned the ping-pong on in this case, with just a simple, whatever that’s called, three. As I said, I’m not the most technical dude, self-taught, so you get a lot of that. The freeze just switches on almost directly after the noise is played. Then what I’ve done is I’ve got frequency shifter, so as we can hear, [sound effect] it’s just locked in on the echo. Then as it plays on, you can hear it drops down. That’s just automation of the fine frequency, it’s just changing the pitch slightly.
Just on the other one, which I showed before, I’m going to add a new ping-pong here. You can turn the sync off on this, add repitch, so we’ll have it freezing in a similar way. Then, not going to use that, so then you can just use this, and it’s almost like a [inaudible 32:04] or something. It can be used quite effectively on vocals actually if you just use it a very small amount. What it will do is it will make the vocals sort of like a crunchy, almost robotic effect to it. In this case, it’s quite extreme because it’s dropping from quite high to quite low. If you use it more subtly . . .
I’m not demonstrating that very well. You’ll have to experiment at home, which is the name of the game after all.
Once again, that’s it pretty much. These projects are fairly simple.
Let’s just see if there’s anything more on the drums. I tend to put a lot of single hits in. Just like real simple things. I’m going to need to work out how to loop with this. [music] One thing I tend to do, if you can hear in there, there’s just a little simple little synth that just comes every now and again. It just keeps the ear dancing a little bit, I think. Something I do a lot is introduce, have the all-classic tight hat. This is quite House 101. You have a sort of simple hat like that. After a build down or after some point when you want to increase to sort of not the tension exactly, you want to make people dance more, it just opens out.
Another way you can do this is you can take this one, again use our old friend the volume envelope, have one like so. Then whatever drum fill, massive riser noise. Wait a second, it’s open again, everyone’s wet their pants.
Something else you can do, which I occasionally do, when I can be bothered to automate it is that you can have it so it opens and closes. It’s not showing that well in this one. What you can do is you kind of keep the interest in a song by even just a simple bar of a drum loop, just opening and closing, it will add like a bit of movement to the song. Here, there you go.
I see now is a work project that’s not finished. It is a massive chunk of samples once again, which I have renamed for the purpose of this because I don’t want you stealing them. On this project, I only did the drums in Cubase. I actually tend to prefer the midi on Cubase, and the audio on Ableton, as you can probably see from the last two projects. All three of which are fairly typical to my working style.
I think this is awesome for just warping and just being able to manipulate audio really quickly. Cubase is able to do it, but it takes a little bit longer. With some things like vocals, that are very polished, I haven’t sampled, I’ve actually had some in the studio I’ve sung, I tend to put them into Cubase because I think it sounds better. I’m sure there’s going to be many comments saying Ableton is the best, Cubase sucks dick. It’s just what I like. This one is again a sampling sort of Jack . . . whatever you want to call it. [music]
I’ve taken a section of song, which will currently remain nameless. If you guess it, you don’t win a prize, you get booby prize. It’s almost like a hip-hop loop, this one. I’ve doubled it with a vocal, of a track that I’ve found, an a cappella. The idea is you’re mixing out the last record. In this track you have the luxury of not having to touch the EQ if you don’t wish to. It’s just a mad simple EQed loop. Simple. A tiny bit of reverb on it, to give it a bit more so it’s wet.
I’m quite a fan of making things wet, and then dry again to add. Like it’s open, you can’t hear it that clearly, and then it shuts in, and becomes dry. It sort of becomes very much like in the center of your, I don’t know quite how to put this, your aural concentration. Like [inaudible 37:34] coming out with that. If you listen as it swaps from being initial mixing beats over the top of something else to kind of open, swaps are being played as the beat comes in.
On this particular track, I’ve used two different loops from the same song, which are kind of variations. Here I’ve just cut it so you’ve got just a simple cut, whatever. Variation one, variation two, you can hear the guitars different. I think it adds a little bit of movement. I’ve cut the vocal, drums. This one I’ve gone for a bit of a more jazzy kick pattern. [inaudible 38:42] adds a bit of movement to this. The sample on this actually does have a little bit of bass in it, but I wanted to make it so that after the breakdown something comes in. I’ve added a bass [inaudible 38:52] just out of very simple toms, which I’ll show you in a second. The [inaudible 38:59] comes out into the main sample, which I’m going to [inaudible 39:07] to you in a second.
As you can see, this is like a classic arrangement. We have a massive chunk of someone else’s song, which I’ve then cut up later on. It’s kind of like quite a hip-hop way of doing things.
Let’s have a look at the bass line on this one. On this one, what I’ve done is taken an 808 tom, or something pretty similar to an 808 tom and I pitched it a bunch. Our original tone is this [sound effect]. It’s more of a conga, an 808 conga, dropped it down, [sound effect] and patterned it. Job done. If it will play. [sound effect]
From the original sample, I’ve also cut out a bit of piano. This is not done yet, so actually this not really quite arranged correctly because three minutes is quite late for this to be going on. I’ve just introduced the piano with a very simple autofilter, three EQ to remove the lower end so it doesn’t clash. Kind of rises up. I’ve done this repitch effect on the guitar. It’s kind of wet, as I’d mentioned before. Then it comes back in with a cut vocal section. All that’s doing, again, is just keeping your ear interested.
Back with our doo-doo-dah-dah, as we’ve heard before. On the guitar, in this section I figure this isn’t patterned correctly. Things will probably happen in a different way, but this breakdown will probably stay similar. I kind of figure at this point, you’re going to be bored of hearing this guitar, so I filter it out. It’s wet. It rises up. It’s wet, I would like to think it’s in the back of your mind, you’re not really paying attention to it. It’s coming back into your attention. The vocal is taking the majority of your attention. And then, when it comes back in, the guitar becomes the focus. That’s what [inaudible 43:02] the ear.
I kind of think that’s quite a useful technique to be using for a lot of elements. Although you don’t think about it when you’re doing it, is to make something disappear into the background of a song and then come forward, back. People are reacting to the familiarity of that looped-up element. I think that’s ultimately what quite a lot of house music is about.
Just talking slightly also about sound selection. I’m not, as I said earlier, the most technical dude. What I would tend to do is try and pick noises at the very beginning of the project that I’m doing that work together almost instantly, and don’t take a bunch of compression, EQ, yadda yadda. I kind of think that it will save you a lot of time, and also a lot of heartaches. On a lot of my earlier projects, what I was doing is I was layering synth line, on top of bass line, on top of kick drum, that was already too full. Whereas now, what I try to do is pick, for example, a kick drum that’s going to complement my bass. [music] This kick’s got two elements. It’s got up, and then it’s got lower section. It’s also got a midi tone to it which sits on top of our bass. This is not even side-chained.
I would recommend doing that quite a lot, trying to look at every element you’re about to introduce, thinking about how it sonically works. Then, deciding whether or not you’re going to use it. I think you get an ear for it the longer you produce. It’s just so easy to make a track that’s just muddy. Then you’ve got to spend four hours mixing it, cutting shit out, it sounds like crap because everything’s super thin.
As an example, with this, if I chose a different kick drum, I’d then have to drop a bit out at the lower end. I’d have to cut from here. That’s going to remove something sonically from it, and so on, and so forth. I think that’s the same with everything. With the clap you choose, with the hats. Just take the time to really make sure everything sits together nicely.
Another thing you can do if you want to get super anal, which I used to do, is tune all of your drums. What you do is take a program like Melodyne, or there are built-in tuners to most things. Especially with kicks and toms, run them through, and it will give you a note, C3 or whatever. Then, let’s say your bass line is on D, just knock it up one to D, and you’ll find that they sit nicely and sound harmonically correct.
With things like claps, they don’t tend to have too much tone, but it just is a really nice way of making it just awesome sounding drums. Sometimes you hear like in electronic music anyway, rather than in live music, you hear a drum thing that just sounds perfect and you’re like, “What is that?” A lot of time it’s because those drums are tuned all nicely together. The harmonics all fit.
I think that’s pretty much it. More questions?
Luke: Yes. We do have a couple more questions actually. One which I think you probably covered just then, really.Illinoisasked about your kind of go-to technique for mixing the bass line and the kick. I think your point there is the fact that if you choose the right sounds, you shouldn’t really have to worry too much.
Nat: I can talk a little bit more about that. Another thing, this is unmixed. Actually, when I do finally mix it, what I probably will do, it will probably be side-chained. More for insurance than anything else. To make sure the bass and kick don’t clash. I can show you how to do that, simply.
We have our bass line here. This comes out of [music] this channel, and we have the kick. All I want to do is add a simple compression. Hit Sidechain, Make Up “Off” because we don’t want it compensating for the amount it’s cut, Release “Super Short”, Kick.
Interesting. Naturally this isn’t going to work because I’m on camera. What it should be doing at this point, but it’s not, is showing you a signal is coming in, and it should just be cutting the bass. The other point is, you can take something like an EQ that shows you the graphic design behind, I like Ozone quite a lot. in Ozone you can set it so the graphic is slow, so what you end up with is a curve of where it’s peaking and troughing or whatever on an EQ spectrum, have a look at your kick, and just notch out where your kick is from your bass.
Luke: You do it a little more visual?
Nat: Yeah, basically. Especially on the lower end stuff. I don’t think most people have a sub. A lot of the time, you’re not going to get that real pump underneath in your studio, so you can just see there. Another thing is just trimming off the ends and tops of the bass in particular because they’re wasted, no one’s going to hear them.
Luke: Okay, cool. We have another question from Rockstar690, who has asked about your work flow, really. How you start with making a track. Is there a set thing you start when you sit down to make a tune?
Nat: Yeah, 100%. As I’ve said before, I always start with the same pre-set withBattery, so it’s all set up. I spent about 100 years building up a kit of drum noises, little tech things, which is about, I don’t know, 10,000 drum noises I think. I will pretty much always start with a fairly basic drum beat. In this case [music]. Something like that. That will pretty much always be my port of call.
Depending on whether or not I’m going to do a sample bass track, I am occasionally capable of writing things without samples. It doesn’t seem to happen that often. I will then add a bass. I tend to go to Kontakt a lot because I’m lazy, slinging a single bass note, play it on the keyboard, you can normally get an octave out of it.
From there I will generally find what the hook’s going to be. If it’s a vocal loop, I’ll go digging. If it’s a synth line, I’ll play the in whatever. Then, I tend to add, what I guess is the seasonings, crashes, effects, little things that go on in the background when nothing else is going on. One thing I’m quite fond of doing is at the very beginning of a song just getting a dirt loop, just like some vinyl noise, or some crowd noise, and having it very, very low in the mix. Quite often I’ll have it so it pans around, and so it’s just adding a little bit. That’s it. I mix it down.
Luke: How about kind of inspirationally or creatively? Obviously, you do say you quite often work with samples. Is that something where you hear something and it makes you think, “Wow. I want to take that and make something of it.”
Nat: Yeah, basically. This track, which is, as I mentioned before, not finished, I found the a cappella and I was like it’s just got potential, it’s catchy, whatever. I do steal a lot of people’s shit, I’m not going to lie, but I do tend to pay for it as well, so yeah.
Luke: Cool. Another one from BringTheGoodTimes who’s asked how much should you prepare your track in terms of mixing and DIY mastering before you send it to a label. How much preparation would you say, for an aspiring producer?
Nat: That really depends on your relationships with the labels. For example, with Made To Play and Jesse, I could take this track. This would actually be more than I’d need to send him because he knows that I can turn this into a full song because he’s comfortable with me. It probably won’t sound like shit. I could probably just play this in a club and it would sound all right, sort of good.
If you don’t have a relationship with them, I would say that you definitely need to send them a mixed thing. Mastering is not such a big issue. What I would do is just make sure that it’s loud enough for them to be able to hear it clearly. Most label bosses make music themselves. They also are aware that, if it’s a demo, it’s maybe not going to sound perfect. Sometimes, depending on how much of a control freak they are, they may want you to change elements any way.
Luke: Similarly, on the mixing side of things, [Symantrics] has asked, “Do you tend to mix as you go? Or is it something where you get structure in place, and mix afterwards?”
Nat: I pretty much, as I mentioned before, I try and pick things that are sonically compatible to start off, but at the end, I do mix it down. What I will do is I will bounce all of this down to audio, and I will just have channels on the key bass thing, and I will mix it from there. My mixing tends to be quite dynamic rather than effect-based, because once again, I’m a bit of a moron on these things. It will be a lot of EQs like compression. I might strap some limiting on stuff, although a lot of people would probably turn their nose up at that. Yeah, that’s it.
On the master channel, I normally use Ozone or T-Rex, mainly to add a little bit of harmonic excitement. I like that on Ozone 4, I haven’t tried the 5 yet. I also have the EQ curve I was talking about on Ozone, it’s quite useful to play in a track of someone else’s that you like the sound of, it will set an EQ curve for you. Then, you can play your own song and just check to see how it compares to that. T-Rex will also do what’s known as “Perceived Loudness.” It will see how loud your song is as compared to someone else’s. If you’re making, especially I think things like Big Room House and stuff like that, where the volume is really important, that’s fairly useful.
Luke: I guess that your [inaudible 53:45] sounds where you road test stuff in the club, right?
Nat: Yeah, I do.
Luke: Yeah. Cool. I think that’s it for the online questions. Has anyone got any questions from in the room? No. Anymore from online there?
Man: There’s one. “How long have you been making music?” [inaudible 54:04]
Nat: I’ve been making music for five years. I was lucky enough that our first records I made, I originally had a partner, actually were put out almost instantly. I also think you should embrace your first few tracks you make, because that’s probably going to be the most free songs you are ever going to make. You’re not constrained by thinking too much about the sonics, the mixing, also what other people are up to.
Luke: I was also going to ask, obviously you’ve got the album out now, what’s kind of coming up in the future for you?
Nat: I’ve just finished a bunch of remixes. I played one of them now, that’s Kolombo featuring LouLou Players. I think it’s out September 1st. I just did one for DJ Yoda featuring Boy George, a summary thing, that’s out mid-September. Other than that, I’m doing some collaborative stuff with a few of my idols, making me sleep happy. Australian tour. Yeah. Busy little bastard, as always.
Luke: Yeah. Just before we wrap up, you probably have given quite a lot out, but any advice for the guys coming through, making music and trying to get to that next level?
Nat: I would say, firstly, work as hard as you can. Especially with production, it takes bloody ages. I taught myself, and I slightly regret doing it. I do think that if you can get someone else to show you how to do it, it’s going to save you a bunch of time.
The second thing is, don’t just try and copy someone else’s track. Right now, the whole 90s beat house ketamine shit is really popular, which is great, but those dudes have done that. Even if you take influence from that, try and put your own spin on stuff. Yeah, that’s it.
Luke: Cool. I think if that’s it from everybody watching and for the guys in the room, just enough time to obviously say a massive, massive “thank you” to Nat Self. Good luck everybody.
Nat: Thank you very much.
Luke: No problem. That’s it here from us. For the guys watching at home, if you do want to find out a bit more about us, as always, head over to PointBlankOnline.net or PointBlankLondon.com.
I think the next Master Class we’ve got is from Hannah Holland. That’s a bit later on in September. That’s it from us. We’ll see you guys soon. Thanks for watching.