Aug 03

Q&A with Sherry Saint Germain

by in Interviews

Based in Las Vegas, Nevada, Sherry St Germain is a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, producer, and singer/songwriter. Over the last fifteen years, Sherry has applied her diverse skill sets and energy to high profile film and television soundtrack work, theatrical live performances, studio sessions, and her Akylla duo project with Saratonin.

Most recently, Sherry has been involved in production work and collaborations with a who’s who of EDM and dance music talents including Steve Aoki, Excision, Stafford Bros, Revolvr, and Genesis. From playing a flying piano with Cirque Du Soleil to writing music for male stripper comedy Magic Mike, and beyond, she’s never short of a story or ten.

In this Q&A, Sherry discusses how she got started playing music, entering the EDM scene, and how the mechanics of music keep her inspired and interested.

Play lessons by Sherry St Germain and Akylla by following the links below to open the Melodics app:

Keys lessons
Pads Lesson

How long have you been working in the EDM scene for?

Since around 2015. Before that, I did Film and TV soundtrack work for twelve years; twenty-four-hour turnaround jobs. I worked on Magic Mike, Something Borrowed, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Knight Rider, Nashville, all those shows. I would do whatever they asked me to do because I wanted to learn. After twelve years of that, I started ghost producing for some popular EDM artists. I was writing for people who were making a lot of money in the EDM world, and I thought “Hey, I could do that too!” I switched over, and my first break was with Steve Aoki.

I’m new to the scene, but I have been making electronic music for fifteen, maybe seventeen years. I love the unity vibes in electronic music. We share sound packs and plugins between producers, and it’s very nurturing. People want you to grow and will show you what they’ve learned. If you do that with your friends, you all get a lot further. There is more power in numbers.

Could you tell us a bit about how you got your start playing music?

Basically, my mother was a classical piano teacher, and my dad was a singer. Growing up from two years old, I had to practice classical piano every day, for four hours a day, until I was 14. We grew up on the road with my dad on a tour bus. We were surrounded by jazz musicians. We were just surrounded by music my entire life. I didn’t really have a choice but to get into music. When I was 14, I stopped playing for a while. I’d been forced to practice every day, so I really started to hate playing. I would run away from home, and they’d call the cops to look for me, all because I didn’t want to practice [laughs].

Imagine if Melodics had been around.

This is why Melodics is so dope. When I was a kid, I had to practice playing baroque piano pieces, which I didn’t want to play. If I’d been able to practice songs I liked, it might have been a different story. In hindsight, classical music is really really good. It’s encoded with sacred geometry, and the mathematical makeup of the universe, so it’s good to learn that stuff. What I would have liked, would have been if it had beats or something I could move to. I needed a groove. I do a lot of music teaching work with teenage girls. I’ll take their iPods, see what they are listening to, decode it, and help them learn what they want to learn. Unless you’re learning something you love, you’re not going to want to learn it.

How did you go from stopping to playing again?

I started to party in the rave scene and was really inspired. From there it flipped very quickly to wanting to practice piano over dance music. I would take napkins and write down the music theory of songs I liked; then go home and try to recreate them. I was infatuated with the sounds I was hearing, but I didn’t want to practice traditional music, so I started practicing to house, dance, and electronic music.

Could you expand on your ideas about learning something you love into some advice for people starting out with their playing?

Find songs you love and learn them. They’re the ones that will inspire you. I learn the chord structure of songs, and I start to reverse engineer them. Then, I’ll make a completely different track that was inspired by one of them. When you study songs, you start to reverse engineer by default. You start to learn chord changes, patterns, and rhythms that you can incorporate into your own music. Eventually, you’ll just have this toolbox of turnarounds, changes, and rhythms you can mix and match into anything. Anything you are learning becomes part of your vocabulary. Music is a vocabulary, and you’re learning all these little phrases. You’ll have this toolkit of all the phrases you’ve learned you can pull out at any moment.

Jul 30

Q & A with Color Theory

by in Interviews

 

Brian Hazard, better known as Color Theory, is an American singer, songwriter, keyboardist and electronic music producer from Huntington Beach in California. His personal career highlights include winning a grand prize and Lennon Award in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, recording three songs for the Ubisoft Just Dance series, and having songs featured on MTV’s The Real World.

Over the last twenty-five years, Brian has crafted his own singular visions of what synth-pop and synthwave music could be. Across nine albums, as many EPs, and countless singles, Brian has imagined and evolved a soundworld where the gloriously colourful synth flourishes, uptempo drum machine funk, and expressive sentimentalism of the early eighties never went out of fashion. Far from retro or throwback, his is the work of a longstanding believer and lover who continued to groove under the light reflected off a pixelated 8-bit disco ball. As he puts it, “Somehow I never outgrew the 80s.”

In stolen moments between studio sessions and family time, we caught up with Brian to find about how he approaches playing and producing music.

You can also play the Color Theory Melodics lessons for Pads, Keys and Drums by following the links below:

  • Color Theory – In Motion (Pads)
  • Color Theory – In Motion (Keys)
  • Color Theory – In Motion (Drums)

    Who are your musical inspirations, and why?

    Historically, Depeche Mode is my biggest influence. I love how they create a unique sonic universe in every song. I grew up on Depeche Mode, The Cure, and The Smiths. Later on, I fell hard for David Sylvian and Japan, which brought more of a literary aspect to my music.

    Over the past few years, I’m less influenced by particular artists or bands, and more by arrangement or production ideas I spot in the wild. Maybe it’s the opening theme from an anime or something in a commercial. I think that’s because I, like most people, don’t listen to music the same way. Spotify changed all that, probably for the worse, but it is what it is.

    Finger drumming and keys are great starting points for people learning about music. How do you see them as fitting into a music maker or producers skill set?

    It doesn’t get more fundamental than rhythm and melody! Breaking down a song into its core elements is a great way to learn how music is constructed, and drums/bass/melody is generally enough to stand in for the entire arrangement. The piano provides the best visual model to understand high versus low notes, and eventually to learn scales and chords.

    What’s your background with piano/keys and drums/pads?

    I started out on the piano in middle school, played in the drumline in high school, and ended up with a degree in piano performance. While I have formal training in both keys and drums, and even have a little experience playing drum set (well, a lot if you count Rock Band), I confess my drum parts are a weak link in my production!

    Back in college, I was really taken in by virtuosity. I aspired to learn all the Chopin Etudes, and I regularly listened to Chick Corea, Joe Satriani, and other technical masters. But at some point, I decided that showmanship was nonsense. Perhaps I’ve been overcompensating with overly simplistic arrangements ever since.

    If you could start out again with keys and production, what areas would you initially focus on to develop your chops from?

    I was exposed to a lot of hocus-pocus pseudoscientific, technical concepts that took years to dispel. Setting aside the pedals, the only aspect of sound production we have under our control at the piano is the speed of key descent. The hammer is thrown at the strings, and from that point on, we have zero influence on the resulting sound. Knowing that you don’t have to waste your time worrying about unnecessary wrist movement, “finger vibrato,” and other nonsense. So at the piano, I’d focus on making sure every finger is touching the key before it’s pressed. I used to call that “playing from the key” but that sounds rather obvious. There’s probably a better term.

    With production, again there’s so much nonsense out there. Learn how to EQ and compress. That’s 90% of the battle. Multiband compression, spacial imaging, harmonic synthesis, M/S encoding, and other “advanced” techniques are generally not essential, and can easily become a distraction.

    Is there anything else central about playing and production you wish you could go back in time and tell your younger self?

    My biggest mistake was thinking I had to figure out everything myself. I should’ve interned at a local studio or hired others to mix my music until I learned the ropes. Instead, it was all trial and error. I could’ve really used a mentor. Keep in mind this was before you could find a dozen tutorials on every aspect of music production on YouTube. But the concept still applies. It’s better to spend a little money and learn from the best than to waste time going down dead ends.

Keep up the practice 🙏

Jul 03

Why playing music daily is more powerful than you think.

by in Interviews

Words: Martyn Pepperell

Prior to working at Melodics, New Zealand’s Rodi Kirk built a rock solid reputation as a dependable party rocker, Red Bull Thre3style Championship winner, touring DJ, and record producer under the alias Scratch 22. Alongside his production efforts for himself and others as Scratch 22, Rodi was one-third of crucial low-profile jazz rap trio The Unseen, and legendary Auckland party collective The ARC. In 2017, Rodi took up the role of Head of Education and Content Strategy at Melodics.

Before his daughter’s birth, Rodi Kirk had spent the majority of his decade-plus career in music working as a producer and focusing on the end goal of creating recordings. “After she was born, I didn’t hit record for a year,” Rodi explains. He’d just come out of a particularly demanding jazz project and wanted to take a break to get into the groove of fatherhood, but without losing his connection to music.

Instead of writing, recording, and producing, Rodi started spending a small period every day playing music, with no goals but to create a regular sense of musical engagement for himself. As he continues, “It was a really powerful experience because, at the same time, I had the realisation that by existing in a moment, my music became a lot lighter with more variation, and it felt really cathartic. It was my way to relax.”

“I had the realisation that by existing in a moment, my music became a lot lighter with more variation….It was my way to relax.”

By engaging with music as a process and not an object, Rodi was tapping directly into the idea of Musicking, and the historical context of music before the 20th-century recording revolution. A concept formalised by New Zealand-born musician, educator, lecturer and author Christopher Small (1927-2011) in Musicking, his 1998 book of the same title, throughout his academic career, Christopher advocated for the return to music as an activity. He riffed on thoughts around musical relationships: the relationship between composers and players and the relationship between players and listeners and dancers. In the process, Christopher presented a 360-degree vision of music through musicking, one where the shared engagement of all involved determines the quality of a musical performance.  

By stepping away from recording, and simply reveling in playing daily, Rodi was the performer and the listener, and musicking was giving him what he needed. “If your end product is to create a musical product, that is fine, but it carries a lot of baggage with it as a result of that process,” he explains. If your end goal is to create a musical experience for yourself, that’s a lot lighter and often more enjoyable.”

Like Christopher, Rodi sees music as a process or activity, which if you consider the history of music, is what it was for tens of thousands of years. Over the last six or seven decades, music’s role as an active activity within daily life subsided, as recorded music created a passive relationship between producers and consumers.

For Rodi, the rise of DJing and the technology Melodics trades in like pad controllers, is a reminder that people once had, and still want, an active engagement with music. So why not deliver an easy, intuitive, and encouraging entry point into shifting people’s relationship with music back into the engaged, everyday mode our ancestors knew it though? As such, in line with Christopher’s thoughts, Melodics lessons, and the deep practice learning process they draw from, serve to create an easy workflow for integrating the act of musicking into our daily routines, and reaping the multitude of associated rewards that follow.

“A simple but really powerful idea …that greatness isn’t born; it’s grown.”

“Music learning can produce a sense of accomplishment, build self-confidence, enhance emotional development and strengthen discipline and intellectual curiosity,” Rodi enthuses. “It’s widely proven that music and arts, as part of a curriculum, has huge flow-on benefits to other aspects of education. Confidence is key, and positive reinforcement and building good habits around practice creates a really powerful feedback loop.” Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it can lead to something close enough. “A simple but really powerful idea we have here is that greatness isn’t born; it’s grown.”