Describe your creative process and philosophies and how technology plays a role.
Being that I’m such an avid record collector, other music has always had a major influence on my life, even before I started displaying and creating music. The best music to me is the kind that can invoke emotion. When I begin the process of writing a song, I listen to music from my library that brings out the particular emotion that I am trying to convey and just soak it in for a while. The most emotional music to me is movie music, I am an enormous fan of film scores, which I know is rare for a “DJ” (a term that I am not very fond of, at least for myself. I feel like that label is very limiting and I never have, nor will I ever jockey discs. My talents are far broader than someone who just plays music and why it really gets under my skin when I hear someone call me DJ MATTER) But, back to my creative process…Depending on who or what I am writing the song or making the beat for, be it for an artist, to picture, or for myself, they are all fairly different processes yet stem from the same tree. I like to consider myself a “listener” not just to other music, but to other musicians so when I’m writing or producing a song for an artist or band, I feel I can best do my job by allowing them to be themselves and just capturing that magic. Then I can either step back and let it formulate on its own or step in, use a heavy hand and really put my touch on it.
When writing to picture I like to try and find a tempo to the scene and create a song or beat around it. I’ll look for certain key cues or hits and then I’ll find a tempo that will match that. I’ll then make a drum beat to fit that picture, then write some music around it. Sometimes I keep the beat, sometimes I don’t, but it’s always there so help guide me and keep me from going too left field. Unless of course that’s what it needs…
The music I love to create for myself is either super funky or really dark. My dad (who is also a fantastic musician) raised my brother and I on funk, rock, soul and disco…and is still to this day schooling me on stuff. I think I have a pretty good ear and a pretty deep musical knowledge, but he just punks me! It’s great, everybody needs that sometimes. So when I’m writing/producing a song of my own, it’s got to have that funk! Even the dark/moody trip-hop stuff that I write has a lot of soul and emotion in it. What I love about those two particular genres is funk is so happy and fun, I mean every funk or disco song is about 1 of 4 things…Love, Dancing, Sex, or Outer Space and I’m fine with all of that, plus a good majority of it is instrumental and that’s the best. Now, trip-hop and downtempo, just put you in that place and let you just brood for a while. I’m not a huge dancer, which is why I think I don’t really care to make people dance when I spin. That has never been my goal, there’s way too many people trying to do that anyway. What makes me most satisfied is when a crowd is either in such awe or has been completely taken away to another place that they can’t even dance, all they can do is watch (unless I’m spinning disco, then you don’t have a choice). I don’t even mind if they close their eyes, that’s what I do when I’m listening to something I truly enjoy. I’d rather perform in stadium (one day), or at a festival, I’d even rather be in a movie theater where everyone is sitting then in a club. I feel it’s my duty to introduce you to something you’ve never heard before, whether it’s my music or someone else’s, I’ll be damned if I play the same thing you listened 5 times already that day. I think it’s that mindstate that not only allows me, but pushes me to really make the music that I want to make and that I want to hear.
Describe your DJ and/or production studio set up including any M-Audio gear. How do you use M-Audio’s equipment conceptually and procedurally? Why M-Audio gear?
Live performance/On the road creation:
2 Numark TTX turntables
Numark DXM-06 mixer (I actually have 2 of them, 1 for the studio and 1 for the road, 1 also have a DXM-09 mixer, but it doesn’t get much use, it’s more for back-up)
Either Shure M44-7 or Ortofon Black needles
Sony MDR-V700 headphones
MacBook Pro (software includes Torq, Pro Tools, Reason, Recycle, & Final Cut Pro)
M-Audio Torq Connectiv and control vinyl
M-Audio Axiom 25
Digidesign Mbox 2 Micro
A lot of external hard drives and USB/Firewire cables
Everything from above
Mac G5 Dual-Core Intel Xeon
Akai MPC 2000XL
Alesis Multimix 12-Track Mixer
Yamaha DX-21 Keyboard
Electrix WarpFactory Vocoder
2 M-Audio BX8 monitors
M-Audio SBX subwoofer
M-Audio MIDISport Uno 1x1
Stanton STR8-80 Digital Turntable (for sampling records at digital quality)
Universal Audio Solo 610 Mic Pre/DI Box
Rode NT-1A & Shure SM-58 Mics
Tons of percussion
Thousands of records
M-Audio products really are the core of my creation devices. If you look over the list of what I use, it’s clearly not all M-Audio gear, but all of the really important stuff is. My monitors, midi controller, digital turntable program, recording interface and software, and midi connector are all M-Audio and those have all been the base of my recording (except for my MPC) for as long as I can remember. It’s funny, but possibly the most important pieces of equipment was not only the first M-Audio device I purchased, but by far the cheapest, the MIDISport Uno 1x1. For those that are not familiar with this particular MIDI device, what it is is a MIDI-USB cable. I have the USB end going into my G5 and the MIDI In and Out going into my Yamaha DX21 so I can use it both as a stand alone keyboard and as a MIDI controller. Then I have another single MIDI cable going from the Thru on my Yamaha into the In on my MPC. This way I can have my MPC synced to my Pro Tools and can control the playback of my drum machine with the play button on my recording interface.
When I finally figured out how to do that, it completely changed the way I thought about making beats. Although, truthfully since I got my Axiom 25 about a year ago, I haven’t touched my Yamaha, I just use it as a Thru for my MIDI and I’ve even slowed down on my MPC. I love being able to write songs on an airplane, in a car, or even in the studio, and with the flexibility of having every instrument on my lap. I’ll explain in the next question how my Axiom 25 with Torq changed EVERYTHING.
How has using software like Torq, Pro Tools M-Powered, virtual instruments and/or effects plug-ins changed your creative process?
Point blank, Torq changed the way I create, display and even think about music. As far as performance goes, up until about a year ago, I was strictly vinyl! There’s nothing anyone could say that would make me think differently. (in fact I still have a couple good friends that feel that way and anyone who knows me well is still shocked the first time they see me perform on Torq) However, once I opened up a little bit and embraced technology, instead of trying to fight a war that I’m destined to lose, it has not only given me a larger arsenal, but has allowed me to be more creative, and in turn a better performer.
Now, instead of purely vinyl, I use Torq and the Axiom 25 and I can play, scratch, loop, effect, and remix anything I want, any time I want. The way Torq is set up to map MIDI is so user friendly, it makes the learning curve quick and easy. A lot of times artists get caught up on how to make their instruments talk to each other and then spend too much time and energy on making sure everything’s working right, instead of just jumping right in and getting down to it. The feature I love most about using digital vs. analog is being able to set cue points on a song. Being able to trigger different portions and literally cut up a song both live and in the studio is a phenomenal tool. I just wish there were more than 5!
I also co-write, produce, and perform in a band called MUDluscious. I play turntables, drum machines, percussion and sing back-up. For our first 2 years of performing I was hauling around 2 turntables, my mixer, my MPC, and all my necessary vinyl. (which I had to try and find doubles or triples of because they were getting so worn out) Since switching over to Torq I can now do our entire set off of 1 turntable, my mixer, my laptop and my Axiom and that includes scratching, triggering samples, using real-time effects and drum programming. Plus now I can scratch or trigger any sound I want and it has really opened up both our writing and performing capabilities. No more, “Well I don’t have that on vinyl…”
What comments do you have about the aforementioned hardware and software you use? What usage tips can you share with other musicians?
The best tip I can give is to try as many different things as you can and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Especially in the DJ world, the word Serato is quickly becoming like Kleenex or Xerox. People throw it around and have no clue as to what it really does or is or that it’s actually called a digital turntable program. I taught at the Scratch DJ Academy here in L.A. for 3 years before recently taking some time off to go on the road. I taught both the beat-making and DJ 101 course and in the 101 course I would hear students drop “The S word,” as well called it in class (we teach strictly vinyl there and make sure that all of our students have a strong foundation before jumping into the digital world, so we don’t even like to have them say it) The reason we don’t like students talking about Serato, or Torq or any of the digital programs, is because they don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m very much a realist and like to experience and test things out for myself and it is no different with gear, both hardware and software. New DJ’s these days think that the right set-up for a beginner is 2 1200’s, a 57, Serato and a laptop. So, before even knowing anything about how to use turntables, they’ve gone out and dropped 4-5 grand, just because they saw their favorite DJ using that or that’s what they heard from their buddy. People just need to do their homework, creating and displaying music is all about what works for you.
Here’s the perfect example and something that I hear all too often. Whenever I have a student or friend that doesn’t know much about DJing ask me a question about what I use, I’ll tell them “Well I use a digital turntable program called Torq,” and their answer is always, “What?” Then I tell them, “It’s kinda like Serato,” and they say “Oh it’s like one of those programs that beat matches for you?” Now, every DJ I meet, when I tell them that I use Torq they say, “Really? Why?” then I proceed to tell them how much better it is than all the alternatives. The MIDI mapping, the effects, the loops, THE 16 CHANNEL SAMPLER! Hello!!! The way I see it, Serato is for DJ’s (someone who just wants to play music…boring!), Torq is for musicians and producers who realy want to be innovative both in the studio and on stage.
How would you describe M-Audio’s role and accomplishments in the music industry?
I truly believe that M-Audio is at the forefront of this new digital age of recording. I’ll be completely honest, I bought all of my M-Audio gear at full price, way before I ever met anybody from this company or was asked to become an endorsee. I have been using their gear for years and would continue to use it for as long as I make music, whether or not I was an M-Powered Artist, which I am very proud to say that I am. M-Audio just knows what artists want and how to make capturing and displaying their ideas easy and sonically beautiful.
What professional accomplishments are you most proud of and why?
I think my biggest accomplishment is being able to wake up every day and know that I am making a living doing exactly what I want to do. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to know that I do not need to sacrifice the music I make nor the music I spin in order to “make it.” I tell my students all the time, “I’m not some big baller with tons of money, but I’m living it and the journey is really the fun part.” Don’t get me wrong, I plan on making a lot more money and a lot more music, but doing it my way is what gives me confidence. Being able to teach, share my knowledge, and help others achieve their goals is a phenomenal accomplishment as well.
As far as musically though, getting hired to write original music for a major motion picture (Love N’ Dancing, set for release in March ‘09) is probably the highlight of my career thus far. As I mentioned earlier, I’m an enormous fan of composers and movie music so being able to be in that world is quite an accomplishment for me. Plus they let me hire all the musicians for the recording sessions so I got to get all my buddies some film credits, some decent money, and got to rock out with them in the most gorgeous studio I’ve ever worked in.
What projects are next on the horizon for you? How do you see M-Audio products playing a role in them?
Currently I am finishing scoring (by the time this goes online I’ll actually be done) an independent horror film entitled Murderspace. What is really fun about doing a horror film is the acceptance of experimentation, especially with this particular director. I was literally doing sound design on my turntables, completely to picture. I was inventing sound and blowing his mind at the same time, what’s better than that?!? The way Torq plays a big role in this sort of creation is when I used to do things like this I was a lot more limited, now I can take a sound from my library, build a sound in Pro Tools, or just use a tone, put in on my turntable, loop it, and then go to town on it with all the effects I have, be it from my mixer, pedals, or from Torq itself (sometimes I use all of them at once) I am also writing music for another indie film entitled Hoop Realities. I just finished doing a song for the Honda Civic website. About a month ago I finished mixing and mastering my latest “album” (if you can call it that). Side note…The music I write for artists and for film/tv is original, you can sometimes get away with samples when working with artists, but in the film/tv world, NO WAY! So, when I create music for myself, I like to be as experimental as possible and being that I come from a turntablist background, I grew up listening to and using samples. My latest creation is an hour-long audio horror film, which was recorded and mixed on my BX8’s, which were wonderful in helping me really hear the full range of frequencies needed to give this the cinematic feel that I wanted it to have. What I did was sample a ton of dark, scary, weird music and spoken word records (yes, every single sound is from an original vinyl record, no CD’s, MP3’s, DVD’s, I wanted it to be all from vinyl, however when I perform it I do it on Torq) and then reconstructed them as an entire story. I love albums that are albums, something that you put on and it takes you somewhere else for an hour, not just a bunch of random songs stuffed together. I am currently working with an insanely talented VJ/Animator/Editor named GregTheDude to finish the visual counterpart to the album so it can be released both with and without picture (so those of you who are like me and enjoy closing your eyes and letting the music paint a picture in your mind, you can either watch mine or make up your own). We also perform live together and it is quite a site to see (and hear). Lastly, my band MUDluscious is finishing up our 2nd album and hope to have that done by the New Year. Next year I plan to write and create many different kinds of music and be on the road a lot.