User Preferences: Tech Q&A With Music Producer Damian Taylor
Each week we chat about the tools of the trade with one outstanding creative to find out exactly how they do what they do. The questions are always the same, the answers, not so much. This week: Damian Taylor, universally recognized music producer and engineer.
The Creators Project: Who are you and what do you do?
Damian Taylor: My name is Damian Taylor and I act as a bridge between people’s imaginations and their audience, predominantly in the field of recorded music. I work in studios doing record production and its associated specialities (engineering, programming, writing), but also in the live music arena where I served as a musical director and electronic musician for an 18-month world tour. I’ve also designed a series of more “esoteric” musical performance systems that give artists totally different ways to explore and create music.
I started off working in a traditional recording studio system but quite quickly found myself working with artists who wanted to try doing things in different and new ways. It’s a lot of fun approaching these projects as a kind of puzzle to solve on both creative and technical levels, sometimes going so far as to design and build a solution from scratch.
What kind of hardware to you use?
In the studio I draw on the vast variety of tools that have been around for many decades—for example, mixing consoles, microphones, and outboard gear that can process and control the sound in different ways. In my personal studio in Montreal, I keep things relatively streamlined with a selection of high-quality tube outboards that I built myself, some vintage analogue synths, a power Mac with some beautiful Mytek converters, and a couple of pairs of speakers. But the most important thing is the room itself—it’s not only a nice place to spend time but it was built from the ground up to be acoustically accurate down to 21.6Hz. In layman’s terms that means we can get a huge low end in there!
For live performance, I really love the Jazzmutant Lemur touchscreen controller hooked up to a laptop and the Reactable, a totally original and futuristic electronic instrument that transforms incredibly complex processes into completely intuitive possibilities. It looks amazing too!
What kind of software do you use?
Much like the hardware studio, the software world is made up of many different pieces that all link together, but for many, many years now Pro Tools has been the hub of it all. I’m also really into Ableton Live. There are an amazing amount of software plugins available to modify, control, drastically transform—or even create—your sounds. I try to experiment with as many of them as possible.
I’ve also become a huge fan of MAX/MSP, which is a visually based programming language. It’s the platform I’ve used to create the musical performance systems I mentioned earlier. It really opened up a whole new way of thinking for me which has had a deep influence on my outlook on all levels.
And any software that connects to the internet is a huge part of creativity these days and that connectivity has had a very positive impact on me. I can buy music in the middle of the night, keep in touch with management and artists all over the world, send and receive files so easily it’s not even funny, and fundamentally just feel plugged into and inspired by the work that other creative people are doing. I can also read my daughter bedtime stories via the internet when I’m not at home!
What piece of equipment can you simply not live without?
If I found myself in a situation where I had no access to any of my favorite toys—I’d like to think that would force me to be very creative! Sometimes it’s really good to take away your safety nets and reinvent your process.
Damian Taylor with the Tenori-On
If money were no object, how would you change your current setup?
On a material level, I’d love to indulge the architectural side of things a lot more, just have more space, more light and more lighting, custom furniture, just more resources to make an even more unique and conducive environment to work in. I’d also love to have room to bring more people into my working setup, have a system where people coming up could learn and bring their own energy to projects. There’s something awesome about working in a team but it’s got to be done right. But really, my biggest limiting factor is always time—I’d love to spend an infinite amount of time with almost every artist I work with, and conversely I’d love to never have to leave home so that I could spend all day with my gorgeous wife and kids!
Is there any piece of technology that inspired you to take the path you did?
Without a doubt it was a little Fostex 4-track cassette recorder that I bought when I was 16. I had to sell my bike to afford it, and I had worked and saved up a long time for that bike! I spent a couple of years on my own in my bedroom with that thing and it clearly revealed to me that all I wanted to do with my life was make records.
What is your favorite piece of technology from your childhood?
I have very fond memories of a handful of vintage computers with a couple of real standouts. My elementary school in Canada had a lab with Apple IIe computers and they had us copying out BASIC code when we were 5 and 6 years old. Then much later on, I started programming music on a piece of software called Octamed on an Amiga 500 with an 8-bit sampling card. I was born in 1977 so I feel like I’m from the first generation that grew up with personal computers around, I hope the quality of my work increases in line with Moore’s law!
What fantasy piece of technology would you like to see invented?
Teleportation! My family, friends, and artists are spread out all over the world and I wish we could see each other more easily and more often.
For more on Damian Taylor visit his website.