Q&A: Rene Amesz

How did you get into music production? Are you self-taught? Did you go to school? Learn from a mentor?

My father was a radio DJ and he was surrounded by music all day, which had a natural influence on me. I was basically spoon fed music since a child. When I was 16, sadly my dad passed away and he left me some money. It’s not the nicest way to get money, but I used that to buy my very first synthesiser and Atari computer.

Isn’t that quite a young age to get started with music production? Especially back then?

At the time there weren’t many people, or even youngsters, trying to make music. I was, but it’s just because my dad was so into it! So that’s where it started for me.

Do you have any classical music training, or play any musical instruments?

I played some guitar for a year or so, but I can’t remember how to read sheet music from paper. On a keyboard, I know where to find some notes and to play to a few simple chords. I’m very quick at creating melodies and chords, so it’s not a problem for me. It just comes naturally to me.

What was that first synthesizer you bought?

It was a Roland D-50 synthesiser and an Akai x7000 sampling keyboard. I connected them with a pretty simple DJ mixer setup. So, I had a mixer and 2 synthesisers instead of turntables. There weren’t even any EQ knobs on there. Later on, I bought an Akai MPC 2000 and a new computer – that’s how I made my first record and got my first record deal.

Your DAW of choice is Cubase. Has that always been the case, or did you start with a different program? What attracted you to Cubase over some other choices like Ableton or Logic?

I started using Cubase about 20 years ago when I first started producing. I was using an old grey Atari computer, which could only send out MIDI signals. After a year or so (when I started at Midtown Recordings), I started to work with WAV audio in Cubase as well. Then, I started working for another company – Hollywood Music Co in Rotterdam (which was a club, but they had a studio upstairs). They were using a Mac with Logic on it, so I started using that for about half a year or so. Logic just wasn’t my kind of software. I’m so familiar with Cubase that I’ve just not bothered switching to another program. I’m not saying Cubase is better; it’s just my personal preference and my way of working.

On that first version of Cubase with MIDI only, was the interface on the screen quite different from how the program looks now?

It was actually very similar to how it looks now, although it was only in black and white. There were only MIDI bars, and in the editor screen you could draw in bars like you do now, but only for hardware and synthesisers.

There is now an abundance of information available on the internet with forums, videos, etc. Even just 10 years ago, it was almost impossible to find tips, tricks and tutorials for music production, and a lot of producers kept their secrets very close. How do you feel about this change in the industry, and what do you think it means for future producers?

Well, the business is growing and growing, and that’s because of the information that’s there now. There are masses of videos on YouTube, and that’s why so many people can make music now. As a producer, I am able to create samples and teach people how I create music with tutorials. I’m not afraid to give away my secrets or my tips, whatever you want to call it. You still need a creative mind to meld those samples and to make those beats. I can give away my samples and my claps or whatever you want to call the trademark sound that I have, but if you’re not able to glue those samples together the way I do, it’s not going to sound exactly the same. I can’t put my ears on YouTube, and that’s where the magic comes from. Those samples I made will help producers create those chunky beats, but the way you mix, determines what the final product will sound like. I can grab a sample pack from The Neptunes, but you have to be able to mix them together like The Neptunes.

Do you ever find yourself using these new resources online for information?

Very much so! I watch different tutorials everyday. There are a lot of great studio tutorials that you can learn from. Even outside of my genre of music, there are so many tips and techniques to learn.

You’ve got a very distinct style. Obviously it takes time to develop something like this. How would you say that your current sound has evolved from where you started off as a producer? Did you start off writing trance or something very different from where you are now musically?

I think for me, it’s been a natural process. I’ve always liked funky rhythms. From Prince and Lenny Kravitz, to The Neptunes… There’s always some hip-hop influence in my productions to keep it sounding acoustic. I’m from Rotterdam, we are raw, hard-working people, and I like to keep my music funky and raw. That’s how I like to work my samples. They have to sound acoustic for me to develop them.

So you’ve always been within the Tech-House sound?

Definitely. If you listen to my tracks – from the very first one I’ve released on Beatport, up to the very latest, you can hear my sound every time. Of course, times change and you have to adjust to new standards and techniques in the industry, but it’s always been the same drum program, same sample work.

Apart from the techy sound that you are so well known for, are there any other particular styles of music that you enjoy producing or listening to?

You know, I’ve never tried. I’m so focused on creating track, after track, that I never have the time to experiment with something completely different. I’m not saying I never would, it just comes down to having the time. There a few people out there that might say: ‘His tracks always sound the same’, but that’s my trademark, it’s just me. It’s my thing. I guess some people could criticize that, but the proof is there, and the tracks are doing really well on the charts. I’m doing my thing and my thing only.

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?

First of all, I’m always inspired by different tracks. I always have an idea that I want to work with. I get up every morning at 7:30AM, take my children to school, grab a coffee, and then sit in the studio. Depending if I’m working on a deadline or not will determine what I focus on. I always start the same. Typically when I create a beat, I will start with the kick, and then put in the claps next (If you want more information than that, you will have to watch my tutorial!). Once the basic beat is finished, then I will fool around with different sounds and ideas. I have YouTube, Be-At.tv and Beatport open constantly for information and inspiration. I never copy, but I am always listening for new ideas. Even from things like jazz and blues!

Do you force yourself to sit in the studio for a certain amount of time every single day? Or do you have a more laid back approach and just jump in when the inspiration strikes? What is your schedule typically like?

I have a family. We have friends who have “normal jobs”. I have a wife who has a “normal job” and I have kids that go to school, and want their father there from 6PM. I have to cook dinner; I have to do all the things that a normal father would do. That’s my life. I have no other time to work in the studio from 8:30AM-6:00PM

So you try and treat it like a normal 9-5 job?

I’m not trying to, I have to. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday are my studio days, depending if I have a gig on a weekend (which is the case most of the time), I will take Friday off. If I’m free at the weekend, Friday will be a studio day too. That’s my routine. I treat it as normal day job.

How is your studio currently setup? I know you’ve mentioned that you are mostly in the box. Do you use any outboard gear?

I recently bought the Allen & Heath QU 32 mixing desk which has a sound card with 32 ins and 32 outs, and that’s the king of the studio right now along with the computer. When you’re working 100% in the box, everything comes out of your soundcard, out of just 2 channels, it can sound good, but not as good as if it were mixed in the Allen & Heath. All of the channels are separate and you can record on USB. Meaning, you can stick a USB inside the mixing desk and it can record live what you’ve just written in the DAW.

There are 32 faders on the mixing desk, which can give you a really good live feeling. When I’m finished with the track, before I record it onto a USB, I will pull it through the SPL Vitalizer MK2, to make it sound more open and give the low end a little extra push. I’m also just to buy two Warm Audio Pultec units to give it another extra boost. Lately I’ve even been collecting old synthesisers like the Roland Juno; I’m going back to the old skool hardware again!

Are you mixing your tracks entirely on the Allen & Heath now?

No, I have a basic working template for the mixer. You can save different scenes where you can start from, so I’ve got all the faders set to -2DB standard. When I programme my beats in the DAW, I will mix things in Cubase. When I’m satisfied with the results, then I will finally mix and tweak it in the mixing desk itself.

Do you prefer the mixing desk where you can touch and feel the faders instead of just using a mouse and software?

I prefer the fast way – which is doing it in DAW first, while I am producing the track. The next stage (mixing on the desk itself), is more like the final mixdown for mastering of the track.

A lot of people consider mixing to be a bit of a black art, and everyone has their own very personal way of doing things. Do you have a particular approach?

The way I work is like everybody else. It involves mastering and mixing throughout the process of creating the track. When it’s finished, I leave it for a few days, and come back to it with a fresh ear. That’s when I will start to tweak the levels and the EQ. I think that’s a standard way of working.

Do you use panning at all to create space when you are mixing?

Yeah, sometimes I will use that technique on shakers, and sometimes on one piece of a clap to give it that stereo sound, which you will also see in my tutorial. Just like that, with maybe one or two channels.

Have you got any acoustic treatment in your studio? Does it affect the way you do your mixing at all?

On the walls beside me and behind the speakers I have this, “egg box” kind of foam in the middle of the wall next to my ears. I’m quite lucky that the walls in my studio are not 90 degrees. They are something like 45 degrees in the corner of my ceiling above the monitor speakers. Behind me, I’ve also got a homemade bass trap. I’ve got a really large bookcase, and on top of that I put some pillows! It looks like rubbish, but it does the job.

So your mixing secret is the pillows? Yes! That’s my top tip, use your pillows! I must show you guys…

Since your studio is located in your home, do you ever have sound issues with the neighbors?

My studio doesn’t share a wall with any neighbors luckily! During the summer you might be able to hear it a little bit if my windows are open, but nobody ever complains. We’ve got good neighbors!

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?

I used to have a car with a good stereo system, but I don’t have that anymore! I produce on high volume for maybe 1 or 2 minutes a day, just so I can get a feel for the low-end, the kick, the bass and maybe the claps. The rest is on a really, really low volume because that way you keep your ears fresh, and you hear the volume better. That’s how I can produce for the whole day without getting ear fatigue.

I mix the stereo image on my headphones most of the time. I have Vestax DJ headphones… Yeah, they are not really made for the studio, but for me it’s a perfect reference to how it should sound, especially with the stereo image.

Do you use any special plug-ins for stereo imaging on the headphones, like Waves NX?

No, I don’t use anything. I don’t have any rules or plug-ins… I do everything by ear. There are no rules in my studio while producing, mixing, making basslines or anything.

Some producers have a very standard way of working. I don’t have a ‘standard’ way – It just depends on how things sound. For example – you always have the basic rule of sidechaining the bassline with the kick, but if it sounds good with the bassline right on the kick, I will just leave it.

Are there certain elements in a track that can take up more time to create than others? Do you ever get stuck trying to find the perfect bassline or stab for example?

If it’s a remix, it’s easy because you’ve already got a lot of elements to work with, and the beats are never a problem. In an original track, it’s really the hooks, the vocals, the synth lines are sometimes the biggest issue and they need extra attention most of the time.

After road testing a track, I always have to take out elements, or EQ them again. I’m a huge pain in the butt to myself, because I’m always adjusting stuff. It can take me up to 3-4 weeks before a track is really finished.

Is that how long it normally takes you to finish a track? 3-4 weeks?

‘Clan Nancy’ and ‘Like It Deep’ only took two days to finish, but other tracks are normally 3-4 weeks!

In your track deconstruction, you mentioned that a lot of your work is very sample heavy. Where do you go to find samples, or find inspiration? Do you use a lot of sample packs? Old records?

I find samples from everywhere. It could be from Loopmasters, Toolroom sample packs… It could even be an acapella from YouTube, or even a vocal I have recorded myself. If I have a good idea in my head, I will try to recreate it.

So you record the ideas into your phone and go back to reference it later?

My phone is full of ideas. Over the past four months, I’ve recorded over 250 memos!

You do a lot of heavy processing on the samples that you use. This really helps to make them your own, and to give them your signature sound. What does this process typically involve?

It’s different every time. It depends on how the samples sound together. I might cut the mid range, or sometimes I might boost it like mad… Other times I put everything up so much, its up in the red. If it’s really distorted, I layer it with another sample and I can mix it in as a brand new one. It really just depends how it sounds with the other elements.

You discussed layering samples to create unique sounds in your Toolroom Academy course. Are there any special EQ tricks that you use to prevent frequency clashes?

I do it by ear. For the low end of the kick, I will find a kick that I like, and then cut the high frequency of that kick, and use high frequency from another kick, and remove the low and layer it. I do the same for the midrange too – Cut it down, or even leave the midrange there, cut the high, cut the low, and the third layer fills up the mid frequency. It’s just a matter of cutting down the frequencies you don’t want to hear.

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?

That would be Quadrafuzz! It’s a distortion plug-in, which is standard on Cubase 8.0. I believe it’s also available as a standalone for Mac now. I use this on basically every sample I add into a project.

A little bit earlier you mentioned going back to old school synthesizers. Do you have anything in particular on your wishlist at the moment?

The Roland Juno, of course! Next… maybe the Minimoog!

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?

I have a very good friend called Ferreck Dawn (he’s a Spinnin’ artist), and we did a collaboration called ‘Lord’, which was released on Spinnin’ Deep. It’s doing really well on Beatport at the moment, and that’s the collaboration I’ve enjoyed the most. He gave me the most amazing vocals and lush sounds to work with. It happened in a really natural way, and was done completely over the Internet. We have another collaboration almost finished, so lets see what happens with that one.

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?

Yes, it’s definitely different, because all of the main elements are already there. I will go through all of the parts that I’ve been sent, and delete the ones I don’t like. It’s mostly just a matter of creating the beat and the bassline.

Are there any other producers out there that you would like to have the opportunity to collaborate with?

Definitely Mark Knight. There have been a few attempts already. We were in each other’s studios, and there were a lot of very good ideas. We were creating something from scratch, but as I mentioned earlier, sometimes it’s easier to work via the internet for me. There are plans for some other producers as well, but I can’t mention any names at the moment. It’s top secret for now!

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