Native Devices heralded the release of the Komplete 11 audio production suite with Komplete Paintings: a set of 24 commissioned compositions with a range of artists, all of which were made exclusively with the new software. We’ ve linked up with five of the enlisted Sketches artists—WIFE, Chino Amobi, Throwing Shade, Jlin and Deru—to go in deep on their workflow procedures, the useful tips they’ ve learned throughout their career and the techniques they use to create their own unique sound. The fourth installment features a conversation with London-based DJ Throwing Tone (aka Nabihah Iqbal), who’ t mostly known for her work as a radio show on NTS yet contains multitudes. She also has a background in karate, human rights law and African history, plus, as she explains below, she’ s a music producer as well. Her debut EP, House Of Silk, arrives out via Ninja Tune in Mar 2017.
The concept behind Komplete Sketches was that people would put down their first concepts, stop working on them and send the result over to us. Was that method different to the way you’d normally focus on a track?
Well, I guess it’s just the first stage of making a track. The requirements were nice in that sometimes if you come up with a good idea, that’s what arrives first. Getting the idea is hard since you can’t control it—when you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone. That’s when you might come up with a couple of fine chords or a nice beat or even some other idea you can then develop. The developing stage is difficult too because it requires a lot more focus plus it sort of brings together two strands of your brain that don’t always necessarily come together. You’ve obviously got the creative, impulsive side, but you have still got to structure it. I assume I didn’t have to come up with a completed track for the sketch, so I had more freedom, which was nice. I possibly could be a bit more experimental with it.
The sheer sufficiency of gear and software that’s available now can lead to a kind of mental prevent. Do you ever have trouble with that?
I totally understand that. It’s true that you can find yourself drowning in most this stuff. When you have so many options available for you and so many sounds, you need to have a great deal of self-discipline. For example , right now I’m within the studio trying to create 45 minutes or an hour of music. It’s quite simple to get bogged down in the trying-out stage where you just run through 500 different sounds. It’s nice if you have all the time in the world, but if you’re trying to a timetable, it’s not great. I believe it’s cool to just choose a number of programs you want to work in, find a sound you like as a starting point and work from there. In my sketch, for example , I actually used Massive. You have to have that kind of focus. You know how fun it is when you get new sounds and wish to go through everything.
Is the way you’re working on the particular album now different to the way you labored on the EP?
It feels like there’s more stress. I’m trying to ignore that since it really gets in the way of actually producing music. I suppose the process is a bit different in other ways too—I’m using various software and trying out a few various approaches, which is all cool. But then the more negative side is that there are people waiting to listen to it, and I have to block that out of my mind. I’m also thinking about the commercial angle: whether it’s going to sell plus stuff like that. But that can impair the creativity. I think I was considering that side of things a bit too much just before, and now I’m blocking it out and just making music.
So you’re trying out new setups now for the album? What’s transformed?
I’m making use of more guitar, and doing a wide range of it with Guitar Rig, that is so cool. It’s good upon other stuff, too: I’ve been using the effects on vocals and even on percussion. The other day I recorded some percussion in from a Korg Volca Trial on the wrong audio channel by mistake, but then there was this epic structure from Guitar Rig. The drums had this really big, bouncing reverb, and it sounded cool, and so i kept it.
It’s funny how mistakes like this sometimes end up defining the sound afterwards. Some artists talk about “waiting for stuff to take place. ” Do you have that as well?
Yeah. I’m in the studio all day, every day right now and have been for the past couple of months. But when you’re doing something creative, there isn’t necessarily a correlation between the quantity of hours you put in and your efficiency. So I can be working in here all day and not come up with anything good, and then the next day think of some great ideas and set down the skeleton of a track within the first half hour. The way I realize it, being in the studio so much is not really going to make me produce very much more music, but if I’m not here I might never make it. You have to motivate yourself.
That might sound strange to a lot of outsiders. After all, music is meant to be enjoyable, right? But being creative is not always “fun, ” is it?
Not always—especially if you’re trying very hard to do something. It is hard to create a song, you know? Even if you hear a song you don’t like within the radio—some three-minute pop song or whatever—it was hard to make. In the event that someone tells you to go into the recording studio and make something like that, it’s really difficult. A crazy amount of work switches into those three or four minutes of music.
A lot of people whom don’t make music don’t realize what a complicated process it is.
Yeah, like our mum! She’ll ask me things such as, “How many songs did a person make today? ” Or “Did you make any good music? ” I’m like “I dunno. It doesn’t work like that! ”
We’re living in a good age in which every question possible has been answered in a YouTube video. What do you think about generally having access to all of that stuff via tutorials?
I think it’s great. I’ve resorted to YouTube loads of times. I actually work on Ableton a lot, but Dont really know it inside out. I’m just training myself, so sometimes I obtain stuck. For example , I was trying to find a good way to de-ess vocals without EQing out there a big chunk of frequencies. There are several really good tutorials on YouTube with tips for getting around that problem. I believe it’s really nice that people take the time to reveal that stuff.
Is that how you learned to produce in the first place?
I did the production course ages ago, however it was on Cubase, which I never ever used again. Then I picked up things from friends—just hanging out and getting these to teach me things. I look at things on the internet, too. It’s a combination.
Do you have a set way of starting a track? Every one of the artists we’ve interviewed for this Design series seems to have a completely different technique.
I guess Excellent few set ways of starting. Among my favorites is to come up with some good chords or sounds—or even just starting with one chord and creating it from there. Other times I’ll begin with the drums, but more often than not Ill begin with the more melodic side.
So is sound design a focus at the beginning, or is it more about harmonies and melodies?
Sound design often comes last for me because that’s the really time-consuming and cerebral bit. When you’re in the zone with regards to having really good, creative ideas, I think it’s better to knock them all out since quick as you can before you lose this. I always start with a rough draw of a track. I put all the different textures down and the different layers and the drums, but I will not touch any EQs or everything. It stays super rough until I reach a point where I have all the elements I like and want to keep. Then I’ll go into the more specialized, sound-design side of it. Once you’ve got your ideas down, working on the seems and bringing different things out is really a different process and you don’t always have to rely on being in the creative zone for that.
Some artists say the opposite: which they can’t write anything if it does not sound sonically interesting from the start. Functioning the way you do, does the final version of a track still resemble the very first, or does it change a lot?
Sometimes it does audio similar, but sometimes it’s completely different. I might make a track and be like “Oh, I don’t like this. ” After that I’ll literally delete everything aside from one or two sounds and start again from those. They might even be the most recent things I made, so Ill delete all the earlier work. This will depend on what I’m feeling.
How do you know when a track is finished?
This is the annoying thing. I think all music artists would probably tell you that it’s so hard to know when something’s finished, mainly because it’s a never-ending process. We listen back now to some of our records that have been released and it is like, “Oh my god, I should have done this and this. ” But it’s the self-discipline thing once again. When you’re happy with it and it also sounds good out of different speakers, you’re good to go. Sometimes you end up working on things for way longer than you need to.
It’s difficult to stop tweaking when you have so many options available. Do you think having a lot of gear is something that can help the process or do you find that it can actually deter you?
It just depends what you do with it. You could let it slow you down, but I don’t see it like that. For me, it’s amazing that you can possess so many different sounds and effects at your disposal. Going through all the Komplete stuff, for example , I can get lazy with it and stick to one sort of sound that I like. What I’m trying to do instead is use completely different seems, or at least some different sounds, in every brand new track or project that I focus on.
Have you ever learned something in the studio that you could apply to life in general?
Don’t waste time. And don’t get things for granted. Okay, it’s hard to make music—especially when you are starting out—but I’m so lucky to be able to do what I’m doing right now full-time. It’s taught me personally just to be grateful and make the most of it, both in and out of the facilities. You should be happy that you can do things, that will you’re healthy and that we have so many opportunities. 2016’s a pretty depressing year. You need to be positive.
Read through past Native Instruments Komplete Sketches interviews with Jlin and more right here.
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