Dawter Podcast, ep8, Camilla Sullivan

This week is our final episode for series one! What a fantastic journey it’s been so far. This time I interview songwriter, vocalist, producer and good friend of mine, Camilla Sullivan. Camilla is 3 years into an Audio Production degree, and is currently in the process of recording a debut album for her alt/rock duo, A Rioting Mind. Camilla gives valuable insight into another side of music production; the process of recording physical instruments, as well as working with other musicians in a studio environment. She is also a bit of an 80’s synth fan, and talks about the Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio (MESS). All this and so much more, available now in episode 8!

Quick Links

A Rioting Mind: Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp, Youtube

Other useful links: MESS, Juno-6

Highlights

Tell us the different roles that you and Libby each have in A Rioting Mind?

It will vary but generally I write a lot of the lyrics, and I’ll come up with a lot of the structures and stuff like that. But Libby, she’ll come up with songs too, and chord progressions and things like that.  It can be quite collaborative. Sometimes I’ll come in with something and I’ll be like “I don’t know how I want this so sound, I don’t know how I want it to end , can we maybe just jam it?” And then we’ll jam it, and some things will stick, or something will not stick, and it’s kind of like, once you’ve got a second person there, it’s not just you and your guitar.

It makes things more dynamic I guess. Like there are certain chord progressions I always go to, and I know it’s going to at least be a chorus or it will be the bridge of the song, but then when there is Libby… Libby has got a massive background in jazz, and so she will come up with chord progressions that are different sounding, or a little bit more edgy. My chord progressions are pretty standard, but Libby, she’ll have some kind of weird thing that she’ll do or some weird substitution that just makes it sound more interesting. It’s great great when you are producing an album when you don’t have everything sounding like singer-songwriter chord progressions. It helps you branch out of your shell, when you’ve got someone else to work with. 

That’s the control I like having as a producer. Being able to be like, “this is what I hear in this part” and being able to do that, and not have to explain it.

Previously on this podcast we have spoken more about working inside a computer, but what you do is another domain of production where you have a band that you’re recording and you need to direct musicians and use different microphone techniques to record different instruments. Is that something that comes easily or has it taken a lot of practice? 

It takes a lot of practice. The first thing I recorded for this project was piano’s and Rhodes, because we had those at uni. I was recording this upright piano and I used two ribbon mics on it and they were really noisy. It’s extreme lo-fi piano [laughs], like you can hear my foot pedal going and the clunk, and it was just really noisy. So I would not say that i’m a pro with all that stuff. But it’s working at the moment. 

That is definitely something you have to think of more than when you’re working with maybe drum samples and software instruments, or even hardware when you’re going direct in to your computer. And then there are times of day when you can’t… like I was trying to record vocals today and I couldn’t because there was a Galah [laughs]. And then there was a cockatoo and a kookaburra. So it’s like, do you want screeching cockatoo on your track? And if not you should probably just wait until it’s night time. 

Is there a way to clean up those recordings if you do get a little bit of bleed?

Yeah, most of it will be quite muffled. I mean with any bleed that we’ve had from rehearsal rooms at uni, usually a high-pass filter will be fine. If your track has got fairly dense instrumentation it’s gonna get lost anyway, it’s not going to come through. But If your recording like a solo guitar track. That’s the ones you have to be more careful of, when you know it’s gonna be a more spacious song, and that guitar is going to be the feature of it, and suddenly you’e got this band’s rehearsal coming through your condenser microphone, you’re like, no that’s not going to work. Because once you start compressing things you’re like, that wasn’t there before! So with that you’ve got to be careful, but with a more rock-band track you can get away with it. Galah’s not so much though [laughs]. 

Tell us about M.E.S.S (Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio)

It’s a massive collection of synthesisers put together by, I think it’s two guys, Robin Fox and Byron Scullin. So yeah, they put it together and it is just this massive collection of synthesisers, and some really vintage ones, some that are really rare. Which has meant that I have been able to work and play with some of these synths that I’ve heard on [records by] some of the artists that I really look up to. Like I am a massive fan on Jack Antonoff from Bleachers, I loved the stuff that he did with Taylor Swift, yeah I’m a Taylor Swift fan [laughs]. One of his favourite synths is I think Juno-6 and they had one of them there. It’s just really cool to be able to play something, and be able to create that sound that you heard from that album.

So is it like a studio set up?

It’s a big room and it’s just got synthesisers all around the walls. They have sound recording devices if you don’t have your own audio interface. They’ve got sound cards, headphones, cables, they’ve also got pedals. They have some delay-echo units as well. So it’s not just synths they have. They’ve got drum machines and, just a lot of really vintage gear that you hear about but you never think you’re going to see and you’re like, oh my god it’s that thing! It’s really cool. 

Camilla recording at Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio (MESS). Photo by MESS

Sound effects used in this episode sourced at soundbible.com

Dawter Podcast, ep6, Alpha Loopy

Already an accomplished singer songwriter and guitarist, Carolyn Oats is now making waves in the electronic music scene under the guise of Alpha Loopy. We talk live set-ups, creative processes, getting gigs, as well as how to use limitations to focus your creativity. 

Quick Links

Alpha Loopy: website, facebook, instagram, iTunes, Spotify

Hardware: Novation Launch Pad

Music groups (Melb, Aus): Beat Collective, Slice Records, Ableton Users Group

 

Highlights

What’s it like having two very different musical projects?

It’s a bit crazy sometimes, wearing different hats. Sometimes I do think, am I doing myself a disservice by having two many identities to maintain. But I guess I also enjoy the creative freedom of having different outlets. It does make the business aspect of the music a bit more tricky because you have to spend energy on each of the different projects.

What made you transition into electronic music?

That was a fun little transition that happened by accident. I had actually been looking at how I might incorporate some different looping options, with the singer / songwriter thing. But I wasn’t interested in pursuing the, I guess, stereotypical option, of get a loop pedal and make drumming kind of sounds on the acoustic guitar. I wanted to explore what options were available via recording / performance software. So I started exploring some different options there and came across Ableton Live. So I started just fiddling with that. Then by accident, in the space of 3 or 4 months I ended up writing all of these instrumental pieces.

At the time it was actually a really good creative release for me. I didn’t have a lot to say as a songwriter at the time. I would get home from work, and three hours would go by, and I would be having fun listening to drum beats, working out parts, synth parts. Starting to delve into what was provided in the Ableton software and just seeing where that lead. I ended up with all these pieces of instrumental music, and then I just thought “I should see if I can do this live.” Then I had to try and work out how I was actually going to perform any of this stuff, so that was a journey in itself too.

Advice for new producers?

Set yourself with limitations. Don’t see limitations as something that’s going to inhibit your creativity. Rather see it as a way to focus your creativity.

After years of experience, not just doing the electronic stuff, but the singer songwriter thing, just trying to keep things basic to start with. I think it always helped me feel like I wasn’t going to be overwhelmed with the creative process.

I definitely think with electronic music it can be really easy to just get 100% distracted, by finding a drum loop, or finding a sound, or buying new libraries of sounds and new libraries of drum loops. You might go “yay, I’m going to spend two hours tonight listening to all these drum loops,” but you could have actually spent two hours composing.

I should add to that, I didn’t upgrade from Ableton Free, to Ableton Live until probably a year. So I’d already composed six or seven pieces and done live gigs, all with Ableton Free.

Advice on getting gigs?

Someone said to me once around all of the business aspects, and I classify getting gigs as part of that business aspect, is:

“the only person who is going to back you all the time, is you.”

I can appreciate that can be really hard for a lot of arty people who aren’t used to doing the self-promotion thing. You’re the one who’s gonna be instigating that stuff at the start, the bios, the facebook page, the web pages, all of that kind of stuff. 

Some suggestions might be to look at other artists that are a coupe of steps ahead of you and see what kind of venues they’re playing. Then look up those venues and see if there is anyway you can contact them directly, and go “hey this is me, here’s my music,” so you’ll need to have some music online.

Other things that were really good for me early on with the electronic stuff was discovering a few collaborative organisations in Melbourne, and then joining them and seeing when they were advertising their own shows and going “hey, I’d love to be involved in one” 

Can you list some of those?

Beat Collective was one. Slice Records do some stuff around town as well. So they’ve both been really good. 

And some venues, if you go to them with a proposed gig, so not just yourself but a couple of other people, then they might be more interested in taking you on. 

The Ableton Users Group is another great group to get involved in, to start to meet other people who are out their gigging. Maybe you’ll be able to do a gig with them, or they are looking for someone else to fill a bill. 

Elise Cabret and Alpha Loopy at Rangemaster studio in the Yarra Ranges