XLN Audio remains the most interviewed company on Speakhertz, and for good reason. Their flagship product, Addictive Drums, is a huge favorite of mine, and they continue to expand upon it's appeal with the release of packs like United Pop. I recently sat down for a face-t0-face chat with their Project Director and Content Manager, Andreas Mood, to cover more ground about the company and it's recent releases.
Hi Andreas. Always a pleasure to be chatting with people from XLN. What's your story on getting started in the music and audio world.
I started playing drums at a young age, and during high school I joined punk bands and got into the hardcore scene in the mid-90s, which resulted in my band touring in Sweden a lot. We didn't make a lot of money of it, haha. I was 16, and our bass player was 14. Everyone had to tell their parents that they were sleeping over at another band member’s house when we hired a driver and went from our hometown Karlstad to Sunlight Studios in Stockholm to record an EP
I signed to Warner Chappell as a songwriter after a record deal with my band didn't work out. We'd presented them with material that we recorded with a producer called Anders Oredsson, and got into talks about signing a deal. However, we started having issues in the band. Our bass player dropped out and we took that pretty hard, so things came to a halt. But since I'd played a big part in writing all of our songs, Warner's publishing arm signed me, and gave me a studio space at Kungsholmen. I quit my day-job and tried my hands at mixing and producing for a year.
Around 2005, we got a new CEO at Warner, who came in from Sony. He was working with the Cheiron team (Max Martin and Denniz Pop), and wanted to do the same thing at Warner. He chose me to be a part of the new team he put together. Unfortunately, I ended up walking away from it later down the line, due to problems with our team leader, and entire team dissolved after 6 months, though some of the same members are now a part of Wolf Cousins, which is Shellback's and Max Martin's current production team.
I see. Very interesting. Tell me about your work at XLN.
When I first started working at XLN, my primary job was to be the "Content Manager", which involved managing our creative team and projects, as well as creating content. In recent years, I've taken on another title, which is "Project Director", so I now I work as both. I'm in charge of bigger projects, like when we did Addictive Drums 2. I've hired a producer to handle the production side of our expansion products, which takes some of the load off me, but I still have executive say in what ADpaks we do, when they come out, etc. I don't just handle that myself though. I involve my team in those discussions, and we talk about what packs we want to do next.
I noticed in the release videos for the Fairfax and United Pop packs that you went to studios in the USA to make those. What's involved in such a process? Do make use of the studio's personnel, or do you bring in your own? Is it hard to get into these places?
If we're doing a new pack, we aim to work with the studio's best people, in addition to ours. We let them do what they're good at, especially if the studio is known for a specific sound. Most of those people have been working there for many years, and know what their equipment sounds like. In the case of Fairfax Recordings, (formerly Sound City) we were very fortunate to be able to get in there, since it's no longer a public studio. It's now used as a Fairfax label studio. The owner, Kevin Augunas, is signed to a management company in New York, which is the same as Dr Luke is signed to. So there were a lot of legal issues that we had to work through to get in there. But that's a part of my job, to solve things like that.
Was it similarly difficult to get into United Recording to create United Pop?
No, that was simpler, because we didn't have to go through management. United Recording are owned by Sunset Gower, a TV and movie company owned by Hudson Capital. They have a of lot studios throughout Hollywood. They bought United from Allen Sides, when it was called Ocean Way Recording. When Hudsen bought it, they changed it back to "United", which is what it was called when Bill Putnam Sr owned it. The rooms are unchanged since 1958, which is cool, and they sound amazing too.
So you guys went there because of the sound of the rooms?
We used the exact same red Gretsch kit that Dave Grohl played on when they recorded the RDGLDGRN album in 2012, and the exact same Tama Bell brass snare which was used on the Nevermind album.
Are you particular about the recording consoles you use when make ADpaks, or are you happy to use what the studio provides?
We use whatever desks that the studio has, as we're after their sound anyway. We don't use much processing. Most of the engineers we work with don't use processing when recording anyway. They spend more time tuning kits, and placing mics properly. In some cases, we've had multiple room mics, and used a compressor on one of the mom mics, but that's the limits of our processing.
Have you ever recorded an ADpak to tape?
We've recorded to tape once, with the Indie pack, which was a while ago. It was hard. I chose to do it more as an experiment to see if it was possible. 2-inch tape has a noise level that's pretty high, which causes problems when playing ghost notes on snares. Those notes are so quiet and quick in the way that they're played, which brings the noise up to a ridiculous level. So I had to take precautions. We split the patch-bay into the 2 parts, and sent one signal to the tape machine and the other to Pro Tools. We ended up using the tape recording, which is something you can actually hear, as it's a bit noisier than the other packs.
The more I talk to engineers in vintage studios, the more I hear that using tape is rare. They only turn to it if it's a specific sound that's being asked for.
A popular discussion in the drum world is whether you can make a drum plugin sound like real drums. Addictive Drums is obviously impressive, but do you think it can achieve this feat?
Absolutely. I've actually tried that. When we record our packs, we always have a film crew with us. We shoot everything when when we soundcheck as well as recording it all in Pro Tools, so we can review it later to learn for our future endeavors. I've also programmed beats that our drummers played live, and A-B'd between the beats and the real drum recording. You can't hear the difference.
The way I see it, Addictive Drums 2 isn't just for making acoustically accurate drum sounds. You can use pitch envelopes, distortion and other processing to make it sound like a lot of different things.
We have a lot of people who use it for electronic and hip-hop stuff too. Nine inch Nails have used the Studio Kits on Addictive Drums on albums like "With Teeth" and "The Slip". On some tracks, you can even hear what presets were used. There's an Eminem album that has a lot of AD usage too, though I can't remember which one it was right now. Movie composers use AD as well. I met Harry Gregson-Williams in LA a few years ago. He should me his soundtrack work for the 2010 movie "Unstoppable", and it features an aggressive drum composition from Addictive Drums during the action scenes.
It's hard to keep track of everything that Addictive Drums gets used on. I hear it in so many places. Many people prefer to not talk about their use of it, and keep it as a secret, haha.
I see that you're now using the Online Installer which wasn't in AD1. Does that affect the way you guys deal with piracy at all?
No, we're using the same copy-protections system we've always used. We reached a point where we had to find a way to manage our growing number of products. When I came on board, we had only 8 products. Now we have 70+. Installing all of that on one computer is a hassle, as well as authorizing all of them. So the Online Installer was a solution for that. You can view all your products, download updates, patches and more.
We've had a cautious approach to dealing with piracy, because we know that people will always find a way to download and crack your software. We did a survey many years ago, and found out that many people who pirated AD eventually became paying customers. When they realized how much they liked it, and reached a point where they had to take the next step in their music careers, they preferred to buy it. Piracy isn't to be endorsed, but we understand how it converts into paying customers. We'd rather spend time and resources on making new, cool stuff than to overly combat that.
I understand. I'm going to touch on a few ADpaks that I like, and you ask you to tell me something interesting about the making of each of them. Here we go:
Blue Oyster: I wasn't a part of that. When AD1 came out, they recorded the "Studio" packs, which were recorded at Decibel Studios. After that, it took over a year before XLN released additional expansions. Since AD1 had 3 default kits, the company felt that an expansion also had to have 3 kits. There's a studio called 301 Studios, in Solna, were XLN recorded the Blue Oyster, Black Oyster and Retroplex, in addition to Jazz Brushes, Jazz Sticks and Funk. All 6 were recorded at the same time. The Blue Osyter, Black Oyster and Retroplex came out first as a "Retropak", and the others after that.
Black Velvet: I wasn't a part of that either, haha. But what I can say is that it was the first kit XLN ever recorded. It was meant to provide usable sounds for the prototype version of Addictive Drums 1. It was recorded at a studio called King Side, which was started by the crew from Polar Studios, which was ABBA’s studio in the 70’s and 80’s. It has a huge gym-sized room where XLN recorded the Black Velvet. However, something went wrong during the recording process, and they only ended up with the kick, snare and 4 toms, with just about enough samples for it to be usable. They didn't have hi-hats, cymbals or percussion. I received the prototype sounds when I arrived at XLN, and felt strongly that we needed to complete them. Prior to me arriving at XLN, they had recorded Zildjian cymbals for the AD1 kits, but got into a trademark issue with them, and couldn't use their image or names in our plugins. Because of that, they had to go in and re-rerecord with Sabian cymbals instead, which we used in the Studio packs. So when they brought me on, I had a meeting with Zildijan's Product Manager at MusikMesse. I'd only been on board for two weeks. He was really nice, and he helped me get clearance to use the names. Some years later we took the decision to release the Kingside recording along with the Zildjian cymbals as "Black Velvet".
Vintage Dry: That one was fun to record. The studio we worked at is called INGRID, and was built in 1969. I was formerly called KMH Studios. The team of people who work there now have done a great job of conserving it's 70s sound. The desk is an API Legacy, with a mix of 550a's and 550b's, and 512-like pre-amps. We were aiming for both the dry pop-rock sound heard on Neil Young records, as well as the disco sound from the 70s period. INGRID had great drums for that. We used an old '68 Silver sparkle Ludwig kit, and and a really thick 70s Sonar kick and snare. We felt like the tom matched both breakables, so just by changing the kick and snare, we went from a Neil Young sound to an ABBA sound.
I'd have to say that the engineer, Nille Perned, was the most interesting thing. He could hear things that were beyond normal. He spent a lot of time with the drummer to get everything perfect.
What's your best-selling pack at this point?
It's the Fairfax Vol 1. I love that pack myself, so it's not surprising.
Wrapping up, tell me a bit more about the newly released United Pop kit.
It's made in the same style as the Fairfax kit, but sounds a bit bigger and more lush. Wesley Sideman was the engineer, and he's the best guy I've worked with, ever. He's in another league of engineering.
(XLN Audio at United Recording, working on the United Pop pack)
I just remembered that I never asked anything about Addictive Keys. Sorry about that....
No worries. We have so many different types of users that use Addictive Drums, but Addictive Keys only seems to attract the high-end pros. Those customers email our support to say how much they love it. But we kind of knew from the beginning that AD Keys is a niche product, because you need to be able to play keys or program very well, as opposed to Addictive Drums, which comes with MIDIpacks.