Wednesday, August 5

10 Questions with Jeremy Janzen

In Conjunction with the Synthetic Kits review we have the first ever Resonant Filter interview!

Jeremy Janzen is the founder and lead sound designer for Nucleus Soundlab. NSL specializes in Reason Refills, while also making sound sets for the Wuzikstation and many other platforms. He's based in Canada. Damn that reminds me, I forgot to ask him about curling. Oh well, guess I'll never understand it. Anyhow here's the first installment of 10 questions:

I know you first started as a bass player, what prompted you to start messing around with synthesizers and sampling?

Back in the late-90s I played bass in a local blues/rock band. We started experimenting with an early version of Cakewalk Pro Audio to create 'mockups' of our original songs. Of course, using built-in Soundblaster audio they sounded awful.  I learned quite a bit about MIDI, Soundfonts and sequencing this way though.  I decided I'd try to sample my bass, in order to have a better sound in our mockups.

I sampled the bass, and put it up on Hammersound to share.  Soon I was getting emails from all over the world, saying it was the best sampled bass they'd ever used etc. etc.  I was shocked.  I had really no clue what I was doing, how to record and loop audio, process it or anything else.  Later, when I did have this knowledge I reprocessed and looped these samples and they are actually available in the ReCombination Refill as "Ibanez Bass"!

After that experience I took a break from music for a few years.  In 2003 I began investigating VSTi instruments and writing songs using them.  Shortly after I discovered Reason.  I loved its modular nature and flexibility.

Within a year or so I was distributing free NN-XT samplesets.  It wasn't a huge step from there to start doing this commercially - I'm obsessive about computers, audio and music so its very natural for me.

Your products seem to run the gamut of sound,  what music inspires you?

I listen to a whole range of music that probably might seem odd based on the electronic sound design I do.  I'm a huge metal fan - Tool, Megadeth and Pantera are what is frequently playing on my iPod.  Red Hot Chili Peppers, Santana, Pink Floyd, Jean Michel Jarre are also big influences.  Besides this type of mainstream music, I'm really passionate about video/computer-game music.  As often as I listen to metal, just as often I'm listening to the soundtracks from Deus Ex, Metroid Prime, Castlevania, Xenogears or Soukagi (bonus points if you've heard of that one!)

How do you decide what kind of refill you are going to work on?

It's different every time.  Mostly I am working with Reason or another instrument and am inspired by something I create - by accident perhaps!  And then I decide to keep exploring that and suddenly it seems possible that an entire Refill could be created from this.  That was the case of Synthetic Kits - it was inspired by a few very complex patches I created for our Pantheon Refill, and I really wanted to continue something in that direction.

Any hints on what's in the works for NSL?

Well, as you know I'm now working every month on our Reason Wizardry tutorials.  Besides that, one of our older Refills has a major update very close to release.  The best part about the update is it will be completely free for existing owners, as usual.  As for truly new stuff, I am working on a variety of projects but nothing I can talk about just yet :)

You have a few Producer's Conferences coming up in Canada in
which you'll be  showcasing Synthetic Kits, any cool tricks you want to share with us that you'll be talking about there?

I'm going to be talking about the philosophy behind Synthetic Kits, as well as some techniques used for both sequencing and sound design in the Refill.  I'll probably leave it at that for now, but I think much of what I discuss will probably make it into a future Wizardry issue!

While we're speaking of Synthetic Kits, was it inspired by your Ambient Drums refill?  I ask because although they are drastically different they seem to share some of the same architecture and ideas?

No, I wouldn't say one inspired the other.  Ambient Drums was created quite some time ago.  Its a completely sample-based Refill and the goal was to create something akin to 'StormDrum-lite'.  Something with atmospheric drum sounds suitable for film-scoring, etc.  With Synthetic Kits I wanted to synthesize all sounds obviously, but also create sounds suitable for a wide range of electronic genres.

But in a way all older Refills did inspire newer ones.  With feedback from Ambient Drums, I learned that users really liked the patches with multiple patterns, so I thought - why shouldn't every patch have multiple patterns inside?  So with Synthetic Kits you see the logical progression of that idea - some patches having at least 4 patterns and up to 12+ in a single patch!

What recommendations would you give to someone looking at getting into Sound Design and how did you go about first starting in the business?

I would really strongly suggest to keep your economic expectations low if you want to start a sound design career.  It is possible for the business to be quite lucrative, but the initial stages are extremely low on monetary returns.  For the first 18 months with Nucleus SoundLab I was just earning a very small amount of extra income with it.  Its only after that when things really have started to grow to the point where this is my full-time career.

The most important point is that you need to develop a reputation. You can't do that overnight.  Customers just *will not* buy from unknown sources.  So be prepared to work your first series of projects for low/no pay, just to start building up that credibility with your audience.

For me, I did it the hardest possible way!  Pretty much I did everything myself.  I started by creating samplesets for the
Wusikstation VSTi - and I did all the demo songs, the website, the art, the samples, the patches, the marketing.   Whew...  So if you have energy and talent for all of that, go for it.  Otherwise you might want to team with some other like-minded individuals or companies to help get your first ideas off the ground.  Its probably much less draining than the way I did it!

Any thoughts on the age old analog vs digital debate?

Though I'm no engineer, I have a background in science.  I feel that many of audio's most contentious debates are psychological, with very small differences probably not noticeable.  The trouble is that musicians are inherently passionate about what they hear and thus they are easily ...  misled into how to get the best sound.

Digital audio is awesome.  Maybe your productions could be somewhat improved with expensive analog outboard gear.  But if you concentrate on what you *don't* have, you'll never make music.  You can make incredible music with inexpensive software today, and I think we should more often look at the possibilities of that, rather than the small limitations.

I really enjoyed the first video for Reason Wizardry and love that it's going to be a monthly series I can look forward to, how has the response been and why did you decide to put it out as a subscription service instead of as a DVD or single product?

Reason Wizardry has had a very solid response so far.  That said, this is a subscription-service with expansive long-term goals and there is still much work to do in order to meet them.

I decided to do a subscription-based service for a few reasons. First, it allows me to have a moderate investment of time every month, as opposed to many months of heavy time investment to create a single product.  This means I can continue on with my other work at the same time as Wizardry.  Second, it gives users time to consider each issue before moving on.  I've used tutorial DVDs before and there is a tendency to skip ahead, before you truly understand earlier concepts. As a subscription you have more time to practice and understand concepts before the next are presented.  And finally, subscription fits the material best.  Wizardry isn't a beginners tutorial.  There is no 'filler'.  If I filled an entire DVD with Wizardry material, most users would be so incredibly intimidated by the depth of it that it would be overwhelming.

Of course from a business standpoint, it certainly doesn't hurt that it will give me a modest monthly income.  In these difficult economic times any amount of 'guaranteed' monthly income is a very good thing for small business owners.

I know your products thru Propellerhead's Reason, but you also design sounds for NI Massive, Stylus RMX, Wuzikstation, Rob Papen Blue, Sylenth 1.... how do you choose a platform for a product and what are your go to synthesizers when creating music yourself?

Whatever product I create sounds for has to inspire me.  While Reason is without a doubt my favorite platform for digital audio, I sometimes 'burn-out' a bit on designing sounds for it.  So its nice to take a break and work with something else.

Personally I do like to mix VSTi instruments in with Reason using Rewire.  My most used plugin is surely NI Massive.  Its extremely powerful and a great complement to Thor.  The best part about it is the flexible modulation - you can drag any modulator (envelope, velocity, lfo etc) to just about any destination.  Its quick and easy and you get good visual feedback on each knob showing the modulation happening.  The patchsets I've done for Massive are also some of the best sounds I've ever done, and most proud of.  So if you have Massive I really encourage you to check DataBank 1/2 out.

My second most-used plugin is Stylus RMX.  As a non-drummer, RMX is awesome for creating interesting beats quickly.  I'm desperately hoping the Props steal a few RMX ideas for their inevitable Dr. Rex v2!

I'd like to thank Jeremy for agreeing to take part in this interview and answering my inane questions thoughtfully. If you'd like to take part or recommend someone for 10 questions please leave me a message.

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