Studio FavoUrites – Mark Otten
In our Studio Favorites series, we discover what's rocking the world's most influential and talented producers most when they're doing their thing in the studio. Which hardware can't they live without, which software is essential? And what piece of technique excites them most? We kick off with Mark Otten!
He started out as a drummer, then taught himself to play guitar and keyboard, but it was dance music and its endless options, which captivated his interest. So, now, Mark Otten devotes himself to producing his own music. He got signed to both Armin van Buuren's and Tiësto's record labels with the tracks 'Mushroom Therapy' and 'Inner Warmth', making him one of the most promising producers of the early 00's. Fast forward to many outstanding tracks, collaborations and side-projects later, and Mark Otten looks back on teaching Music Production at both the Rock Academy and Herman Brood Academy. One of his former students? Martin Garrix. Besides teaching others, he continues to pursue a career of his own and strives to make 2016 the year of his grand comeback. With many years of experience, a talent and passion for all things (dance) music and a great, down-to-earth mentality, Producer Loops felt that Mark was the right person to kick off our Studio Favorites series.
What is the one item in your studio you couldn’t do without?
Mark: "My semi-acoustic guitar! It's a modest Hondo imitation of Gibson’s ES-335 but I love it. It’s been within our family for as long as I can remember and I’ve basically played it all my life. I have several guitars - actually just bought another one from Rafael Frost haha – but this has been the most important one. I often use guitar as a starting point for a new track and as a result, most of my tracks have guitar in them, whether they are instantly recognisable as such or not. The lead guitar in ‘Mushroom Therapy’ is me playing the semi-acoustic. But it’s also in ‘Hyperfocus’ in more than one way: the auto-filtered sound before the drop and in the background as a drone sound! In terms of software, I’d have a hard time without Native Instruments Battery. It’s such a great sampler to program drums. I love being able to tweak the sound and especially try different sounds in a track while it’s playing. Sorry, I guess that’s two. ;)"
You’re forgiven, Mark! Which DAW do you use and why would you recommend it to anyone?
Mark: "I use Logic Pro X. It took a lot of producers quite a long time to switch from version 9 to version X and I still see a lot of screenshots of the old version but I switched a while back and really happy that I did. With version X, the ‘feel’ of the program has improved even more I think. I have used others (Cubase, Ableton and some more) but Logic is the one for me. Why would I recommend it? It is the most complete DAW out there for me. It makes me experiment more than other DAWs, while still maintaining a good overview of my project. I like the fact that it has a full-blown mixer, which is not the case with every DAW anymore strangely enough. I like almost all of the plugins, which is really unique, I think. Same goes for a lot of the software instruments, there are sooo many great sounds and samples in there. And I like the way Logic sounds overall as well.
In teaching, I noticed over and over that students that work in Logic make faster progress than others. I am not entirely sure why that is. I think it might have to do with the overall sound and the quality of the plugins. But I am convinced that it also has to do with what I mentioned before, the nice overview. If you start to learn about sound and mixing, being able to follow the path the sound takes is very important. Or for example to be able to see that your friend is using only 20 percent of the amount of plugins you are using yet sounds better. Furthermore, your DAW should support you in actually finishing a production. Other types of DAWs don’t give you as much of a grip in this respect, in my opinion, and experience."
Which piece of hardware gear should be part of everyone’s studio?
Mark: "My first thought was: an instrument, something to physically put sound into your computer with, whether it’s a trumpet or a MIDI keyboard. I think for almost all producers it’s really helpful to develop a physical relationship with making music. One of the explanations for Martin Garrix’s success I believe is that he played classical guitar for 9 years. It taught him to experience sound, notes and harmonies in a tactile way, even though I’ve never seem him use an instrument or keyboard to produce. I’d encourage anyone to take up an instrument, possibly take lessons too. On the other hand, I am sure there are people that don’t have instrument skills, yet kill it anyway and might even make different, original choices because of this.
With the risk of sounding pedantic: I don’t know if there is such a thing as a must-have piece of gear for everyone. I’d say collect your own preferred setup, based on what supports your own creativity and sound best. It’s hard to even think of one thing that would benefit all types of producers. A decent sound card, sure, but even those have different sound colors that may or may not suit your style. Wait.. I do have one: monitor speakers. Lots of young producers work on headphones and these certainly can be of great help. But it’s actually quite dangerous to work only on headphones. I’ve talked to big names in the industry that needed to see their doctor since they had a beep in their ear or were literally in pain after using their headphones too much. Let’s say you have a song playing through headphones and through speakers and it feels to you like they’re at the same loudness; the headphones will actually cause ear damage much faster than the speakers in this case."
Technology is constantly evolving. Is there any release of hardware or software coming up that you’re excited for?
Mark: "A few months back I saw the announcement of a new version of Melodyne with some craaaazy, seemingly revolutionary new technology to manipulate sound, really curious as to what that will bring. Also, I am looking forward to Logic including the Camelphat filter. Since Apple bought Camel Audio, they have already added this company’s Alchemy synthesizer to Logic Pro X so it looks like it’s just a matter of time until they will include this beast. I totally love it and it’s always nice to have great things be an integrated part of Logic."
Thanks for your studio wisdom, Mark! We can’t wait to hear a new Mark Otten original!