INTERVIEW WITH VILLEM
We caught up with Villem for an in depth look at his studio techniques and advice for new producers…
Villem How would you describe your sound for those that hadn’t heard it before?
VILLEM: I collaborate most of the time so my sound changes with whoever I’m working with. Its always a difficult one to describe my own sound as others may not hear it that way, I prefer other people to describe how I sound. How do you think I sound?
How long have you been producing?
VILLEM: Well I first opened Cubase 15 years ago, but I started and quit many times as I wasn’t writing music as good as I heard in my record collection. In hindsight, comparing yourself to your record collection when you first begin is a tough standard to try and get to quickly, it held me back I think, and I was too hard on myself and would quit for months/years even, but something kept calling me back.
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What’s your set up?
- 2011 iMac – 32gb RAM (Apple only lets you
- have 16gb, but you can put 32 in there)
- UAD-2 Satellite Quad + plug ins
- Logic 9
- Mackie mixing Desk
- Access Virus C
- Novation Supernova 2
- Roland Juno 106
What one piece of gear would you love to own?
VILLEM: Fender Rhodes, still in love with this classic, no software I’ve heard has come close
What are your top 5 effect plugins and why?
- UAD EMT140 Reverb – epic plate reverb, sounds wide and expansive and expensive! Has a warm, almost velvety feel to it, big and round. Love it, use it every tune, its my go to.
- UAD 1176 Compressor – I use this on the master bus to give it very gentle compression, but also it smooths out the high ends and rolls off the sub bass in a nice way.
- Soundtoys Tremolator – I was writing with Digital and he recommended using a tremolo to get the wobble on the sub bass, I’d never heard of using a tremolo, and I’d always try and use a LFO on a samplers filter. This particular tremolo works really well on creating a consistent wobble on the sub, also it has a great analog sounding distortion if you push the input or output gains.
- Waves H-Delay – boring old H-Delay, I’m sure everyone ignores it, but I use it every tune, does what I want it do and I know it inside out. Nothing special about it, but has a nice dub delay preset I use fairly often.
- UAD Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor – difficult beast to get use to, push it to hard and it pinches the sound to much, but get it just right and it gives the mix a really nice punch, especially around the kick and snare frequencies.
What synths do you use the most in your productions?
- U-he Hive
- U-he Repro
- Rob Papen Sub Boom Bass
- Access Virus C
How do you usually start tracks and where do you turn to for sound sources?
VILLEM: One thing I’m lazy at is sample hunting and sampling in general, I tend to draw on McLeods or BCees sound sources, and we usually start with a beat/perc then build a musical bed to catch a vibe, and also to set the key. I find writing a bass line without the musical elements in place difficult and like to have enough of a musical bed so the bass line almost writes its self.
How many hours does it typically take to complete a track from start to finish?
VILLEM: Depends who I’m working with, with BCee and myself we are effectively using two studios simultaneously (him on his laptop, myself on the iMac), and usually get a track done in 4 hours.
With McLeod I would say its double, 8 hours, as we work on one screen together.
Do you approach sound design and track writing in different sessions/projects?
VILLEM: Not really, we (me and McLeod) create sample packs to sell, and we draw on those occasionally, so effectively yes, but in general its all getting created on the fly. I’ll sometimes use synth/bass patches and processing from other tunes I’ve finished, which helps keep workflow moving forward.
Where do you find inspiration? Also if you are working in the studio and get stuck; how do you get past that point?
VILLEM: I get inspired by that feeling of potential. That first glimmer of hope that this tune could be something, a track worth finishing – that initial spark which transports my mind to playing it to others and they could feel the way I felt in that moment. That initial spark is a feeling I’ve not stopped hunting since I began.
When I’m stuck, I stop, sometimes I get stubborn as the spark was so strong to begin with and bludgeon my way through, but most of the time I stop, go outside or go eat – come back in 15 mins, if its not vibin, then I give it up, quick. There is so much potential for another tune, why get bogged down when I’m not feeling it. Having said all that, at some point you have to finish music, so its a developed skill to know when to finish and when to give the tune up, only years of writing I believe you can develop this.
Regarding your workflow, how do you produce such a consistent and prolific output of music?
VILLEM: As I said before, knowing when to push a song to finish and knowing when to quit whilst ahead is a skill worth developing. Working with others helps to maintain a healthy output, I find I’m less fussy which is a good attribute for finishing tracks, on my own I tend to get bogged down in details and it can slow the process down, having others to bounce off or just saying ‘it sounds good to me!’ is all thats needed sometimes.
Do you find it best to have multiple projects on the go at once or work on one track at a time?
VILLEM: Good to have a few projects on the go, in fact its almost impossible not to when I’m collaborating so much, at the same time I like to finish them as quick as possible, and not have to many which aren’t at least in the playable (DJ) demo phase.
What do you listen to in your free time?
VILLEM: Recently I’ve been listening to Rage Against The Machine again, I loved the Yussef Kamaal album – I listen to a lot of podcasts, usually MMA related as kind of obsessed by that world, podcasts have really taken over a lot of listening time, and I’ve found that I don’t seek out new music as feverishly as before and tend to relisten to a lot of my favourite artists from the past.
What advice would you give to new producers?
VILLEM: Roll out the whole structure of the tune fairly quickly, when you’ve got the initial loop of beats, music and bass, get out of that loop world quickly and start mapping out the intro then drop, you will quickly realise what the track is missing or if the bass is working as a drop. Sometimes it sounds great whilst looping but when you map it out the drop of the bass just doesn’t have that complete feeling, usually its when you drop it a Fifth higher than the root note (e.g. if the root is G, you drop on the D). It just doesn’t have that satisfying drop feel.
What are your favourite techniques for processing bass/mids?
VILLEM: Setting distortion chains of plug ins to use as a Send to layer on top of the Sub layer. I’ve done a few YouTube videos of this, search Villem bass tutorials. Effectively its stacking lots of different distortion plug ins to overdrive the signal in an over the top way, then reigning in the sound by using EQ to sculpt out the frequencies that we don’t want (e.g. the Sub).
What plugins do you typically use on your drum buss and why?
VILLEM: I don’t usually drum bus, as I process the Master bus heavily which I think does something similar in terms of controlling transients – when I do, I tend to use UAD Fatso to give it some harmonic distortion, and some transient shaping using SPL Transient Shaper to tighten things up.
What do you find the most challenging part of producing?
VILLEM: Good question, I think it’s setting yourself up for success. What I mean by that is creating a working situation that will enable you to be as productive as possible. For me, its collaborating – having someone in the studio for a set time ensures I’m working on music, and nothing else.
Bottom line is be honest with your weaknesses and try and adjust your music writing around that. The best example I can think of is Goldie, he is a visionary, an artist that thinks not with an engineers mind, but of the bigger picture, the track as a whole. He figured out it would be better to use others skills to help achieve his vision.
If you could choose a dream collaboration, who would it be with and why?
VILLEM: Right now it would be with the drummer Yussef Dayes, and myself on Rhodes, we’d be improvising for hours!
What projects are you working on currently and where would you like to progress to in 12 months time?
VILLEM: I’ve just finished a huge project, proud of how its come together, more news soon.
There’s lots of The Vanguard Project releases coming this year, and still love writing with BCee.
In terms of progression – I’m always looking to connect when DJing, connecting to the audience and myself connecting to the set, I’ve had a few sets when I’ve finished thinking yeah I did a good job there, was locked in and choose the right tracks and flowed at the right time, but there’s always room to improve.
Some sets its a bit of a battle like you choose the wrong start tune, or you went down the wrong direction for a while, or there were too many breakdowns or not enough – this music is a feeling and trying to capture the right one is one I’m striving for.