Producer Loops Interview with Trance Maestro, Giuseppe Ottaviani:
Throughout the years, Giuseppe Ottaviani has become a household name in trance. His GO On Air
brand continues to stand strong, his new album is nearly finished, and he’s launched his Live 2.0 project a few months back. With a strong passion for technique, a determined mind to use it and the right sound to bring it to the crowds, we couldn’t be more excited to have had a chat with the Italian producer, live act and label-owner!
Hey Giuseppe! Thanks for meeting up with us, how are you doing?
Giuseppe: Hey guys, thanks for having me here. I’m doing well!
We’ve had a look at your tour schedule and it’s definitely not an easy one. How do you balance your time in the studio and being on tour?
Giuseppe: Well, it’s not that easy at all but I have to manage it anyway. Compared to the past when I used to produce two songs per year, now it looks more like two songs per month, and obviously I’m not joining the ghost producers trend! Although, I would only make music in my studio where I have all my hardware gear and a pretty good-sounding environment, I have to be flexible and be able to make music on a laptop. So when I’m touring, I always try to get the most out of my travels, and making music in a plane or hotel room has become normal for me. Once I’m back home, I finalize tracks on my mixing desk, and most of the time I exchange some plugin sound (usually the bass, the lead or part of it and add some ‘signature sound’) with a sound from my keyboards in order to make it a bit more unique, or at least a bit more
Some guys hum a melody into their phone, others start working on a track on their laptop. What do you do when you’re on the go and a track idea pops up?
Giuseppe: First thing, I sing it and record the melody into my phone. Then, as soon as I’m able to turn on my laptop and connect my little keyboard I play it and record it properly. Some other times, it happens that I hear some music on TV or in a restaurant or supermarket, or simply from a car passing by, and if I’m quick enough to record a small portion of it... then I usually come up with something which is inspired by that melody but ends up to be a whole new thing. A good example is my track ‘Illusion feat. Stephen Pickup’
(from my Magenta album). That melody came from what I heard when a car playing loud music was passing by Ocean Drive in Miami, while I was having lunch at a restaurant.
Let’s do a little flashback to when you first got into music. What drove you to trance music and how did you learn to produce your own music?
Giuseppe: My background is a bit of a mess. It mainly comes from classical music which is what my parents used to play all day at home and what I studied for almost 9 years, but I also grew up with some Italian pop bands, some Queen, some U2 and some 90’s dance music. Then I started to get into techno music, a lot, it was so energetic and it was what I needed to hear as a teenager. But melodies always played a big role in my life and at some point techno music was just missing a melody for me. Suddenly I discovered that what I was looking for was already called Trance in the rest of the Europe and finally when I’ve heard ‘William Orbit – Adagio For Strings’
it was clear to me, that this was the sound I wanted to make. That track basically brought me here.
Some years before that track, I got my first sequencer software, Steinberg Cubase Lite for Windows on an Intel Pentium 100 Mhz. Then my first sampler, a Roland DJ-70 with 4Mb of RAM and my first synth; a Roland JP-8000. Cubase Lite was MIDI only, so I had to use the Roland DJ-70 to run drums, bass lines and other sounds sampled from the JP-8000 or from vinyl, and then I had a luxury; 2 sounds (usually pad and lead) with 4 voices each coming from my JP-8000. Everything was mixed into an 8-channel Yamaha mixer and recorded on tape.
Back then I had no clue on how to connect a PC, a sampler and a synth together, and I surely had no idea of what MIDI was. It was hard to get information as well, as there was no internet or pro musicians in my area, so I had to figure it out myself and it took me quite a while to realize that the Quantize function would actually put all my notes on grid without the need to play something until I get it right.
You’re one of the few classically-trained producers out there today! How has it helped you to improve your productions?
Giuseppe: It’s a huge help as with Trance music it’s all about melodies. Being able to simply come up with and play a melody and record it straight into my computer in just few seconds, rather than trying a few notes and moving them around with the mouse, or taking the midi from a template, it’s definitely a good starting point. I think it’s great to be able to instantly translate what you have in mind on a keyboard. Especially when you get the inspiration, you don’t want to waste time ‘giving a try’, you want to hear it straight away.
In several interviews, you’ve discussed your preference for analogue hardware. What does analogue hardware give you that software doesn’t have? And vice versa?
Giuseppe: It gives me a better, more comfortable and more enjoyable working environment. I think it simply gives me the right feeling. At the end of the day, music is what it's all about. For instance, I much prefer to EQ from my mixing desk, or to compress from my outboards, or to create sounds from my synthesizers, rather than just use a mouse while looking at the same screen for hours. I move around the studio; playing my keyboards, back to the mixing desk, then to the compressors, and back to the keyboards again. My eyes don't get tired because I'm not constantly looking at a screen. My back doesn't hurt at the end of the day because I’m not constantly seated as I actually walk around. My ears don't get tired, because I don’t listen from the same position all the time. It just makes my ‘day at work’ a better day, I guess.
Now, I’m not going into the endless debate of which sounds better, as I think analogue and digital both have their own pro’s and con’s, as we all know, and again, I believe it’s just a personal taste. I simply try to get the best of both worlds and combine them together to reach the best results, for me.
In fact, we’d love to know what equipment you have in the studio – and which piece is indispensable?
Giuseppe: Sure, here’s the list. I have a Mac Pro 8 cores running Steinberg Cubase Pro 8 with a double monitor setup. My AD/DA is a MOTU 192-HD constantly running at 48Khz – 24bit. My main speakers are Bowers & Wilkins 805 plus the evergreen - badly sounding, yet indispensable on vocal tracks and the hard to die Yamaha NS-10 monitors. My synths at the moment are a Roland JP-8000 (yes that one, the first one) which I use for some aggressive mid-range bass lines and that famous ‘supersaw’ (not in the 1998 way though), a Dave Smith Instruments Polyevolver; mainly for bass or distorted leads; since I love the built-in analog distortion and HP filer. A Virus TI, a Nord Lead 4, a Novation Supernova II which is an incredible and powerful synth considering its age; a Korg 01/wfd which is where my plucky signature sound comes from, a Korg Triton, and finally, a Yamaha C2 baby grand which requires some proper micing, but it’s worth my time.
Keyboards go into my mixing desk; a Soundcraft Ghost 32 channels / 8 bus with modified preamps; I love the British sounding EQ on the channel strips. A series of DBX and Alto compressors (mainly used to shape the sound coming from the keyboards) are connected to the mixer, through a patchbay. Alto was an Italian company which made those ACL2 compressors at a very affordable price, but with some pretty good audio quality (that’s probably why they don’t exist anymore). Then I have a TC Electronic Finalizer, which I used to make my final mixes back in the day, but I still use it now as a multi-band compressor, to be applied here and there. I also use a dedicated DBX 286A for parallel compression on my kicks.
I also use 4 x Composer Pro from Behringer, not to compress obviously, but just as a side-chain for the 4 x stereo bus group on my desk, so when I route a sound coming from a keyboard into that I can already apply a side-chain to let the sound better sit on the mix before recording it into my DAW.
The effects section is made by just a couple of Lexicon and TC Electronic multi effect processors, and a very old and quite rare Roland reverb, which I use on kick drums because its gated reverb is quite unique to me, you don’t really hear it, but you feel it, and you can definitely tell the difference when it’s not applied.
The mastering section works like this; once all the sounds are recorded back into the DAW (and this is because I want to be able to recall a track whenever I want to), I basically prepare the stems, grouping sounds together and assigning them to a total of 12 channels (the MOTU 192 allows 12 mono/6 stereo outs). I then send them back to my mixing desk so I can do some final EQ, and most importantly, some panning on each bus. Then, the direct output of each channel strip is sent to a Dangerous Music 2-BUS summing box which actually mix the 12 channels into a left and right signal. The Dangerous stereo out goes into a API 2500 compressor, for some proper punch. This is the piece of gear I can’t live without; it’s that API punching that makes my signature sound. Very slow attack, medium ratio, pretty fast release, hard knee, HP filter on, 50% link mode and job done! Then the signal goes into a Waves L2 (hardware) for some limiting with the channels left and right unlinked, so while you lose a bit of stereo image at this stage, you also get the best limiting on each channel. Now back into my DAW for a final touch of stereo image (making everything mono below 130Hz and I enhance just a bit of the mid / high-end if needed) and digital limiting at -0.3db to make sure the master won’t clip.
When you do use software, which DAW do you use and which plugins are your favorites?
Giuseppe: I use Ableton Live 9 for my live shows and as I said before I use Cubase Pro 8 for productions. In terms of VST I love the new Omnisphere 2, Oddity 2, most of my NI Komplete 9 Ultimate, Synthmaster2, Serum, Spire, Steinberg Padshop and Sylenth1 (obviously).
I tend to use a lot of the built in plugins of Cubase, especially now with the Pro 8 which has a fully loaded channel strip. I love everything from Fabfilter, the Pro-Q and Pro-L are a must in all my projects. Also the Native Instruments SSL-like plugins are quite common in my projects. The Izotope Ozone 6 Advance is another great piece of software. Love the Dynamic EQ and the Stereo Imager.
But if you ask for my secret weapon then it’s time for Acustica-Audio to show up. They have a bunch of incredibly great sounding plugins which I mainly use on the final master bus. They are quite CPU intensive but worth the power consumption. My favourites are the Amber EQ which is a recreation of a famous Avalon EQ, the Magenta EQ, which is the Manley Massive-Passive, and the Titanium single and multi-band compressor, which is based on the Tube-Tech. Great stuff! Really...
Are there any sample packs you like to use, or do you sample a lot of stuff yourself? How do you select sample packs, what’s the criteria?
Giuseppe: Samples are samples to me especially when we are talking about effects and drum kits. I don’t really do any fancy research, I just use the very well-known Vengeance and Wave Alchemy which are my favorite. When it comes to creating a groove I usually run Ableton Live in re-wire with Cubase, because I find Ableton to be way more handy when chopping loops and making beats, or probably it’s just the way I’m used to. So yes I use standard sample packs, chop them, stretch them into Ableton, then I apply all the effects needed to create the sound I want for that song and then import the single files into Cubase. I usually group them and I apply some tape saturation plugin and a compressor plugin if working on a laptop just to glue them, or I slightly overdrive the gain stage of my Soundcraft (keeping in mind that it’s not an SSL at all) and apply my API compressor if I’m in studio. I don’t use anything else from sample packs other than drum kits and effects, so no sound loops or vocals or melodies.
You’ve released ‘Encore’, the anthem to Goodgreef’s 15th birthday a few months ago, and it did fantastically. It’s such a unique track. What can you tell us about the production side of creating this beauty?
Giuseppe: I still have a Sony MiniDisc in the studio and I only use it to quick record ideas when jamming on my keyboards. I came across that melody a while ago on my DSI Polyevolver and just recorded it, as I usually do. I didn’t save that sound though, so when I went back to the demo it took me quite a while to re-create the original sound, and I failed to do so. The good news is, the one I made is actually better
and it’s a combination of an arpeggio made with the built-in analogue sequencer (very old school) plus a second sound which was taken from the same keyboard, which is a kind of distorted organ. I added some JP-8000 supersaw with a large reverb on top, to make it bigger, one more layer from Spire and the main lead was made. The bass line comes from an old preset on my Virus TI, pads from Sylenth 1, and some other sound from another VST which I don’t remember to be honest. I think it’s a perfect melody for an anthem, simple enough to stick in your mind and great to play on a dance floor. My crowd loves it.
Is there a particular track of yours that you’re most proud of? Which one and why?
Giuseppe: I previously mentioned my Korg 01/wfd. Well, when I split up with my ex-partner from my previous project called NU NRG I sold it because I thought I wouldn’t need it anymore. Four months later I’ve bought it again because I had an idea in mind and remembered there was a sound on that keyboard that was perfect for my idea. So, I’ve got the keyboard back from a private seller in Rome, and I made a track completely out of that plucky sound. The track is called ‘Linking People’ which also marks the end of my ex-project, and the start of my solo career. That’s the track which allowed me to sign to Vandit Records (Paul Van Dyk’s label) and to get huge support from everyone, making a great starting point for my new career.
Next to doing DJ sets, you’ve made a name in trance music by performing live sets and recently kicked off the Live 2.0 project. What’s the best part of doing those sets?
Giuseppe: The best part is to enjoy what I do. Nothing against DJ’ing, I mean I used to be a DJ back in the years when vinyls and turntables were there, but with the evolution of technology which basically allows everyone (and I literally mean every one) to be a DJ, it doesn’t really appeal to me anymore. So, I always prefer to perform my music live on stage with the use of keyboards, MIDI controller and laptops, of course. The main difference with playing live is that I can improvise and play the same track in many different ways, something you feel it and decide when on stage. That is way more interactive with the crowd than just playing the full track and then waiting until you mix the next one, and the the next one, etc. Mixing became too easy so DJs tend to get bored and that’s why nowadays you never hear a track for longer than 3 minutes and/or you see DJs doing ‘other stuff’. I have to admit, a few times I've have to DJ because of some technical issue or other things, and yes it happens to me as well. I tend to mix very quickly in order to keep myself busy.
You’ve also started a collaboration with Solarstone, the Pure NRG project. What’s it like to be working with Rich, someone who’s been part of the scene for so long?
Giuseppe: It’s just great, I mean he’s the perfect partner on stage, as we both play a keyboard and we both have the same musical direction when together. The PureNRG project was born as an answer to the actual ‘back 2 back’ thing that many DJs are doing, so we wanted to step it up and do a back 2 back, but 'live'. Taking the idea further, after a couple of shows we realized that it’s even more fun if we both play together at the same time, so we became more like a live band where each of us plays some part of the track, and keep playing and improvising stuff on top of each other. We also write music exclusively for our live shows, so if you want to hear a certain track you must go to a PureNRG show, because neither myself or Rich play PureNRG's music in our 'solo'
It’s been 2 years since you’ve released ‘Magenta’, is there any plan for a follow-up album yet? We can’t wait!
Giuseppe: Definitely. I’m working on my new album every single day. It takes some time with all the touring and collaborations that I want to make, but good things require some time, right?
Thanks for the interview, Giuseppe and we hope to see you soon!