Sampling Everything, Over-Emoting, and Starting an Indie Label: January's Best Podcasts for Music Makers

Welcome back to our Best Podcasts for Music Makers series, where we set out to find and share podcasts that dig beneath the level of biography or style and get at the heart of music creation.

Every month, we’ll look back on some of our favorite podcasts, highlighting the best moments that discuss the techniques or gear behind a given sound, the story behind a song or album, or a flash of inspiration that might just stoke your own creativity.

Below, you’ll find producers sharing their go-to signal chains and settings, others discussing how to find and sample sounds outside of the studio, and independent record label heads talking about how to make a career in today's music economy. Have a podcast we should be checking out? Please let us know in the comments.

Kush Audio gear guru and plugin designer Gregory Scott (aka UBK) and’s Nathan Daniel host this podcast in which they share recording and songwriting wisdom, along with as much sarcasm as they can fit in their "Happy Funtime Hour."

Waves SSL G-Master Buss Plugin

The shows usually revolve around listener questions, which Gregory and Nathan answer eloquently—even if they mercilessly mock the listener and award free plugins to the show’s stupidest questions. In Episode 143, the duo considers a listener’s question about simple mix bus chains and offers plenty of insight, with characteristic candor.

Gregory’s advice is to use a compressor before an EQ, with a low ratio setting. "I’d say 2 to 1 is probably a better starting point for a noob, because 4 to 1 you can just—you can hammer a mix way too hard with 4 to 1, if you don’t know what you’re doing. But if you specifically have an SSL emulation, then 4 to 1 will do, with slowest attack and auto release.

"… If you’re using some other thing, I would go 2 to 1. I’d also have, like, a 10 millisecond attack and 300 millisecond release, something universal, medium, safe, whatever. And always be hovering around 2 decibels of gain reduction."

Sonic Talk: Episode 520

This episode of the longstanding podcast from the folks at Sonic State featured multi-instrumentalist and arranger Rich Hilton, bassist and music techie Gaz Williams, and producer/engineer Charles "Chicky" Reeves. Their discussion about a new portable audio recorder quickly turned to the benefits of devices like the Zoom H4N and the iZotope Spire and turned then to the process of discovering, recording, and sampling found sounds.

Reeves said that he tends "to record a lot of stuff surreptitiously. And I end up using it in music all the time—as soon as I hear something, I think, Oh, OK, I can pitch it up a little bit and it’ll be in the right key." Through this process, a Liverpool Street Station subway chime, mapped across pitches in Ableton Live, became one of his favorite keyboard sounds.

Williams talked about the benefits of throwing samples into the Elektron Digitakt. "It has this incredible way of fluttering the sound in a bizarre way," he said. "You put recordings in and they just come back sounding kind of weighty and with substance." He also praised the new Scale mode in Native Instruments Maschine’s 2.7 update, which you can use to re-pitch any sample as it plays, fluidly, without re-starting the sample at the start of each new pitch. "It is glorious. I haven’t seen that function in anything yet."

James Paul Wisner, producer for acts like Paramore, Dashboard Confessional, and Underoath, was the guest on Unstoppable Recording Machine, a podcast that leans toward hard rock and metal production tips. In the conversation, Wisner gives his advice for coaxing and capturing strong vocal performances out of singers.

Neumann M 149

Wisner said he starts with a couple comfortable, low-pressure passes through the song, without really guiding the singer at all. Next, he’ll have them exaggerate their emotions, to the point of being over-the-top—which helps to find the emotional sweet spot while making the singer and the band loosen up. After that, Wisner will have a singer do a few last takes with exaggerated enunciation to make every consonant crystal clear. Later, by himself, he’ll grab bits of vocals from each of those takes and make the final, compiled vocal track.

While Wisner talked a lot about the struggles of being an independent producer and engineer, he is now in the fortunate position to have a Neumann M 149 tube condenser and an 1176-like compressor as his go-to vocal signal chain.

The Future of What: Episode 108

The Future of What—a podcast hosted by Kill Rock Stars record label president Portia Sabin—featured an informative conversation about finding ways to make the current music industry work for independent artists, with people involved with EYRST—a fledgling, Portland-based hip-hop label. The episode’s worth a listen to any music maker that needs tips and encouragement for the business-side of their art.


Sabin is joined by EYRST founder Neill Von Tally and Blossom, one of the first artists signed to the label. Von Tally talked about he went about launching the label (finding a partner who already ran a recording studio helped to greatly ease the financial burdern). And he also shared some details of the "non-traditional" contracts they offer—which starts to pay artists before recouping expenses and allows them to re-record songs from their catalog elsewhere.

While Sabin offers plenty of her own insight gleaned from years of heading Kill Rock Stars and creating her own music, Blossom talked about how the support from the label allowed her to slow down and focus on her art, while letting her be more busy and productive than ever.

She said she found Neill when they were both determined to get serious about music. "And that’s all you really need—is someone holding you accountable for things sometimes," Blossom said. "So stepping out of this really massive wave of people and artists that want the same thing as you but are going about it so fast, really helped me have quality in what I wanted to put out, because I wasn’t rushing."

Check back next month for our next Best Podcasts for Music Makers, and if you listen to, love, or create your own music-related podcast, please let us know in the comments.

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