Boom! Time for another producer Q&A. This week I’m particularly chuffed to present the U.S. legend that is Bassnectar. Pioneer of that slow, swinging, bass heavy sound he sometimes calls swamp-hop, it’s now slowly getting recognition worldwide, as part of that hip-hop influenced West Coast scene that includes the likes of Glitch Mob, Flying Lotus et al. Get on over to his site to download a few free tracks and see what it’s all about. Bassnectar is honestly one of the best party DJ’s I’ve seen, switching tempos so quick it left me scratching my head how he did it – although you can see from his gig list he gets plenty of practise. In fact I’m amazed he gets any time to produce at all, as it looks like he spends most of his life on a tourbus. Anyway, massive thanks to him for these detailed answers!
How do you approach a tune? Drums first? Melody?
I usually hear the bassline first…kind of in a churning death metal style, but i work on drums first, since the idea is usually in a specific tempo, i need to build the “groove” in order to work on the bassline idea properly.
Then again, there is no STRICT SYSTEM in my methods…
What time of day do you work best?
After the phone stops ringing…i work best when i’m immersed for days on end.
Where do you get your inspiration / motivation from?
From a pretty metaphysical place in my cabeza.
What do you do when you’re not feeling inspired?
I pretty much always feel inspired, if not then i just process my thoughts and address whatever is bugging me, usually with good friends. If my creative juices are clogged, it’s probably due to a real-time issue that needs to be addressed in my life, so better to solve/address it so i can approach music in a pure headspace.
Do you start a tune from scratch, or do you usually have a drumset/template/etc to work from?
Holy shit, it’s been 15 years and i’ve never made a proper template. That is one reason why i suck…what a ridiculously great time saver it would be to have a template! i recommend doing so, although i have never followed my advice there..
If you got a chance would you write pop stuff for a major label (if the money was good?)
I’d only consider the money in the sense that it would take up my time, which there is none to spare… but it’s not like i need to prove something by avoiding pop music. i guess if i authentically LOVE how something sounds, then i WANT to spend my time on it. Anything that i DON’T wanna do i guess i would need some type of compensation in order to justify taking me away from whatever path im on.
But as for working on ‘pop’ music, i can think of a lot worse ways to sell out… i do not really expect to make any money selling music i have produced… money seems like it is earned on the road, playing shows, etc.
What’s the boring, workhorse plugin/piece of kit that you use all the time?
Oddly, I have lost most of my go-to techniques… i enjoyed using Reason for about 6 years, and then i felt like everything sounded “Reasony” so i am now using Ableton, and pretty open-format with it.
What’s the coolest bit of kit you’ve got and do you actually use it much?
I really like Albino.
Do you mixdown your own stuff? Reckon there’s a stigma around this?
Yes i do and yes there is. i think the stigma is ridiculous (it’s the same kind of boys club mentality that makes you wonder…are you making music to impress your colleagues or to touch a wider range of people?)… Following that logic, there are no rules if your goal is to impact people with music. I am happy contributing to a song, and not having to do everything on it myself, as long as i love the end product. That’s why i like collaborations so much! And that’s why i don’t hesitate to use samples, or really ANY sound source that turns me on. I do not need to perform every single function in producing a song, but of course i *can* do every part (like the tune i made back in 2004 called ‘Blow’ …i even mastered that one myself)… but really if i can help give birth to an idea, i do not really feel so insecure with myself that i need to do EVERYTHING on it… maybe that comes from knowing that i can if need be though…
I think being in bands helped a lot. When i was a part of a band i never felt wierd or regretful that i did not perform every single function. it was a team effort! It was totally ok in my mind if i did not play the bass and the drums AND mix and master, and distribute the demo tape and promote the shows, and set up the backstage, and run the sound board, and and and and and… you know? i just had fun raging on the guitar and headbanging and going “BWAAHHHH!!!” into a cheap ass mic.
So when i started producing in 1994/1995 i enjoyed being able to kind of make everything happen myself, and not rely on anyone else…after proving to myself i could do it all, i suppose i realized that it’s fun to connect with other minds musically.
In terms of the mixdown, i am a control freak so i usually want to do everything myself, but if a homie can come into the studio and help me tweak something, or a mastering engineer can pull 3 or 4 more DB out of a tune by working some kind of magic then HELL YEAH!
What production technique do you think is really overused / annoying?
Gangster rap lyrics….and actually any lame/negative vocal samples in general.
And beyond vocals and vocal samples even in terms of the music/melody, i’m pretty bored by Hard/Angry Tough-Guy vibes in music… i mean if you are truly angry, then by all means express that!!! But so often DnB and dubstep (2 of my favorite genres due to their sheer intensity, raw sound, and overall energy) sound like someone with no musical ideas who is just grating my ears with some under-sexed vibe. Not fun.
(By the way, i am NOT trying to talk shit here at all, i really do not say this to piss anyone off…partly because i do not want to hear the angry music they might make in response..;)
But also because i think anyone has the right to make any sounds they want… but you asked, so i said it: i think the super dark death toughguy bully sound is overused because sometimes it feels unnecessary but still used to fill the void of good ideas.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started out?
That none of this matters, that life flies by faster than i ever imagined, that learning to enjoy moments instead of stressing out is a really good thing.
At the same time though, it ALL matters, so being grateful for every moment before that moment passes lets me engage it on a deeper level.
Most goals i have set for myself i have achieved, yet still felt just as dissatisfied as before i achieved them, …i think humans will always strive for the next thing, yet in doing so i hope to find a balance so i can enjoy more of the journey on my way to the goal.