We kick off a new series dedicated to production tips from some of our favourite producers from Ireland and abroad. We commence the series with one of Ireland’s most accomplished techno producers, Kerrie. Having recently debuted on the iconic techno imprint, Blueprint, Kerrie shares some tips and tricks that help her stay creative in the studio.
Dark Machine Funk boss Kerrie has had a rather monumental few years of late, having debuted on James Ruskin‘s Blueprint, two releases on her label DMF with great acclaim as well as a host of landmark gigs in Europe including Fabric, Freedom Festival in Medellin and a number of gigs at Eastern Bloc.
The Irish born but Manchester based techno purist is carving her name into the Irish techno history books. While Ireland is home to a number of celebrated techno artists, few have come close to achieving what Kerrie has in recent times, and the future is looking astoundingly bright for the Cork born DJ and producer. With a fine-tuned ear for carving raw and analogue techno, Kerrie was an absolute no brainer to kick off our Four Four Studio Tips series.
Production / DAW
As I work with equipment mostly, my processes are quite specific to the machines I use and the limitations within each machine. Each piece of gear has its own modulation section / parameters that give everything movement and life. After I push things as far as I can creatively in the machines I then start recording / structuring, then it’s onto the stage of polishing and taking things to the next level in the box.
I use Ableton for production although I’ve used Logic in the past as well. I find Ableton super easy to work with. I use the arrangement view and I’m jamming in audio from the machines. I’m purely working with audio, no midi. Structure is usually pretty easy for me as I have already jammed the idea in the machines and can get an idea of where elements need to come in and out etc.
For editing audio my go to tools are the Sound Toys plugins, I’m a huge fan of the Decapitator; an analog saturation plugin, Crystalliser; granular audio processor and the Filter freak, to be honest I use a lot of them! I also use the Ableton stock plugins; overdrive, compressor and sometimes vocoder in noise mode (on any sound not just vocals). EQ is a huge part of my arsenal, I use the fab filter PRO Q3. It’s essential really in cleaning up the mix especially using hardware; in particular the modular. I’m not looking for clinical EQ though, I like weight, distortion and fullness so it’s a constant balance between making things punchy and clear yet still full and gritty. A good trick is to beef things up with Sound Toys decapitator and then EQ after, I always stick the EQ on after any processing. When it comes to editing audio, simple things like reversing audio at the end of a bar / phrase can sound really cool. Also having a few seconds silent pause before a drop or reducing all the elements down to one sound in that pause, to create an element of surprise and or create more impact for the drop.
I usually mix levels in the machines as much as I can and use the filters to sculpt sounds, then I run everything through my Midas Venice F16 desk which has a Multitrack firewire output into Ableton. I used to do the final mix in the box while I was structuring and processing sounds, it was all the one process. These days I’m having a totally separate session just for mixing in the box, which I feel has taken things up a notch. I use some compression and side chain compression where needed, I also use Fab Filter PRO Q3 on everything. I use Sound Toys MicroShift which is a stereo processor that helps give some width and space to the mix. Apart from these tools, I mostly use my ears (and my Adam A7X’s) and also reference the mix on Studio and DJ headphones.
Anything I tell you about in the box production is mostly second hand information I’ve learned from peers or tutorials so I highly recommend buddying up with friends and sharing tips or getting yourself online and get exploring, there is a wealth of knowledge on youtube these days for free and tonnes of artists sharing knowledge on platforms such as patreon.
Composition VS Production
I treat the composition session as its own entity, It’s the fun creative part where I’m using the right side of my brain. This is where I jam on the machines and come up with some loops within pattern banks of equipment sequencers. I’ll then create variations and push things as far as I can idea wise, in the machines. This is super useful for Live performance too as I have change ups / variations ready to drop in and take things in another direction if things become a bit stagnant while performing. There’s not a lot of thinking involved in the composition session; it’s very free flowing. Then I always have a break and the second session is the production side of things; recording / structuring / editing / mixing which is more the left side of my brain. I can still get into a creative flow here, it’s just more analytical thinking. With the production side of things I feel it needs to be super focused and I tend to not leave it more than a day or two to finish as I can lose momentum and get bored!
Sound Sources – Being Resourceful
Besides using gear I use my voice quite a lot in production. It’s a super cool tool and totally free to use. I usually record vocals mostly spoken, sometimes sung and then mash them up with effects (detuning pitch / applying delays / LFO’s) in my samplers; digitakt or analog rytm, although you can use the sampler in Ableton or whatever DAW you use to get the same results. A cool trick is to set an LFO on the pitch of the vocal and you can get a rhythmic eerie pad effect if you repeat the note / trigger over at least once in the bar. I’ve used vocals for high hats, to give accents to snare sounds and use them a lot for layered rhythmical fx type pads that sit nicely in the background of the mix. I also use Field Recordings a lot. Myself and my partner sampled the sounds of a Sheffield workshop and made a four track EP solely using the sounds of the workshop. I still use these sounds regularly in my production too, and because they are recorded with a mic they have all the room acoustics in the actual recording which add an extra layer of texture which is really nice.
Have points of inspiration you can go back to and revisit, whether that be music, films, places, gigs etc. I can re-listen to old DJ mixes or classic albums from back in the day and still get motivated by them. With music, it’s the pieces that make you think ‘how did they make that sound?’ I love a good film soundtrack as well, especially anything Sci Fi. The new Dune movie blew me away, both the film and the score were outstanding! Although it sounds really obvious, sound is the biggest inspiration for me so accumulating a new piece of gear or having a productive sound design session can set me off on a totally new exciting creative period where I’ll work with the new sounds for a while and push and tweak that sound palette as far as I can.
This took me a while to realise. I would spend ages hammering away on the machines, feeling like I needed to show up for 8-10 hours a day and sometimes come away feeling defeated. I guess after spending a decent amount of years at it and being super comfortable with my setup I have removed any technical barriers and I can get an idea going really quickly. I’ve also made the studio set up more ergonomic; comfortable, with ease of access / positioning of gear as well as managing cable routing, which all help with flow. Personally for me It’s all about being centered in myself before starting, removing all distractions (phones off!) to get super focused on what I am doing and most importantly just try to loosen up and have some fun! I love using my hands, I DJ using vinyl too so I guess I’m a tactile person and making music on machines with a hands on approach works for me. Obviously, it’s each to their own in terms of medium but these days I find that we spend so much time on screens it’s good to have a break from them too! You can buy equipment for super cheap these days or invest in a decent midi controller if you are working in the box and want to try a hands on approach. I recommend keeping things simple whatever your setup is! Learn, explore and get to know it inside out so you’re not having to think too much and you will be able to get in a creative flow easily.
Feedback / Development
I think having a mentor / good set of experienced ears is invaluable! I can’t tell you how much receiving feedback has helped me along the way. If you can find someone experienced to listen to your demo’s and give feedback even if they aren’t going to sign them, it will help with your progression massively!
Overall, be patient and be willing to put in the time. The results will come if you show up and continue to learn. Learning and exploring is the fun part anyway and keeps it interesting! Take the time to explore. Time is also important day to day; taking breaks and having breathing space during and between sessions. Give your ears a rest, come back to things with a fresh perspective. Sometimes I will go back to an idea I had created months before, and find a new use for it or just use certain elements of it in a new track. This is also a super useful approach if you are feeling uninspired to totally start from scratch in a session.
Photo Credit’s ‘Annie Feng’.