For quite some time, I’ve been eager to hear from Adventure Club about how they make their music, and after much behind-the-scenes work, I’m finally been able to present you with the result of my Q&A with one-half of the rising Canadian electronic duo, Christian Srigley. I asked him about everything from how they made certain sounds on their famed remix of “Lullabies” to what kind of tools they use in the studio.
PART A – PRODUCTION TECHNIQUES
How did you find that using vocal samples to create melodies was the ideal way for you to start your productions off? Do you feel that you need a professionally mixed pop vocal for that, or have you been able to use sample pack stuff too?
We didn’t start using those vocal sample techniques until much later. Our first productions were bootlegs that didn’t have an officially separated acapella. We just used the song as it was. We also like to make an instrumental piece before thinking of how to make a vocal sample melody now. We rarely will use sample packs for vocal samples.
As far as general vox-chopping goes, are there any pitfalls to this technique that you’ve learned to avoid, which may lead to writers block, or overcomplicating a track?
At first I think we used to throw all samples at the track and hope we’d hear something that sounded cool. Now I think we have a bit more of a method to it. We’ll write the melody out first, place the samples by pitch and then add or remove based on the flow.
Many dubstep artists are known for trying to make their tracks as loud as possible, through over compression, and sometimes poor mixing choices. Do guys have to battle excess loudness when mixing your tracks? Is there any way you go about making sure that you preserve your dynamics, or are you all for over compressing stuff?
The loudness wars are very real. If you play a song that’s substantially quieter in perceived volume compared to another, it’s probably not going to have as much effect. It’s easy to just turn the volume up in your car when your favorite song comes on, but at live performances for example, your music isn’t really given that option. So it matters, but only to a certain extent.
There are many more things to consider, like the mood of the track, how subtle you are trying to be, or how much dynamic range you feel is necessary. But I think at least to some degree, these things get compromised because of the need for loudness. We just try to balance it as well as possible, without sacrificing too much of the song’s character.
A lot of your tracks tend to feature lush reverb spaces, like in the Flight Facilities remix, which adds a lot to the euphoria element. What have been your main ways for creating that? Is it just as simple as busing stuff a hall reverb, or do you do more than that?
We definitely have a few secret, signature ways of adding roominess to a track. Delay/panning works very well coupled with reverbs, and having longer releases on your synths and shortening the notes opens up a lot of space, which helps because part of roominess has to be the lack of sound as well.
The piano sounds that you use in the “Lullabies“ remix has become the cause of much talk among producers, with many insisting that it’s a real piano. Can you tell us a bit about you went about accomplishing such a big piano sound?
The piano is synthesized. It took a long time to get it sounding where we wanted it so I can’t recall every detail, but I think we ended up layering at least three different pianos with pretty small velocities and decent amounts of verb.
What have been some of your most effective ways for achieving good stereo width for your music? Is that something you address on each individual track, on group tracks or on the master? Or do you leave it to the mastering engineer, perhaps?
We’ve never relied heavily on mastering (not that we shouldn’t be). But I’ve actually always found that stereo is one of the areas that we need to improve with our mixes, so any tips would be appreciated!
PART B – SOFTWARE/HADWARE
You’ve often spoken about how Cakewalk Sonar has played a part in characterizing your music. Can you tell me a bit about this DAW, and what it is about it that makes it the right tool for you guys?
Honestly, it’s almost arbitrary. Every big name DAW out there gives the user the option to produce amazing music. Cakewalk was just a program that we’d been using for a very long time to lay down track ideas with all of our various bands/ projects.
Do you find yourselves using more of Sonar’s internal plugins and synths, or do you turn to external Vsts to get the sounds you want?
There aren’t many VSTs native to Cakewalk that we use. I’d say 95%+ of our work is done with samples, external vsts, or recordings. One standout, though, is Z3ta, which is a pretty amazing synth that’s native to cakewalk.
What kind of studio setup do you guys have in terms of speakers, headphones, interfaces and things like that? As traveling DJs, how much does your home setup differ from your on-the-road setup?
Sennheiser headphones and Adam monitors. I used to have an RME fireface 800 but downgraded to the Babyface. At home, work is done on my self-built PC and Cakewalk. Stuff on the road is done on Mac in Ableton.
Have any hardware synths made their way into any of your tracks thus far? If not, do you think that will change? If so, did they present any challenges, mix-wise?
No hard synths. We’ve thought about it though, but it’s just a hard changeover to justify for us. There’s obviously value to using hard synths, but never having used them we don’t feel like we’re running into any obstacles without them.