The Return of Vinyl: The Good, The Bad, And The Underground
Vinyl is back! Well, so they say, but did it ever really go anywhere? Obviously in the commercial industry vinyl hadn't been around for a very long time, but in the underground it never truly disappeared...even it seemed that way for some time. While there was a noticeable decline in sales and interest prior to the 2008 US recession; which ultimately dealt the underground market its final blow for some time, Nielsen Media Research reports that in the commercial music industry there has actually been an average 38% rise in the sale of vinyl records as of mid-to-late last year, beginning ironically enough around 2008. With 2.5 millions units sold in 2009, ARS Technica reported that this was the most units sold since Nielsen's inception in 1991. Several years later, those numbers have more than doubled and only continue to grow. While the general consensus and media reporting are that indeed there is a surprising resurgence in the vinyl market, many like The New York Times continue to echo the notion that somehow, as the Times puts it, vinyl: "faded with the arrival of compact discs in the 1980s." Which would have more or less put the beginning of the end of vinyl around 1982.
What the media seems to be generally ignoring, is that in the underground; a market that a company like Nielsen could never track due to the common lack of barcoding releases, there was actually a huge upswing in the manufacturing and sales of vinyl records during the '90s with the growth of the worldwide Rave scene. Even in the '80s vinyl remained a strong medium with the growing popularity of Hip Hop and labels like Streetsounds, but there is no mention at all. And while the numbers from both these eras may not compare to what we saw between the '50s and '70s commercially, undeniably this shows that vinyl in no way was making its way out with the arrival of CDs. "What happened in 1990, when it was all supposed to be gone was that I opened Groove Records (Sonic Groove after 1995)," noted Frankie Bones, legendary pioneer and founder of the American Rave scene. "We had the decade of vinyl in the 1990's. Watts Music was our extended family and they were the biggest distribution company in America for dance music. So where a claim was made that vinyl was going away, we really took it back to the streets, to the clubs and the underground." Supporting the idea vinyl never really went away, Ruth Wilson, manager and long-time employee of the Plan 9 store in Charlottesville, Virginia (USA); part of a chain founded in 1981 and since a retailer of both used and new vinyl releases, mentions that: "Vinyl has always been our bread and butter. You can't say that vinyl is back, when it's never really gone away. It's all about generational perspective and who you talk to. The kids today may think vinyl is cool and new, when to us it's all we've ever known."
But as the turn of the century came, and we began to see the eventual slowing down in the production and sales of vinyl in the underground; perhaps due to the crackdown on Raves, 9/11 and the subsequent recession, not to mention emerging technologies eventually leading to the so called "Digital Revolution", a small niche market remained for several years as we headed towards the 2008 collapse, even seeing a few still existent labels start up. As Frankie Bones points out: "Two things happened in 2001: 9-11 happened. and Pioneer released the CDJ-1000; which became the first reliable unit for DJ's. It took 5 years, but between 2001-2006, thousands of record stores and record labels were dissolved. We [Sonic Groove] made it to October of 2004." By the time the 2008 US recession came, most Electronic music indie labels no matter how successful had gotten to the point of barely moving 300 units, and then the final nail in the coffin was set as distributors like Watts, and Syntax in New York closed down for good. "After the smoke cleared, the carnage was pretty devastating for lots of labels and distributors, but not bankers," commented Andrew of Satamile Records during a recent interview. "My reaction was to just hit pause on Satamile, and start working on Bot during this time. So as far as label work we never stopped, but we had to slow down and wait for the distribution and retail sector to recover along with the rest of the world, of which it seems to be coming back with the whole new vinyl craze as well."
The Digital Revolution, which fully set in during the time of the recession, obviously had its impact on the Electronic music scene; of that there can be no doubt, and perhaps there could be no clearer sign than back when almost every DJ around sold their collection after digitizing it, to settle for a laptop instead of the crates, and the file instead of the record. And who could blame them, with a bad economy came a lack of funds, and cheaper downloads and not having to pay for certain songs you may not want seemed more appealing. As more and more technologies not just like CDJs, but Serato and Traktor began to proliferate; especially with the evolution of the trend into Timecode Vinyl set ups, it seemed ever more apparent that vinyl would be no more. There seemed to be no place for it...or so they would have you believe.
Hardcore enthusiasts still collected it, as classics were now cheap and easy to obtain, and some underground labels like in the Electro Bass scene even turned to cutting services like My Vinyl in France, to release digital material on a "Cut On Demand" service, that while more expensive, served the purpose of making sure many of the great digital releases that would have been lost to cyberspace and the underworld of piracy, were forever stamped unto the almighty wax! Around this time, a few courageous labels also began to pop up. Though as may be expected, being one of the few labels to begin the experiment of trying out vinyl again was no easy task, and many were simply not up for it as they had barely recovered from the collapse, not to mention that the general consensus with distributors; at least for our music and deep underground sub-genres like ours, was that enough numbers could not be moved. "At the time the labels I most respected seemed to be pressing less releases and I felt there was a need for another label to push the Electro sound," says Phil Bolland aka Sync 24 of the infamous Scand parties, and the iconic Cultivated Electronics label. He claims that quite a bit of money was lost on the early releases, showing the hardship of the era, and how difficult it was trying to convince people to go back to vinyl. In time though, while the majority of the world seemed to continue to adapt to the immediately gratifying download, something truly would begin to change. A nostalgic feeling would begin to call back on those who remembered different times, the feeling of "owning" something that wasn't just on a hard drive somewhere, but in your hands. This perhaps, might be the root of what has been happening for the last several years, and it is very exciting news as it only continues to spread like a wildfire!
Statistically, it is reported that as of the first half of 2014, 6.5 million vinyl records had been sold according to Billboard, followed by reports that as of the second half of 2014, sales were up 52% according to the Recording Industry Association Of America. And The trend is only continuing. Over the past couple of years, as streaming has risen in popularity, CD and Digital downloads sales have declined by an average of 10%. It is even more interesting however, how hand-in-hand the rise of vinyl and streaming seems to be; even if the numbers for vinyl are still much lower than that of CD's and Digital overall, it seems as if music lovers are now exclusively listening to music online as we did back in the day with radio, and then going out to buy it in physical formats to truly take part in the full musical experience; something vinyl uniquely offers many people. While it is also true that some are perhaps pirating the music or even just buying vinyl or CDs purely to "own", many people have often complained over the years that downloads just don't feel real, there is no real sense of ownership over something artistic; especially something as charming and nostalgic as vinyl.
Another interesting tidbit in this ongoing vinyl craze, is that the majority of buyers of vinyl records are reported to be 35 and younger according to MusicWatch, and even now big corporations such as Urban Outfitters (who cater mostly to people between 18-25) and Whole Foods are beginning to carry vinyl releases at many stores, as if our beloved vinyl is again becoming an intrinsic part of cosmopolitan culture. Record Store Day, which began in 2008 as an effort by independent record store owners to help spread the word worldwide about Brick and Mortar record shops, has also been a huge success, and has attracted the younger generations by the droves. As the official website explains: "This is a day for the people who make up the world of the record store—the staff, the customers, and the artists—to come together and celebrate the unique culture of a record store and the special role these independently owned stores play in their communities." With special CD and vinyl releases planned specifically for the day, exclusive artist appearances and performances, cookouts, Vinyl DJ sets, and many other interesting community events, not only have the folks who grew up with vinyl gotten a chance to connect with like-minded enthusiasts, but it has also given the younger kids a chance to see what they had been missing growing up in the era of cyberspace.
However, one thing that doesn't take long to notice when walking into a record shop, or even ordering online, (this is an important thing to note especially for the Indies) is that vinyl is actually getting quite expensive these days! Back in the '90s people often complained about how expensive CD's were, which typically sold for around $18 US, now finding that an EP will run you easily about around $15-20 US, and about $25-30 US for an LP album. During the '90s, EPs and LPs; which came from the underground scene, typically sold for around $6 US, and averaged about $10 US for imports. Those prices went up little by little after the turn of the century, where EP's eventually would be found for about $9 US, and $13 US for imports. And in the underground those prices are still hovering more or less about the same, depending on whether the release is limited, or colored for example. As many labels, frustrated with low sales and a lack of distribution, have taken online to mediums such as Bandcamp to sell independently, we have even begun seeing units sold at sometimes even more expensive prices; but with much more thoughtful and creative packaging options than we are used to seeing, often done on the side by the label to save money on manufacturing (cardboard jackets cost, not mentioning how outrageous it would be to pay to do special packaging), but to also offer a more unique buying experience that entices the buyer to want to buy vinyl instead of a CD or download, and justify the reality of paying more for that record. Something that seems to be a necessity these days; primarily for indies if they want to make it.
For major labels, paying for and offering these kind of packaging options have never been much of an issue, and until recently not even a thought in their mind. As the market seems to steer towards uniquely designed covers and special packagings, the higher prices of vinyl in the commercial industry and in the underground obviously reflect the higher manufacturing costs. And while it may not seem worth the effort for Indies to go through such trouble in independently constructing their own packaging and continue releasing competitively, sometimes going that extra mile is what they want, the personal connection to the buyer, and the passion that goes into handcrafting each release. Alek Stark, from the iconic Spanish label Fundamental Records, and the man behind the iconic "808 Box" series, states that: "When I founded Fundamental Records, I want to put the packaging at the same level of the music. I don't want to use a simple jacket made in cheap cardboard, so we decide to create our own jackets in plexiglass and recycled 3mm cardboard with bolts. People love it, but is not easy because our prices are high; but not expensive, and people who buy our releases know about this subtle difference. When you receive our records and you have in your hands… you can feel what I'm talking about. We put all our love in each release!".
The truth is that in order for a sustainable vinyl market to continue in the underground, clearly more labels need to think about not only raising prices, but also offer more creative packaging options to help stay competitive and for the market to continue growing. Fans need to also be much more aware of this as a necessary evil and help support, if we are to continue seeing vinyl output by our favorite labels and artists, that while at higher prices, are offering us a more unique listening and buying experience than we have been used to over the past several years, and on a medium that time and time again continues to make a resurgence....vinyl!
But let's talk about one "unnecessary" evil that has always plagued the underground vinyl market, and that is the incredibly high pressing cost of manufacturing a record, that only continues to rise. Pressing plants, while they may be able to argue their own operating costs, have never offered a different price range for Indie labels; they pay what the majors pay. For commercial labels with big budgets, this may not be an issue, especially when their distribution systems can move well over a 1000 units, but for most Indies these days, even moving 200 can be tough. Doing some simple math, it doesn't take long to realize that anything under 500 units sold through conventional distribution methods is simply not going to help a label break even, and this without being compensated for any of the work whatsoever; label or artists involved. Many in the underground, especially our beloved scene, have been accustomed to working on vinyl projects for free for well over 10 years, under the agreement the label needed to recuperate the pressing costs to continue, and the artist got to have their work on wax. But lately as labels consider getting back into vinyl, or trying it for the first time, the numbers simply do not add up. "Today 150 copies is near of total selling numbers of some labels" mentions Alek Stark, which make each pressing even if sold out, a complete failure financially; unless done independently of course, which can be almost impossible for most these days in regards to moving all of the units themselves. But pressing plants and distributors aren't blinking an eye; and in some cases, not even the fans who don't realize the importance of supporting.
However, as many Indie labels are run in part out of pocket or in partnership to share risk, passionate artists and label owners alike (often one in the same) continue to push forward as what seems like a trickling down of this resurgence in vinyl makes its way into our music. Andy Barton of the infamous Bass Agenda radio show and label says: "The resurgence in vinyl overall is fine - what needs to change is the level of support people give to the music, almost regardless of format. There are probably more people making and releasing this music than buying it and until that changes, vinyl is a feel good luxury for all concerned. You have to enter into it with eyes wide open and accept that no matter how much support you get from DJs and media, it comes down to the majority competing for the attention and money of the minority". But while it is true that many complain of a lack of support in sales, and pirating is still a big issue in a relatively dominant digital market; perhaps even a reason for what might "seem" like a lack of support, it seems more and more that vinyl is indeed making its way back to the deep underground. It doesn't take much to notice the great series of releases by "The Exaltics" and their infamous Solar One Music, or even Fundamental Records and their 808 box series, that show what seems like a definite demand for vinyl releases. As Alek Stark himself comments: "People love it, and we have a big support from our regulars".
As with all trends however, there are upsides and downsides, and with vinyl that involves not only prices, but also steam presses; many decades upon decades old and in need of heavy servicing if not complete rebuilding, which is something not costworthy for any plant to do. While many of the world's plants still own a good number of the existing ones, many had been sold off to newer plants like "R.I.P.-V" in Montreal while downsizing after the recession, but as many of those eventually shut down, plants like Independent Record Pressing in New Jersey, began buying them back, while others around began to do the same. The problem since has been that as the sharp rise in vinyl sales continue, plants like United Record Pressing in Tennessee; the oldest plant in the USA, have come to struggle with the demand, leaving turn-around for most labels, especially Indies, to about 6 months. A major reason why major Indie labels like Epitaph and Fat Possum have decided to take matters into their own hands, and venture into opening their own plants; eventually though, finding themselves in the same position as they take on new clients.
As more and more labels begin to dip their toes in the water though, there is yet another problem that is a big obstacle for most, and that is distribution. "You need a distributor who is proactive and believes in you - and in this climate you just represent a risk," notes Barton. Highlighting how the distribution sector for underground music has not really quite recovered to the point where it was prior to the 2008 collapse, with only a handful still operating worldwide like Clone or Crosstalk out of Chicago. "Dance music vinyl continues to be a low-margin, highly volatile commodity with a short shelf life," comments Phil Hertz, founder of Crosstalk International. "Press runs get shorter, and production times get longer, which means production costs essentially get higher. We’ve survived largely by being small and agile, and able to constantly refocus and shift our priorities." Because of how tough it can be for labels to sign on to distributors, usually only by referral, unsatisfied labels owners have begun to look for independent ways of selling their physical music online, with services like Bandcamp, which even offer different tools like discounts, and digital downloads. Unfortunately though, it has not proven to be as worthwhile of a system to move enough vinyl to help recover costs. "Sales are still pretty low and I am lucky to break even on a release." states Bolland of Cultivated Electronics. Noting on how difficult it is for most labels to continue funding vinyl releases, or even consider getting into it if they have not yet done so. Thankfully, project funding sites like Kickstarter have begun to give people some other avenues to fund vinyl projects and decrease the risk of losing money or not being able to move enough copies. So far however, what seems like the most promising and realistic option for many labels is a new service called "Qrates".
This incredible new system, similar to Bandcamp, is actually designed solely for the purpose of helping labels press and sell vinyl. After uploading the music, and designing the record on a 3D display that then lets buyers look at the finished product, the system begins to collect pre-sales towards the release until it reaches the minimum goal of 100 units. The label and artists can even purchase copies themselves at wholesale prices to sell at shows or on their websites. Once the minimum is reached, Qrates, who works with the best pressing plants around the world, will find the best fit according to the project, and have the record pressed for you. Another option offered is "Press First and Sell", which works similarly, except labels pay ahead for the pressing, and then have the ability to have record stores worldwide buy from them at wholesale prices, with shipments to fans and stores alike handled by Qrates. Their website claims that they have: "Tied up partnerships with record stores worldwide to enable them to order your vinyl at a wholesale price set by you. This 'Store Delivery' system can collect orders from major record stores in Japan, the EU as well as their 200+ partner stores". The system also gives you bonus promotion tools such as downloads, and discounts, to help boost sales and generate a bit of hype as the release is being prepared. A worthwhile look for labels interested in pressing, but unsure about the quantities that will be sold.
Indeed these are exciting times, as many of us for several years have been rather disatisfied with the quality of the music industry, saturated to the bone with digital music, often lacking ingenuity and labels who clearly seemed to not understand the tremendous and professional endeavour that running one can really be. Vinyl has and always will be, a sort of memento that represents more than just music, it represents a cultural approach to how we embrace the art. Audiophiles have long argued the difference in quality of sound, and while ignored for quite some time, it seems people; especially the younger crowd, are finally listening...literally! For the rest of us who have tried to hang on with every bit of our being, this is nothing new, but a way of life; even if a struggle. While the road ahead may not be easy, it will be worth every minute, as we rebuild and not just get back to, but evolve on how things once were. There is a certain aesthetic that goes along with "owning" your art, of being a part of the experience as much as possible, and not just having a virtual copy somewhere on a harddrive. For labels and their artists, there is a tremendous satisfaction that also comes from going through the complex process of manufacturing, releasing and distributing vinyl, something that labels of the Digital Revolution simply could not understand. "Vinyl is good, it feels right, its where a lot of the electronic music we love belongs," notes Barton, "But it comes at a cost". Whether it is worth it or not, is up to you. For the rest of us, its just a way of life. Call it nostalgia, we call it love and dedication to preserve the music.
Written by: Santino Fernandez - TechnoBass
The Interview with Scott Weiser From Jackal & Hyde: Words Of Wisdom From A True Master Of The Sound!
Scott Weiser is known to be a plain-spoken man. And when the "purveyor of the hardcore-Electro sound" gets the opportunity to talk about the syncopated scene, prepare for some lessons from a respectable veteran! For Technobass.net, the co-founder of the legendary Jackal & Hyde project along with long time partner-in-crime Todd Walker goes back into time with me, revealing how he jumped into the Electro train when he was a child, how he started Jackal & Hyde, and how he judges the current dance Electro scene today. With numerous instant classics on labels such as Hallucination Recordings and Frajile Records (as J&H), Dynamix II with David Noller (as Dynamix II), Joey Boy (as Industrial Bass Machine along with UK's Bass Junkie) just to name a few, Scott has nothing more to prove that he hasn't finished to get talked about!
Chris Nexus 6: Welcome Scott, it’s an honor to have you do this interview with me, I am a huge fan of your music! This might be a famous story, but from my European eyes, it remains untold. Briefly tell me how you got into making music, what were your main influences as a kid? What inspired you to get into making music?
Scott Weiser: I began playing piano at age seven and switched to synthesizer and computers in my teenage years. By the luck of the stars, I always had a knack for music, it’s difficult to explain. I would go see movies with my mom even back when I was six or seven years old, and come home afterwards and play parts from the movie’s score or opening theme from the film on our families piano; all by ear and after only one listening in a theater. After witnessing this strange phenomenon over and over, my family found me a seasoned piano teacher and got me started on actually learning to read and write music instead of just doing it all by ear. The final step was to wash a million cars in the neighborhood and mow a million lawns as a kid in order to get my first synthesizer, a Korg Poly-800. When I finally could afford and purchased this synth, I was instantly and forever deeply hooked into synthesis and the making of Electronic Music.
It's a fact that a band like Jackal & Hyde (that you created) influenced at least two decades of artists. I can easily argue Volsoc, Code Rising, Anthony Nuzzo, Ghosts In The Machine, Analog To Future, Exzakt and many more have been influenced by your sound. But I'm sure you've been influenced the same way when you were a kid. Tell me more about your musical background.
My main Electronic musical influence as a teenager was first and foremost Front 242, they played a huge part in the way my mind works musically; especially in my approach to electronic song arrangement, sample manipulation and sequencing. When I was seventeen, I had a fake ID and would fenagle my way into a local West Palm Beach, FL underground club called Respectable Street Cafe. It was there that its notorious DJs Danny Bled and Kris Jacobi introduced my ears to Front 242 songs "Master Hit", "Head Hunter" and "Welcome to Paradise", and to be honest, my mind was blown. Not just blown because I thought the music was good, but because I had no idea how they were making the sounds they were making as most of it was hardcore sample manipulation. I had been around piano and synthesizers for years and was familiar with those kinds of sounds, but I never had a sampler as a kid, so knew nothing about sample manipulation (which Front 242 were clearly masters at). From then on, I was on a mission to figure out what they were doing and how they were doing it, and it’s safe to say that the aforementioned songs expanded my mind so much, that it was a life changing event for me as a young producer and musician, and took my music creativity into paths I would have never gone into otherwise. Other influences as a child were all of Vince Clarks musical endeavors like Depeche Mode, Erasure and Yazz, and groups like Vangelis, Afrika Bambaataa and of course Kraftwerk.
So should we consider that the industrial sound you developed under the Jackal & Hyde project is due to Front 242?
Who are your masters in Electro music? Who are your masters in music in general? Masters who taught you?
Producers I would consider true masters of Electro? To me the top of the heap would be Kraftwerk, Mark Bell’s LFO (not to be confused with the horrendous boy band of the same name), Uberzone, and Justin Maxwell & Jean-Paul Bondys unfortunately short lived Volsoc. General music masters would be everything from Mozart to Pink Floyd to me anyway.
My engineering teacher and master tonmeister was a producer named Tom Dowd. He had a distinguished career from working on the Manhattan project as a physicist during WWII that lead to the development of the Atomic bomb, to producing and engineering songs for The Eagles, Eric Clapton, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Creme, The Allman Brothers Band, Cher, Dianna Ross and Willie Nelson among many other artists. He is also known for popularizing the use of stereophonic sound in music recordings as well as pioneering the use of linear channel faders instead of rotary controls on audio mixing consoles. I was lucky enough to work with him from 1996 to 1999, and received most of my mixing and engineering skills from him first hand. You could not put a monetary value on the education I received from Mr. Dowd over those four years, and everyday I’m thankful that such a wizard appeared in my life and shared his knowledge with me before passing away in 2002.
Priceless for sure! Shame about his passing. So if you had to select one song from repertory that is the most representative of your sound, which one would it be and why?
Probably Jackal and Hyde’s Darkstar. The reason being is it shows the perfect Electro marriage between danceability and heaviness. That has always been Jackal and Hyde’s mission and at times, a difficult thing to pull off. It’s easy to make a fun record going “Get ge ge ge get that booty poppin’ yea yea yea”, and it’s easy to make a dark hard song that slams and can get borderline scary, but finding the middle ground between these two things was always our goal and a challenge we loved. To have the asses shaking in the club, but also with head strong attitude and grit is Jackal and Hyde’s sound; always has been and always will be.
Would you say "Go Bang" is your harder stuff as Jackal & Hyde? How many times did it get repressed?
I wouldn’t say the Go Bang Remix was our hardest stuff no, it was just another example of a fun ass shaker meets a head strong banger. It was repressed many many times and the final vinyl count was nearly 40,000 copies globally; which for vinyl sales at that time, was an incredible amount.
That is amazing. What led you to getting J&H started then? How did you meet with Todd Walker aka Hyde, back in the days?
The truth is, I wanted to make a harder grittier form of Electro music, and my band mate at the time David Noller (Dynamix II) did not; hence Jackal and Hyde was born. Todd Walker had been a studio cat always around Dynamix II studios, making crazy Electronic Music and sound ideas, so I felt he’d be a good match for this new Jackal and Hyde endeavor with me. The sound creations he would get out of his Emax sampler by sampling the craziest stuff imaginable and manipulating it to death with effects are things of legend, especially for the time period, so the pairing made sense. In 1997, we sent our very first demo songs called ‘Beyond’ and ‘Get Down To My Technique’ to Hallucination Recordings, owned by Techno legends Rabbit in the Moon and they signed us straight away. The rest is history.
Tell me more about "Bad Robot" coming out soon on German Dominance Electricity? Is it a tribute to J.J Abrams ? What are your forthcoming musical projects? I heard rumors about a possible J&H album. Is that true? Any new releases in the pipeline?
Jackal and Hyde is back full force and will be releasing either an original song or remix at least once a month from this point forward throughout 2016. In addition to the Electro slammer Bad Robot, there are four new original songs in the making right now and Jackal and Hyde is currently finishing remixes for Omar Santana, Otto Von Schirach, Keith Mackenzie, DJ Fixx, and possibly a Rabbit in the Moon remix of Deeper done in our signature Electro-Core fashion. But that one is still YTBD. I am also co-producing Future House/Electro House with an up and coming producer/DJ called "Mojolefay" here in Charlotte, NC where my studio is located now. A third side project called "Titans and Giants" is in the works with my long time friend and producer extraordinaire Evan Gamble Lewis, so be on the lookout for that as well. This is going to be a full year of killer releases and I’m happy to announce that Bad Robot will be released on actual Vinyl 12” on Dominance Electricity as well as obviously digital download.
We can’t wait for this exciting year!!! So what’s the secret to creating a banging Electro Breaks track? What is your general approach to getting a song started?
As I’ve said on many occasions throughout the years, play your songs for your enemies or strangers and get their opinions, if they say “it’s ok”, you’re doing great! Keep going! Don’t listen to loved ones when it comes to your music, because even if it sounds like a steaming pile of horse shit, they’re going to tell you it’s great, why? Because they love you that’s why. Always take criticism like a champ and have the patience to not freak out about it. Listen to constructive criticism and take another look at whatever it is that you were doing, as criticism can be a powerful motivator to making a bomb ass record by going back over things and polishing etc. That attitude adjustment right there, is a great place to start your path to making better records.
General approach, hmm. Every time I start a song it’s different. It may be a lyric I thought up, or a bassline, or a twisted sound I made on accident on a modular VSTi synth going through a million plugs. That is the inspiration to starting a new jam, one never knows. And that’s just another fun part of Electronic Music, the experimentation of it all, especially when it comes to synthesis and making new sounds never heard before by human beings. Synthesis is a very strange trip, and it never gets old.
Speaking of making a song, how long approximately do you spend in the studio to get a track 100% done? Is the creation process something quite instinctive for you or is it something that needs hours and hours of pain?
I would say generally on average, coming up with the bulk main parts for a song (verse/chorus), takes me a day or two max to get it right in the pocket where I want it, and get most of the sound designing done. Additional edits which are extremely important in Electro, can take up to a week or more depending on the level of program insanity one wants to achieve in the song sequence wise. I usually mix down as I work, so when I think the songs sequencing is totally completed and there is nothing more to do, I’ll focus on finishing up the final 10% of the mixing process and render the song out for mastering. To keep it safe and for this discussion, I’d say approximately two weeks for a bomb ass timeless record on average from start, to the final mastered product. Keep in mind, this time period is for Electro, not other genres. I can mix a Rock song down in a day half asleep. Main Room/Electro House I can make from start to end in two to three days on average starting from scratch, so for me it is program dependent.
Regarding the “pain” you ask about (assuming you mean frustrating "pain in the ass"). Once you hit about 50 records completed, and you begin to master your craft (in my experience anyway), all the “pain” as you call it melts away and things become extremely easy and much more fun. It’s like watching Bob Ross paint a beautiful oil painting in one 30 minute TV show (I’ve been watching his reruns on Hulu lately), there’s no pain involved, its just a master dabbing happy little trees in here and there and ending up with a masterpiece calm as can be.
Let's talk about all this new hardware being released. Are you impressed by any of the recent releases by Korg or Roland's AIRA series for example?
At one point I had around 30 analog synths and drum machines of all kinds, of which I’ve sold over the years past. The whole idea of moving forward with technology was dreaming about a day where you could make an entire record on a laptop, that day is here, and other than having very specialized units or for nostalgia, there’s really no reason to have the old technology. I keep a Studio Electronics ATC-X quad filter around to have access to analog filters by Moog, Oberheim, Roland TB-303 and Arp 2600 + distortion circuit + ring modulator. The nice thing about this unit is its input, enabling you to run software VSTi’s from your computer into it giving them warmth and grit from the various analog filters in those legendary units. Also an analog Schippmann ebbe und flut which I run software instruments through for FSU purposes, or just general sound design. These two units represent the only analog “hardware” I need as of 2016.
There’s an old engineer principal from years past - K.I.S.S, Keep It Simple Stupid. I like to keep my studio lean with only extremely powerful rare units around instead of 3 walls of unnecessary light boxes. To be honest though, with the advancements in computer technology nowadays, even these powerful boutique units rarely see any use in my studio. The Nonlinear Convolution Vectorial Volterra Kernels Technology from Acustica has made it possible to emulate all of the aforementioned analog filters directly within your computer along with thousands of other analog devices. I can set up an Acustica Nebula Moog LP Filter for instance in seconds within my DAW and run a VSTi through it, and get the same desired hardware result in seconds without any outboard gear, patch bay routing, etc.
As far as your question regarding the Roland AIRA…I honestly don’t get it. Even owning and hanging on to an original TR-808 at this point I don’t get other than for nostalgia purposes. For years people have been amassing gigantic libraries, sampling TR-808s through millions of dollars worth of outboard gear, making the 808 sound even better than the original TR-808 drum machine did itself. Deeper, fuller, more depth, harmonic distortion etc. I mean one only has to go preview the samples from www.goldbaby.co.nz (for instance) to hear incredible sounding 808, 808 to tape, 808 ran through different analog filters, drum machines, distortion boxes and high end analog eq’s etc. The 808 drum samples this mad scientist sells are fire, and sound better than any analog drum machine I’ve ever owned because of the time and care this cat puts into every single sample.
So here’s the bottom line. Scenario #1: You own Ableton Live, you go to Guitar Center and buy a Roland AIRA. Now you’re sitting at home with a DAW and an unnecessary Roland AIRA watching the $500 light show and you’re syncing up the big mess (remember K.I.S.S) to play along side in sync with Ableton, and the unit only has stereo outs and two assignable outs, but makes 11 sounds (face in hands); So now you’re going to have to back it up and record the unit multiple times like its 1991. What makes it worse is being on a budget, you don’t own tens of thousands of dollars worth of high end analog gear and tape machines like Goldbaby does, so you can’t even make the Roland AIRA sound fat as fuck like you want it too.
Scenario #2: You own Ableton Live, you go to Goldbaby and buy say… the Super Analog 808 or their Tape 808 for $29. You bring those samples into Ableton Live and build a drum rack with many macros for tune control and sample cutoff etc, and now you have the 808 drum machine from hell dripping with rich harmonic distortion and analog fatness directly in your DAW. Best part is, not only do your records sound better, but you have a dedicated channel for every single sound, and you’ve saved $470 in the process. For the purpose of actually making banging records and adhering to K.I.S.S, I’m going to go with scenario #2 100% of the time. I hope this has answered your question with regards to the Roland AIRA.
Couldn't have asked for more honest advice! So what about vinyl making a resurgence, are you seeing it?
Yea I’m seeing it and I think it would be killer. Humans like tangible things like a piece of vinyl. It’s collectable and fun and can be hung on a wall, unlike an MP3.
A million thanks Scott for this interview. We wish you the best for 2016 with the return of Jackal and Hyde on wax! Keep up the amazing work.
Interviewed by: Chris Nexus 6