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?
How, when and where did you start making music? Are you primarily a musician or a producer, or do something else?
I’m a musician and producer. I play in the band Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs and run Blank Studios, a commercial studio in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
On the studio side of things, I started Blank back in 2008, alongside two other producers based in Newcastle. Originally a portable studio set up, going from location to location, in 2010 we opened our first studio space, and in 2018 we moved to our current home on Warwick Street.
With the band, Pigs x7 was formed in 2012 as one of many projects we would play around with amongst our circle of friends. Matt, Johnny and I all went to school together in Richmond (North Yorkshire), and regularly started bands and projects together. Alongside Adam and Ewan [the first drummer Pigs drummer] we hit upon a good balance of influences, and the whole thing grew from there. A few years in though, work and family life meant Ewan had to take a step back and Chris, our current drummer, replaced him.
Who would you consider some of your biggest influences when it comes to your “sound”?
Early on the likes of Sleep and Black Sabbath were obvious influences. The down-tuned, valve amp heavy sound of Sleep’s guitars, along with the rolling drums and and bass lines of Sabbath are a compelling vibe. But ultimately we tended to just write, and ultimately create an aesthetic with the sound in whatever manner felt write in respects to what made us smile. Whether it was something fast and Kraut-ey or slow and doom-ey.
Within the bands there’s a very long list of influential musical persuasions, and they all get drawn upon at various points in search of bringing the music together.
Explain your creative process? Do you have a routine?
Writing with Pigs has evolved over the years. Originally we wrote like it was on a roll of toilet, just adding and adding riffs and sections that felt appropriate to where things had reached to that point. ‘Feed the Rats’ was built up in this nature.
With King of Cowards there was more writing done with a mind toward individual tracks. Often one of us would have the skeleton of a track, and in the practice room we would work on it’s arrangement and look to see if it paired with any ideas or riffs anyone else had. Through that process we’d get interesting movements and shifts within the music. We’d often also write with solo’s, vocals and additional features in mind, and then once the base of the track felt right, those elements would be added.
What is your “studio” setup?
We write and record these days pretty much exclusively in Blank Studios. It’s got a big open live room, with high ceilings and lush acoustics, so it’s great to play in. The studio also has all the equipment and ergonomics we need to record and produce music too; plenty of Neve pres, lots of nice outboard, a great mic collection, an isolation booth…
Gear wise there’s mountains of awesome stuff at our finger tips. Amazing compressors like the LA2A, 1176 or the neve 33609. Big ATC main speakers that are a joy to work on. Then there’s fun things like the plate reverb and spring reverbs, a massive guitar pedal collection, a handful of synths…
We’re super fortunate in the position we’re in, and it makes for a lot of fun when it comes to the production of the records.
What is your process when working with other people? How is collaboration different in the studio vs working remotely?
For the most part I take on the technical roles in the band, of engineer, producer and mixer. Though I’ll often bring in John Martindale, one of the other Blank Studios engineers, to help in the tracking stages.
At what point(s) are you comfortable letting other people hear what you are working on?
Fairly quickly in the process, to be honest. Amongst us we’ve all been a part of, and worked on, numerous records and projects. We’re beyond the point of being too precious about things, and generally we’re all fairly at ease with our abilities (or lack of!). Ultimately it doesn’t make much difference to us when other people hear something, as it’s unlikely to change anything, so there’s not much of a need to be concerned about that.
Do you share your work in progress (streams or downloads)? Any technical frustrations?
I’m not really one for sharing work while it’s in progress, unless it’s with band mates or collaborators. Oftentimes as well it’s some awful iPhone recording of a clean guitar or something similar, nothing you want to be any further out there than it absolutely needs to be! So technical frustrations are the least of my concerns. I have in the past used the various music hosting platforms (soundcloud, bandcamp et al) to create private links of unreleased stuff to share with people, but usually of prior-to-release finished material, and it’s always fairly low key, so I don’t give it too much thought.
How do you know when a track/album is finished?
We’ll have the album mostly written and demoed before tracking in the studio, so the recording time is as much a process to making sure we all put our parts down to the best of our abilities. I’ll then take it away, so to speak, and mix over over the subsequent weeks. In answer to the question of knowing when it’s finished, though, it’s pretty uninspiring in that there’s no fanfare, it just reaches a point where doing more isn’t adding much more, so it’s time to stop!
How do you listen to the final mixes/mastered work?
I’ll send mixes around to the band, and everyone has their preferred method of referencing. But generally, all the bands are fairly laid back, and happy to go with it if I’m happy with where it’s at. Any feedback gets looked at, and tweaks are done, and then it’s off to mastering.
I’ll always listen to master on the main speakers at the studio at the earliest opportunity. I’ll also listen on my headphones and then on various other systems – a laptop, the hi-fi, earbuds…
How important is pre-release security when sharing new work?
Pigs is fortunate to of never had any issues with pre-release security, fortunately. Whether that’s because everyones been careful with it, or that the wider world just doesn’t care that much though is another question….
That said though, it is important for all the projects I work on, not just with Pigs, but as a producer with all the albums I’ve been a part of.
Having a good album campaign that builds up to the fanfare it deserves on release day is super important on many levels.
Who on your team gets to hear the final versions first and why, what formats do they each need?
Our manager and our label are the first sets of ears on things. Brad [our manager] might come into the studio, or otherwise, they’ll all get a bunch of WAVs FTPed to them. We’ll then all talk about sequencing and, after that get things off to mastering.
Outside of your inner circle, who are the people that will need to hear the new tracks next?
I don’t really know! At this point, I’m clocking off! I’m probably ready to move on to the next project, or need a bit of time off, and all the ears that “need” a listen are often the considerations of Brad and the label… I happily don’t have to worry about that.
Anything you are working on, anyone you are working with and want to share?
I’ve actually just recently started a new project called Rubber Oh. It has a nearing horizon, of sorts… I’m super excited about this project and looking forward to sharing it. It’s a bit of a “watch this space…”