Sunday, July 4

10 Questions with James Bernard!

This past week marks the 1 year anniversary of Resonant Filter and to commemorate that I thought we'd go for the gold and do an interview with none other than James Bernard! As Propellerheads Product Specialist, James has the kind of job gear geeks like myself dream about... Helping big name stars like A Guy Called Gerald out with their Reason based DJ set-up, traveling around the world doing seminars, and designing sounds for the software we all love! I wrote up a list of questions for JB just as Propellerheads announced Reason 5 and Record 1.5, he was kind enough to delve into his past as an artist on Wax Trax, work with Korg, as well as his current job with Propellerheads. Check it out:

- What's your background in music and where did you grow up?

I started my musical journey learning trumpet in elementary school… then quit when I saw a picture of Dizzy Gillespie and thought that is what happens to your face when you play trumpet for a long time. (hey I was young…) Then I picked up piano, bass and most recently guitar - all self taught. Also, my father has a school which teaches audio engineering and I took the course right out of high school while I was working for Korg.. so my proper schooling is all in audio engineering. 

In the late 80's - early 90's I was involved in the NY area Rave scene and that is where my interest in producing/listening to electronic music started. I was just starting to tinker around with my own productions, and the early Rave and Acid house, combined with Industrial music from the 80's was the stuff that started me producing electronic music… funny thing is.. when it finally came to the point where my music was getting released by record labels.. I stopped going out to parties and barely listened to anything electronic.. I was listening to classical, The Cure, David Bowie, Phillip Glass, This Mortal Coil and stuff like that… then I would go and compose a 140BPM acid tune!

- Reason 5 has just been announced, Record came out recently, not to mention Rebirth for the iPhone - how much say do you, as Propellerheads Product Specialist, have on new products and developments at the company?

Actually I do not have any "say" in the products directly.. but I do offer suggestions on features as well as usability. And I also was part of the sound design team for both Reason 3.0 and 4.0 and did many patches and some samples (Glitch Kits and loops!) for the Factory Soundbank.

- I know from reading the Wire to the Ear blog that part of your job at Propellerheads is with artist relations.  How do you generally find out if an artist is using Propellerheads software?  And do some of them want to keep it on the down low?

I wish there was an easy answer.. sometimes the artist emails us directly, some of the time it is from finding out from other artists and some times it is totally from my searching in our database and cold emailing/calling an artist. There are more than a few who do not really do interviews/stories and prefer to keep their name "out of the pool" of artists that we promote… fair enough.

- You used to work for Korg,  what was it like coming from a hardware based company to software?  And how does that work with Propellerheads being headquartered in Stockholm and you living in Florida?

I have much respect for Korg products over the years (the Legacy Collection was my last sound design project) and still have a good relationship with those guys… but when I realized that I was using less hardware and more software in my own productions I knew it was time for a change. Plus.. I gotta say it is great to work with a company who actually enjoy making people's musical endeavors easier and more fun.

My job with Propellerheads involves a fair amount of travel and when I am not on the road I am at home doing the artist relations stuff and now the 52 tips videos.

- Speaking of Korg, I read on your myspace page that you did sound design work on the original Electribe boxes.  I've been a fan of the Electribe since picking up an ER-1 a number of years ago.  Those were all pretty big sellers, I'd imagine you've heard your programming on a lot of songs just thru that alone.  Is it still a kick to hear someone use your work in their own songs?

Oh yeah.. if I had a dime for each time I have heard not just a sound but the ENTIRE PRESET PATTERN OF MUSIC that I wrote on those boxes in someone else's track I would be a rich man. Seriously… why just use a preset pattern without making any sort of change? What does that say about your dedication to your craft? That being said.. the initial excitement of being part of those products and hearing them get used quickly wore off.

- While a lot of music software and hardware companies have relative unknowns demonstrating their products I think it is so cool the Props have someone of your caliber on the payroll doing seminars, videos, etc.  Tell us what your job as Propellerheads Product Specialist entails and what's an average workday like for you?

Thanks! Though I'm not sure what my caliber is these days ;-)
My average workday varies on the task at hand.. though it always involves a lot of time in front of a computer screen. The job as a Product Specialist has changed a lot.. used to be traveling to stores and trade shows doing demos mostly… now it is much more based on internet content (videos), hosting my Facebook page, being a presence on the forums and being very accessible to the global user base via email and such.

- As most people know you're an accomplished musician yourself,  having released records both as a solo artist under the guises of Influx and Cybertrax and as part of the popular duo Expansion Union.   What gear do you use in your own music and what kind of home studio set-up do you have?

Well.. obviously all of our software and some extra bits and bobs of software, d16 plug ins, dBlue Glitch, Korg Legacy Analog and Digital editions and other plug ins I can't remember.. though I don't use a lot.. and some Ableton Live as well. I also still have some of my vintage hardware and some borrowed from friends like my TR-606, TB-303, MC-202 and some recent lo-fi DIY stuff (BugBrand, Bleep Labs), a few guitars and bass guitars and most recently have been putting the starting touches on a DIY Euro Rack modular system.. though I am just getting the case, rack, bus board and PSU parts together at the moment… no modules yet!

- Speaking of music, who are some of your favorite artists? 

Wow.. that's a tough one.. If I only have to name a few? Bowie/Eno (Low, Lodger Heroes era), Phillip Glass, Radiohead, Plaid, Squarepusher, Jaco Pastorius, New Order/Joy Division, Bauhaus/Tones on Tail/Love and Rockets and Chopin.

- I know you started your own record label, James Bernard Music, as a result of legal troubles with your old label TVT/Wax Trax! What advice would you give new acts concerning signing to record companies and in the age of the internet do you think record companies are even necessary anymore?

Advice? Don't sign ANYTHING without having a music attorney look at it, don't sign anything long term and try and get as much of an advance as you can because royalties never come unless you are like a top 10 artist. Actually these days I think that not signing with a label and doing it all DIY is the best way to go. The one thing you need more than a label is someone who is good at promoting your music and getting people to take notice… that is the most valuable thing right now. I do not plan on signing any more record deals in my lifetime.. and actually more and more of my music is ending up being used for TV/Film and less as actual releases. That's an area of the music industry where you actually DO see royalties.

- I absolutely love your Casiotone MT-400V ReFill of drum beats, I have a Casio MT-68 myself.  Any chance you'll be making a refill of the accompaniment patterns for the MT-400v?  That's my absolute favorite part of my MT-68!

I had thought about sampling them when I did the drum beats… the tricky part was that since there a few variations it would have required lots of Dr. Rex players.. maybe now with Dr. Octo Rex it would be a bit easier to do… but finding the time to do it is the hardest part.

- Your 52 Reason/Record Tips videos are something I look forward to every single week.  Where do you get the ideas for topics on the series?

Some ideas come directly from email suggestions of viewers, some from lurking in our forums and some from the archives of my own production techniques.

- I dig the JB logo you have on your lulu store page who designed that for you?

Me! It's using a font that I have forgotten the name of now.

- I've got to ask one more question about Reason 5 and Record 1.5 - what new device or tool are you most excited about and why?

Honestly? All of them! In Record it's Neptune and the new Stretch Tempo to Clip Length function (instant apex twin!). In Reason 5 it's Kong, Sampling, Dr. OctoRex and Blocks… though there are some great things that were first introduced in Record (on Screen Keyboard, Explode Note Lanes, etc.)

- The last record you released "My Beautiful" was done last spring for your wife, Nicole, who was 7 months pregnant and fighting Acute Myeloid Leukemia at the time.  I read on your facebook page that Asher (coolest boy's name ever!) is now 1 years old!  First off I hope your wife is doing better.  My question, or more of a thought, is how music can be a place of solace in time's of distress and how society seems to negate that power of music largely in favor of fashion and the latest dance craze.  Any thoughts? (yeah, ignore this question if you want - I came up with it after going to my Mums grave over Memorial Day.) 

Thanks. It has been a rough journey and it still continues.. Nicole has good weeks and bad ones… hopefully now we are in the place where there are more good than bad, which has not been the case for the past year.

Music for me has always been my release, my therapy, my best friend when nobody else is around. Regardless of the latest fad.. for me it always comes back to.. what do I FEEL when I listen to this piece of music .. do I only connect it to some visual that was force fed in a video or do I actually feel the message or story that the musician/artist was trying to convey/release/depict. I think that there is still great music being made.. it's just not the stuff that is being pushed as a product by most major labels. 

I know in my life, if it was not for music, I would not be alive… and I mean it.

- Your a father, musician, product specialist, and husband - where do you find the time to do everything you do?

I'm actually still trying to figure that one out… The trick is to be extremely efficient with every minute you have to spare… oh… and don't sleep.

Thanks for the great interview JB!

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