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“Norman, Fat Boy
...and ME -”
If you write music, make music, produce or just tinker with music then this is a 'must read' article.....
I was browsing though music mags. in my local newsagents...no I wasn't looking for the best FREE CD on the cover.......
The name: Norman Cook jumped out at me....Hmmmmm I thought, 'Fat Boy Slim'.
Now, I had heard from various pals, musicians, studio owners, session guys, that either I had copied Norman or Norman had copied me in the complete choice of studio gear. So I grabbed the magazine...oh OK, there was a good freebie on the cover...as it happens - VERY GOOD!. I raced home, settled down in my comfy chair...well I did, after I answered this evening's 45 Email questions. Most of them about studio gear, as usual.
I glanced at the pics. of Norman in his home studio..."Hey, there's my S950", I screamed...."He does use one."
Then the other pics
"Hey, look at that Atari"....."just like mine"
And so on and so on....so they are all right...he has nicked all my ideas...well no, I would have to admit...just coincidence...or is it?
You see, I have always lived in a world of having to make money from my music, and I would think that Norman Cook has too. Yes, he made his money from DJ'ing and picked up the production skills as he went along. Whereas I was a singer / musician / producer / Hit maker and picked up all my knowledge from just hanging out with and working with the greatest producers / musicians / performers in the world. Making hit records was a necessity for me...not a 'take a chance' thing....
So we both ended up with the same logic in our brains. Make money from music. We wanted the best, most cost effective kit in our studio that did exactly what we wanted it to do: Make Hit Records. In other words, I wanted a music sequencer and bought an Atari...just like Norman did. The easiest programme around was 'Creator' so I bought it....could easily have been Cubase but it wasn't....so I bought Creator...so did Norman. It does absolutely everything I want it to do...in fact during some sessions in my studio a guy will show me some other trick on the programme that I didn't know....likewise I will show him a trick he didn't know. So there is still lots on that Creator programme untapped...
What new equipment have we bought?
The only new equipment Norman has bought since: 'You've Come A Long Way Baby' was a massive hit all over the world is another S950 sampler and a patchbay....
Come to think of it....I bought another sampler (S2000) and some tasty effects units....that's all! [Ed. note Feb. 2002...I have added filter sweep modules, the 'Novation A Station' in particular....essential for a 'today' sound]
Norman's logic is the famous one of : "If it ain't broke don't fix it".
I'm not so sure of this...my logic is that if a piece of kit will vastly improve my creative skills then I will have it....but so far, I have yet to be convinced that creative skills are anywhere else than in your own Grey Matter! Yes, I've had the PC set ups in my studio.....every time has been a disaster and we have ended up starting from scratch on my trusty Atari....did I say trusty?
Considering none have been made for about ten years....how do I get on for spares? Just like Norman...whenever I hear of an Atari for sale I grab it....simple as that! Hey....if you've got a spare one...I will have it! Email me. firstname.lastname@example.org or .com ....either will get me.
So what's the studio space like?
Norman's studio is still basically a 'bedroom' studio......I must say I have more of a 'studio' set up....however it's in a rather large loft...so ....no parallel surfaces...which gives it an amazing dead sound. Quite the best I have ever heard anywhere in the world...
I notice from the pics. of Norman's set up that he has hard walls, windows etc.....maybe he can get away with that because he doesn't do any 'live' recording...I mean vocals, guitars, maybe drums....you see, I do....so the studio space has got to have a phenomenal 'recording sound'. And it has.
I use to do all my pre-production programming at home and then take the stuff to big studios to get a 'better sound'....WRONG!
That all changed when I borrowed a Roland VS880 to rehearse all the vocals, guitars etc. before going to the big studio.....boy was I shocked. The rehearsal quality was the best vocal sound I have ever heard. So.....
No More Big Studio!
I would think if Norman was recording vocals at home he would do exactly the same as me. I would add that all the sound proofing (the loft is obviously on top of Stanton Prior, where I live, so the neighbours would be mighty miffed with late night sessions) deadens the sound even further....so the total effect is a cosy, stunning ambience.
You might think that I have a live room plus a control room..NO!
When we did that 'rehearsal' try-out I was pleasantly surprised at the comfort of sitting at the mixing desk, VS880 at my left hand and the vocal microphone four yards away....the ease of communicating directions to my brother (my partner and lead singer with my band). So cozy, so warm, so friendly....I cannot begin to tell you how much nicer that is than shouting down the talkback mic. on the desk into his earphones in the 'live room' of a major studio...so impersonal, and horrible....then eventually having to slide open the connecting glass doors into the studio to have a personal chat....yuck!
Here's the best bit
I personally do all the vocal arrangement harmony/unison voices on our tracks, maybe twenty/thirty, so can you imagine the times in big studios....having to rely on engineers: "Hey Charlie, do you think I was a tad flat on that last line?"....answer: "Sounded fine to me".....OK, slide the glass door open, ask for a play back, listen to it, slowly fester inside as you realise that three quarters of the stuff you have recorded is miles flat and very sub standard..."I thought I asked you....oh, forget it...let's do it all again".
Nowadays....Earphones on (Beyer DT100's of course...Industry Standard through the world), push the play button, drop into record at the right spot...so fast, so easy.....
I've knocked off maybe twenty tracks of massive vocal arrangement in hours. Editing, copying, moving...all so easy, and that RSS effect on board is just to die for!
What do we record on?
I have to say that here Norman and I go our separate ways....I love hard disc recording...my current recording machine is the Roland VS1880....an extremely user unfriendly bit of kit...but at the end of the day, gives a stunning result...worth the hassle and the heartaches...not to mention the hours on the phone to the Roland helpline...who, I must add, are so helpful!
Norman and Me and Compressors
Where Norman and I meet right in the middle is our use of compressors....the more the merrier....
And Norman has introduced me to a new line: He says that everything he does is CTF...well, the first two words are 'Compressed To ****'. I couldn't agree more with him.
Compression is one of those things that Pro Producers use so naturally and liberally and amateurs just do not understand.
Even in my live rig everything is CTF.....what a live sound! It certainly gets blood dripping from your ears....
Norman and I again see eye to eye in our choice of mixers. Soundcraft...simple, easy to use....and the EQ is based on the logic that the initial sound/sample/vocal should be just about right in the first place.....mind you, I am not averse to EQ'ing the socks off something to get a ball-breaking effect!
Monitors? The Real Story!
As with all the best, including Dr Dre, Norman uses the bog standard, Industry Standard Yamaha NS10's for monitoring.....that's how you make hit records. If it sounds right on NS10's then it will sound right in every studio in the world and certainly will sound sensational on mega speakers.
I have seen so many well intentioned music guys make reasonably good music and then totally ruin it by mixing on their home Hi Fi speakers with a 50 watt Hi Fi amp....WRONG!!!!!
"10,000 Indians can't be wrong" or whatever the phrase is.....what do NS10's cost today? Pennies toward what a Hit track can bring in....I see guys pay £2,500 for the latest keyboard technology and still use the Hi Fi speakers....incredible.
How much new gear do we buy?
So why do Norman and I not rush out and buy all the latest and greatest gear? Because we are frightened that we might lose that 'touch', that unique sound,....that 'quality' in my case.....you see, no one ever knows where a record is made today....just like no one knows where a great painting is made....same logic really....did the easel cost £5,000 or was it a cheap old bit of tat the painter was given when he was seven years old?
Of course what Norman doesn't say...but I will say, is that the results the engineers and producers got in the Sixties/Seventies before digital really kicked in were phenomenal. Because they HAD TO know how to use the gear in the theoretically correct way...otherwise the noise and hiss made the product unusable...so they had 'quiet' off to a fine art....as does Norman...as do I.....I would be so embarrassed if there was the slightest bit of 'noise' on one of my creations.
3 Days in my Studio?
I invite some of the more serious Members of my 'Serious Writers Guild'to have 3 days in my studio......only Members...so don't even ask!
I just love seeing their faces when they see the gear I use.....my favourite Kwai keyboard with the broken keys [sounds wonderful]....my £40 mother keyboard (Norman's cost £49!).
But their faces when they finish their three days of intensive recording, learning, mixing with me is a joy....have dinner with a guy like me three times? Come on...how much do you learn? They are quite shocked at the result.....it's a very special experience for the few I invite...and I enjoy it! But Heck, I am absolutely knackered after those three days...
So will that latest Roland XV-5080 sound module help you to have a hit?
What do you think? Tell you what I would do. Save the money that you would spend on that module and spend it in bringing Norman to lunch, bring Pete Waterman to lunch...hey, take Dr Dre to lunch.....try to get to their studio.....do you think that would tell you more about writing and making hit records than that £3,500 bit of kit?
I rest my case.....
And then there was 'Norman, Fat Boy, and ME' !!!
Nice to know I've had it right all these years! But then, I suppose all the hits I've had speak for themselves! You don't get Hits by doing it wrong...or hadn't you noticed...
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