Interview with James Egbert

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Today I had the honor to take part in a 1 hour interview session with Denver-native James Egbert to talk about things producer related.  The following questions were asked by a variety of people (including myself) on Icon Collective Production School’s Facebook Page.  Hope you guys enjoy it!


What is the most glaring mistake you hear when listening to amateur EDM producers? In your opinion, what separates the “men from the boys”? What’s your usual production workflow? Do you always design synths first, lay down drums, or something?

The biggest mistake is almost always not allowing yourself enough headroom. I was just talking on twitter with another producer who finally realized (assuming you gotta begin your sessions around a kick drum) that your kick needs to begin at a low volume. It’s so essential to the mix, that if you don’t begin low, every time you feel that it needs to be louder, you’re cutting into the headroom of the mix, so if people don’t begin low, they don’t have any place to go, and the mix just gets squashed really easily.

I usually have a melody idea in my head first, and then work on sound design around how I hear things in my head.

James! Outside of practice through productivity, what can I do during downtime to improve? Are there any invaluable books or particular tutorials that helped you along the way?

Buying a subscription to Future Music Magazine has been one of the most helpful things for me. I get them on my iPhone so I can read them easily on planes while I travel, and the coolest thing with them is that every edition comes with like GIGS of samples to download. They have tons of interesting information that always seems to get my mind running.

How do you process your drums, after you have made the final sample? and which type of parallel compression do you use? and when do you typically use multiband sidechain compression?

I use The Glue for nearly 100% of my compression needs…love that plugin! After I’m done with the sample, snares/claps get routed to a bus with the kick and compressed there. Hihats and cymbals are bussed and compressed together. Then both of those compression groups get thrown together and compressed again. The key with all of this is that it’s INCREDIBLY light compression. Too much, and you’ll quickly notice everything is squashed and your transients and punch are gone.

I honestly rarely use multiband sidechain compression but something to consider with that…if such a plugin could sidechain certain frequencies while leaving others flat would be to sidechain the low beef of a snare to the kick? I honestly haven’t considered it too much before right now though.

Hey James! Do you use Vanguard to make your bass synths? What’s the best way to make your synths modulate?

I did, but not anymore since Logic X is 64bit only. There’s many different ways you can do this though, and it’s usually a function of moving a resonant frequency along the spectrum and distorting things (repeatedly) later…at least to get kind of talky sort of things. Bitcrushing is usually the best form of distortion for basses, but I’ve also been recently getting into plugins like FabFilter Saturn and Ohm Force Ohmicide, which are both multi-band. Because you can leave certain frequencies unaltered, you’re really able to fine-tune what you want distorted, but either way works. The real key is to be aware of your frequencies at each interval of modulation because things can often become overly distorted in certain areas when you’re re-applying distortion over and over again.

I have a plugin called Jbridger it allows me to use vanguard with my 64bit Ableton, dont know if that would work for logic x, thanks for the answer!

Yeah, I’ve heard it will. Either way, it’s probably about that time for my sound to evolve into something new. I feel like it’s a good mindset for me to have right now.

I’m new producing and I’ve only made one decent track. I keep getting frustrated with how the ending project sounds. I was wondering if you could give some advice to how I can make quality music?

The key is patience..and lots of it. I began producing nearly 10 years ago now, and I still approach the studio with an open mind, and learn new stuff every day through trial and error. The biggest advice I can give is to just be hungry for knowledge. Aside from that, dissect your favorite songs. Ask yourself what you like about the songs. Is if the reverb? Is it the snare drum? Could be anything, but if you analyze everything, while you’re making music, you’ll find yourself naturally beginning to take more time with things and seek out perfection.

Where do you find your creativity?

I wish I had an answer for this question. I’ve found that the honest truth is that sometimes you feel creative and sometimes you just plain don’t. It’s not that either is good or bad, they’re both natural. The more that you work or do a certain thing, you’ll begin to understand your own brain though, and I can tell when I’m in the mood to work on the real tedious stuff or when I’m not now. On really bad creative days, I try to keep myself productive with things still, those are really good times to do things like chop audio and just stuff that’s a really long process, but not a lot of fun necessarily. But yeah, that’s the age old question and I’m not sure there’s any “right” answer.

Hello James, how you doing? I have a question, do you have any tips to a good mixdown?

I like to think of my mixdown like some really knotted up hair. First, you attack it with a brush, and then keep going through it with finer and finer combs until everything is straightened out. The best way to not knot it up though is by taking care of it from the very beginning of the songwriting process. EQ stuff like crazy to the point where you’re only using frequencies of each instrument that you actually need.

Other than that, the key is to keep everything at a really low volume cause you can always bring it up later.

Any tips for working with vocals?

I love compressing them like CRAZY…you’ll likely be able to hear when too much is too much, but don’t be afraid to approach some high settings. Make sure to roll off the bass frequencies, cause while you may not hear them, they do exist and that’s usually where a lot of the bad pops and things like that exist. Every voice is different and every song calls for different processing…sometimes reverb may work, sometimes not, but the majority of the time, things sound great with a long reverb at a low volume without much low end to it. Nothing is ever set in stone in terms of vocal processing though, so I hope this just gives you some starter ideas.

Why do you look like justin beiber?

The important information to note when answering this question is that I’m older. So he looks like me. Go ask him.

What is one thing that drives you nuts when listening promos?

Every now and then I get some promos where the drop is in a completely different key from the breakdown. Musicality is a must for me personally.

Hey James, how do you get past “producers block”?

You don’t allow it to happen in the first place.

But in all honesty, when I’m feeling dull minded but things need to be worked on anyways, drums are a great place to start. Every track needs drums. For me as well, since things are usually on the complex side of things, I find that if I begin working on various sounds in whichever root key I’m using, an idea starts to form which will be a springboard for another idea.

What DAW do you use?

Just upgraded to Logic X…I’ve been in Logic since 2005.

What are your favorites vsts?

Since Logic X isn’t supporting 32bit plugins, Vanguard is now out the window for me. I’ve just begun using Massive though, and I’ve heard great things about Zebra but haven’t used it. As far as effects are concerned, the FabFilter stuff is a MUST-own. You’ll end up buying one and before you know it, you’ll own all of the stuff. It’s just really well designed, the sound is phenomenal on all of it, and it’s an addicting suite of plugins.

When you have your kick where you want it how do you chose the 808 or bass in order for it to match with your song?

It really depends on the style of music. With complex electro, I like to have my kick take up less of the sub frequency range so that the bassline can take more of that frequency. I therefor don’t usually concern myself with tuning a kick (with the exception of surgically removing specific harmonic frequencies that I don’t like). For say a tech house kick though, you’ll want the sub on your kick to match the root note of the song, and then you’ll want to consider how the bass is interfering with the kick. This video is GREAT!

What’s it like playing at clubs and festivals while making music?

Rough. I’ve given myself Tinnitus this past year while playing shows, and it now takes me a few days of relaxation after a string of shows in order to be anywhere near eager about listening to more music. I wear 25db earplugs all the time at shows, it’s suuuuuper important to protect your hearing as much as possible. I’ve even come to barely leave the monitors on while I’m DJing these days, just for the sake of not killing things any further.

As far as composing your tracks how do you usually start out? Chord progression then melody? Do you do them at the same time? Or do you get a groove going first with the drums? Also “All Systems Are Go” is an amazing track, I’m very curious on how it came about.

It’s usually melody first. Thanks re: All Systems Go, because of how complex that one was, it started out designing one sound at a time. Schoolboy sent me a few bass sounds and I began crafting the additional bass ideas around the main wobble that he sent me. The key with writing complex electro is to keep doing SOMETHING, and as the series of sounds grows, usually your opinion around them changes. If you’re not diggin the first bar of audio, change it around until you are and then work on the second bar.

Hi James! I recently exported a track from ableton, and use iTunes to convert it to mp3. My finished track ended up being poor quality. Does converting with iTunes lose some of the quality? Is there a better way to convert to mp3 that you suggest? I did not see any of my sounds redlining in ableton. Any tips on exporting in high quality?

In the iTunes settings, you have the ability to convert a WAV file to a 320 mp3. I use iTunes all the time, but you just have to make sure it’s settings aren’t on anything lower than that if you want full quality on the mp3.

Hey James! One question I had is do you prefer to do your mixdown as your are producing a track or bounce everything out to audio tracks then do your mixing? I have found it’s much easier (for me personally IMO) to EQ when I’m looking at a project file of 15-30 tracks versus the 100+ that can come about in an almost finished track.

I always leave things raw but mixing while I write is the only way that would be able to happen. When I’m doing my final mixdowns or what not, it’s 100+ tracks, but everything has usually been cared for by the time I get to the end of the song.

Multiband sidechain compression: When do you typically use that?

I honestly rarely use multiband sidechain compression but something to consider with that…if such a plugin could sidechain certain frequencies while leaving others flat would be to sidechain the low beef of a snare to the kick? I honestly haven’t considered it too much before right now though.

When you start producing a track where do you like to start first? The lead or melody or your drums first?

It’s almost always melody.

What would your “practical” advice be for a producer who is looking to break out? (ex. Zedd suggested to producers that they make remixes for their favorite top 40 songs because people are always looking for that sort of stuff)

Yeah, this one is definitely tried and true. Lots of people have made a name for themselves via bootlegs of popular songs. If you’ve put time in to get your production right, the trick is to get the timing right.

So, besides having good productions, getting noticed really just comes down to timing?

Somewhat. For example, right now likely isn’t the best time to make a career for yourself as a trap artist. If you had good productions, and wrote a load of trap music 2 years ago, you’d likely be one of the names everybody now knows about.

To follow up with another one, did you ever have one “breakout” moment or was it just a series of smaller ones? (some insight on your smaller breakout moments if thats the route you took for extra brownie points)

I feel like I’ve been a series of smaller moments…the real key is to keep your head down and continue working on music. You can’t allow yourself to get too excited about things because that’s when complacency settles in and you have to remain hungry to continue developing your music. If you continue developing your music and your sound, a “career” will naturally develop. If you waste your energy dwelling on your career, likely, your sound won’t develop and it’s not a very sustainable approach.

When you first started out and you had some decent tracks that could be played on the dance floor how did you get gigs? Was it just through friends, did you have some crazy marketing gimmik?

Blogs were probably the best way for me to spread the word when I was beginning. No gimmicks or anything like that, it just happened for me where a local promoter hit me up to play on a gig and it kind of went from there. I’d say patience is just huge in every aspect of this industry, and the more you’re willing to be patient and really just focus all your energy on making the music as good as it can possibly be, then I don’t think much can stand in the way of success.

I’m guessing the local promoter just heard about you through the blogs? If so (or if not either way it will probably help) which blogs would you suggest us producers to hit up? Do you just go for local blogs or are there any good blogs that you’d suggest producers to look into?

Local blogs (or national blogs that are located locally) are really great because people are always more excited about something when they can go have a cup of coffee or a beer with the artist and talk about stuff. Having a good group of supporters locally is a big deal for making the jump to a national scale, and it usually happens when somebody who has a voice to spread things takes belief in you. This Song Is Sick was specifically that blog for me. Located not too far from me, but they have a national reach and were eager to spread the word.

Thanks for all the awesome questions! I believe I was actually able to get to everything too! Above all else, keep your mind open to new possibilities and keep rockin!!

-James Egbert

Interview compiled by Colin Warn (aka DJ Veaux) 2013. Hosted on Icon Collective Production School’s Facebook Page.

James Egbert: https://www.facebook.com/jamesegbert
Icon Collective Production School: https://www.facebook.com/iconcollective
DJ Veaux: https://www.facebook.com/djveaux

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