We had a chat with Gobsmacked producer/DJ JGarrett about his top 5 studio secrets. Check out his tips below.
MIDI Fighter Twister
For the last number of years, I do a lot of my production in software “in the box” and every track I do, I map modulations and settings specifically for that track. I don’t use templates, I build each track as I go. Because of this, I need a very flexible, programmable encoder controller that will both allow me to modulate settings within my project, but also react to and show the status of settings within the project as they change — in addition to the encoders on my much beloved Push 2.
I’ve tried a wide variety of knob and encoder controllers over the years, Behringer BCR-2000, Livid Code, Akai LPD-8, Novation LaunchControl, UC-16, UC-33, but the one that works the best for me is the MIDI Fighter Twister. It features an array of 16 encoders on its face that also act as buttons, along with six buttons arranged three to a side on the side of its body. All of the controls are fully programmable using fairly straight forward editing software. The encoders and buttons can be programmed to send CC data or notes, you can also set up the buttons so that turning them normally will send a CC or note, but depressing them and turning them will send a different CC or note. Each Twister has four banks of settings available. That provides up to 64 encoders and 68 buttons to be programmed for various functions and mappings (keeping at least two buttons to move through the banks). They’re ruggedly constructed and I’ve carried mine around in gig bags with other gear without any impact to the Twister. I own two, and often use them in combination. I program them identically, which gives me access to a combination of any two banks at a given time. For example, with my live PA configuration, bank 1 is used for modulating filters and parameters in MIDI instruments, while bank 2 is used for modulating sounds in a D16 Drumazon TR-909 emulator, bank 4 is used for EQing and filtering the overall sound of the set.
Using the Twisters in combination with the Ableton Push 2, it gives me an additional 32 encoders and buttons at my fingertips, and I can use the Push 2 to control things like individual track levels and effects sends, as well as on the fly adjustments to rack macros and effects like Live 10’s Echo that integrate with the Push 2’s display. If you’re looking to add more encoders to your studio setup and you also want something that will stand up to rigors of travel without having a dedicated clamshell case, I can very comfortably recommend the Twister.
I’m a firm fan of samplers and sampling, for the fine control it gives you and in many cases something about the natural compression of sampling things gives them some additional life. That being said, analog sound sources can be a vital component of putting together killer instruments in samplers. This synth is a very rare secret weapon within my arsenal. This is an Oakley Sound TB3031. In fact, this is the prototype, serial number 001 signed by Tony Allgood, the man who designed it and built this specific unit. I’ve owned this one for about 15 years and still use it as a source for samples. It was designed to emulate the Roland TB-303, and while it can definitely do a commendable imitation of an acid synth, it deviates in a number of ways that make it an interesting instrument on its own merit.
It features the Saw and Square waveforms in its main oscillator, to match the TB, but also adds a sub-oscillator with saw and triangle waveforms. It has the five of the six modulators as found on the TB – Tune, Cutoff, Resonance, Envelope, Accent, but the Decay control is spread across three controls – VCF Decay, Accent Decay, and VCA Decay, which lets you adjust the sound in ways that aren’t available on the TB. It also has a built-in overdrive circuit; meaning you can get dirty without carrying around a pedal or other effects unit. It has a MIDI to CV board built in rather than a sequencer, which is another major deviation from the TB, and also highlights how much of what makes a TB a TB is the nuances of its sequencer.
For example, a gate on in a TB step does not last for the entire step if it’s not set to slide. That helps create that kind of staccato punch when the decay knob is turned down. Additionally, the TB3031 uses glide rather than slide, meaning that the bending of a note into the next note is set on the note that follows the bend rather than the note that precedes it (as on the TB). The TB3031 also has a control for glide duration. The TB3031 achieves this with velocity ranges, 0-31 is gate on, 32-63 is gate on / accent on, 64 – 95 is gate on / glide on, 96-127 is gate on / accent on / glide on. It makes for a really interesting instrument to play with a keyboard controller and for some interesting acid bass lines that you can’t achieve with the stock TB-303 sequencer. As a synth, it has a sound that’s a bit more rubbery than TB-303 and doesn’t have quite the same bite, but can produce driving bass lines and smooth leads.
Rob Papen SubBoomBass
There are a number of Rob Papen plugins that I get a lot of use out of, but I’ll focus on SubBoomBass here. SubBoomBass is intended as sub bass synth and it’s loaded with Drum and Bass and Dubstep presets and stuff, but I’ve found a place for it in my production due to its tendency do some really interesting and subtle self-oscillation that adds some interesting movement to what would otherwise be static loops of notes.
A little bit of bass and sub can go a long way, so you have to be mindful when working with SubBoomBass, but you can get some really interesting results by using it for lead type basses or the main driving bass in a track. And you might those subtle shifts in tone as the patterns loop that prevent the sounds from fatiguing your ear or growing boring.
Put time into getting the right sound rig together and get to know it
There are a few areas of the studio where you can cut corners, but your sound chain from your audio interface and its DAC and your reference monitors isn’t one. You don’t need to the highest high-end to produce quality music and audio, but you need equipment that will perform reliably and predictably and that will give you a sound that gives you a good idea of how it will translate to other systems.
It makes production a lot less of a hassle and will provide best results if you’re working within a known state and can trust what you’re hearing. Take your mixes around to other people’s studios and listen to them in different environments to determine where your biases might be… but also keep in mind that other people’s studios may not be flat and will have their own biases as well.
Turn off your display
This is a trap I think people fall into a fair bit. Humans are visual creatures and visual references are less temporal than audio. Music is a sequence of vibrations that tell a story over time and each slide of a moment goes by and is replaced by a new a moment instantaneously. Because of this, all sequencers have some visual representation to let you know what’s happening in a particularly moment, what has played, and what is coming, and how it all fits together. These days, a majority of producers involve computers in their studios and production.
When you’re watching a DAW, you get visual cues to what is happening that someone who is just listening to the music isn’t getting. Because music itself is non-visual, it’s important to remember to listen to what you’re making without looking at it… you can do this during playback or even while you’re playing notes or modulating controls. You need to experience what you’re making as a purely auditory experience while you’re making it. So, close your eyes or turn off your display or something… but check out from time to time from looking at your music in whatever format you use to make it.