So, tell us about the drums!

“What’s to tell? If you haven’t woken up in the middle of the biggest tropical thunderstorm you’ve ever heard, looked outside to see clear skies and bright sunshine and slowly realised that the ‘boom boom’ is NOT thunder, but a more organised rhythmic, human phenomenon; if you’ve not witnessed the sound of 40 African drummers laying down the baddest, primal, IMMENSE grooves you’ve ever heard, then you’ve never heard drumming.”

“I do strongly believe that growing up in West Africa gave me a head start with understanding and feeling rhythm, but perhaps not entirely coincidental, I’ve been lucky enough to tour with two of Africa’s most amazing performers – Francis Fuster (master percussionist with Fela Kuti and on Paul Simon’s Graceland tour) and Hugh Masekela. Working with Universal France on remixes for the Salif Keita album ‘Moffou’ was a real privilege and an amazing learning experience and working with Warner signed Different Tribes around the same time was also a real education, as band leader Dodo Nkishi (now drummer with Mouse On Mars and singer with Stewart Copland) has the most amazing ears and attention to detail.”

“How this translates to every day life is that as a musical director I often have to work with grooves to make them sit and that can mean asking the drummer to pull the snare or high hat back a nanosecond, or analysing how the rhythm section is sitting together. Or in the studio making a sequencer sound more ‘human’ – I very rarely leave drum parts on the grid, but will mess with different parts, dragging them back or forward to create a better groove, or play with the velocities. So it feels like the culmination of these various influences has allowed me to get a real edge with grooves and gain a deeper understanding of the most important elements that contribute to them.”

Why not listen and decide for yourself?



How important is being a multi-instrumentalist to your process?

How important is being a multi-instrumentalist to your process?

Let me start by saying that there is NOTHING like being in a room full of the right people who excel on their instruments and who bounce ideas off each other. This is how I learned my trade, by playing in studios and on stages with the world’s best. Unfortunately, budgets very rarely allow for such a luxury these days, which is why more and more people are coming to me!

I find it completely indispensable. Being able to come from many different perspectives gives me a huge advantage in terms of putting arrangements together. Creatively it’s a awesome too, because different personalities come out depending on what instrument I’m playing (quick, get the straight-jacket!). Lastly, it gives me a vast palette of styles to draw from, which is being explored more deeply the further I get into music for TV and films. Making music for pictures is one of the rare opportunities a composer might get to move seamlessly between the styles of Deadmau5 and Arvo Pärt, for example, if he or she has the necessary chops!

And there’s a more practical side. There comes a stage in most sessions where brain-drain can set in and even the best instrumentalists can get physical or mental fatigue (or both) on any one instrument. When this happens, the ideas become weak. This can mean death to a writing or recording session where maximum creativity and peak performance are needed. Switching instruments at times like these can be a life-saver and keep me excited about the music. Of course it’s also essential to know when to take a break!

For orchestral writing when programmed parts are a dominant feature, I find that playing in some live violin gives a certain authenticity to the parts. Sometimes ONLY real strings can give the performance I’m hearing – because however good a sample library is, there are still thousands of nuances that can only be expressed by a real human being playing the violin!

read the full article here

My Top 5 Effects Plug Ins

It’s a bit of a minefield out there. So many companies are in our faces singing the praises of their latest software, so how can we work out what’s good & what isn’t? I find You Tube quite helpful at times when researching plug ins – especially the posts with HD links, as it helps enormously to hear sound at the best quality for evaluation, but also I look out for blogs from people who seem to know what they’re talking about. Of these, Olav Basoski and Dave Pensado come most immediately to mind. I also find some good helpful thoughts on Gearslutz, but often find it necessary to wade through a ton of crap, inflated egos and bitching to get to the good stuff.

FWIW I thought it might be worth putting my 5 favourite plug ins up here to help anyone browsing this site. Of course I have my preferences – I’ll admit right here that I’m a big fan of the UAD plugs, whereas I’ve found the Waves are a bit hit and miss, PLUS I find their pricing and updating policy more than a bit on the greedy side, so I’ve only bought a handful that I’ve found indispensable. This is just my personal view, I don’t expect you to have the same experience as I do and of course, I expect you to follow your own instincts as to your plug in choices.

1) Equalisation – UAD Neve 1081 or 1073. It’s almost inevitable that one of the first things I’ll put on a channel is one of these. 1073 is more for guitars or keyboard sounds that I’d like to cut through or be brash in some kind of way. the 1081 tends to be used for sounds that need more finesse or ‘carving out’.

2) Classic Compressors –  UAD 1176 and Teletronix collections. UAD have recently updated these compressors and what an improvement they are! imho they’re now undisputedly the best models of these particular compressors available. I use the 1176 rev E on most instruments and drum channels, whereas I’ve found the rev AE is a little more subtle for things like vocals. The 1176 collection compares favourably with the real life 1176 that sits in my rack and is WAY more convenient to use, as it saves patching it in etc. As for the Teletronix, I’ve recently used the new LA2A collection to great effect on brass, strings and backing vocals.

3) Tape Emulation – both the UAD Studer A800 and UAD Ampex ATR-102 have given great results both on individual channels and on my stereo buss. More usually the ATR 102 goes over the stereo buss, as I find it gives a bit more of a ‘sheen’ than the Studer, but it depends on the material too. For more retro sounding stuff I’ve used the Studer, as the presets in many cases cut some of the top end in a very pleasing retro way. I’d recommend experimenting with the overdrive features of both emulations.

4) Delays – I’ve had very pleasing results in studios who run the Soundtoys EchoBoy, but in my own studio I use either the UAD Roland Space Echo (I also own a real life Space Echo 501, which sometimes gets used in my signal path when recording to HD) or one of the generic delays from whatever DAW I’m working in, with perhaps some tape saturation across the delay channel. For short delays I love the ATR-102 and sometimes feed these into an ambient space to give more character to the delay.

5) Reverbs – these are a bit more hard to pin down, as there are so many good ones out there, but my main ‘go to’ verbs are the UAD EMT 250, UAD EMT 140 plus whatever generic impulse response plug in comes to hand. I have a massive collection of IRs, some of which are custom-made and there’s always one or 2 of these present in my mixes. Some studios have the Lexicon collection, which I’ve also found to be excellent. Of the impulse response sets, I recommend the Lexicon, Bricasti and TC5000 sets (a google search will offer a plethora of sites offering these) and there are some random oddball IRs that can come handy too!

If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ve found some valuable and/or interesting info here. Don’t forget to hit me up in the comments box with your thoughts and experiences, as I’m always fascinated to hear the theories and techniques of other tech heads out there!


Why is a training in orchestration even relevant in pop/electronic music and how would I benefit from it on my non-orchestral project?

we asked Gordon Hulbert about some of the qualities he brings to his recordings and how they can practically benefit clients.

“I think people regard orchestral training as being only useful for ‘classical’ or ‘serious’ music, when actually the mindset it creates can benefit absolutely everything on a project, be it tracking, mic technique, balance, perspective, mixing and dealing with any kind of complexity, be it sonic density or musical content.”

“I’ve worked with many producers and top session guys who are unbeatable when tracking parts, but who are totally unable to pull back and focus on the piece as a whole at later stages in the project. The discipline I learned from conducting and orchestration allows me to focus on the complete picture above and beyond its constituent parts, which means starting either from scratch or a remix or whatever, very often with the finished product in my head. After clear discussion with the client and understanding what they want, every move from then on is simply another step taken towards that agreed goal, which greatly enhances the flow of creativity.”

“When you’re on a deadline or have limited time in the studio, it’s crucial to focus on the essentials without being distracted. It’s easy to obsess about relatively small details that the end listener will never notice and understanding the dynamics of complex musical arrangements and how they fit together helps me to prioritise and focus on the important stuff. Hearing a project as a finished product from bar 1 and making every decision a move toward that is not only a time saving device, it makes for much more homogenous sounding recordings and mixes. This is how the best and most productive mix engineers also operate”

“On a more practical level, projects requiring brass or string sections benefit enormously from having an arranger and orchestral player who can give clients an authentic sound based on advanced knowledge of the voicings and registers of the instruments used, rather than the ‘toy’ sound that often occurs when keyboard players directly transcribe their own parts for orchestra. I can always hear when this has happened and you’d be surprised at some of the acts who have done this!”