Friday, October 2

10 Questions with Adam Fielding

Adam Fielding needs no introduction in the Reason community. His music and sound design is a shining example of what can be achieved with Propellerhead's software. From winning the 2008 Bassline Battle to his stellar patches for Nucleus Soundlab and recent track signing, we dig into it all in this edition of 10 Questions...

- First off, congratulations on getting signed! Tell me about the label and how you hooked up with them.

Thanks very much! I recently had a track signed to solarSwarm Recordings which itself is quite an unusual label with a really interesting progressive "social networking" twist to it. Given the nature of the label there's quite an active online presence and community; I guess someone over there liked my music and pointed it out to the powers that be, resulting in me getting an e-mail requesting a promotional selection of music. Given that I've shopped my music around to many labels in the past with nothing coming of it, I expected the same to be true in this case so didn't hold my breath as I sent off a promotional pack. Turns out they liked my music and snapped up one of the tunes I sent - so not only was it a nice surprise to hear from a reputable label completely out of the blue, but the fact that they actually signed one of my tunes came as a pretty big - albeit pleasant! - shock. I believe their intention is to release the song in question as a single with remixes in the (hopefully!) not-too distant future, so it's wonderful to have that kind of support. And, of course, the tune in question was written/produced entirely within Reason.

- Okay let's go back to the beginning now, what was your first instrument and how did you come to use Reason?

I suppose technically my first "instrument" was my old Atari STe, as up until that point I really didn't have any interest in music whatsoever! My sister is much more into musical performance than I am, and as a young chap I was more interested in computing and messing around with programming... in fact, the only reason I started writing music in the first place was to provide some sort of accompaniment to the terrible games I was making! After several years though I realised that I was enjoying the process of writing and learning about music a lot more than programming, so decided to commit myself to music tech and stuck with it. When I was about 15 I "borrowed" my dad's old electric guitar which, to this day, remains a mainstay of my musical setup... so I guess in terms of more organic instrumentation that was the first experience I had of playing a live instrument. I first came across Reason when someone (sadly, the identity of this person eludes me... terrible!) suggested I check out the demo. I was using free software up until that point, but was seriously getting into music and decided to give it a go. I was already impressed when I first started dabbling with the Subtractor which, as it turns out, was my first real experience with any form of subtractive synthesis. As soon as I pressed tab and saw the cables I geeked out and realised that I needed to buy this software. I saved my pennies and picked it up and haven't looked back since, and to this day I still believe that it was the best musical purchase I have ever made in my life.

- I know you won some great gear from the Props when your entry, "Mad Bad Uber Funk", was picked as the winner in the 2008 Bassline Battle, what other gear both hardware and software makes up you home studio?

It's a pretty straightforward setup - everything runs off my 3 year old 2ghz Turion x2-based laptop via a Focusrite Saffire Pro40 audio interface (courtesy of the aforementioned competition which, I must admit, I was incredibly surprised to win!). For my MIDI needs I have a CME UF60 keyboard/controller, and on the audio front I have the aforementioned guitar I pinched off my dad many years back and a SE2200a mic... the latter of which I am surprisingly fond of, having found that it works wonders with my vocal recordings despite its semi-budget heritage. On the software side, Reason (and now Record) forms the backbone of everything I write while I occasionally use Cubase to sequence orchestral sections using EWQLSO Gold. In this case, what I tend to do is write a song, create a temp instrument for any orchestral ideas which I'll then write in Cubase once everything else is in place. After that, I export the parts from Cubase and bring them back into Record/Recycle. I just find it far cleaner to work entirely within one environment. Generally though, Reason/Record are my only tools for writing music.

- Your music is so full of emotion, where do you get your inspiration from?

This is one of those things I should probably think about more often! That's a really interesting question. I think I've always had a very active imagination - when I was at school I loved writing short stories, so that was a perfect outlet for my creativitity and my more constructive side I think. In a sense, I think that sort of fed its way into my music in later years as pretty much everything I write is based around a single image or a certain chain of events which may be real or unreal. In a sense I guess it's a lot like writing music for a film that doesn't necessarily exist, which is reflected in the titles of a lot of the music I write. Of course, not everything I write is based off of made-up situations or ideas and I've definitely been delving into some more introspective and somewhat personal territory as of late which I think has led to some interesting and, personally, satisfying results. But generally speaking (and I fear this is going to sound incredibly pretentious) a lot of my ideas come from trying to express an individual image, or a series of events resulting in a particular emotion, in a musical form which I can relate to. Then again, there's always the danger of taking things too seriously and sometimes I'll just write something for the sake of writing something dancey/poppy/generally enjoyable, though I must admit I find it a lot more satisfying to write something with a concept I can really sink my teeth into.

- While we're on the subject of your music, it is so professional sounding! Do you send out your tracks to be mastered or are you doing this yourself? (and if you are doing it yourself is this done in Reason?)

Thanks! Actually, I'm doing it all myself - up until I started using Record, 99.9% of my work was coming entirely out of Reason. My logic is that I am by no means a particularly skilled mastering engineer, so what I tend to focus on is the mix. You can't master a terrible mix, but if you're starting with a great mix then it's actually very difficult to unintentionally ruin it with a terrible mastering job unless you go absolutely crazy at the post-mix stage. In my personal experience, I've always found that a light touch at the mastering stage provides far more satisfying results than brickwalling the hell out of everything and squashing it to a pulp. What makes me laugh is when you see A/B comparisons and demos of "mastering" packages which claim to take a dull, lifeless mix and magically transform it into a pristine sounding, punchy track. If I'm working on a track and the mix sounds dull and lifeless, I'll focus on fixing it in the mix rather than trying to beat it into submission post-mix. Of course, there are creative uses for post-mix/mastering effects (sidechaining the kick to a master compressor immediately springs to mind) but, generally speaking, I try to work to what I think are my strengths which lie in the mix/production stage. I've actually had a few people ask me how I go about mastering my tracks in the past so it seems like a bit of a cop out when I tell them that it's all in the mix.

- A large amount of electronic music is instrumental, while the majority of yours features vocals, when writing do you start with a vocal part, a synth part, a drum part (or does it depend on the situation)?

It really depends on the situation. What I tend to do is write music in a very linear fashion - starting at the beginning and writing the song from start to finish. Sometimes I'll come up with a central idea and build around that, or I'll come up with a simple hook that makes me think "I really need to develop this idea". I tend to find it a very natural process nowadays... that's not to say I don't get stuck while writing a track, because I do and it never ceases to infuriate me! Generally though, what happens is I'll work on a track for far too long and hit a brickwall which is usually solved by simply stepping out and doing something else for a bit. When I'm writing a track I generally have some sort of idea as to how I want it to pan out in terms of rhythm and arrangement, so getting an outline down is usually my number one concern. Once the outline is in place I start working on the details - sometimes obsessively so, particularly as of late. A lot of the time I'll have a general idea of a theme in my mind which I then flesh out by experimenting with some sort of patch design, which in turn leads to new ideas itself. If I'm writing a vocal track, the vocals usually come last. My method has always been to have an instrumental track that is enjoyable on its own, and then if I feel that the track could be improved by adding vocals I'll concentrate on that. It's too easy to get in the mindset of "well, it'll sound alright once I add some vocals" so I try and avoid that altogether.

- Speaking of vocals, how do you come up with your lyrics? Do you sit down and write lyrics when you need them, or do you just randomly think of some and jot them down?

I think it's a little bit of both. If I think there's a chance that I'll be adding vocals to a track once I'm done, I start writing down ideas while I'm writing the track as they come. Once the instrumental track is done, I'll focus on the lyrics for as long as it takes until I'm happy with what I've got - having most of the track ready makes it so much easier to sort out how the lyrics will work both rhythmically and thematically. At the end of the day, if I don't think a track could be improved with vocals and I'm struggling to write lyrics that I'm happy with then I simply won't. I was working on a song recently which turned out to be somewhat irritating; everytime I tried to write lyrics, I couldn't... yet I kept coming up with little phrases and ideas everytime I stopped thinking about it. Eventually I got it done and I was incredibly pleased with how it all turned out, but that does seem to be the way - if I'm overthinking a particular subject or idea then I'm pretty much doomed to fail.

- Your sound design work for NSL is some of my all-time favorite, I'd be interested in finding out who some of your favorite sound designers are?

Thanks again! I love Tom Pritchard/Stompp's refills and patches as they tend to get the balance of being usable while being immediately impressive pretty much bang-on. I always love checking out his refills and I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that a lot of his sound design work is of a commercial standard. I'm also particularly fond of Ed Bauman/EditEd's sound design work as I am absolutely convinced that, should someone ask, Ed would find a way to build a patch with which to conquer the earth. I love dissecting Ed's patches as I'm always sure to learn a few tricks or ideas of my own along the way, so not only is his work generally inspiring but also educational at the same time. I also love a lot of Kurt Kurasaki/Peff's patches and refills - his 303 and Granular Sampler refills in particular get a fair amount of use in my music (particularly the latter), and his Power Tools for Reason books have taught me a huge amount over the years. I always enjoy checking out the patches by the other guys working with NSL as well as they always tend to put out both consistently impressive and educational material, so Jeremy Janzen, Shaun Wallace and Nick Hutton all get a thumbs up from me.

From Out Of Nowhere [Original Mix] by adfielding

- I absolutely love the synthesizer part on the opening of your track "From out of Nowhere", to me it's just such a classic ambient synth sound, is this patch from a refill you worked on?

Glad you liked it! That's actually an original Thor patch I wrote specifically for the track- it's a pretty simple two-osc setup using a couple of multi-osc sawtooths passed through a LP filter followed by a BP filter and a lot of filtered delay. I believe one of the oscillators is tuned 7 semitones up, so combined with the filter you can get some lovely chords without too much effort. If anyone's interested in checking out the patch then I'd be more than happy to share it at any rate along with the filtered delay setup it's used with - I'm always happy to share patches and techniques.

- I've been working a lot on patches recently and would like to know if you have any pointers for would be sound designers and how you got your start?

I think one of the key things to remember when making a patch is to start with a clear intent - for me, I consider usability to be a key concern with a lot of patches. It's very easy to make a huge sounding patch in isolation, but if there's nothing to suggest that it's going to inspire people to build off of it and there is no way it could be used as an instrument patch in a crowded mix then it serves no purpose. There's a fine line between making a patch that inspires some sort of creativity and piling on the instruments for the sake of it, so sometimes less is more... and I'm guilty of making that mistake on plenty of occassions! I've always been a bit of a tinkerer by nature, so I started out dissecting patches and researching various synthesis techniques. When I started using Reason, I had no idea how subtractive synthesis worked but I really wanted to recreate the sound from a particular song, so I opened up the song in a wave editor and examined the waveform of the sound itself. By reading the operation manual and learning more about subtractive synthesis, I managed to get a pretty good approximation out of the Subtractor synth and to this day that one patch has a knack of cropping up every now and then in my tunes. Dissecting patches and trying to recreate sounds are a great place to start in my opinion, and having a solid understanding of the synthesis techniques being employed makes things so much easier. It's all about mastering the foundations... once you know the basics, the advanced stuff follows naturally. Of course, all of this is pointless if you don't enjoy what you're doing!

- Stompp told me you started with Trackers, having the same start with computer music production as well (early Cakewalk incarnation), I'm wondering if you have checked out any of the recent ones like ReNoise or Numerology (or been tempted too) and do you miss anything from your days of using them?

Ahh yes, I actually loved using trackers. In a sense, it was almost like programming music - the interface was usually pretty crude, and you had to memorise a load of commands to perform certain basic functions but after a while it all just came quite naturally. I recently fired up an old tracker called Modplug and opened a few old songs and was amazed at how much I remembered. The last tracker I properly tried out before using Reason was Buzz, which I still think was ahead of its time. I mean, here's an app that came out in the late 90s that allowed for complex routing and synthesis, was fully expandable and had the backing of a large community. I suppose the most obvious comparable modern/commercial app I can think of is Reaktor in terms of routing. I haven't really tried out any modern trackers, though I dabbled with ReNoise and MadTracker a little bit... neither of which convinced me to venture back into the world of trackers. One thing I absolutely loved about trackers was the fact that you could open up any song and see exactly how it was written. When you're starting out with writing music, that is such a useful thing to have access to - thousands and thousands of quality songs and access to the inner workings of all of them. Insane. I was a part of a couple of online tracker communities in my teens as well, and ended up writing some reviews for a tracker site. In a way, this sense of community is shared to a lesser extent with Reason but it's great to have access to a user forum with people who are willing to share their experience and creativity. Some of my favourite game soundtracks to this day are tracker-based soundtracks such as Deus Ex, UT99 and the Crusader series of games so I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss them... but I'm certainly not tempted to go back.

- I also learned from Stompp that you've had a few different licensing deals (MTV?), how did you go about hooking up with these and did you actually get to hear your music on air, because I bet that would be a thrill.

I actually have a fair amount of my music with various music licensing agencies - most of which are included on a non-exclusive basis, which provides me with a lot of freedom while allowing them to represent my music and license it to suitable licensees. I got a great surprise earlier in the year when I received a statement from one said agency and discovered that they had licensed a fair amount of my tunes for various uses, one of which was for an MTV film making-of documentary thing. Alas, I have yet to hear any of my music on air but, having said that, I had an interesting moment earlier in the year when my then-housemate and good friend Al had one of his tunes used in an on-demand TV commercial featuring some guitar playing which I recorded as a favour. I found this far too exciting and believe I said "that's amazing!" about a dozen times too many, but it was so cool. I'm really looking forward to the day when I inadvertantly hear some of my music used in an advert for, oh I don't know, biscuits or something. That would get me dangerously excited.

- Any last tips for Reason users out there that are hoping to break into the music business?

Well I'm not sure if I'm the right guy to ask! ...but it's never been easier for a musician to get their music out there. This will probably read like a long series of clich├ęs, but if you're genuinely passionate about music and you're not in it to get rich or famous then you just need to get your stuff out there. Set up a site, share your music, and most importantly take criticism on-board - a little arrogance can be a good thing, but if you don't take on what people are saying about your music then you are never going to get anywhere... and nobody likes working with someone who has a terrible attitude. Send your stuff to as many people who are willing to listen and stick with it -  don't feel disheartened when it inevitably turns out that there are people who don't like your music; after all, if everybody likes what you're doing then you're doing something wrong. And, of course, never underestimate the usefulness of a trusted opinion and a fresh set of ears.

Lightfields by adfielding

For more information on Adam Fielding check out:
Adam's Facebook page
Adam's myspace page

Thanks for the great interview Adam! Stay tuned later in the month for another edition of 10 Questions.

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