For the ninth edition of Studio Talk we introduce London based DJ / producer and Find Your Own Records boss woman Ceri. Ceri’s reputation rose from her marathon 9+ hour sets at Corsica Studios as a Jaded resident, leading to her being booked all around the world with gigs at places like Fabric, Percolate, Back to Basics, in:Motion and Hidden in the UK, and further afield at places like Wilde Renate and Ipse in Berlin, DC10 in Ibiza, Treehouse Miami and Burning Man in Nevada.
Find Your Own Records was born late 2017, Ceri's vinyl only imprint, which kicked off with an EP featuring two Ceri originals and a Fred P Reshape. 'Life Holstee' achieved huge support from the likes of Ben UFO, Midland, K-HAND, Move D and Mr.G
We caught up recently to chat about the music production side of her artistry, and take a tour of her studio. she has kindly shared some of her top tips & tricks and go-to bits of kit.
1. Talk me around your studio set up; what are your go to pieces of Hardware & Software?
My boyfriend is my Moog Sub 37, when he came into my life my world changed for the better. He is strong, dependable and phat in all the right places. I also love my bit on the side, my Jomox XBase 09, for drums, although he can be slightly temperamental, and my mistress, my Roland XV5080, who sounds much better than she looks, with some wicked old school and weird sounds that I love.
As for software, the Waves bundle is amazing for really bringing out sounds and giving them life and has some great effects and other tools too. I mostly use Logic and some of the in built effects in there are very good as well compared to Live, which I do use but don’t like the in built effects as much. I also like the Arturia V Collection and some of the Rob Papen soft synths.
I also use Ableton Live for sampling, creating my own loops from old records and other sounds I find along my travels. I also like Audiosculpt to really mess with sounds i’ve recorded and turn them into something totally different from the original source. It has some amazing geeky features and you can time stretch by a ridiculous amount that wouldn’t be possible in any other programme that i’m aware of.
2. You have DJ’d at some of the best clubs around the world. Fabric and DC10 to name a couple. What technical advice would you give to someone that wants to road test a production of theirs in a club, If they haven't had the chance to get it mastered in time?
I would recommend cutting off all bass frequencies somewhere between 25 - 35Hz with a curved EQ just in case there is any nasty bass or sub frequencies that aren’t audible in the studio but could be on a club system, which could make a rumley / fart noise, or even blow the speakers in extreme cases. The same with high frequency sounds, cutting off all above 10kHz similarly. Not just because it could sound shit, but also because it could damage peoples ears, especially if there are harsh high frequencies left in the mix. It could also be a good idea to EQ out a dip around 350 - 650Hz to remove any muddiness, but ideally this should be done on any individual tracks where frequencies could be overlapping, rather than on the master output.
Voxengo Span is a plugin thats free to download and is great to put on the master output to check the levels of the track as a whole and solo individual sounds to work out where any spikes are coming from to eliminate them to get a more balanced mix.
I would also add a compressor and / or limiting plug in to the master output, this is something you ideally want to keep clean, but for the purpose of creating a demo to test in a club it can help beef the track up so it doesn’t sound too weak in comparison to mastered tracks you will be playing it alongside. For up and coming producers, it’s also important to remember when you are comparing your tracks in your DAW to tracks that have been released, remember that they have already been mastered so will sound bigger and phatter, and that’s ok because yours hasn’t been mastered yet.
3.You have been involved with Point Blank music school and Beats Learning, teaching music production... How did the teaching side of things come about for you?
Honestly? It started because London is an expensive city to live in! I started out teaching people to make music one on one in my studio, as well as doing mixdown's for people and found I did enjoy it. I like to think of my lessons like this; "Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you've fed him for a lifetime" (the quote is attributed to Confucius but that isn’t confirmed apparently). I would rather teach someone how to do it themselves than do it for them which is why I would rather teach people how to create their own music than engineer / ghost write. I know a lot of people do engineer or ghost write, and that’s fine, but there is a fine line with engineering and ghost writing, and ghostwriting is something I don’t personally agree with, so I wouldn’t want to get into that territory (there is a brilliant article by Will Lynch on RA that discusses this point beautifully).
I taught for a while at Point Blank too but had to quit when I realised I would have to take too much time off to do gigs, I like that I have control of my own time now. If I was ever going to pick the teaching back up again, then I much prefer teaching smaller groups or one on one, than large classes, because I can give the students more personalised teaching and individual attention.
I also used to work at Beats Learning, and still do the odd day there. Beats Learning is different to Point Blank because they teach adults with issues, who are at risk of social exclusion. This can be anything from Mental Health Issues, Aspergers, ADHD, or even Homelessness. It’s therefore more challenging in some ways because they have radically varying levels of ability and engagement amongst the students in the classes, but more rewarding in many ways because it’s making a difference to people’s lives and using music to help them not just improve their musical skills, but teaching valuable life skills as well.
We put on a show last year for the students to showcase their work, some of my students DJ’ed tracks they had made, others sang original songs they had written and one played drums alongside track he had made live. It was a great evening and I was so proud and happy for everyone who took part, facing such difficulties and still managing to create such good music and pull of amazing performances.
4. I see from your DJ sets, you are a avid vinyl collector and vinyl DJ. What production tips would you give to someone wanting to aim their music for a label that presses records?
Each label is different and has a different sound, so I would say make music that comes from the heart, without trying to aim it at one particular label, and then once you have enough music you can pick which tracks you think would suit the labels you want to be on.
If a label is pressing to vinyl the tracks may need to be mastered differently to digital tracks, because of the loudness wars (don’t get me started on that!), some labels actually master their music twice now, with one digital master that is more compressed and ‘loud’ and a vinyl master which is less compressed and has more dynamic range, this is because if a track was too slammed or had too much bass and was pressed to vinyl the needle could jump off the record when it was played or cause other playback issues. So also make sure your mixdown is well balanced to give the mastering engineer something good to work with, they can work wonders, but they can’t polish a turd.
And despite saying not to make music for labels, make sure you target your demos right when you are sending them. Don’t send a classic house label a nosebleed techno track etc, make sure the tracks are suitable for the label whilst still being ‘you’. I would recommend sending 3 - 6 tracks max to one label at a time. If they want more they will ask. Also don’t be scared to include one or two that could be a bit of a risk because you never know what someone will like.
5. You set up your vinyl only imprint last year ‘Find Your Own’. The first release from yourself hit shelves late last year, with support from everyone from Ben UFO, Move D, K-HAND, Midland, Mr G and more. Why did you decide to start the label and did you expect the first release to do so well?
I decided to start the label because I wanted full creative control of what I was doing and to showcase all my different sides. I was sending my tracks to the labels I wanted to be on and got a few replies asking for more tracks that were similar to one particular track, rather than taking a varied group of tracks. I personally don’t like E.P’s that have 3 / 4 similar sounding tracks and when I DJ I play differently depending on the situation and vibe of where i’m playing, so I want the label to reflect all the different shades of my club sets. In the future I also want to start a sub label for even deeper sounds that I wouldn't usually get to play in a club.
I really like E.P.s that have varied tracks that could be used in different dancefloor situations. And this I hope it what the first release reflected, the A side was Detroit techno, the B side was deep house / dub techno and the Fred P reshape manages to be deep but banging at the same time with a Chicago / New York / Berlin house vibe.
I half did and half didn’t expect the first release to do as well as it did. I knew I liked the tracks and wanted to start my own label with them, and of course I hoped it would do well, but to have such good feedback and plays from some of the people whose music I have loved for a long time meant the world to me. I was also very happy when Fred P agreed to do the first remix / reshape too, I was so happy I did a little dance around my room! And now i’ve set the bar high for releases to come, I only want people involved whose music makes me do dances of happiness too.
6. I love this record, especially the A1 original track ‘Life Holstee’ Talk me through the process you followed to create that track? What tips and tricks have you got to achieve that sound?
Listen to Life Holstee EP here: https://soundcloud.com/ceri/sets/fyo001-ceri-life-holstee-ep-ft-fred-p-reshape-out-now-vinyl-only
Buy the Life Holstee EP Here:
Thanks, glad you like. ‘Life Holstee’ was actually a very long winded process! Lol. I like to overcomplicate things for myself sometimes ha.
I started in Ableton, by going through some samples of old / classic records that I create ready to use in tracks. I also spend a few hours doing this when i’m not feeling inspired and usually something stands out and gets the creative juices flowing.
For ‘Life Holstee’ I used a sample from Gwen McCrae’s ‘All this Love that i’m Giving’ and another one from Inner Life’s ‘Moment of My Life as my starting point (please don't sue me!)
Gwen McCrae - All this love i'm giving
Inner Life - Moment of My Life
Screenshot 1 - Ableton Sampling
I pitched down the Gwen McCrae sample so that it was unrecognisable from the original but made a nice groovy loop I could use for a starting point for the track. The Inner Life sample I cut two very small vocal parts to use in the track; one saying ‘This life i live’, which made me think of the Holstee Manifesto, which I try to live my life by, hence the name, and the other just saying ‘Life’.
I imported the samples into Logic, using the Gwen McCrae loop as a starting point to play or place in other elements, by recording in MIDI from within Logic and from my external instruments, as well as placing sampled audio files into the arrangement too.
Screenshot 2 - Logic Starting Loop
Once I had 8 bars I was happy with, I then bounced each track as audio and went back to Ableton to do a rough arrangement
Screenshot 3 / 4 - Ableton Arrangement
I then reimported it back into Logic (I told you this was long winded!). But doing it this way actually saves me time because arranging in Ableton is so much quicker than Logic. I know there is the ability to use Ableton and Logic together as a ReWire but I prefer using them separately to each other. I’m the only person I know that does it this way. At the time of starting this track, the aim was eventually to move from Logic to Ableton, but I am still using both for different things. I prefer some of the features in Logic (e.g. the EQ, Mixer, Automation and the in built sampler, I also prefer it for recording in external instruments), and some in Ableton (the loop features, timestretch / warping and quickly recording in an arrangement in clip view).
Screenshot 5 - Logic Arrangement
I bounced a demo test to play out and send to a few trusted people for their opinions, going on ideas I had from playing the track out and feedback from others on what could improve it, I then added a few extra sounds and changed a few things slightly to improve the track. Once I was happy with the final arrangement, I recorded all the tracks out through an Amek Angela Mixing desk and back into Logic for some final automation and final mixdown.
Screenshot 6 / 7 . Logic Automation
I sent some of the tracks to a bus with a delay on it, and then recorded them being sent to the delay on the bus, this can be a good way to automate, rather than having a delay on every track and automating them separately.
7. When it comes to studio day, ready to start a new project, what would be your structure for making a track?
It’s always a different process for me. The track I discussed above seemed like a long process but the B side of the same release I created entirely in Logic and it literally flowed out of me in no time. When that happens it’s amazing.
I usually start with a mediation to clear my mind and get totally into the creative space. I also like to do yoga before I get to the studio to help with this too. If I am starting a new track, I will look for a starting point, this could be something from my collection of samples from old records, random sounds i’ve recorded, a vocal, bass or synth idea i’ve had, or just playing around on my synths until I find something cool to jam with. I often like to get a drum loop that is really groovy and import it into my project to use instead of a click track, then record other parts in around that groove, which gives it a different feel than if I was just playing them in alongside a metronome or 4/4 kick with nothing else. Sometimes I will have a jam with my synths and drum machines and record that in live. Other times I will record them in individually and then cut the recordings up to use more in the box to be used more like samples.
If I wasn’t recording in the sounds live, I would work on creating an 8 / 16 / 32 bar loop with enough sounds to use to create the track with. Once I am happy with this main loop, I will then create a new project and label it Arrange 1, to start the arrangement in this project. That way you can always go back if you need to.
This track was literally what the name suggests, an Acid Jam, it was a recording of me recording in everything together in one take, with some editing afterwards to make it work better:
Once I am mostly happy with the arrangement, I would do a mixdown, often bouncing out the parts into a new project for this. As it puts me in a different headspace than if I was doing it in the original file where it’s tempting to change a midi note here or an effect there etc.
Then I would usually bounce the stems out and record them through an analogue mixing desk and or compressors to fatten up the parts and do any last minute bussing or automation at this stage too.
8. Mid range sounds like Pads, stabs and leads is a topic that comes up a lot with the students I teach. What processing and sound design tips could you share for producers wanting help achieving such sounds?
Layer the sounds and pan and EQ them all slightly differently to give them width, space and depth without clashing with each other in terms of frequency. The span plug in I discussed earlier is good to use for this too, you can solo the sounds to see what they are doing individually and then also together, to see where any frequencies are clashing, and use that to help you shape the sounds to fit better together in the mix.
9. What advice would you give up & coming DJs and producers wanting to break into the industry?
Do it for the love.
10. Could you name some up and coming producers that are set to breakthrough in 2018..
Anna Wall, Thoma Bulwer, Adam Curtain, Tilman, Al Bradley, Pierre Codarin, William Djoko, Blackhall and Bookless…
11. What's next on the release front for Ceri?
Find Your Own 002, a release on Parasol Culture, some collaborations I can’t mention yet, a remix of something amazing and working on something very special for Fred P too, so watch this space…
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