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Isabelle Banos

Artist / Songwriter / Producer

Isabelle Banos is a Montreal-based producer, songwriter and a founding member of the alternative pop band Caveboy. She is featured on LANDR's YouTube Channel, and is a board member for the Montreal chapter of Rock Camp For Girls.

Isabelle Banos

Digging into the creative process, Byta speaks with artists, musicians, producers, DJs and anyone involved with music creation. A conversation about how they create, collaborate and share music. From studio setups to routines, and the first person to hear about the next 'big' work.

Where are you based?

Montreal.

How, when and where did you start making music? Are you primarily a musician or a producer, or do something else?

I’ve been playing since I was a kid, and I think I started recording songs as early as 12 years old. I had this boombox that had extra features on it, like built-in drum sample pads and a “vinyl scratch” knob that I would layer on top of cassettes I had recorded original songs onto. Ok I just spent way too long googling it – it’s the JVC RV-DP100 and if that doesn’t scream 1999, I don’t know what does (I’ll include a photo below)! All to say, I’ve always been drawn to writing and recording original music. I consider myself equal parts musician and producer; I absolutely love writing and performing music with Caveboy, and I love creating music for others too!

Who would you consider some of your biggest influences when it comes to your “sound”?

I’m really influenced by the simplicity and nostalgia of Jack Antonoff productions. I love his use of classic sounds, whether it’s romantic guitar riffs, emotive vintage synth layers, or big 80’s drums. That’s the kind of stuff that tends to make me feel the feelings, so I often find myself using similar sounding layers in my own productions. My other big influence is Grimes. Learning about her process of making “Art Angels” was really inspiring to me as a female producer, I became a lot more confident. One of her tricks that I still use today is adding a very subtle “crowd” layer secretly tucked in sections of songs that might need a boost in energy. 

“You miss 100% of the harmonies you don’t record”

Explain your creative process? Do you have a routine?

It’s funny, my aunt was just telling me about how I was the kind of kid who you could always find playing alone, not really wanting to be disturbed, like I was “in the zone”. I feel like that is still a huge part of my day-to-day; I’m really guided by being “in the zone” or not. I don’t have a strict schedule, I’m really lucky to have the flexibility of making my own hours, so this allows me to jump into the creative process whenever I’m feeling it, and when I am feeling it, it’s very hard for me to stop. I tend to obsess about finishing what I’ve started in one sitting. I love trying to create a whole song from start to finish in one day if I can. The songwriting itself often starts with some kind of chord progression or musical riff that feels inspiring. I’ll create a long loop and record myself singing some melodic gibberish over the music. I’ll listen back and pick out the parts that gave me the best gut reactions, and continue to finesse them from there. Depending if I feel the song would be pitched to an artist, or used for a sync brief, I’ll start to put some lyrics to the mumbles. Once the song is there, I’ll start to produce the arrangement with more instruments layers, drums, transitions, etc. This is a pretty new process for me but I’m really loving it so far. I like to change up my process now and then to shake me out of my comfort zone when I’m feeling blocked.

What is your “studio” setup?

I just opened my own studio space “Chez Ballsy” around the corner from my place. It’s a small commercial space that I spent about 6 months working on. I’m really excited and proud to share my studio with the local community and start hosting workshops for women and gender minorities who are interested in learning about the technical side of making music, since we’re only about 3% of music producers. I love skillsharing so I’m super happy to finally have a proper space to do that! In terms of some of my favourite gear, I had a ton of fun building my own 10U rack for my analog gear, filled with some great-sounding emulations of classic gear. I’ve also got my trusty synth duo, a Roland JU-06A for any Juno 60 or 106 sound my nostalgic heart longs for, and a Moog Subsequent 25 for some epic bass and leads. They’re a match made in heaven that I use pretty much every day.

Chez Ballsy: Isabelle’s studio setup

What is your process when working with other people? How is collaboration different in the studio vs working remotely? 

My process always starts with doing whatever I can to break the ice. Collaborating can be such a vulnerable and intimidating thing, it certainly is for me, so I always try to make everyone involved feel as comfortable as possible, and set the tone for this being a safe space to get creative, share weird ideas, make mistakes, and just have a silly fun time. From there I try to get a sense of whether the artist wants me to steer the ship or if they know what they want and would prefer to run the show. I’m happy working in either way, again I just want to make sure everyone is feeling good about the workflow. From there it just ends up being a lot of throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Trying out sounds, riffs, melodies, layers and seeing what gives us a visceral gut reaction vs what just isn’t sitting right. I use more or less the same process when working remotely, but sometimes it can be harder to get those gut reactions. There is inevitably more of a disconnect when we’re not in the same room, I’m working by myself, leaning on my own reactions, and then waiting to see how the artist feels. There’s less of that “in the moment magic”, but a great way to work with artists from around the world.

At what point(s) are you comfortable letting other people hear what you are working on?

I try to work on projects that I’m excited by, which wasn’t always the case. When I first started, I had to take a lot of gigs that I really didn’t enjoy to be able to hone my skills and pay the bills. These days I tend to be pretty excited to share what I’ve been working on with whoever wants to listen. I’m fortunate to know a lot of great artists that I look up to and respect so being able to get their feedback on an idea or an early mix is really valuable to me. It’s not always easy but I’m trying to shed that “imposter syndrome” and instead be proud of my journey and improvement.

Do you share your work in progress (streams or downloads)? Any technical frustrations?

I most often use email which means I have to use small mp3 files. For sharing more files, or higher quality files, I use Google Drive, which can be frustrating when the “share” function sometimes seems to have a mind of its own. What happens most often is that folks share a link with me but I can’t actually open it because it was set to “restricted”, so they have to go in and send me an actual invite. It’s wacky.

Guitar collection

How do you know when a track/album is finished?

This is so tricky, and one of the most infuriating but beautiful things about making music for me. I feel like a song is a sort of polaroid snapshot of where you were at that moment in time, and sure maybe you wish you could change what is now a super outdated hairstyle in that old photo, but your dorky smile was, and still is, meaningful to look back on. Was that cheesy or brilliant? Who knows. Basically I want to keep evolving and growing as an artist, which means I could work on a song for years and never really be satisfied with it. At a certain point you just have to call it; this is the best that the song could be at this moment and that is special. For me, that usually comes while I’m listening back to the song and just enjoying it – I’m not looking for anything I need to change or adjust, it just feels good, so it’s done.

How do you listen to the final mixes/mastered work?

I listen to final mixes at the studio on the different speakers and headphones in there, since they’re the sources I’m most comfortable with. At home I listen on earbuds, and out of my phone and laptop speakers to see how they translate. I don’t drive often but when I do I always put on whatever I’m working on to get a sense of how it sounds on the car’s sound system.

How important is pre-release security when sharing new work?

Super important. I feel like there’s a real, and valid, preciousness to unreleased music. Someone worked really hard, and maybe spent all of their savings, to make this one unique and meaningful thing so yeah, only they should have the right to decide when it’s ready for sharing. All of my own or the band’s pre-release streaming links are set to private or password protected, and any text on the webpage has about 100 “THIS IS PRIVATE PLEASE DO NOT SHARE” warnings hahaha! So far so good!

Who on your team gets to hear the final versions first and why, what formats do they each need?

Most probably my manager Beth. She is equal parts superfan and honest critic, so it’s nice to get her feedback. Depending on the release I’ll make sure she gets the mp3, wav, lyrics, songwriting splits, metadata and any additional assets she may need. From there it’ll head over to my publisher to ingest into their catalog system to start pitching as soon as possible.

Outside of your inner circle who are the people that will need to hear the new tracks next?

Again depending on the release, sometimes I’ll privately share Soundcloud links with fellow artists, music supervisors, playlisters and other pals in the industry.

Anything you are working on, anyone you are working with and want to share?

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some pretty amazing new talent over the past year. I’m so honoured to have collaborated with these women on the first music releases of their career. Right now though, I’m super excited to get back in the studio with my band Caveboy to work on some brand new music! Stay tuned!