After following dance music religiously through the 90s Dave Spoon, aka Simon Neale, has become one of its leading lights. His seminal At Night was reworked with Lisa Mafia on vocals to became a huge hit across the globe, sealing Spoon’s reputation as a world-class DJ, remixer and producer. A regular on Toolroom Records, he’s since had a residency on Radio 1’s In New DJs We Trust, released numerous DJ compilations and remixed artists as varied as Beyonce, The Pet Shop Boys and Dizzee Rascal.
What is the prognosis for the music industry: terminal decline or steady recovery?
Who knows? All I know is that everything changes and so has the music industry. We have to accept that. Hopefully we’ll find some new ways of creating revenue for artists that will prolong things. I hate the fact that you are only as good as how many Twitter followers you have.
As an international touring artist who regularly finds himself on different continents in the same week, how do you strike a balance between your touring schedule and time in the studio?
I’ve not been touring lately which has been great as I’ve managed to get stuck into the studio a lot more. I am still crap at actually finishing things though – it seems to be my only downside! I miss the travelling but we’re in the midst of planning stuff for the summer right now, so I had best pull my finger out!
Does the industry these days dictate that artists need to be both creative artists and businessmen in equal measure?
Yes totally. You have to be able to manage a lot of stuff yourself as well as having management look after things. Social networking is fun but it is also a pain in the ass if you find yourself worrying because you forgot to tweet something today. The other stuff hasn’t changed – you have got to keep on top of what’s going on and keep networking.
Who’s currently rocking your world as a producer and why?
KiNK for sure – second to none. Also Peter Horrevorts has gained my attention. Both are solid and making great house music that’s technically and sonically amazing. I can’t talk them up enough!
What one piece of kit or plug-in can you not live without?
I can’t live without Propellerheads’ Reason 5. It has been the backbone of all Dave Spoon tracks since the start. It is straight to the point production – no messing about whilst keeping things creative. I’d recommend it to producers at all levels to be honest – something for all. I also use Logic with the Universal Audio UAD2 plug-ins. At the end of the day it’s about the inspiration, though, and these bits of kit inspire me no end.
When building a track how do you normally work? Do you start with the drums and build from that?
Most times I build around a drum groove, but it’s easy to hit a wall when working this way. Starting with a great sound, chords or a sample can be more inspiring sometimes.
Any advice on monitoring? Quiet? Loud? Do you prefer flat and boring speakers, headphones or big, phat and chunky monitors?
I worked at home on headphones for a few years, as that was the only way I could get on due to living in a block of apartments. Since I’ve had my own studio in a dedicated building I’ve never been able to go back to working like that. The Adam P11As with the SUB12 are insanely good. I had the P11As on their own for a year and they are, for me, the best thing I’ve come across. I do find I work very loud – not always a good thing, more of a bad habit to be honest – but you need to feel the music too sometimes! I get the best results by A/Bing different bounces in the car. If it works in there then you’re onto a winner!
What are the biggest barriers new producers face?
Too many toys to play with combined with the expectation of instant success. I have been there myself too and it can hold you up no end. I spent a year going through loads of software to run alongside Reason and found myself playing around endlessly and not getting the sounds I wanted, so I streamlined my setup to use just what I know best.
Don’t get me wrong, I try loads of new stuff out, but if I’m not going to use it I remove it. I think a lot of music has become science too. It happens all the time in electronic genres – producers forget melodies and grooves to concentrate on building the perfect audiophile sound. Some of the best music comes from imperfection and mistakes: fact.
What three pieces of kit / software could you not mix without?
UAD2’s 1176LN, Neve 88RS and Manley Massive Passive emulations are given a workout on all my stuff. The drum mix is always immense through the 1176 – it gets no tighter!
If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you started out in music, what would it be?
Be patient, network and get used to quickly recovering from disappointment. Make yourself know in a dignified way. Too many people get ahead of themselves – go one step at a time.
What do you find hardest to get right when making a track?
Vocals. Recording is no problem with a great mic but processing and other stuff can be a challenge depending on how good your singer is. Experienced session vocalists are priceless.
Mastering: do you go to a professional mastering house or do you do it yourself?
I do the best job I can, but the labels that pick up my music tend to get this done. It’s not my area.
Loops? Or programming your beats from single hits?
Both. But if you use loops then Recycling, chopping grooves and reprocessing them is the way to go. Layering a 128bpm house loop over and over is dry as it comes – it’s like opening your own restaurant and then selling McDonalds food.
How important do you think it is to have your music mastered commercially? Can you do it yourself as effectively and what tools would you recommend?
It depends on your budget and project. You can do it yourself with good results, for sure, but there are amazing mix engineers out there who have been mastering all kinds of music for years; these engineers are worth their weight in gold.
More from Dave Spoon on his website