Craggz & Parallel In The Studio

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Most that have made it will testify their are very rarely any overnight successes in drum & bass. The majority have honed their craft through many years of late nights and a thirst for knowledge and – most importantly – a driving passion and love of the music.

Continuing our focus on production techniques, Kmag spent some studio time with Craggz and Parallel to get an insight into their own methods of working, discuss their own views on current production and get their take on production on the whole by looking in depth at the techniques they employ in delivering the tunes we know and love them for…

So where do we start? I want to avoid the obvious questions here so we can get a true interpretation of what is involved in your production, most opening questions usually start with what do you do first… to which most reply drums! But looking beyond that what do you do in preparation for a tune – do you hunt samples, do you have a specific motivation, or do you dive straight in and see what happens?

It varies from track to track and I would say we’ve used all of those methods at one time or another. Were always on the hunt for new samples and it might be that a particular sample influences the direction of a track and what other sounds we will use around it.

Sometimes we may dive straight in and start playing sounds on to a rhythm track live from synths to try and catch a vibe. I’d say the approach that we use the most would be having a specific motivation. The motivation usually comes from listening to other music and attempting to encapsulate the feel of a certain style or genre.

How important is your perception of where you want the tune to sit within the scene? Do you have an idea of whom you want to play your tunes and where you want it played, is commerciality a factor and do you ever feel like you need to work towards current trends within the music?

We try not to be influenced by current trends and just write what we are feeling from day to day. However it’s hard to be clear about where an idea starts. Sub-conscious influences come into your music without you even realising. Things that you hear, see, feel, think or even dream about might be the reason why that sequence of notes or a certain rhythm sounds good to you from one day to the next.

Commerciality is never really a factor not saying that we don’t listen to and appreciate some commercial music. But in our experience if something is too contrived it comes through in the music. Not until a track is finished do we start to consider where it might sit within the scene or who may or may not play it and even then you just never know how people will react. It’s definitely not something that influences us during the creative process.

With the massive influence technology has had there seems to be such a massive emphasis on clinicism and clarity in todays production do you think this is a good thing or do you think this has in some ways affected the organic rawness of the music? Personally what would be your ideal?

Obviously a certain production standard has to be reached in order for your music to stand up to the next track, and not reaching that standard could be the difference between DJs/labels noticing your music or not. Ultimately however the most important thing is the creative ideas and the music itself and we’d like to think that good ideas shine through regardless of top-notch production.

All music suffers when people start to put more emphasis on production than the importance and value of the initial input. The ideal is great music that captures the imagination married with production that compliments the feel of the track weather that is ultra clean or down right dirty.

And the with continued push for volume essentially relegating dynamics, how do you feel about sacrificing some of the emotive elements of the music to give way for volume?

The worst thing about this phenomenon is that in an attempt to keep up, everyone’s music has got louder and less dynamic, which in turn has taught the listener to believe that this is what a track should sound like. When it doesn’t, it can fall on deaf ears. In a perfect world the solution would be to set some industry standards for everyone to adhere to but in reality I think the best you can do is to strive for a happy medium.

From the start to today how has your studio set up evolved, what did you start on and what does your current studio setup consist of?

When we started producing everything was outboard. When the digital revolution kicked in we got very excited and started selling off our outboard synths samplers mixing desks to make way for an all integrated computer set up.

There was a point where a lot of music started to sound very similar. Producers who had established their sound using unique analogue set ups and techniques were now all using the same plug-ins software synths/samplers and losing some of the individuality in their productions.

A couple of years back we started messing around with old synths again and recording audio into Logic in real time over our beats. It was like a light bulb moment and helped us to develop a new sound and way of working which set the pace and direction for our last album Turn The Page. Since that moment, we’ve been building our studio with the view to marrying the old and the new.

Equipment used: IMac i7 running Logic 9 (plus too many soft synths/plug ins to mention!). Apogee sound card, Mackie HR824’s studio monitors, Virus TI Snow, Novation 25SLMk11 controller, Roland SH101 keyboards, Novation Bass Station, Yamaha DX7, Yamaha CS2X, Micro Korg. In the Rack: Mackie 1604-VLZ Pro desk, Emu 6400 Ultra Sampler, Akai S5000, Nord Rack 2, Oberheim Matrix 6, Tc Electronic fireworX, Emagic amt8 Midi patch bay / interface.

All of our outboard synths and samplers have dedicated channels on our Mackie desk, which is connected to our apogee sound card. They are also all connected via midi to a midi patch bay, which runs to the IMac via USB. As well as our shared studio set-up, we both have basic set-ups at home comprising of MacBook Pros, Adam A7’s and Apogee interfaces so that we can get ideas together independently.

As most will confess production is a never ending learning curve and continual journey but what would you say are the most valuable lessons and techniques that you have learnt that are essential to the music you create?

Patience, creating a workflow that is conducive to creativity, learning your equipment/software inside out, referencing, familiarising yourself and being open to all kinds of music old and new.

Probably one of the most important elements of the music is the break, what’s your own individual process of break creation, do you still use live breaks at all?

Having a well-catalogued library of breaks and kits which are easily accessed is essential. This way, when inspiration strikes, you can quickly navigate to the right drum sound and get it into your arrangement. Quite often we combine breaks with single hits and electronic kits – it all depends on the vibe were trying to create. For example, we used very few breaks on our last album instead opting for vintage drum machine kits as they complemented the electronic vibe of the project.

A lot of the music we’re working on currently uses a combination of breaks and electronic kits. We’d get bored very quickly if we always used the same approach. We find the key to good break / drum building is to find the right sound to start with – if you’re aiming for a raw sound start with a sound that has that character in the first place, it saves you a lot of time and you won’t be fighting to make it work within the track. We also tend to send all the single hits and breaks through a final drum bus adding overall compression / EQ on one, and maybe a send adding / mixing in some saturation to add harmonics to the sound, gelling it all together. This is all after any individual EQ / Dynamics & FX you may have added to the individual drum parts.

If we break the music down to its essential core elements, can you guide us through the tools and plug-ins you use for each element on a typical track – drums, bass, pads and strings etc.

We wouldn’t want to advise any particular plug-ins for specific elements as it always varies depending on the individual characteristics of that particular sound and what you want to enhance or reduce weather it be drums, bass, pads, strings etc. Generally there is a compressor and EQ on all of the tracks, which may or may not get used. Not the most helpful answer sorry!

A lot of people stress the importance of A/B comparisons do you reference your tunes against others and if so which ones!

Yes definitely and the reference material depends on the kind of mix we are trying to achieve. Use a track you know has a great mix and has similar elements to the ones in your track. Use a spectral analyser to look at the frequency curve of the track your referencing and then compare it to the frequency curve of your own track. Where is it lacking? Where is it peaking? Figure out what elements sit in these frequency bands compare and compensate.

The dark art of mixdowns is perhaps one of the most important parts of finishing a tune how many times would you typically mixdown, what plug-ins sit on your master bus and what environments do you use to listen back to your final mixes?

The master bus typically has an EQ so that we can look at the track’s overall EQ curve to get a visual of what frequencies may be lacking or too over-bearing. We’ll also have some other dynamic analysing plug-ins like Logic’s Corrmeter/Multimeter to see where frequencies may be peaking and to monitor overall loudness. If you’re writing music to be heard in clubs obviously hearing it on a club rig is hugely insightful – not only for checking sonics but also the reaction from the crowd. The best advice is to listen back to your mixes in as many different environments as possible home/club/car/headphones. Obviously you want your mix to sound as good as possible in whatever environment it is heard.

Any other secrets you are willing to share?

No!

And finally for those new to production and finding their feet, what advice would you give to help them take their production to the next level?

I think we’ve covered this through out the article but as a parting thought, remember the best way to learn is through experience, trial and error. So stop reading this and get back to work!

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