Meet our Production Engineer
You may have run across Christopher unobtrusively making our recitals rock by taking care of sound. Or you may have seen his awesome work when you got your edited recital video. You may have even taken an Ableton lesson from him! Our Production Engineer, Chris, has a diverse resume, from producing and DJing, to getting trained in Electronic Music Production at Berklee School of Music, to film scoring. When you see him at our next event, make sure to say hi!
Q & A with Chris
CE: Although I had been involved in electronic music production and DJing since the early 90s, it had always been a hobby. I spent most of my career in the software development industry, and while I was making a good living, I didn’t feel like I was living a good life, if that makes any sense. So, a few years ago I just decided I’d had enough. It was time to turn my passions outside of work into my work. It involved overcoming fear of the unknown (can I actually survive doing this?) and getting some proper education under my belt to get myself back up to speed. So I dove into the Electronic Music Production program at Berklee School of Music.
MM: Yeah, I saw that Berklee School of Music for Music Technology is part of your education! What was that experience like? What kinds of stuff did you do?
CE: In a word – frightening! It had been nearly 2 decades since I last produced electronic music, although I had continued to DJ every once in a while. My only experience with digital audio workstations came from the 1997 version of Cubase, and suddenly I needed to get up to speed with software such as Reason, Ableton Live, and Logic Pro. Additionally, electronic music producers assume every role in the creation of a song, from composing melodies and basslines, to laying down beats, to recoding live audio, to making unique sounds through sound design and synthesis, to arranging, mixing and mastering. So I was taking courses that covered each one of those facets. It’s a lot to take in, so quite often I would find myself working through the night and well into the next day.
MM: What got you interested in music production?
CE: Throughout the 80’s I enjoyed music from the likes of Herbie Hancock, Harold Faltermeyer, Brian Eno and Art of Noise. So the seeds were there, which leads me to the summer of 1991. I went to my very first “rave” called Grape Ape, at Wild Rivers in Irvine. It was my first exposure to the underground electronic dance music scene. The next day I went straight to a record shop in Irvine called Hyde Park Corner, and bought my first 2 EDM albums. I still remember them- 808 State’s “ex:el” and Orbital’s first release, which everyone called “the green album.” After listening to those I was hooked. In 1994 I bought a Roland MC-50 sequencer, a JV-1080 rack mount synth, and an A-30 MIDI keyboard. Around that time, a friend of mine introduced me to another guy who was into making electronic music, Michael Vargas. Coincidentally, he lived a few blocks away from me, and he had a more complete studio. So I brought my gear over to his place, and we started jamming… That’s where it all started!
MM: Do you have a favorite genre of music? What do you love about it?
CE: That’s a tough one to pin down… I enjoy listening to all kinds of music- classical, jazz, rock, folk, downtempo, ambient, trance, house, techno… If it speaks to me in some way I’ll enjoy it, regardless of the genre. That being said, I do have a special love for progressive psytrance, also called Goa. I’m fascinated by the technical expertise it requires to produce, its otherworldly nature, the pervasive spiritual themes, and its ability to create huge sonic spaces between two speakers. Amazing headphone music!
MM: What’s your process creating/producing music?
CE: You know it really depends, but I’ve found that I’m more likely to be deeply engaged and complete a track if I know what my objective is. That being said, something usually pops into my head–a piece of a melody, for instance–and I’ll record the notes into my DAW. Then I’ll work on recreating how the melody sounded like in my head, and that’s where the sound design aspect of electronic music production comes in. I’ll load up one of my favorite synths, like Serum, and start building a new sound to match. After that I start fleshing out the track–figure out what key I’m in, lay down a 4 or 8 bar groove with beats and bass, create a chord progression, and layer in some more parts until I have something interesting. Then I’ll spread it out over sections (for example, intro, verse, buildup, drop, outro), and start fleshing things out. I tend to work with effects and mixing as I go rather than stage them sequentially, which is the traditional method.
MM: Tell us about film scoring and what that entails!
CE: Without a doubt, it’s extremely challenging. I’m not making it for myself, so I have to put my ego aside, let go of preconceptions and open myself up to what the film’s content is saying to me, as well as what the director feels the film needs. A film doesn’t fit into beats and measures, a fixed tempo, or a single mood. So I have to come up with creative ways to match the changes to pacing and emotion that I see on the screen. I recently needed to produce an orchestrated score for an animated short, so there’s another level of difficulty in that. Not having an orchestra, I had to dig into how those various instruments are played individually, and how they work together to create a realistic sounding production.
MM: I know you’ve mostly done your own production work, but recently you’ve taken on a student learning Ableton. What’s it like using those skills to teach another person?
CE: It was a new and somewhat daunting challenge for me, mostly because I had never taught anyone in a formal setting before. What’s the best way to learn how to use digital audio workstation software? Ableton has loads of functionality. I didn’t want to simply teach “this thing does that, here’s what you do to make it work.” There needs to be context, which is of course, creating and producing a complete song. So there’s another level of teaching and learning beyond that. For example, it’s easy to show how to add Ableton’s Wavetable synthesizer to a track. Great, now you can play notes using the built-in presets. But if you really want to understand that instrument, you need to understand the fundamentals of sound design. So that’s the level where the most valuable learning takes place.
MM: Who are your role models in music/producing etc.
CE: If I had to choose just one, it would be Oliver Lieb (also known as Spicelab and L.S.G.). He started off as a bassist in funk and soul bands in Germany before producing his own electronic music in 1992. He actually toured in the U.S. once (I saw him perform live in 1994). His concept album “A Day on Our Planet” is still one of the best pieces of electronic music ever made, and truly illustrates how powerful, expressive and versatile synthesizers are.