Scratch Magazine Issue 5
The “Original Home of the Muppets” is probably the last place you’d expect to find one of the pioneers of gangsta rap but it’s not as weird as it sounds. Located on the grounds is a state of the art studio that has played host to the Quincy Jones, the Rolling Stones, and most notably the “We are the World” performance. When we arrived at Henson Studios Quik was marveling at his new board and practically in awe of the sounds that he has been producing using his patent pending “ID Process.” If you thought he was slipping think again. In between crafting tracks for Chingy and Jigga and serving as The Game’s tour DJ, Quik has been on a mission inventing this new system of sampling and thickening up his sound. In addition, he revealed a few secrets of his recording process that led to the creation of what he calls an album that will send all producers back to the drawing board. It’s big talk but if you heard what we did you wouldn’t bet against him.
What are the advantages of recording in a spot like Henson Studios as opposed to building up your own home studio?
I hate to say this to all my producer friends who really desire to record and make hit records in the bedroom but the power that comes into your house is dirty. It’s like taking a shower in dishwater. The power gets polluted by the refrigerator, the microwave, and by just being dirty consumer power period. Even if you don’t have a hum in the room or you lifted the IEC cable to whatever piece of equipment that you are using the power is dirty. In real recording studios, they condition their power so the power is clean. You don’t get spikes or fluctuations that cause anomalies in your equipment, which end up affecting your sound. So the advantage of recording in a big studio is that the power is clean. Second and most importantly, there are no parallel walls in a studio. The shape of the room has to do with everything that you hear. When you are in a room shaped like a box the sound is bouncing from all the walls and when the sound bounces from point A, which are your speakers, to a wall that’s flat and back to your speakers you lose all depth of perception. So in a sense you are making boxy sounding records while in a studio you make big open realistically stereo records. That’s the difference.
What are some of the pieces of equipment that have become the staples in your sessions?
My top 3 pieces are the new SP 1200, the MPC 3000 and the TL Audio VTC board. Everything else is rack mount and for effects. I get all the new keyboards that come out if they tickle my fancy. I don’t do it to keep up with people that use the newest hottest thing I get things that make sense. I buy equipment for its timelessness. I buy equipment for a sound that becomes a staple as opposed to something you buy again next year just because it got a little better. That’s like a drug addict, getting addicted to gear is the same thing.
I overheard you mention to one of the engineers that the TL Audio VTC board is the main reason your album sounds the way it does. What missing piece did that add?
It adds the third dimension. Nowadays because people use computers a lot, the sound is different. There is no sound in a computer. It only records information and spits out what it thinks it recorded right. It does that by converting signals to digital information and then reconverting it back into an audible signal. That board [pointing to the TL Audio VTC] is an analog board so it doesn’t reconvert anything. What it does is pass a signal through and affects it through tubes, good preamps and solid state circuitry all daisy chained in the right way to where when the signal comes back out its three times better than it was when it went in. It’s like a hotrod and it just does magical things to the low end that we miss when we record to computers. Computers are notorious for stripping away the bottom or for not giving you the same bottom that you put in. Sometimes they don’t convert those low odd harmonic frequencies back. Digital is getting better and it’s an easier medium to deal with but at the same time it’s not that thump we want to hear when we get in a club. Whereas the VTC board that I got has the low roll and girth of music that we’re used to from the early nineties and beyond. It’s thick forever. Parliament, Slave and even some Donnie Hathaway records were using a lot of those old tubes. When digital came in it made it all cheaper and faster but it also affected the sound and made the sound cheaper. With that said the TL Audio VTC just gave us back the sound we were used to when we produced records early on and you can’t beat it.
Where did you come across it?
I saw it at Westlake studios right around the time I was into digital mixing. I was trying to get on the bandwagon of digital in a sense. I was trying to get my heart to accept that this is the way music is going so I gotta get on board or be left behind. It was like a mad rush into that arena and I didn’t want to get stepped on. So I jumped on board and my sound ended up getting thinner as a result. Then one day I happened to be at Westlake studios in West L.A. and saw it. I was like look at that mega piece of equipment. It looked like a living breathing thing as opposed to a cold, flat surface with a mouse. It was like looking into the past. So I had my friend bring in one of my CDs from the car and just listened to a session that I was working on. It didn’t necessarily add anything, but as soon as I played my song through the board it just warmed the sound up. Right then I knew that’s what I needed so I had to buy it. It’s an expensive bitch but it’s well worth it.
In the past you’ve mentioned that you use a lot of second and third harmonic distortion. Could you elaborate on that?
Computers have no harmonic distortion but a tape machine is dripping with third harmonic distortion. Third harmonic distortion is the harmonies of octaves that magically appear whenever you put something on tape. It’s just the overtones of resonance that create a chord as opposed to just that one note ringing out and decaying over time. When you record to tape something happens where it makes notes one octave above and one octave below the note that you bring up. It swells the sound up and covers more sonic space. Second and third harmonic distortions are invisible harmonics that you don’t hear you feel them. That’s the reason it was hard for people to get used to CDs, the sound was real thin and bland because they don’t record second and third harmonic distortion. The sound was in your face but on tape and vinyl it’s in your face and all over the room. By recording it on something different you add magic to it whereas if you tried to get that sound on digital you have to do a lot of things and you still won’t really end up with it.
You’ve stated that you can play everything but bass and guitar. But let’s clarify that. What are all of the instruments and pieces of equipment that you can actually play?
I don’t play string instruments. I had a hard time with the guitar. I am a synthesizer and sampler based producer much in the way a Kanye West is. I understand drums and I can play drums but I’m not a great drum player because I didn’t spend a lot time actually learning all of the parameters of drumming like rudimentary stuff and paradiddles and all but I get it. If I had to sit in a session, I could play simple drums and church stuff. My high points are synthesizer programming, I consider myself a piano player, and I play percussion. At the same time I understand arrangement so I can write really realistic string, horn and brass parts. There are a lot of musicians that sight read, play what they are supposed to play and then leave. To me that’s not the passion. The passion is playing simple stuff that feels good and is spaced out in a sense where you can emote feelings in the music.
How do you decide when its time to bring in players?
You know you need someone else to play it when you hear it in your head and you know that you can’t quite possibly do it. For me that’s like guitar parts, but for the most part I call on my instrumentalists when I want to take my music to the next level. I get it to a certain point and then I have someone come in and sprinkle it. I play it myself sometimes to give them the idea and then they do what they do naturally and infuse it. A note is a note until that person who’s playing puts his vibe and energy into it. And to me that’s what producing great records is all about. It’s about the feel. I make records because I want them to timestamp what’s going on right now especially when I see that there is music missing and people aren’t doing what we used to do to keep the shit progressing. I’m just trying to keep music moving forward to where it stays interesting as opposed to going back to being sample based. If you go back and listen to hip hop’s early records they were all samples. It was either a hard beat from Donald Byrd or “Funky Drummer” with something added over it. I just wanted to progress into writing records that didn’t need samples because that was always the quick fix mentality. You’d always hear someone be like could you loop up “Knee Deep” for me but after a while you go that’s not interesting. Let’s write something that feels like “Knee Deep” but is original so we can get some publishing.
Do you think it’s gotten to the point where technology is actually leading people instead of vice versa?
You have a whole lot of different peripherals to make music but none of them have soul. You can have the new CJM 4000 bass modulator but it’s nothing without somebody playing the fuck out of it and giving it a vibe. There are tons of pieces of equipment out but they are redundant. You only have one grid to work with when it comes to digital. You have how much information you can store versus what sample rate you use to sample. For every high sample rate it requires more space so unless you change the dimensions everything coming out is the same thing but in a different package. The only real difference is that somebody’s synthesizer line has more resonance on it. I’m looking for the different shit to combine wave forms, a sawtooth against a triangle wave or a square wave softened a little bit so it stair steps with a little ring modulation so it will have a different feel than the basic funky worm sound that everybody gets when its time to do a west coast beat. We’re into the big lush long form samples now. I’m into the depth and the sound of records.
You’ve been talking a lot about this new sound that you plan to introduce on your next album. What can we expect to hear?
Eddie Van Halen once told me that there are only twelve notes in an octave and it’s all about how you play those notes. But my other guitar player, Rob Bacon, said there are only twelve notes on a guitar but its how you play in between the notes that give you your character. So these guys have two totally different ways of thinking. My thing is to use the twelve notes and nail them like Eddie Van Halen but at the same time see if I can multiply that and get thirty-six notes because Bacon told me there is music in between notes. On this album, I’m playing a lot between the notes and you can feel it. The sound is big and warm. It’s based on funk, orchestra, classical a little, some bosanova, latin and jazz but it’s put together like one cohesive body of work. We used the best microphones for vocals where it’s like the presence is right in your face and the writing is incredible. I’ve been through some garbage and I hate to say it but hard times make for the best records. I’m not making this record for producers to try and impress them like this is the equipment ya’ll should be using because we made it sound good. I’m making this record for people that are gonna meet me one day and say it’s because of your trauma album that I got into producing because there were so many different worlds and grounds that you covered. I’m not just sampling breaks because that drummer had a great feel. I’m mixing the way I would drum with the way another person would drum and having them do a Brazilian beat instead of a straight 4:4 funk beat. With this album, I know it’s going to change the way people produce records. It’s not a sample-laden record but it’s thick and crazy because I used the process I created called the ID process with the drums. It’s not like that same drum you hear over and over. People have never heard these drum sounds anywhere on earth.
I know you haven’t patented it yet but can you give a brief description of what the ID process is all about?
Real simple it’s a system that allows people to go and take great records from the past that they never could isolate a drum break from and be able to isolate drums from these records and still keep that drummer’s feel as well as the bass player, guitar player and the vocalist. It’s new and advanced and took me quite a few years to get it to where I am comfortable doing it. I did this all during my down time so my down time as a producer and artist has been put to good use. I’ve been inventing and I know I’ve made a record that’s at least five years ahead of everything that’s on the radio right now. I love the producers out here but I can’t wait to send them all back to the drawing board.
Tool Chest ‘Quik’s top 3’
TL Audio VTC
DJ Quik’s Recording Tips
1. Clean Your Sounds Before You Record
Making music is like cooking, you gotta clean the chicken before you cook it or else you’ll have anomalies in it. If it’s a drum sample off of a record we get it as punchy and as clear sounding as we can. We let the drums loop over and over and get all the bugs out before we start recording.
2. Remember That Sounds Need Air
If you don’t do the high-end right the record will sound claustrophobic and get dull and people won’t like it. You need records to move and that doesn’t mean just grabbing the knob and turning the bass up. When you turn the bass up on kicks you lose the high end. So what you get for low end you lose at the top. It’s all about tuning. I don’t mix records anymore I tune them.
3. Tape Is Forgiving
On tape you can distort a little bit and record louder than zero. In the digital world there is nothing above zero so if you get red lights going when you record on computers you are fucking up. Zero is the absolute ceiling so if you go over that in the digital world you’ll destroy your record and it will sound terrible.
4. Go Lower To Get Louder
It sounds crazy but the quieter your things are the louder they will be in the overall mix especially if you start with a clean slate. That’s kind of an old Dr. Dre technique. If you get to the point where the shit starts to sound like mud when you’re mixing start over and turn everything down low and go up from there.