Si Begg has more than two decades’ experience working in the music industry. Widely respected for his genre-defying rule breaking, forward-thinking creativity, and his pioneering technical skill, he has carved a reputation for himself as both artist and DJ and has numerous TV, film and ad credits to his name. He has also collaborated on a number of cutting-edge design projects and has won several awards for his work.
More recently he teamed up with sample supremos Zero-G to release ‘Hauntology‘ – a library full of amazing abstract, melodic and percussive loops as well as weird effects, sweeps and tonal textures. Longtime T+S customers will also be familiar with Si’s previous collaborations with Zero-G including; Extreme Vocal Environments, Extreme Environments, and Electro Glitch Essentials.
Seeing as we’ve caught up with Si in the past to talk about his upcoming releases, we thought we’d chat to him again to talk about his creative process and his somewhat unique approach to music production…
Do you have any tips or tricks for starting a new track? Is there a particular process that you go through?
Hmm. I suppose quite often I normally start with a sound that interests me. That can be something that I found hardware wise on one of my synths or a new plugin or even just a new technique or a new process. I just start with something that’s sonically interesting. It could be because I have a new plugin or a new way of routing something. Like ‘what happens if I do it this way or if I mix this with that’? So yeah it’s just trying to find something new. That’s what I go for.
Regarding sound design, do you stick with the initial sound while you build the foundation and overall structure of the song, or do you tweak and edit the sound first?
I think I normally start with one sound and end up with a completely different sound by the end. There will normally be something that I liked in that initial sound that I try to enhance and bring more of. It’s quite often that there’s a sound I like and I’ll try and listen out to that sound and try and pinpoint what I like and try and enhance it. It might be there’s an interesting buzz or top end bit that I’ll enhance.
Often I’ll crank that bit up or just turn this down a bit, or maybe just try and get more compression to really try and bring out the sonic qualities that I’m looking for. Quite often it’s a bit like you’re a sculptor with a big block of stone. You’re sculpting the sound and looking to bring out the shape that you’re looking for. I think it’s a matter of homing it until you’re happy with it.
So does that mean you tend to have a more relaxed approach to your sound design, rather than being too focused on the exact way you want it to sound?
Yeah, I’m often quite relaxed which has its downsides! Sometimes you get lost in it, but I find it quite hard to commit to a sound. As a result, I do always keep tweaking and tweaking. I try and keep things pretty fluid. Quite often the worry is that you’re going to lose a good sound if you keep fiddling with it too much. So sometimes if I have something I really like I’ll save that version of it or even the whole channel strip!
That way I have the whole sound locked, so I don’t have to worry about losing it. Then I’m free to fiddle with it all I like without having to worry about making it worse as I can just go back to how it was. The thing that usually stops you twiddling is the worry that you’re going to lose that sound. So I do often save or make a duplicate channel strip so that I can tweak that one instead. That way I always have it so I can go back to that original sound in case I screw it up!
What sources of inspiration and education did you have when you first started producing music?
It was weird because when I first started you were always restricted, unless you were very rich, by what equipment you could afford. I think now it’s a bit different because even with just a pretty simple setup you can do things with very high production values. There was an always an element of you have to work with what you had to get the best out of your equipment. So it was always a bit restrictive when you were producing, but that was in some ways easier because there weren’t as many options.
I also used to buy a lot of magazines like Sound On Sound that I’d go to for top tips. I’d also ask friends for top tips and try to exchange techniques. There is a risk of, especially with the production side, that you get to this thing of a ‘right way’ of doing things and a ‘wrong way’ of doing things. I’ve always felt it’s not as straightforward as that. There are mistakes you can make, but I don’t think you should get too hung up on doing things the right way. If it works, it works, and it doesn’t matter if some people say “you shouldn’t EQ a bass like that” because if it sounds good, it sounds good. Don’t worry about it.
Also, production is an error thing; it’s the ideas that come through. Sometimes a lot of electronic music is pretty badly produced and messy, but I love the ideas, and I love what they were thinking of and what they were doing. That’s one thing about electronic music is that you can become very bogged down with production and not spending enough time on the actual artistic side and the creativity and thinking ‘what is it that I’m trying to do here and what sort of sounds do I want’.
How do you go about getting the concept of a sound in your head to your DAW where it’s an actual sound that you can play back and hear? Do you ever struggle with transferring it across?
Yes, although quite often it’s that, rather than having an initial idea in my head, I’ll just play with the machine and just try and let the sounds come out from there. I’m always quite interested in letting the machines do the work. I’m trying to get the best out of these machines rather than me trying to impose my image of what the sound should be like onto the machines. It’s like let them do what they do best! That’s what I like best about electronic music is the sounds these machines can make. So I just try and just enhance what’s already there.
What advice would you give to any new producers or even yourself when you started to get into producing music?
I suppose mainly to keep at it and keep twiddling away and try and just focus on what you think sounds good. Don’t worry about what other people might think sounds good and just try and focus on what makes you go “Woah yeah that’s brilliant” rather than thinking ‘Oh I wonder if so and so will like this, or I wonder what the record label might think if I do this’. It’s a case of going with your gut instinct as much as possible.
Don’t be afraid to be different. If you’re copying what’s someone else has done then they probably actually recorded that a year ago so by the time yours comes out it’s already two years old. It’s much better to try and be original and come up with new ideas. I find that a lot of electronic music and in particular modern dance music just sounds the same. So I think it’s more important than ever to stand out and come up with a fresh take.
Try new things and don’t be afraid to do things differently. Also just put the hours in, there aren’t any shortcuts, you just have to put the hours in. Get to know your equipment back to front. If you get a new plugin or a new piece of hardware just play around with it for a few hours, not even writing music just seeing what it can do. That’s just a case of learning your craft.
I suppose that’s one area where starting up with a small setup where you didn’t have the money to go for anything bigger and perhaps what you would have wanted at the time. I imagine that would have helped you get to know your equipment to get the most out of it?
Yeah, it was, it was like having rather than having 50 soft synths you only had 1. You spent a lot of time getting to know that synth incredibly well and getting to know what it could do and couldn’t do. And I guess, make it do things that maybe other people couldn’t get it to do because you knew it so well. It pushed you to be creative and try to push boundaries.
How would you suggest people go about increasing their sonic capabilities?
It’s worth looking at social media as there are so many musicians sharing ideas all the time. It’s always good to find a good community where you can talk about what you want to achieve and find other people who can give tips and tricks. Also, keep yourself informed and try listening to a lot of other things. Find interviews with your favourite artists so you can find out how they did what they did. It’s also always interesting to see what their tips are and what their studio setup is and what it was. You just have to immerse yourself in that world. Keep your ears open and keep listening and asking questions.
What tips do you have for anyone that’s found their sound and their style, but what’s to get it out there and heard? Maybe even signed?
It’s hard for me to know because I’m in the lucky position that people know my stuff and so I don’t have to fight so hard. It’s a strange world now because when I first started there was less music around so in some ways it was easier to get heard because if you had a new single out that was more of a big deal. Now there are thousands of singles released every day, or at least every week. On the other hand with things like Soundcloud, it’s much easier to have your music thrown out to the world for people to listen to.
I think if it sounds good then people will listen to it, but it has to sound different. I think there’s no point copying the same as what everyone else has done. Do something different and then just get out there and share it with the world and try and persuade people to listen. There’s no harm in sending it to someone on twitter if there’s an artist you admire then send them the link, you never know! Don’t be afraid to send stuff to people; there’s no harm so just throw it out there.