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A Room Of My Own: John Crossley

John Crossley


Producer and re-mixer John Crossley takes Nigel Humberstone on a guided tour of his personal workspace.


For any music producer or re-mixer the advantages of having a convenient and practical home studio set-up really speak for themselves. The development of ideas, along with crucial pre-production and programming, free from any time restrictions are elements which make such a facility more a necessity than a luxury.

Based in Nottingham, John Crossley is a musician, producer and re-mixer who slots quite comfortably into the above category. As well as his own music career he has a long and collateral association with the development of Squaredance Studios dating back to the early days when instigator Tim Andrews first established a basic 8-track at what was then called The Bakery in Derby. Squaredance, now situated at the Square Centre in Nottingham, is gradually developing into a self-contained music and media complex which, through its record labels and in-house projects, is generating a great deal of work for the studio. John explains his involvement: "I'm a director for two of the record labels based at Squaredance — Submission which now basically looks after the interests of Whycliffe (signed to MCA and currently doing a new album with Chris Water) and also Time Recordings which is a dance label set up just under a year ago and run by myself, Tim (Andrews) and a guy called Martin Watson. Apart from that and with regards to the Squaredance studio I'm more of an unpaid consultant, called in for meetings and giving advice. Plus I do most of my work there."

John's home studio set-up is co-owned by Patcee Francis (Kicking Back) an artist with whom John continues to co-write and produce. "I've always had a home set-up of some description, even if it was only an MT32 and a keyboard. But it's been at this standard now for around eight or nine months. We decide that we could only get things so far, at which point we would have to go into a studio and that was costing a lot of money. So as soon as Kicking Back got some money back from the records we decided to set something up — we're here a lot of the time, as we are now, writing new material for the as yet un-named 'Kicking Back' re-incarnation."

D-FEX



"There's also a production team called D-Fex" continues John, "which is basically myself and Steve [also known as Taxman] who runs his own ragga label called Stush. As D-Fex we produce all the output of Stush, with Steve doing most of the writing, and various artists toasting etc."

During the last year the team have branched out and began producing other people's work outside of the label. Most memorable was a call from Gee-Street Records to go out to New York to re-mix and 'fix' an album by Carleen Davis. Other production work for MCA and Guerilla Records has followed, along with their Babylon mix of Depeche Mode's 'I Feel For You' single, undertaken with Supereal.

So, as a producer involved with a varying workload, how did John go about his choice of home equipment? "At the end of the day it all comes down to value for money really," admits John sagely. "With this Seck desk, it's a very basic desk but we got it secondhand and paid about £700 for it, so that made it an obvious choice. I like to keep up on what's going secondhand and all that kind of stuff. With regard to the sampling, we run an Akai S900 and S950 purely because we haven't got the finance to get an S1000 yet. It's just down to priority, although I would definitely like an S1000 or even one of the new Akai range.

"I got the TX7 because I always loved the DX7, so I like to have it for those sounds. The TG55 is just something that is useful for playing lots of different sounds even if it is a bit of a nightmare to edit. I suppose in a way the SQ1 is my version of a Proteus really, because it's got decent string, brass and piano sounds that are all useable.

"So those are the units with which I sketch out ideas, and then there are things like the Jupiter 6 and Oscar which are more specialised, and they are the things that I personally use wherever I go. The Oscar is great because it's got the best bass sound in the universe as far as I'm concerned. It's the version 6, so it came fitted with MIDI as standard and I love it to bits, like the way that you can build up the harmonics. It's very sophisticated, and was incredibly ahead of its time. The best thing of all is the fact that each of the two 12dB filters can sync together as one 24dB filter. If you put a bit of resonance on that it just kills the speakers — it's wild.

"The Jupiter 6 is wonderful, although I don't end up using it for Go West type brass sounds, I must admit! Generally speaking all the other synths tend to be just general purpose sound making devices to have as reference points for when we go in the studio — whereas these two analogue machines are used as they are."

MIDI ROUTING



John runs the standard Atari/C-Lab Creator (Version 3.1) package with Unitor. How does he organise his MIDI routings? "It's very straightforward really, because I don't bother with any MIDI patchbays. I don't have the Xporter so there are just three MIDI outs — A, E and F. I'll place units that are multi-timbral, like the TG55 on port A, and have the TX7 hanging off the end of that. Then E will be the SQ1 and Jupiter, whilst F will be for the two samplers. I work out whatever's most critical timing-wise and put that first in the chain, so I've never had any problems.

"The SMPTE stripe from the 8-track drives the whole thing. The C-Lab package and timecode reader goes with me to any studio because I'm then familiar with it and I personally prefer the way you can sync up using the Unitor."

A number of musicians that I had talked to recently expressed a general feeling of frustration with recent updates for C-Lab software. (As reported recently in SOS a new company called Emagic, formed by C-Lab prime movers Lengeling and Adam, is now publishing and continuing to develop Creator/Notator). Had John encountered any of these type of problems? "There have been a couple of bugs, and it's a pain in the neck when software comes out and it's not quite right. I really enjoy finding a piece of software or equipment that does what I want to do and works in the way that I like to work. I remember back in the time when there was only Pro24 available and I utterly refused to use it because as far as I was concerned there was no way that it could be called a professional sequencer. [John had up to that time used an MC500.] "I've used Cubase as well, and I think if I had started off with it I may have stayed with it.

I didn't and I grew up with this and so I'm familiar with it. I can appreciate that the arrangement on Cubase is good if you're into a more orchestral kind of development in music where things build — whereas if you're into more pop music then I'd imagine that Creator/Notator is quicker."

To what stage are projects taken at John's home set-up?

"It varies. If it's something like a re-mix, for example, then it might be a case of doing a few samples and getting a few basic ideas together as a starting point for in the studio. On the other hand, what I've sometimes done if we've had the 2" tape in advance is to listen to it in the studio (Squaredance) and lift off vocal tracks or something to use as a reference point. I take a mono mix of that, along with the SMPTE stripe, onto a DAT tape and then drop it into the 8-track and then work on it a lot here, working out tempos and arrangements. Of all the remixes I do, on perhaps 60% you don't have proper information about the tempos, so just being able to do that here saves a lot of time in the studio.

"Alternatively, if we're just writing material, by using the 8-track we can do decent demo songs here — enough for us to analyse how to take things further and be able to play them to other people to get them interested in what we're doing."

Does John have any advice for those setting up home recording facilities? "There are several main problems, but essentially the choice of location. Look at this situation — we're in an upstairs room of a terraced house, so someone's going to be next door. Obviously if I wanted to work on a great idea at 3am then either I've got to do it on headphones or not do it. So finding a suitable room is the first thing, but a lot of people don't have much choice. Therefore you've got to cut down and help alleviate sound being transmitted out of the room — things like not fastening speakers onto the walls, and also having a close monitoring position which encourages you to monitor at quieter levels.

"My main concern at the moment is monitoring, so I've been trying out various speakers. I know this room hasn't been acoustically treated and that's why the monitors [currently John's pair of hi-fi Mordaunt Shorts] are so close, because I'm really working on the assumption that if you use ultra-nearfield monitoring then you can get rid of a lot of the effects that the room is having. I'm not happy so far, and will probably try something like the JBL Control 5s soon.

"You need to really investigate what's available, and make sure you get equipment that does exactly what you want it to do. With synths, buy secondhand for better value for money. What I've found nowadays is that most synths tend to be very reliable. If someone's had something for a year then chances are that it's not going to break down. That's a big generalisation I know, but it's still quite fair.

"I tend to think that most people are pretty clued up to knowing what they want, and at the end of the day it's all down to money and what you can afford. Not only that, but what you can justify as well. It's one thing being able to afford something, but can you really justify spending that much money on it?"

I ask John for his thoughts on the appearance of affordable digital recording systems. "I'm excited about it really, but if I had the money today I don't think I'd buy one just yet. But things like ADAT are definitely making inroads and I think that a studio like Squaredance will eventually get one or two, because at a time like now who would dream of buying another analogue 24-track machine? People would have to be a bit out of touch to be thinking along those lines.

"I'm all into new technology. A lot of people say that with it you lose all the soul and music out of what you're doing, but I think it's people that lose that soul by not having strong enough ideas. At the end of the day if you've got a very sophisticated synthesizer it's only going to take over from you if you allow it to. But if you're in control then that's cool."

EQUIPMENT LIST: JOHN CROSSLEY

Seck Model 18:8:2 desk with meter bridge
Tascam 38 8-track
Teac DX-8 dbx noise reduction unit

Akai S900/950
Roland Jupiter 6
Ensoniq SQ1
OSC OSCar

Alesis Midiverb II
Yamaha FX500
Yamaha TX7
Yamaha TG55
Boss RCL10 compressor
Boss RPD10 panning/delay

Atari 1040 with C-Lab Creator/Unitor
Teac DAP20 DAT recorder

AKG C1000 mic


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Peavey Spectrum Bass

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Drum Programming


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - May 1993

Interview by Nigel Humberstone

Previous article in this issue:

> Peavey Spectrum Bass

Next article in this issue:

> Drum Programming


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