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Steve Mac House Legend

Interview: The UK House Legend Steve Mac

Steve Mac House Legend

Article courtesy of Sounds To Sample

The UK house music legend talks about his analogue-packed studio, offers up an EQ tip and explains why the artist should always read the contract.

He has remixed for the likes of Michael Jackson, INXS, Jamiroquai, Junior Vasquez, David Morales, and Roger Sanchez, released records with Paul Woolford and Todd Terry and has also scored a UK Top 20 single. Now the UK house stalwart takes to the S2S hot seat.

What is the prognosis for the music industry: terminal decline or steady recovery?

It’s not in decline or recovery. The music industry will always be here but there’s no denying it has changed beyond recognition in the last ten years. Long gone are the days of the local record shop and many of the bigger music stores are on their way out too – the main market place for music is online.

While it might be easier for people to get their music out there I think the flip side has been that it’s become harder for artists to get paid. One search of Google and reams of music show up for free on blogs and torrent sites – it’s almost impossible to keep up with where the music is being illegally shared. This is just other thing that the industry will have to come to terms with. On a personal level it means I have to work that much harder to make a living.

Does the industry these days dictate that artists need to be both creative artists and businessmen in equal measure?

It does help if you know the ins and outs because there are a lot of sharks out there that will take advantage if given half a chance. Always make sure you know what you’re signing and try and follow a few basic rules like not signing your music away for life and making sure that the master rights always come back to yourself.

As an international 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?

I take time out of touring throughout most of the winter to spend time in the studio making new music. However, now the summer is coming and I have an album to promote I will be out on the road a lot more!

Overall I’d say I ‘m more of studio person, as that’s where I spend most of my time, but I still love the buzz of the party and playing my records on an amazing sound system.

Who’s currently rocking your world as a producer and why?

Sirusmo, I find what he is doing very interesting. Musical and clever.

What one piece of kit or plug-in can you not live without?

I have so much kit so it’s difficult to say because I don’t like to be without any of it!

I use a lot of vintage analogue outboard gear – I’ve got a rack of Neve 1084 originals that I use on just about everything I produce. I also have a stack of Urei compressors, 2 1176 Revision A and a Revision D – the A is amazing for vocals and tracking.

Recently I’ve just started tracking all my sounds through my Studer ½ inch tape machine and it gives bottom end like you wouldn’t believe! It’s a long process but for me the results justify the extra effort and time.

One great unit I use on the mix buss is the SSL buss compressor – they call it the magic button. It just glues the mix together like nothing else. In fact I have 3 of them as I use one for the mix, one for drums and one for backing vocals.

Analogue kit is still fundamental to what I do in the studio. I’ve got about 17 analogue synths, I still mix on a big analogue desk, I track through tape and I EQ mostly on outboard gear. That said, I’m a fan of plug-in technology and I’m not an analogue purist – get the best of both worlds because they’re both completely different and they both have lots to offer.

When building a track how do you normally work? Do you start with the drums and build from that?

Drums always come first. I like to mess around on a drum machine for a few hours to try build a good rhythm. I feel that if you get a good beat then your track is half way there and a good rhythm gives you musical ideas.
Sometimes I use my old Emu SP-1200 which just has a sound like nothing else. But lately I have been using Native Instruments’ Maschine. It’s so cool. I build all my drums with one shots. Sometimes I like to sample records, it just gives you another feel, but I also like to make my own drum sounds with synths. I have an Arp 2600 which is just brilliant drums, you can get one hell of a kick drum out that synth!

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?

I like a bit of both depending on where I’m at in the mix. I go loud when I’m working on the bass – that’s when I want to really feel the track. Then I’ll lower the volume for the more detailed mixing.

I own a few pairs of speakers, I have a pair of boring flat Yamaha ns10s which I love to mix on. The great thing about them is they sound crap so If you get a good mix done on those you know it’s going to sound good almost anywhere. I also have a big, big pair of Genelecs and some smaller Aura Tone Genelecs.

What are the biggest barriers new producers face?

Dance music is becoming a bit like the X Factor, everybody thinks they are a DJ or record producer in the digital age. It’s the market saturation that results which is the biggest barrier for new producers. That said, I think if you’re good and have something special, people will find out about you sooner rather than later.

What three pieces of kit / software could you not mix without?

Sony Oxford EQ, L1 limiter and Sound Toys effects.

The oxford EQ is just an all round good sounding digital EQ. It’s a workhorse and the cut frequencies on it are great.

I love the L1 for over pushing and distorting everything, you get a great sound out of the L1 using it like that.

The Sound Toys FX bundle contains some of the best plug-in effects I have ever heard. The guys making these use to work for Eventide, the analogue FX company.

If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you started out in music, what would it be?

Listen to the people around you and learn from them

What do you find hardest to get right when making a track?

The mix down, it takes longer than making the record in some cases but in a way it can be the best part of the process, but it can also be the worst when its going wrong!

I always try and get the frequencies right on the sounds in the first place, and I try and set the levels as I go.

My best mix secret is cutting with EQ. Most people add on the bottom and the tops, I cut them. It makes more space for the entire mix. The mastering engineer will only cut the frequencies anyway but if its already done, your mix will be much louder. For instance, when you get a sub bass, it’s good to put an EQ cut on it (everything under 45), because you can’t hear that those frequencies anyway. This should tighten up your mix, and doing the same on the high frequencies can really help too.

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