June Miller, who have forthcoming singles on Horizons, Ram, Modulations and Sonorous, reveal how they work together in the studio.
How do approach starting a new tune? Do you have a standard workflow of building beats / bass first, or focus on another part to begin with?
To be honest we don’t have a standard set workflow but I would say 60% of the time we would normally start with getting some beats down. This varies on what type of track we are working on though and what elements we would like to use in the track, whether that be vocals, live instruments or an orchestral piece etc.
I think the most important thing is to have a clear picture of what you want to achieve when starting a new track and make sure to get your samples really organised so if you need to grab a really melodic pad, orchestral strings, a vocal or a sick bass line, you can find the right sounds for the right vibe instantly. The last thing you want to do is spend two days looking for ‘that sample’ trying it out and then it not working in the track.
Do you usually wait till you’re in the right state of mind before starting a track or do you just sit down and see what comes out?
Well, we both have jobs on the side at the moment so time is limited, so we don’t really have the freedom to make that choice. I would say 90% of the time we always feel like making music but we are all human and we all have crappy days every now and then. I always find that if we are not in the ‘right state of mind’ we will normally try and do other things like make some bass sounds, cut samples or just mess around with the mic. It’s like an huge injection of life and energy if you end up making something sick and it’s funny how you mind set can instantly change.
Does your approach differ depending on which genre you are making?
Yeah I think so although we approach each track individually. Again this goes back to stressing the importance of having a goal and what you want to achieve.
For example we just finished a new drum & bass track which is more aimed for the dancefloor and we wanted to approach it with a really epic cinematic feel, that was interesting, would mix really well and that would hit a system hard. We ending up using a 30-piece orchestra to give the whole track a big intense film-like appeal and we recorded some guitar, which sounds like it came straight out of Clint Eastwood’s array of Western classics haha! It was really fun and, more importantly, we set a strong theme to track.
Out of the tracks you do start, how many get finished? How many get released?
Haha, only if they all got released! Well it’s a funny one, because we used to start lots of things which never got finished, but lately the ratio of starting to finishing to release is getting better. I think this mainly down to gaining experience and just the level of output.
We have also made lots of music which is finished but will prob never see the day of light, things like soundscapes, re-edits of tracks and just generally weird stuff. I don’t think we mind to be honest if these things ever see the day of light, we just see it as training which is priceless!
But to directly answer you question, I think in 2011 about 50% of tracks we made we’re or are being released.
What time of day do you work best?
It’s great waking up, making a pot of coffee (essential!) and cracking on but, as we work during the day, it’s not always possible. So we also spend most evenings working on something music related, whether that be some admin tasks, making sounds or writing.
What do you do when you’re not feeling inspired?
I think everyone has this problem from time to time but when making music, you always have these brainless, time-consuming tasks you leave for later but which are very important. Think of bouncing samples to take down CPU load, cleaning up samples, checking the levels of all sounds that go to your sub bus. Generally things you don’t need to think about that are essential to achieve the end result you want. Moreover, the time you feel inspired will then be free from any hassle as well.
Where is your studio set up and what does is consist of? Do you use any hardware or are you software only?
Well as we are a duo, we both have a studio which consists of the following:
Monitors: Adam P22, Yamaha HS80M
Software: Logic Pro (mainly), Reason, Ableton Live (for live sets)
Other Bits: Behringer 6 channel mixer, 2x electric guitars (Ibanez, London City), acoustic guitar, guitar effect pedals (delay, distortion), Line6 DL4 Delay Modeler, Mini Kaoss Pad, Akai MPD 32, Midi keyboard
What’s your most used plugin, and what makes it (in your opinion) so essential?
Well, the obvious one would be EQ! We probably could never make a track without an EQ, but that’s a pretty boring answer isn’t it! A few plugins we use are:
Izotope Alloy / Ozone – Great for pumping up beats and you can do some really interesting things with the Transient Shaper. The multiband sidechain option is also sick.
Amplitube Fender – It can be a big of beast sometimes to control and you can easily overdo it but we love the polished crunchy high end it produces. Great for those mid range in-your-face basslines!
T-Racks Multiband Limiter – What an animal! No other comments needed!
NI Massive & FM – NI make such sick stuff and Massive & FM are amazing tools.
Are you the sort that likes to use old vinyl to get snippets of atmos, FX, melodies, etc or do you use synths mainly for your sounds?
We use a combination of both really; whether that’s using a sample we found, from making something from scratch or to actually using instruments to record the main hook.
How much of your sounds come from random samples, i.e. stuff you’ve recorded yourself etc, rather than sample packs?
I don’t think its essential to our sound but it’s tons of fun! Sample packs are mainly useful to fill out your tune in my opinion. The best sample packs out there have unbeatable sound quality but just lack that bit of uniqueness. So we’re always trying to get our main sounds from other sources.
Recording stuff yourself can be great fun! We’ve recorded some strange things like hanging out the window with the mic recording the kids playing in the snow (you can hear this at the end of our 140 Mix of Neurosis). One time we were just hanging in our old studio with our trumpet player Cees. The room had a huge ceiling on one side, which created a wicked roomy reverb, and we were just running around the room shouting and making hilarious sounds with beer bottles, chop sticks, burps etc. We call the song Blow My Tooter. I guess the title says more enough haha!
What’s the coolest bit of kit you’ve got and do you actually use it much?
We’re constantly trying to evolve our sound and I think we haven’t reached the point in our productions to start re-using a certain kit. Partly because we’re getting so excited by new sounds and partly because we will never bind ourselves to a certain style.
Whats the best piece of equipment you’ve ever used?
Which sequencer do you use and why?
We solely use Logic Pro currently and we are getting more and more comfortable with it, so I don’t see us changing any time soon. When we first started we used Logic but it ate so much CPU and we couldn’t really progress with anything, it gave us the impression we couldn’t move forward.
We then did a few sessions with Proxima and Icicle who used Reason. It was so perfect for us at the time as we could work so quickly and it never strained our CPU once. Reason is great for that and I’m glad we made the switch but it came to point that we needed to reach out further than the limitations of Reason, so we finally upgraded our Macs and switched back to Logic again. Happy days!
Any new studio technology or gear your liking at the moment?
Well, I have just started scratching the surface of audio repair using the Izotope RX which looks amazing. Apart from that we consistently try to discover new things which keep you on your toes! New music technology is moving at such a pace nowadays. #Ifeelold
What’s your monitoring situation like? What speakers and / or headphones do you use?
We’re totally in love with our Adam P22’s, the clarity is unbelievable (even a bit too good sometimes!) and the stereo imaging is second to none. The low end can be a bit much sometimes though haha, we find they have a lower sub reaching range that most systems. We also use Yamaha HS80M’s which are great too! They are super dry and have a nice solid mid range in comparison to the Adam’s.
Any advice you can give us regarding mixdowns?
I think we could talk about this all day but here are a few things we follow:
Drums: I think the most important part is to EQ everything properly, so make sure all those awful resonate peaks are controlled (they will sound awful on a system). Then if you want to apply some compression and limiting later on, the limiter will not be working so hard on the unwanted frequencies which can cause quite a harsh and unpleasant mix. Also try to respectively send different elements of your drums to their relevant buses. You will be able to control and process everything a lot better. For example, sending all your hi-hats and breaks to a bus is a great example as it will give you a lot more options, like applying a multiband sidechain with the peak of your snare (let’s says 200-500hz for arguments sake), will allow your main snare to punch through you mix.
Sub: We always have a dedicated Sub Bus which is low passed to about to around 60-100hz. We then apply a small amount of limiting, but, more importantly, we run a level check to make sure the Sub is a consistent level throughout the track. We solo the Sub Bus and run through the whole track a number of times constantly checking the db peak for confirmation that every bass sample is hitting around the same level. If not, then we will adjust the send level of the bass sample to the Sub Bus.
Mono/Stereo – Stereo Imaging: Try and make sure your main elements like your kick / snare / sub are all mono from about 300hz down. You generally find that elements that are mono will punch through on system better. When you come to your mixing stage it’s also a good idea to check your whole mix in mono which is easily achieved with Brainworx’s BX1 – it’s awesome!
What production technique do you think is really overused / annoying?
It’s not really a production technique but the most annoying and frustrating thing I find is when a song is looped for about six minutes without any care taken to transition the song or composition. I think composition is so underrated in drum & bass and I have never understood why really.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started out?
There are a lot things you wish you had known but, even more importantly, is to understand why! A well-known example is this: going right back to when we started producing, one of the first plug-ins you use is the EQ. What we did was turned up frequencies instead of creating dips. Although you’ve read the best producers never do that, and they even explain why, it still sounds good to you. It was later we found out that all those boosted frequencies sound awful and the same energy and brilliance can be achieved by taking away frequencies while retaining a much, much cleaner mix as well.
So knowing lots of things is really not helping much if you haven’t experienced why it could be useful to you. The things you know only become valuable when you hit that particular problem.
Would you like to make your own sample pack some day?
Would love too! We have already talked about putting one together before but I’m sure it will come in the future. Plus we have a great collab competition idea which we hope to launch when the right moment comes.
Got any releases in the pipeline you can tell us about?
Yes, quite a few for 2012! First up is the Give Up The Ghost EP on Horizons Music. This is a project that represents the deeper and musical side of June Miller. Expect dark organic sounds combined with progressive song structures. It showcases what we’re doing with our live set. The video below is also partly taken from that live set and created and compiled by Josje Bijl.
Then it’s 64 Thousand Dollar Habits ft. Secret Handshake Club on Ram Records’ Dimensions 5 EP. I guess you can say this is the total opposite of the Give Up The Ghost EP, showing our love to the intense side of drum & bass.
We also have the tracks Snapcase and Walls Of Jericho coming on 10″ through Critical’s Modulations imprint. Snapcase is one of those rare tunes we managed to finish within two days. We went totally mad on the flip with a tune called Walls Of Jericho!
Following this we have done a special 12″ for Dave @ Sonorous Music featuring the tracks Aged 23, Brave Man and Bright Eyes. Dave wanted to sign Aged 23 which is a track we made for a our live set. It’s laidback non dnb and based around speaking samples and a lush trumpet solo. We needed to write a dnb track to, so we put together Brave Man, which is a little liquid roller, where we recorded our own vocals and guitar.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about?
Thanks Kmag for the Q&A, had a lot of fun doing it!