Q&A: Mark Knight

How often are you working on new music?

Pretty much all the time. I’m not just doing the one ‘style’ of music, I’m working on a whole range of things. I’m usually working on music 2-3 days every week.

You have a very demanding tour schedule, how do you divide your time to traveling and studio time? Do you ever have to produce music on the road?

I always work on the road. Constantly. I find it a source of inspiration. When I do a good show I always feel ready to make music. I might have played something that night and then I think of other idea. It also passes the time for me too. I couldn’t just sit and watch the TV through a flight for hours and hours everyday. It seems ridiculous to not utilise all the time I have and be pro-active. I wouldn’t say I finish anything 100%, but it’s a good time for me to work on arrangements and build on ideas. It would be a huge shame not to use this time on producing.

What about the Ibiza season and making music? Do you get to make as much music as you’d like during summer?

I try not to go towards the studio during the summer because it’s just impossible for me. I’m on flights every single day and it becomes hard for to schedule the time. I need to be realistic with what’s achievable. During the summer it’s very much the ‘Plane studio’ because my schedule is just so manic.

What is your workflow typically like when you get in the studio? Do you sit down with the intention of writing a specific type of track, or do you just play around and see what happens?

I think the route of any good record, is a good idea. I would never attempt to sit in the studio without an idea of what I wanted to achieve because it’s such a blank canvas and you could just go on and on…. I always think about an idea before I start. I might jam some ideas on the plane, but I will always have a solid idea for the studio. Studio time is precious and I like to go in with something.

How do you store the ideas you get whilst traveling? Do you store melodies in your phone? Or can you just remember them?

Ideas just stay in my head or I write them down. If it’s something I can hear when I’m playing, I write it down in rough at the end of the gig as a reference point, then I will go into the studio with and build on it.

Can you tell us a little bit about your studio setup at the moment?

It’s pretty basic because it gives me the flexibility to travel. I don’t use mountains of outboard gear, in fact, hardly any so I can just transfer projects from the road to my studio. If I need to scale up on any specialist equipment, then I will hire a studio. But I think within producing ‘Tech House’, it’s all well and truly do able in the box. There are some amazing producers who work in that way. Of course there are benefits of having outboard gear, but I have to think practically and what’s actually doable. It’s all very striped back but it works perfectly for me.

Have you got any acoustic treatment?

Yes I do! The biggest trick up my sleeve is the Trinnov. It’s a room correction unit and it’s a complete game changer. It’s just incredible. Not only does it iron out the bottom end, which is where you have a lot of the problems in the studio, but stereo, faze, imagining and things like that. I discovered it about 3-4 years ago.

In your ‘Downpipe’ deconstruction course, you said drums and percussion are the most important part of a track and these form the ‘back bone’. Are these the elements you spend the most time on when you’re producing?

They are the backbone of any House record. Drums and bass are what underpin a record. I think they are the foundations of anything that is really successful in dance music.

But it also depends what you’re trying to achieve with your record: Is it the melody? Is it a vocal? Is it a sample? So it really does depend what your focus is. For example, when I created ‘Second Story’ the main element of the track was the sample and the bass and drums had to complement that. If it’s a melody driven track, you aren’t going to spend only 5 minutes on that and 3 weeks on the percussion.

Many producers will use several different references for their final mixdown such as headphones or the official ‘car stereo test’. Do you have any particular methods that work well for you?

The car stereo test without a doubt! The mixdown elements are important and you need to test in as many different environments as possible because not everyone is sat in an acoustic treated room with expensive monitors. The other technique I would recommend would be to use laptop speakers. If something is missing in a track when you listen back on a laptop you can spot it instantly! That’s a bit of a secret weapon for me.

Do you prefer to create a track and then go back to it in a couple of days?

I would never write a record and just commit to it. Sometimes I like to leave it weeks, sometimes even months. I like to play it out in my sets and see if I have same feeling and then I might go back to it.

How many projects are you working on at this exact moment?

It must be about 10 tracks at the moment… There’s so much going on.

Once you’ve decided that you like one of your ideas, how long does it typically take you to finish a track?

It just takes as long as it takes. I never put a time on finishing a record. I want it to be perfect and I know when it’s perfect when I simply can’t do anything else to it. It could take a week. It could take 6 months. If I haven’t got strict deadlines to work towards I give myself as much time as possible.

What is the secret to be being able to work in the studio all day? Lots of coffee? Regular breaks? Low volume?

I remember once over I would sit in the studio for hours and hours but now, I very much structure my studio time as a day in the office. I try and get a good 6 solid hours in the studio and have regular breaks. I start and finish at a certain time. If you treat it like a regular day at work, you have more focus.

Do you have a certain set of plug-ins or hardware that you absolutely couldn’t live without? If you were stuck on a desert island, and could only bring 1 plug-in, what would it be?

It’s hard to just say one because there’s so many, but, if I have to pick one it would be the Vengeance Sidechain because it allows you to creatively set things in the record and create energy with frequencies.

Over the course of your career, you’ve done plenty of remixes and collaborations with some of the biggest names in the industry. Are there any projects that particularly stand out for you?

The biggest one and one of my favourites, has to be ‘Down Pipe’. It was a very unique and different record, which didn’t connect straight away, but it grew and grew over time. I loved everyone who was involved with the project.

If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be?

A million different people… Louis Vega, U2, Common… loads of artists from loads of genres. I’d love to pull different collaborations together in one album.

Do you find that your workflow or approach to these types of projects is different from how you would approach one of your own tracks? Do you prefer to work in the studio when working on collaborations or do everything online?

It depends what relationship I have with that producer. One of the most challenging parts of starting a co-production is working out how much influence we each put into the record. When you know the producer personally, you both know how you work and how far you can go. Sometimes, it can be more productive when you don’t know each other personally, because you can both do things separately and then come back together. I’m working on a production with Dosem at the moment and we’re both sending things back and forth. This works perfectly for us because we’re both bouncing ideas off one another. It’s a lot different to the collaboration I did with Dean (D’ Ramirez) where we’re sat in the studio in our boxers. So each collaboration is different and really depends on what your relationship is like.

Why do you feel it’s important to educate and inspire the next generation of producers?

If you really care about the scene and want it to evolve then it’s good to inspire and educate people. It’s not about giving people all my tricks, but ideas which they can then build on and create something new. The Toolroom Academy has really taken off and the response has been great. Dean and I were so happy to be part of it with ‘Down Pipe’. As I said, it’s a special record and I was thrilled to be able to share with people the whole process from the initial idea to the production.

Is there a difference in the way you produce music for the club, for example something on Toolroom Trax to how you would produce a track such a ‘Yebisah’?

You evaluate and look at each track differently. It’s all about what you want to achieve. Sometimes you might want to create something a bit more raw and you don’t want to over produce it. For example, ‘Yebisah’ was a very involved production: lots of melody, lots of layers. When I had a really good catchy melody for it, it just became so easy.

How long did ‘Yebisah’ take to produce?

It took in total 3 days to produce, which isn’t along time at all. But I knew it was right. BBC Radio 1 played and it since, the response has been huge! I loved working on it. It really summed up Ibiza and my years on the Island.

Is road testing something that you always do with your tracks?

Always, 100%. You have to because if you don’t you can miss things. Road testing in all different environments is so important. You might have produced a record for the club environment, but if you test the track and it doesn’t work, you know you need to change and tweak some elements because it’s not as good as it could be.

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