In our regular dBs Insider feature, we take a look at the studio, tools and techniques that artists and producers use to make their music.
Al Quinn and Rob Etherson are Mia Dora, a dance music duo hailing from Glasgow who have released their signature deep house and techno tones on labels such as MadTech, Optimo Trax, Moda Black. We got together with Rob from the duo to discover more about his studio and the software and hardware he can't live without.
Hi Rob, so tell us, what's your favourite studio gear?
"Well, I spend a lot of time mixing and mastering for different labels and other producers so I would honestly say that my favourite tool in the studio is the Fabfilter Pro Q2. It’s been a game changer with its freeze spectrum grab function and the steep notch filtering bands. Of all the things to choose it’s definitely strange to be excited by an EQ, but it's at the heart of every stage of making music and it is an unreal piece of kit. For any studio geeks out there. Check out the video and pay attention to the linear phase comparison.
What other software do you use?
"My go-to DAW is Ableton Live, although I still use Logic 9 & 10. I like to alternate between them, or even rewire Ableton into Logic as I love Logic's mixer and plugins. Ableton is the most user friendly of the two, and I’m really enjoying the new Max for Live plugins. The flexibility to use instrument and plugin racks is incredible.
"For example I’ve been using the BX Dynamic EQ for some recent mastering work, and I was struggling to get an accurate response from it. I decided to go ahead and try building one using Ableton’s Max For Live Envelope Follower. After just a few Youtube tutorials I had a very slick working dynamic EQ. This is one of the many reasons I think Ableton Live is king!
What about your favourite hardware?
"We currently have a Korg MS20 Mini, Novation Ultranova, Roland TR8 & TB3, Roland SPD-SX, Korg Volca Bass & Volca Beats, Shure SM58 and an array of guitar effects pedals which all run through an Allen & Heath ZED-10 mixer. Hooked up to the computer we have a UAD Satellite Duo, NI Maschine and a Novation Nocturne 49. This has all our bases pretty well covered, though the list of things we want to buy next is endless.
"Our live set up is a slimmed down version of this. We usually have one laptop with Ableton triggering selected audio parts from our tracks and midi-clocking a second work station where we have the TR8, TB3, Volca Bass and SPD-SX, this is great for live jamming rhythms over the top of audio loops from our tracks. We also use the Fader Fox V2 via MIDI to free up some USB ports and the Novation Launch Pad to control Live."
Why did you choose your monitor speakers?
"When we first started out I had the Fostex PM5's and then moved on to KRK Rokit 6’s, but then when I got more heavily involved in engineering and mixing I had no choice but to upgrade my monitoring. I was lucky enough that to be able to borrow a set of first generation Event Opals on permanent loan, though the same good samaritan also tipped me off on the Klein & Hummel 0300' D’s, which is what I use now.
"They are one of the best speakers I have ever heard. The biggest benefit is the ability to mix records at a low volume level. This has helped rack up long studio sessions with very little fatigue. Worth every penny."
What is the software plugin you couldn’t mix without?
Schwa Schope, It's a real time waveform analyser. I spend a lot of time designing kick drums from scratch so the ability to see the shape of any signal you are processing is very helpful. You should always trust your ears but it really helps when you can visualise every tweak in real time.
Talk us through your usual process when mixing.
"When mixing Mia Dora tracks we have no set agenda or plan. It's the time when we are most creative so we always tend to start our projects from an empty template. This can obviously be more time consuming when it comes to the creative process but it’s how we’ve learned to work, and in part what has helped forge our sound.
"We usually mix as we go. We often arrange our channels in frequency order, lowest frequencies on the left (drums, bass) to highest frequencies on the right. This sounds like a simple thing to do but it really helps understand your processing. If you know which order your parts fall on the frequency spectrum it will help you with the EQ process and how to naturally find space in a mix.
"A regular technique we practice is width processing on our percussion. We use return tracks with very short plate reverbs and accurate distortion with short delays on the right and left channels. You could probably call this one of our ‘signature’ techniques that we use on most of our tracks.
"A good example would be our remix for Neil Quigley's track Rain. At 30 seconds you can hear the way we have processed the percussion to give a wide spacious feel, but still keep the elements forced to the front of the mix. As the track was titled rain we made some field recordings outside the studio and processed them with a gated reverb to sound similar to rain fall. We only added snippets into the sections where the drum and percussion drop out. [check it out at 2mins06secs in the Soundcloud link above]
Best And Worst Thing About Your Studio?
"I am currently in a temporary set up due to work being done, so the worst thing about my studio is the size and shape. It's almost a perfect cube AKA the worst shape in the world to mix in, and it’s sadly too small to fit most of the equipment. I’m in the process of building a brand new studio though with a custom designed room which will be perfect. Really excited to get it finished and move in all of our equipment. The best thing is definitely that my temporary studio is in my house, so the kitchen is never far away!"