Monday, July 10, 2006
Drum and Bass Masterclass Sample CD from Loopmasters - Interview in Knowledge Mag
With his new sample pack just weeks away from release, David Carbone has compiled a three-minute mix of tracks built from it for this issue’s cover CD. Summing up the enormity of this project is easy: Carbone is unquestionably the best producer Digital Nation has ever featured, and we all have something to learn from him.
With artists like Pendulum and TC getting their names down early for limelight tanning sessions, it’s easy for less discerning drum & bass fans to skim over cult figures like David Carbone. Ironically, David’s knowledge of production far and away eclipses that of any other producer previously featured in Digital Nation… and when you consider the prestige of our past roster, this is no easy task. His CD is of such high standards that upon release, the scene could undergo a revolution similar to when the Amen break first came into circulation.
A LITTLE HISTORY
So what exactly does David Carbone do to warrant such praise? Well, to tell you the whole story would be against the ethic of a man who prefers to remain partly in the shadows of the music industry. All you need to know is that where many drum & bass producers lay their eggs in one basket then moan about declining record sales, David spreads his wings to cover much of the music industry in one swoop. Whether it’s producing bands in the charts, concocting music for best-selling videogames, working as a producer at London’s production behemoth Delicious Digital Studios or teaching digital audio to some of the scene’s most respected producers (who shall remain nameless), David Carbone is the embodiment of the modern day sound engineer.
What you do need to be aware of is some of the methodology behind his upcoming sample CD, because in covering it we will simultaneously expose some vital production techniques. Aside from this entire project being directed by David Carbone, it’s worth mentioning that it was recorded and engineered at the famous Delicious Digital production house [see http://www.deliciousdigital.com/ – their successes are too numerous to mention], which we’ll feature in more detail next issue. But for the time being, let’s have a look at…
THE SAMPLE CD
David now explains what we can expect from his forthcoming Loopmasters release: “I didn’t want it to be a typical construction CD,” he kicks off. “It still is – in the respect that you can pick it up, put five loops together and make a tune. However, I also wanted it to be quite versatile in terms of musical content so that it could be split up and reformed into unique creations. The drums are the most important bit for me. Everyone uses the same breaks in drum & bass. So, for this project I wanted to completely remake these breaks from scratch.”This is a meteoric idea – one that people have toyed with for many years but never actually pulled off. Approximately 90% of all drum & bass tunes use the same breaks, so isn’t it about time somebody made the effort to cook up some more? This is where David comes in. But take note – it takes a bewildering level of production skill to recreate the subtle nuances of the classic breaks. “My philosophy was to come up with something that sounded high-spec and different,” David reveals. “I wanted Joe Bloggs who has never written a tune before to be able to use my breaks, and producers with years of experience, like Dillinja and Pendulum, to also find them useful.”
STICKS + KITS = DRUMS
So, what can we expect from David Carbone’s Drum & Bass Masterclass in the actual drum department? “In the drumkit section you get a total of 63 different drumloops, which are built from 20 kits (where each kit is set up differently in regards to microphones and techniques). There are three variations of each kit, then a multi file with every element combined.”
The multi file is basically a recording of every individual part of the respective kits played one after the other. So, for example, with a multi you might hear an isolated kick drum first, then a snare, then a hi-hat and so on. It’s fair to say that these multis and kits are of a professional standard present in today’s top records; something few other sample CDs can boast. ”We used 13 mics set up differently to record the drums, but we’ll cover that in the second part of this interview when we go down to the famed Delicious Studios and speak to the crew,” states David.
How on earth did he manage to replicate the timbre and feel of the classic loops so closely? ”I took an inspiration for each loop,” he responds, “whether it was the Amen or the Funky Drummer. I then looked at these loops in the computer and made groove templates based on where all the hits landed.”
From this, it becomes obvious how we as producers can also ‘steal’ grooves from our favourite breaks and quantise our own beats to them. The reason the Funky Drummer, for example, sounds as pleasing as it does is because it has an organic rhythm, and bears the pleasing, humane flaws present in all classic breaks. David’s drums on his sample CD exhibit similar levels of authenticity. “I tapered and shaped my own drums to reflect the same grooves and elements as the breaks they were based on,” beams Dave, showing off his extensive quantisation list from the top-left hand corner of Logic’s arrange page. “In some cases I’ve taken the groove templates created by Ollie (the drummer who played them) and used these instead of the ones from classic breaks. So, you’ve got quite a mixture here. Most are quantised, some are straight, but they’re all pretty useful.”
Every possible variable has been exhaustively reproduced by David Carbone so to faithfully emulate the classic breaks, from reverb and tonal distortion through to microphone techniques and quantisation. “I very rarely used parts of other breaks to make them, and if I did have to they only serve as backup. The philosophy was NOT to use the original break but try to sound exactly like it.”
Many producers aren’t aware how difficult it is to record a drum kit properly and professionally. The word ‘nightmarish’ springs to mind. “I’ve gone beyond the board of means to make this CD,” sighs Dave. “The drum kits alone took me three months of intensive work. I was adamant that we needed the right kit for each break, and if we didn’t have the right one we’d have to order it in. We also had to get the mics set up perfectly. For example, with the Amen, its classic trait is top-end distortion, so for that we brought the mics in close and recorded them quite loud, with slappy kits. The guys at Delicious are incredibly gifted engineers and they were instrumental in making them sound authentic. For me, the beats are the piece de resistance of the whole package.”
Can David assure us he hasn’t saved any ‘super breaks’ for himself? “When I did the sample CD my approach was ‘I’m not going to be protective and anal’,” he reassures us. “I see a lot of other sample CDs – the guys who make them are capable of so much better (judging by what’s in their tunes). Their mentality is quite clearly ‘I’m not going to give you my best samples’. My mentality right from the off was that ‘I want everybody in the music industry to be using my samples’.”
David Carbone’s generous streak clearly stems from the ethos behind his extremely popular BS1 website (http://www.bs1records.com/), which gives out free samples en masse. By the 8th May 2006 his site had already clocked 55,000 hits, averaging around 12,000 per day. “The reason it’s so popular is because of all the free breaks and samples we give away,” David explains. “Everyone that comes along to the BS1 label ends up posting their best sounds up on the studio page, which is now full of free, high quality, downloadable material. For example, there are all my drum breaks on there, plus Lomax’s, Dego’s, Cubix’s and TC’s. All the artists that see this tell me ‘you’re a fucking nutter – I’d never put my breaks up on the internet’. It’s just a typical thing to say.”No shit! “I don’t make any money from this; it takes up a lot of my time and I give away my best material. However, ‘what goes around comes around’. For example – I recently did some music for a Japanese videogame whose producers found me via my site. This was a massive job. My attitude is ‘you give, you get’. So, with the sample CD I thought I had to extend that philosophy by being able to give people better than what they expected from me.”
WE HAVE KONTAKT
Kontakt 2.1 is the hub from which David Carbone infuses his magic into his samples. “Yeah – it’s probably the plug-in I use the most. Kontakt 2 is an absolutely brilliant sampler; it has amazing saturation and distortion plug-ins, and makes it really easy to individually taper each sound. I will get a kick for example and edit it with envelopes so that it has a short release time. Then – and this is the key to my sound – I will add a very short reverb to make the drums sound bright, and push for that replicated distortion sound. I saturate my drums using Kontakt’s built-in saturation plug-in so that they become quite big and loud, then throw a final envelope into the mix to taper it off. This makes sure everything sounds short, sweet and tight. I have a specific reverb patch that I made in Logic’s Space Designer for to help me achieve the aforementioned, that’s terribly short [see Fig.1]. If I put it on you won’t hear it working, but will go ‘oh yeah, it sounds brighter’.”This tip is so helpful it can completely change the way you work. Using a combination of Kontakt’s awesome saturation effects and, more importantly, very subtle, short reverbs, will make your drums sound bigger and more weighty. It’s exactly the same principle that Dillinja uses on his drums – he records them live, saturates them then uses brief, bright reverbs (as evident in ‘Go Dillinja’) with a distorted top end. Some people wrongly associate reverbs with thinning out a sound (perhaps because of their stereotypical ‘seesaw’ wet / dry functions) but if you use this technique properly it will do quite the opposite.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Whilst Carbone is evidently most proud of his sample CD’s drums, this shouldn’t diminish our focus on its other elements. “We’ve got pads,” he continues. “These are pretty standard and straightforward – one key press each. Many of them are multisampled, and there are about twenty. You can’t really experiment hugely with pads, but I felt it was necessary to include them. Then we have musical loops – starting with Rhodes and Hammond organs, plus my Nord and Virus.”
When Dave says ‘Virus’ he’s referring to none other than his brand, spanking new TI model. Whilst the CD’s organ sections are authentic and pleasing to the ear, the Virus synth is arguably responsible for its standout moments. “All these samples are rammed at zero,” DC dictates. “They’ve all been mastered nicely, so I would encourage everyone bring them down to about -6dB in the arrange page – then you’ll be on track for a good mix. I designed them for people to be able to take advantage of effortlessly and painlessly.”
David hasn’t over-processed any of his samples because he’d rather you mangled them yourselves. As you flick through the CD’s various categories like trumpets, keys, FX and sweeps, you eventually arrive at the synth section. Here you can find sonics styled in the vein of producers from Twisted Individual to A.I. “I wanted there to be a mixture,” David grins, “and for this section to help complement your music. I want people to be able to put them in and find their tunes running a little bit better instantly.”Finally we have the bass section. “Basslines are so subjective,” ponders Dave. “For me it wasn’t about making a bass loop that sounds cool as a whole, but to make samples that you can use properly in your own music, and cut up.”
And there we have it. It’s now pretty obvious that David Carbone’s Drum & Bass Masterclass is aimed squarely at the modern producer who likes to get an arrangement up and running within minutes. All the hours of blood and sweat David incurred in making it were for the purpose of making your life easier.
Looking back on the effort that went into David Carbone’s Drum & Bass Masterclass, it’s evident that this is no ordinary sample CD. Not only is its range of sounds impressive, but the drum loops are nigh-on revolutionary and the overall level of production (such as ironing out clicks, mastering to a good level, etc) top drawer. “For me – I don’t have to think that they’re great musical loops,” Carbone concludes, “but that they’re great sounds and that they’re produced to the highest level. If they didn’t pass these tests then they haven’t been included. I knew right from the off that any one of these loops would take around five hours to make. I started producing them in November 2005 and now it’s May 2006. I often spent whole days working on just three or four loops. I don’t know how it’s going to be received, but so far I’ve been absolutely delighted with the response from people who’ve heard it. For me it’s a labour of love, and the main purpose is to get it into everyone’s music.”
Now you check out his mix at www.loopmasters.com to see what the fuss is about!
On the cover CD is a two-and-a-half minute mega mix of five songs composed strictly of samples from David’s Loopmasters CD. “To a lot of the young producers making drum & bass, it comes more naturally to them than it does to me,” David admits, “so they’re really going to be able to go to town with the sample CD. I know I’m going hear some of their tracks and be like ‘that’s my chord – I can’t believe what they’ve done with it. They’re geniuses… I’d never think of that!’ That would be the perfect scenario. The five tunes on the cover CD are of very different styles and not only show how versatile my sample CD is but how effectively its content fits together. The people who know me will be looking forward to hearing it, and I hope that those who are sceptical will be pleasantly surprised too.”
“All the artists that see this tell me ‘you’re a fucking nutter – I’d never put my breaks up on the internet’!” – David Carbone
“Everyone uses the same breaks in drum & bass. So, for this project I wanted to completely remake these breaks from scratch.” – David Carbone
“I wanted Joe Bloggs who has never written a tune before to be able to use my breaks, and producers with years of experience, like Dillinja and Pendulum, to also find them useful.” – David Carbone