Gear Talk: Carlson

Brooklyn-based producer/engineer Carlson has worked with dozens of popular artists including Cat Stevens, Autre Ne Veut, Tim Hecker, and Ariel Pink, and has been featured on NPR, Gorilla vs. Bear, and FACT. With his new LP Going South dropping on June 10, we chatted with him about about how he approaches producing, the piece of gear he can’t live without, and more.

How do you approach producing music?

For me the primary goal with all production is to take an artist’s vision and fuse it with the song at hand to create a story. Producing can mean so many different things these days. It can be an integral part of the songwriting process (as in making a beat, track or bed). It can involve a more traditional approach, with the producer playing the musical mentor (choosing instrumentation and arrangements, choosing the right takes and giving musical direction.) Sometimes it’s more of an anchor role; With large groups or even smaller groups of people, it’s not uncommon to need a studio time/space manager, making sure everyone is focused on the task at hand and aware of the common goal. Other times it can be the opposite; A very hands off job. Perhaps the artist(s) are too organized and too inside their own heads to let loose and let the emotion of the music take over.

There’s so many different roles to take on it can be hard to peg down till you’re actually in the studio making music, but once i’m in the process of making a record it becomes clear what’s needed.

How has technology/tech innovation influenced the way you produce music?

Obviously technology has influenced not just music but also all art, pop culture and media at large. It has not only changed the way things are created, but it’s changed the way things are consumed. Everything now is so immediate that it shapes the way music is made from the ground up.

Now as opposed to a decade or two ago, a singer can create a whole record in their bedroom. A song writer/producer can create a legit radio ready banger on a laptop and headphones, whilst commuting to another session. The creation of consumable art and entertainment has become a lightning pace media proliferation. In music, for example the moment a massive worldwide hit is released, with in days there are a million producers with tracks that fit this same winning formula down to the tempo, key, musical structure etc. etc.

In a lot of ways I think this is great for music. Yes, there are a lot of downsides; but it also really levels the playing field and makes it so you have to bring your A game all the time every time. For me it makes every free moment a wasted moment if you aren’t working on your craft. You must create things better, bigger and faster. For me I treat this is a daily challenge; how fast can you create, whilst still maintaining a high level of musicianship/craft, but at the same time also pushing the game forward. It’s easy to regurgitate others ideas and it happens every day. The challenge, for me is to take another’s idea, and use that as your jump off point; pastiche but not a direct rip off. To me that’s exciting, and something that unites all genres and musical types more now than ever.

Name one piece of equipment you can’t live without.

In the past few years I’ve grown an immense affinity for the wurlitzer 200a. I have one in my mix room, and i loved it so much i bought another one for my home. Its really inspired me to practice and just get back to the craft of playing. The touch and feel of the keys are like no other keyboard, and of course the sound is one of the most soulful and jazzy tones. When i hear it I can’t escape the classic Ray Charles song book. At the same time some of my favorite Miles electric era stuff used that sound- In a silent way, Live Evil etc. Jarretts playing on the cellar door sessions will forever blow my mind.

What do you take on the road with you?

Well I obviously can’t take my 200a on the road so for me it’s about Pro Tools, plugins, a mic or two, my duet and my akai mpk. From the DAW end i just need a mirror image of my set up in Brooklyn. Although it’s not 100 percent (I run HDX and applicable AAX-DSP plugs in my room) I can come pretty close using most of the same native plugs. In the absence of my 200a i use the “Arturia Wurlitzer V”. Sonically this comes so very close. It’s obviously a little cleaner than the real unit but overall the versatility of it is amazing. The biggest downfall is the action. The 200 a’s keys are just irreplicable.

What’s your most frequently used piece of gear?

It has to be my SONNOX AAX-DSP EQ and Compressor. I use their stuff in every phase of the game: producing, mixing, recording, writing, live sets and anything else in between. First of all the DSP factor makes it a no latency situation. That is such a must. Secondly the clean sound and transparent curves makes it useful for just about every job. I pretty much make every track in Pro Tools and Ableton touch those plugs at least once.

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Recent press: NPR, FACT, Gorilla vs Bear

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