This is the second in our "Meet The Producer" Series - this time we have a chat to Local Sydney producer Matt Singmin. We asked Matt a series of questions about his studio setup, workflow and collaborations. Matt also gives us some insight into working with his SSL Sigma Summing mixer and UAD Plugins which he uses through a couple of UA Apollo 16 thunderbolt interfaces.
How did you get into music production/audio engineering, did you study or teach yourself?
I started exploring production about 10 years ago - it was very hard to work out even the very basics of using a DAW at that time... Online tutorials didn't exist... Short courses didn't exist... All you really had was the DAW manuals that were pretty poorly written. Luckily I stumbled across Anthony Garvinand Adam Maggs who were setting up Liveschool at that time - they really helped me make sense of Ableton and the basics of music production in general. From there I did the SAE Electronic Music Production course (6 months, 2 nights a week), which again helped somewhat, but it felt a bit like an extended Ableton short course, and I still felt I was a long way from understanding how to turn what I was writing into tracks that were engineered to a professional quality akin to commercially released tracks.
The breakthrough for me in terms of mix engineering was discovering Puremix.net and Pensado's Place. Because by that point I understood what the knobs on a compressor did but I didn't understand how to use the device to solve a specific issue (e.g. a vocal with variations in volume levels, or drums that weren't punchy enough). Puremix.net and Pensado's Place feature world class mixing engineers (Fab Dupont, Dave Pensado) who give you the opportunity to effectively look over their shoulder as they work on mixing tracks - it really was eye opening to see how they think about approaching different elements of mix (e.g. vocals, drums, keys etc) and how they think about tools like compression and eq. It's kind of like being given the opportunity to get the perspective of an assistant in a studio and that was really invaluable. The rest has come from trial and error, working on tracks, testing them on different sound systems (e.g. car stereo vs apple earbuds vs PA system) and gradually working out over time how something needs to sound on your monitors to sound good on all other playback systems.
What is the kind of music you typically like to produce?
In terms of compositions, the main tracks that I've released so far would be classed as ambient (Phlebas, Datta, Oed und leer das Meer). These tracks were specifically written to meditate to, and so are all about a sonic experience that creates a sense of calm, slows your heart rate and breathing, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. In terms of the remixes I've worked on, I'm approaching them more as a producer, where it's almost as the genre is selected by the song - for instance with 'The First Ray' a trip-hop / neo-soul vibe felt right; with 'The Jewel' it was more of mainstream pop / world vibe. But I have also have a lot of unreleased tracks which are higher in bpm as well. The producers I admire often span a number of genres in their work - artists like Aphex Twin, Four Tet, George Fitzgerald, Richie Hawtin, Massive Attack. I guess overall the term "electronica" would probably capture it best.
I see you’ve recently collaborated with Edo Kahn from Gelbison on the track “The Jewel” by Edo’s late wife Vaani. This must have been quite emotional. Can you tell us the story behind the song and collaboration?
In January 2015 I was working with Edo's wife Jo (aka VAANI) to produce and release her debut single 'The First Ray'. The original mix of this track was very much a Norah Jones / Nashville style of production with live drums, piano, guitar etc - which was great, but I could see a way to interpret the song with a mix that had more of an electronic vibe in the style of Portishead / Nicolas Jaar / James Blake. So we released that together and were planning to work on more, but a few months later she was diagnosed with cancer, and within literally 2-3 months she'd passed away. It was quite a shock to everyone. She was living super healthy and it really came out of nowhere.
After the funeral, Edo left for India to take some time out to process - before he headed off, he left me with the stems for a few of her unfinished tracks. When I heard the rough mix of "The Jewel" I knew instantly that it was a magic song and that I could find a way to bring it to life in my own way. The original mix was quite densely packed with instrumentation and Indian / ethnic style drums, which concealed somewhat her vocal performance. When I stripped everything back and allowed the vocal to come through it was quite emotional because it like she was right there in the studio again.
I see you arranged, mixed and produced the track. Was this done entirely in your studio?
Yes - the majority of the work was done in my studio . The only stems that I retained from the original mix were the vocals and some of the harp sounds. But otherwise all the other instrumentation came from sample based instruments in the box. The strings are Native Instruments (Session Strings Pro). The drum samples are from one of the free Ableton Live Packs (Breakbeats by Kutmasta Kurt) with some additional 808 kick to add bottom end. The piano is actually the Grand Piano that comes with Ableton - I went through all the Native Instruments pianos to see if I could get them to sound better but for some reason none of them quite worked and the Ableton Grand Piano just sat better in the mix.
The only part that was done outside the studio was the mastering, which I did in MS1 at Studios 301 with Ben Feggans. The mastering rooms at 301 are very unforgiving - which is great because if there's an issue in the mix you hear it instantly. Several times I've had to abandon the mastering process and go back to the mix to fix things before starting the mastering again. Ben always does an amazing job, but in particular this session working on 'The Jewel' he really took it from being a mix that sounded great as it was, to a mix that sounds like how world class records sound - polished, with a sense of depth and all elements under control - everything in its right place.
The vocal recording sounded great – what was your vocal chain to get that silky sound, and would you say is your top tip for getting your ideal vocal sound?
I'm not sure what the recording chain was because the vocal just came to me as a stem, but the processing chain was:
- UAD Neve 1073 - just the default setting - because everything sounds slightly better running through it
- Fab Filter Pro DS - the best software de-esser I've found so far
Then compression with:
- In parallel: UAD 1176 AE + UAD LA2A Grey
- Fab Filter Pro C
- Greg Wells Voice Centric
- each compressor was only doing a little bit gain reduction, which meant that you don't get any unnatural lurches in gain reduction - together they add up to creating a smooth overall sound.
Then EQ with:
- Pro Q2
- bx digital v3
- Clariphonic DSP Mk II
- all these EQs are great, but each does some thing better than the others - the Pro Q2 is fantastic visually with full screen mode and the frequency analyzer, but the bx is better for isolating problem frequencies - and the clariphonic is amazing for adding hi-fi sound top end.
Reverb was a mixture of:
- Bricasti hardware - one of the Room settings
- UAD EMT 140 Plate
- Lexicon 224 Vocal Plate
Room acoustics have really taken off recently, with home studio operators giving it some serious consideration. How much do you think room treatment can affect your mixes and what kind of treatment do you have installed if any?
Room acoustics are super important. If you can't hear what you're doing, then it's impossible to mix properly. As I discovered early on, I'd get a mix sounding good in my room and then discover to my horror that it sounded awful anywhere else. I invested in some of the Primacoustic panels (London 12) which definitely helped with removing early reflections and general ringing, and in general made the room sound more dead, so that what I was hearing was more what was just coming out the speakers as opposed to the pure sound + the reflections of that sound bouncing off the walls in the room.
I know a studio is dependent on a variety of different bits of gear, but what is your go-to piece? Something you really can’t live without?
The one thing I would struggle to live without is the SSL Sigma summing mixer. It adds a depth and separation to a mix that's much harder to achieve in the box. The Waves NLS plugin is actually pretty good at creating a bit of that summing mixer vibe, but it's not as good as an actual summing box. I got into summing by experimenting with sending some elements of a mix out through an Allen & Heath DJ Mixer (Xone 22) and listening to the difference when it was printed back - I was amazed by richness in the sound and the improvement in the separation and depth and so started looking into summing boxers from there.
I tried out the Neve 8816 - it sounded great but it almost had too much of it's own sound - like it would be really good if you wanted to create a 1970s Laurel Canyon kind of vibe, but if you wanted pristine electronica you might be losing some of the edginess and grittiness of things - it almost makes everything sound too nice. When I tried out the SSL Sigma, it was like love at first sight - at that point I'd spent a bit of time experimenting in Studio 2 at Studios 301 (the room with the SSL 9000K console) and when I first heard a mix running through the Sigma I couldn't believe that with this 2 unit rack box I was hearing the same kind of sound that I'd heard in Studio 2. It really is a magical device - it's always a great moment when you get a track to the point where it's arranged and ready to be run out of the box, and then you hear the increased depth - just wonderful - in particular for the reverb and delay channels, it really separates them out and creates a sense of space. Couldn't recommend it more.
What’s your take on music streaming sites like Spotify? Do you think they are good or bad for the industry?
Whether streaming sites are good or bad for the industry, I think they are the unavoidable reality of how the majority of music is going to be consumed for the near to medium term. Lots of musicians like to have a go at Spotify, but if Spotify didn't exist, consumers would just be downloading music for free - and surely being paid something rather than nothing is better. I think it's just another phase of the evolution of how music is consumed that needs to be accepted - there's no point in trying to swim against the tide of technology.
Finally, A Sound Life seems like an interesting organization and one I believe you are part of or at least involved with. Can you tell us a bit about what A Sound Life offers?
A Sound Life was set up by Edo and Jo (aka VAANI) to help brings music and yoga to those in need (e.g. people in hospitals, aged-care, mental health and disability facilities). If you work in music or yoga it's quite easy to get caught up in the flashier side to those roles - volunteering for A Sound Life can really put all of that into perspective. It's amazing how it doesn't take much to make a big difference to someone's day if their circumstances are less fortunate than most. They've really managed to create a wonderful community of musicians and yoga teachers, and with Edo's network through his past life in Gelbison, a number of fairly high profile muso's have come on board - for instance, Ben Lee has been volunteering for them for some time now. If you're interested to get involved, check out: www.asoundlife.org
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