In little over 5 years, James Rial and Richard Burkinshaw (AKA Audiojack) have grown from underground mainstays on Ralph Lawson’s 2020 Vision into in demand remixers of Underworld, Groove Armada, Little Boots and Bryan Ferry. With releases on Get Physical, Diynamic, Great Stuff, Renaissance, Cr2 and their own rapidly expanding Gruuv imprint there’s little doubt where their heart truly lies – the dancefloor. Here the Leeds lads open their studio door for a glimpse of how they do their thing.
Talk us through your studio set-up…
It has been documented in the past that we have a relatively sparse studio set-up. While that was the case, we’ve since upgraded somewhat as we’ve learnt that investing in better gear gives you more options.
We’re still on PC and use FlStudio10 as our main DAW (much to many peoples disbelief) but we also have Ableton Live 8 as a secondary DAW. We’ve got an Emu X-board 25 midi keyboard for punching out hooks and riffs and a Korg Triton Le which, although is a complete music workstation in its own right, we use for its synth sounds.
All this is pumped out through the same modest amp and speakers we’ve used from day one – the Kam Sound Pack 2. This was only £100, which is so cheap compared to the much more expensive active monitors most people use but not only are our ears used to the sound now but it also produces a modest sound so when we play the tracks on a good system they sounds even better. We’ve found that the biggest problems in our music is when we’ve moved studios and the sound of the room is different and it can take months for your ears to readjust and start creating music you’re happy with again.
Is there a piece of kit you feel has had a significant impact on the Audiojack sound? A kind of studio secret weapon?
In the past there was no certain piece of kit that really helped define our sound; it was more the way we worked. Up until making our first album we spent ages trawling through sample CDs and isolating single shot sounds we liked such as a bass note or a snare drum and building sound banks that way. We’d then pick sounds we wanted and arrange them into beats, bass lines, riffs and melodies. Once we started making our first album we began using some of the synths built into Fl Studio (v5 at the time). This is really reflected in the techno tracks on the album where synth lines are twisted and manipulated over time.
Over the years people have asked us “what plug-in did you use to get that bass line?” and such things and we always said that we never used plug-ins because we didn’t think FL Studio worked with them. While doing a new EP for 2020 Vision recently Ralph suggested that our basslines had maybe fallen behind the quality of the new wave of music out there and we needed to step it up a gear. Thinking that we needed a more powerful synth to get better sounds we thought we’d have to move to Mac and Logic which was a little daunting because of the time and money it would take to get up to speed.
Just by chance we stumbled upon something on the internet about using 3rd party VST plug-ins in FL Studio and on researching further we found you could do it all along! After doing lots of comparisons we decided on Rob Papen’s Albino 3 and then a couple of months later Subboombass and we can honestly say it’s been the most important investments of our musical career. Having these new tools at our disposal has opened up so many doors and given our sound a real refinement. We’re very excited about the music that we’re making as a result.
Does the dance music industry these days dictate that artists need to be both creative artists and businessmen in equal measure?
In short, and by and large, yes. In years gone by there was a tiny fraction of the producers, DJs, live acts and labels there are nowadays. However there weren’t necessarily less music buyers, in fact when digital thievery is accounted for there was definitely more.
This meant there was nowhere near as much choice for those music buyers, making it much easier for tracks to stand out. We remember record shopping in the 90s and having a stack of maybe 40 vinyl to go through each week, compared with thousands of digital files each week these days. This also meant there were more gigs to go around. Some DJs would handpick a gig from 20 or more offers for every weekend night of the year. Some of these guys didn’t even make music – imagine that!
So these lucky few could afford to have a manager, a PR company, several agents, someone to manage and run their record label, someone for publishing, someone to carry their record bag, a lifestyle guru and whatever else they could dream up.
Try doing that these days and even if you’re successful musically there won’t be anything left for you, so artists have to quickly learn how to do a lot of these jobs for themselves. We think this is why a lot of the superstar DJs of the 90s sunk into obscurity when the industry changed. Whereas others, the likes of Steve Lawler, Dubfire or Richie Hawtin emphatically swam: through the combination of their creative prowess and business minds.
As a touring artist who can regularly find themselves on different continents in the same week, how do you strike a balance between your touring schedule and time in the studio?
Touring is bread and butter; there isn’t much money in selling music anymore because even if you make a hit, the rate of steals to sales is overwhelmingly massive. There’s little doubt that producing music makes you a more interesting prospect for promoters so striking a balance is essential. It’s as simple as when we’re not on the road, we make music. We sometimes take laptops and make stuff on the road but you really don’t have enough time to get into it and without your studio gear it’s difficult.
Our typical week, Monday to Wednesday 7am – 6pm doing emails, running our label, admin stuff (like this interview, although a new track is on repeat and being tweaked as we type) and in the studio. Thursday we get down in the basement with the DJ set up and mix together, planning music that works together and sharing (not file sharing!) new tracks we’ve picked up during the week. Friday we’ll have a bit of time in the morning to tie up loose ends and then go to an airport somewhere to go on gigs and return Sunday night.
Who’s currently rocking your world as a producer and why?
Maceo Plex has a really nice sound at the moment blending the funky disco vibes with raw techno sounds which keeps both girls and boys interested on the dance floor.
Huxley is really the king of jacking deep house for us at the moment, there’s rarely a set we play without one of his tracks in it.
Eats Everything / Coat of Arms has really brought a great new sound to the table fusing the lush warmth of deep house with the raw bass energy of dubstep and D& B as only a Bristol lad could. And let’s not forget another Bristolian, Julio Bashmore.
Waifs & Strays and FCL both hold a lot of respect from us and have remixed our next single on our own imprint Gruuv.
What one piece of kit or plug-in can you not live without?
At the moment the two aforementioned synths by Rob Papen, they’ve both been game changers for us!
When building a track how do you normally work? Do you start with the drums and build from that?
It’s one of two ways, we’ll either have a sound / sample / vocal that we want to build the track around, something that we’ve either stumbled across that’s inspired us or perhaps a vocal from a recent session we’ve recorded.
If we’re starting from a totally blank canvas we’ll usually trawl through some patches on a synth until we find a nice sound and try and make a bassline to build a beat around.
Do you prefer to use loops or one-shots? Do you use samples or sound design from scratch, or a mix of both? Do you like to record your own sounds?
We’ve done all of the above, mainly sound design from scratch these days with a few one shot samples and the very occasional loop which has been deconstructed and rearranged.
Any advice on monitoring? Quiet? Loud? Do you prefer flat and boring speakers, headphones or big, phat and chunky monitors? Do you reference on multiple systems?
We don’t have our studio monitors stupidly loud. It’s always important to listen to the mix in headphones too so you can get a better feel for how the sound is spaced and if everything has enough room to breathe for maximum clarity and punch. We then test our tracks against other tracks during our DJ sessions in the basement. If they pass that test then we take them to the most important stage of all – the club.
If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you started out in music, what would it be?
Don’t snap up every remix that comes along; think carefully whether it’s right for you musically.
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