Bass music duo Cutline have just released their first ever sample pack. Read on to get production tips, what kit they use in the studio and why, and to download some free promo samples.
At what age did you get into producing and how did you learn?
Dan: I was about 16-years-old and at that time the only thing available to me was a copy of Cubase Audio XT which I ran on my state of the art Windows 95 PC that had over 3.5 GB of hard drive space! Impressive huh? I pretty much taught myself how to produce. Back then there were no YouTube videos teaching you how to make noises.
Jeryl: I was about the same age, but my go-to program was Music 2000 for the PS1. I wrote some bangers on that thing I can tell ya!
What producer or artist were you trying to sound like when you first started producing?
Dan: I had a lot of influences at the time: The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and I was heavily into happy hardcore with artists like Force & Styles, Hixxy and Ham which all made a huge impact on the type of music I was writing, but I wouldn’t say I was particularly trying to sound like anyone. I was just excited by the process of it all back then.
How did you get your music noticed in the beginning?
Jeryl: We had been behind the scenes for a while running various record labels and working for companies like DOA and Nu Urban, so we already knew a number of people in the industry. Back in 2010 Excision introduced us to Skism and we got chatting about our new project, the next week we sent him our first finished demo as Cutline, Die For You, which he instantly snapped up to his new label, Never Say Die.
Talk us through your typical workflow from idea development to conception…
Jeryl: To be perfectly honest it changes almost every time. Sometimes we’ll write a track because we’ve been influenced by a particular piece of music or artist and other times we just wake up saying “Today I feel like making some drum & bass”.
Dan: In the past I’ve almost always started with the intro / breakdown and then tried to write a “drop”. But I always found it a bit of a struggle, so more recently I’ve tried doing it the other way round and it’s made it so much easier.
What part of the production process do you find the most challenging?
Dan: For me the hardest part has always been sound design, especially in creating all those horrible bass noises. In the past I would just mess around with different knobs and effects, not really understanding what I was doing, but just hoping that I would get something half decent out of it. Recently though I’ve been watching a lot of tutorials on YouTube, especially the Seamless ones, trying to understand exactly what it is that allows you to make particular sounds and noises, which has helped a lot!
How do you come up with melodies or chord progressions?
Dan: I was classically trained from an early age, so I usually just mess around on the keyboard, usually with a piano preset, until I come up with a chord progression I like and then I’ll spend ages trying to figure out a melody to go on top.
What are the best tools for beginners?
Dan: First off is your DAW. If you ask any producer out there which is the best one you’ll get a different answer each time. It just depends on what you’re most comfortable with. Whether you use Ableton, Cubase, Reason, FL Studio, Logic or Reaper, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. You just have to decide what feels right for you.
Next up are your synths. We would probably say that Massive is the best one to get your head around first as it’s a very straightforward synth and there are hundreds upon hundreds of tutorials out there. It is also one of the most used synths in electronic music today.
What are your favourite plugins?
Jeryl: We’ve probably used the Nexus in every track we’ve ever made. It has some of the best presets available and almost all of them have this incredible warmth to them, which we just love, but it’s a ROM synthesizer, so you can’t really do much in the way of actually manipulating the sounds.
Dan: For actual synthesis we would have to say Image-Line’s Sytrus and Harmor. Sytrus, like FM8, uses FM synthesis to create its sounds, but unlike the FM8 it also has the ability to create a ridiculous number of harmonics without having to use one of the oscillators to do so, which is great for creating those horrible Skrillex growls.
Harmor is an additive / subtractive synth that is full of warmth and character and allows you to do so much, including image and audio resynthesis that allows the user to import a sound or a picture and use it as the basis for an entirely new sound. It goes far beyond this though, to the point where you can control the amount of phasing or chorus you want on a sound at any given frequency. We use this mainly for creating those incredible squelchy Reeses synonymous with neuro drum & bass.
What’s the coolest bit of kit you own?
Jeryl: We would probably have to say our Supernova II, it’s just so damned pretty. Well that and it makes some fantastic sounds (not that we’ve used it in a long while).
Which bit of kit would you love to have for your studio?
Jeryl: A decent pair of monitors would be nice. If money was no object we’d probably reach for something like the ATC SCM25A Pros, but at almost £8000 a pop, I think we’ll have to wait some time for them.
Is there a piece of equipment you regret getting rid of?
Dan: Not really, although I do miss the Akai S3000 from time to time.
Which DAW do you use and why do you use it?
Dan: We actually use two different DAWs when writing tracks. FL Studio has incredible automation and some of the best synths and plugins on the market (Sytrus, Harmor, Maximus etc), but we’re not fond of the arranger window, it’s a bit too chaotic for us, so we generally only use it for making sounds, which we then bounce and import into Cubase.
We use Cubase as our main sequencer as its arranger window has a much more classic structured approach and it’s got a number of great attributes like VariAudio.
What audio interface do you use?
Jeryl: For the portable studio we have a Focusrite Saffire 6 USB interface, but in the main studio we use the Saffire Pro40.
Any new studio technology or gear you like at the moment?
Dan: Steve Duda’s new synth Serum looks incredible. I watched a video about it the other day, only intending to watch the first few minutes, but ended up sat there for the entire 90 minute duration in absolute awe.
What’s your monitoring situation like? What speakers and / or headphones do you use?
Jeryl: Crap really. At the moment we’re just using a pair of old Fostex PM-1s in conjunction with our Sennheiser HD-25 headphones. Ideally we’d probably be using a pair of the Adam A7Xs which we’ve loved using in the past.
How do you go about compression?
Dan: We use compression in a number of different ways in our tracks depending on the type of sound we’re going for. Here’s a few of the things we use it for:
Side-chaining: We use this predominantly to on our kicks and snares to allow them to stand out that little bit more by side-chaining them to a number of elements in the tracks. In drum & bass for example this is usually done with the low end frequencies.
Drum compression: We tend to put a compressor on both the kick and the snare with a long attack and a big threshold so as to give the hits of our beat more snap, allowing them to punch through the rest of the mix.
Overall compression: We only do this once the track has been finished and mixed down. We place Image-Line’s Maximus on the output channel, placing a small amount of compression on each frequency range to eliminate any spikes in the audio. This gels all the different elements together without removing all the dynamics.
Any advice you can give us regarding mixdowns and mastering?
Jeryl: Our first advice regarding mixdowns is to reference other producers’ tracks that are similar in style to your own. Don’t just listen to them, but also use a spectrum analyser to see where sounds are hitting in both frequency and volume. We personally use the Inspector XL Spectrum Analyser. More than often you will notice that the loudest elements are the kicks, snares and sub bass.
Also remember that your track, no matter how good the mixdown, won’t sound quite as complete as the track you are referencing, because unless you have their pre-master, their track would’ve gone through some form of compression and EQing in the mastering process.
Dan: With regards to mastering, we’ve always hated it when someone just slaps on a limiter as you lose so much of the dynamics in the track. As mentioned earlier, we use the Maximus multi-band compressor on our output channel. We then record the track through the mixing desk and back into Cubase with a spectrum analyser on the input channel to make sure we’re getting a similar overall volume to that of the reference track.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started out?
Jeryl: Everything! If we were to put it down to one thing in particular though, it would have to be how to manipulate synths to make the sounds we want.
What piece of advice would you give to producers still honing their craft?
Jeryl: Never stop honing your craft. The production world is ever evolving, there is always something new you can learn how to do, always some new method to making sounds or a new synth to understand. When we listen back to our older tracks, even from six months ago, we are amazed at how much better our production sounds now in comparison.
What’s key to creating your own sound?
Dan: Experimentation. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t let yourself get bogged down by the definition of genres and styles. Allow yourself the freedom to create something unique.
Whose productions do you love right now?
Jeryl: We’ve pretty much looked up to the same producers for the last ten years. Rob Swire of Pendulum / Knife Party fame, Noisia and Sub Focus, but more recently we’d have to say Zedd, Haywyre and Wilkinson among others. We tend to like production that fills the frequency spectrum, has a warm sound overall, but still has some filth to it.
What track would you love to have the stems of for a remix?
Dan: We were actually listening to Baby D’s “I Need Your Loving” the other day and saying how great it would be to remix it, but I’d be too scared of ruining one of our favourite tracks.
Tell us about your new sample pack and how you approached it…
Dan: We’ve wanted to do one for a while, but we’ve been so busy that it’s taken us the best part of a year to finish it. We approached it in a number of different ways. Some of the sounds were things we had created and used in our own previous tracks and others we spent time learning new techniques in order to get them right.
Jeryl: Our only real hope for the sample pack is that budding producers will be able to use it to help make their own tracks and, well, that and it pays us enough to be able to buy some food.
Got any releases in the pipeline you can tell us about?
Jeryl: We’ve just finished the mixdown and mastering of our next single ReVamp, which is a big room style take on a classic old skool sound (hint: the clue is in the title). We even threw an Amen break in there for good measure. It’s already gained strong support from the likes of Pendulum, Kill The Noise, Wideboys, DJ Craze and David Guetta amongst others.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about?
Dan: I’m stuck on level 655 of Candy Crush and it’s ruining my life!