Music Production Expo 2015

Music Production Expo, or MPX, as the kool kids are calling it, kicked off recently at Emirates Stadium, in London.

The killer seminar was the misleadingly named ‘Music Producers Guild – About to press record?…are you ready?’. Given the title, I quite reasonably assumed this would be a technical seminar about how to master for vinyl. Instead it comprised a stellar lineup of producers discussing the finer points of the rehearsal, pre-production and production process.

The panelists were Danton Supple, who spent many years working with legendary producers such as Trevor Horn, Steve Lillywhite, Phil Spector, Paul Oakenfold, Mike Hedges and Gil Norton, at Sarm Studios, before moving into production in the late 90’s, and who is currently working with Dave Gahan at Strongroom Studios; Charlie Andrew, who started out as an assistant at Abbey Road, working on The Wall (Roger Waters Live In Berlin) and film scores for Gangs of New York, Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets and the Lord of The Rings trilogy, and went onto work with everyone from Alt-J to Madness, securing along the way, Grammy, Brit & Ivor Novello nominations and a Mercury Prize; Dan Cox, a sound engineer, music producer and co-founder of Urchin Studios in East London, who won Breakthrough Engineer of the Year at the 2014 MPG Awards and has worked with Laura Marling and former Sonic Youth front man Thurston Moore; and Catherine Marks, who has worked closely with Alan Moulder and Flood, and whose production, mixing and engineering credits include Wolf Alice, Foals, PJ Harvey, Kanye West, Ian Brown, MIA, Placebo, Ride and Killers.

If there was a central message of this seminar, it was rehearse more, edit less. People hear performance, not gear and all the expensive gear in the world won’t help a bad performance. In an era of ever shrinking budgets, the rehearsal/pre-production process is everything, as it provides an opportunity for production team and musicians to get to know and understand each other musically, refine structure and tempo, and polish performances, without the pressure of costly studio time.

Yamaha, who had the largest show presence of any of manufacturer, presented a seminar entitled ‘Synthesis Made Easy’, which encouraged musicians and producers to shun the never ending supply of presets and sample libraries in favour of growing your own (sounds), a sentiment with which I couldn’t agree more!

In a similar vein, MSL Professional presented a wonderful seminar entitled ‘Understanding Modular Synthesis’, during which Bryn Wildish taught everything you have always wanted to know about modular synthesis but were too afraid to ask, with the help of a colleague, who patched and re-patched a Studio Electronics modular synth like some kind of ninja geek.

Native Instruments‘ Product Owner for Komplete Kontrol software, demonstrated the new Komplete Kontrol S88 weighted keyboard and the Native Kontrol Standard (NKS), an SDK that enables third-party software companies to integrate their VSTs into Komplete Kontrol and Maschine. The benefits of this are twofold. Firstly, an ever growing list of third party plug-ins can take advantage of Kontrol keyboard features such as the keyboard Light Guide, Native Map and Native Browser Integration. Secondly, because the NKS SDK is incorporated by software authors, at Plug-in level, not as an extra layer, whenever a plug-in is updated, it will continue to work seamlessly with Komplete Kontrol/Maschine, without the need for driver updates. When I had a hands on with the Komplete Kontrol keyboards I found them intuitive, stylish and a pleasure to play. My only problem being which I wanted more – the S61 key semi weighted, or the S88 weighted?

Unlike MSL and Yamaha, who demonstrated methodologies for consciously and calculatedly designing sounds, Novation, presented its alternative philosophy of creating sounds and music serendipitously, with their brand new beatbox, ‘Circuit‘. This diminutive LAUNCHPADesque beatbox has, hidden under its hood, two full on Nova synths and a four part drum machine. It also has knobs on, that affect pre-mapped sound parameters…unlabelled knobs…and therein lies the serendipity. Given its price point, specs, and design, I predict big things ahead.

Meanwhile, on the show floor, my prize for most audacious stand went to Funky Junk, who, not content with displaying a healthy range of Eurorack modules, practically the entire DSI range, a Roland Jupiter 4, TR 808 and Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, had…a fully functioning Yamaha CS-80 for attendees to play with (and good on them for taking it there)! Invariably I had to ask. The answer was a cool fifteen grand. Meine kleine gelt.

KMR Audio were sporting an equally extensive range of (non vintage) synths, including the Modal 008…which, quite frankly, paled into insignificance alongside the Prophet 6 they had on demo. Having spent a little time playing with Prophet 6s, I have to agree with Dave Smith – it truly is ‘vintage with a modern twist’, offering all of the character of a Prophet 5, without being a clone and providing more versatility and sound shaping possibilities than its illustrious predecessor.

Roland were showing the full schmeer of Airas (minus the System 500 modules) and the rather lovely sounding JD-XA; but not the Boutiques (which have, apparently, already sold out). Of course, some people will inevitably ask which is better, the JD-XA or the Prophet 6? The answer is that they are very different beasts and which is right for you depends upon your needs.

Korg‘s stand, which consisted of just two keyboards, was almost as diminutive as their Volcas. Apparently, this was because they have no spare stock, as everything they have is selling like hotcakes…which, I guess, is what happens when you give the punters exactly what they want.

Yamaha showcased a range of products including Steinberg Cubase and the entire Reface series, which seemed to draw considerable interest. Studiologic showed the Sledge, which sounds great, but should probably come with sunglasses. Sonic Distribution had a healthy range of items on show, including products from Waves, Apogee and Rupert Neve Designs. Novation wowed the crowds with their brand new Circuit and kept them there with their full range of synths and controllers.

Other keyboard controllers on display included Native Instruments’ Kontrol series, Nektar‘s comprehensive range, Akai’s Advance and Keith Mcmillen’s QuNexus. Beat controllers included Native Instruments’ Maschine and Akai’s new MPC Touch, which, at points, had people queuing to cue it. Pioneer were also well represented with their world class Serato controllers (and CDJ decks) in full effect.

Completing the lineup were more education institutions offering music tech courses than you could shake a bank statement showing a lifetime of student debt at; and if it all got a bit much, ACS were showing their all important custom made (and generic) earplugs.

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