Name: Boom Dice aka Bryan Wilson
Occupation: Producer, songwriter
Current release: "Extroverts" by Boom Dice ft. MadLeo is out now. Watch the music video here.
Gear recommendations: Output “Arcade” for musical inspiration and writer’s block. That is a plugin instrument.
I would also have to recommend Universal Audio UAD plugin range which emulates classic and well known studio outboard gear. For those who want to bridge the gap between analog and digital, and get some education for when you go into commercial studios and see those units in action, that is where you should be looking.
If you enjoyed this interview with Boom Dice and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit his official homepage. Or check out his profiles on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
What was your first studio like?
My first studio was bouncing around a number of commercial studios! I did it opposite than most people looking to start out since I had a job in what ended up becoming the biggest studio company in Europe. So I had access to about 5-7 different commercial facilities around London at that time working with some of the best engineer/producers/mixers from within the UK and abroad.
I don’t really count anything before that but since that time, I have set up my home studio. My focus has been less on analogue gear, but rather on software and essentials that I use to create an equivalent commercial facility workflow but from home.
How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
At one point, it became impractical to pay for a commercial facility to just try out some vocal recording or do writing sessions. In terms of evolution, the home setup was a natural need once this part of my career began years ago.
Because of my experience and the way I came up in the business, I had the skills to adapt and deliver at a high level whether I was working in a hotel room, or from a bed room but I did need something solid and reliable and a setup that I could take with me anywhere if I needed. It is mainly built around some Hedd Type 20 monitors, Universal Audio Apollo x8p, and a Pro Tools/Native Instruments workstation amongst other software.
I do have a few synths, and some percussion as well but my secret vocal weapon of choice is the Aston “Spirit” Microphone. That has beat out classic vocal chains that cost thousands upon thousands so many times across any type of voice you throw at it.
The digital studio promises endless possibilities at every step of the process. What is it that you actually need from these potentials and how do go about you selecting it? How do you keep control over the wealth of options at the production stage?
I think it is really just a case of figuring out your workflow. There are benefits to all methods but I have learned over time that keeping things simple is the most effective way to progress. I don’t bother with most of the classic engineering techniques and thought processes I was trained with years ago because I understand that nobody outside of the music industry really cares.
So as long as what you are working on sounds great and is competitive to what is out there, then you will win every time compared to the minutia of how to get there technically speaking. I am not saying that isn’t fun to play around in the studio and there is always true value in understanding classic techniques until they are second nature, I am just saying there are many ways to get something done, and you should be flexible to figure out what really works for you.
Pick and choose what you focus on and what really matters because in most cases, it doesn’t matter as much as you think it does when you get lost in your studio world.
A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?
I work in both analog and digital worlds. In many cases, it is really hard to digitally recreate the sound of a big drum kit recorded in a fantastic room, or the emotion of a live orchestra. Plugins have come so far over the years but there is still a need for that interactivity of creation in a piece of art that matters to some artists and producers. It won’t matter to others and there are success stories to back that up too obviously, but for me, being able to pick and choose when, where and how I do something is huge.
I have for the most part transitioned into digital though because my clients and the industry as a whole, expect quick turnarounds and ability to deliver every time over what your method was to achieve it.
From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customised devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces? What role does the tactile element play in your production process?
It used to be the only way I wanted to work with actual physical pieces of gear and analog consoles with outboard gear etc … But then I decided I value my time and ease of setup more as life gets busier. I can’t argue against the fun factor but now I prefer time saving measures instead.
Time saving doesn’t mean sonic sacrifice which I think it takes time and experience for people to understand that.
How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? Using a recent piece as an example, how do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?
A great example is when I jump onto my Roland Electronic drum kit to play out a part in a production versus programming it on the keyboard. In that basic example, the equipment itself provides the artistic inspiration and sound I want in some cases. So it all depends on exactly what you want to achieve on a per project basis.
In some cases if I am working in a commercial studio, the way a compressor unit reacts to specific signal isn’t quite what I want out of a sound creatively so they both definitely influence each other often.
Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.
I don’t intentionally build an archive like this. In fact I tend to try to reduce the amount of options throughout the creation of a song. It always comes down to whether there is enough room for the vocals to tell the story without feeling busy. That always determines what production ideas stay or go. Or at least it should be and is one of the hardest things to learn when you start out in my opinion.
I have very often removed a production idea I like because it isn’t working with the vocals but saying that, those ideas that don’t get used can often become totally new songs so I am of the opinion that nothing gets thrown away.
Despite the aforementioned near endless possibilities, many productions seem to follow conventional paths. How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?
If a production calls for experimentation for the sake of it, then I have found these days, I like to reach for a plugin called “Arcade” by output. The great thing about this software instrument is that it provides inspiration in a way that no other hardware I have encountered can. It is full of ideas and sounds and automatically can be mapped out to your project key and tempo.
Sometimes I start with it because it can get a vibe moving pretty quickly. I use a concept called “nuggets” which I try to inject into my music or even in my mixes for other people. The nuggets are when you create specific interesting moments throughout the song that are bits of ear candy. This output instrument can be a good provider of nuggets.
Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?
Most of the time I just sit down and make something and see where it goes. Sometimes I will have an idea of a melody beforehand or a drum idea in my head but most of the time, I let it see where it lands on its own. So in that respect, it is almost always triggered by software, an app, or by equipment. Happy accidents can also happen in the studio though so I never dismiss that either. Inspiration I find always often comes from musicians messing around on guitar. I find I can often get a whole song of ideas down from chopping up someone’s guitars.
How important is it for you that you personally create or participate in the creation of every element of a piece – from sound synthesis via rhythm programming to mixing?
It isn’t very important for me to be the one doing everything and in fact I wish I didn’t have to do it all the time. But the truth is that I have had to take the lead in most cases based on my experience and understanding of what I envision the outcome to be. In most cases, it has actually been beneficial to do it all, but I have been working very hard on finding talented individuals on all sides who can help take over some tasks.
This is not very easy to do so in the meantime I outsource certain jobs. If I was 100% assured that someone involved was going to pull their weight and share in the project goals collectively, I would certainly do it more, but the reality is very one sided and artists get protective when they have very little going on or even disinterested in experimentation so I keep the tasks in house to avoid disappointment. One of the perils of the music biz!
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
The easier technology makes music making, the more excited I get about the possibilities.
I have never been that interested in really learning to play the piano for example and I am not one of those songwriters who is interested in sitting at the piano writing a song with an artist. So the fact that there are technologies out there to help solve issues like this where I can create complex and interesting chord progressions and structures without the technical background to me is pretty interesting and ultimately achieve an equivalent outcome as if I did.
You will always have the camp who knocks things like this but why fight the future? We have seen it with music tech becoming accessible to all and that is why the market is saturated with everyone and their grandmothers becoming DJs or producers or artists. But for me personally, I embrace these new ways of making music because it saves me time and who doesn’t like having more time?
To some, the advent of AI and ‘intelligent’ composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative process. Do you feel as though technology can develop a form of creativity itself? Is there possibly a sense of co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
As a creative concept, co-authorship with AI or more advanced technologies as an experiment is great. I have no issue with this theoretically but it is interesting to think about at what point will humans become overly empathetic and start ripping themselves off by paying their robots to do everything? That to me is more of a challenge in replacing the work I do.
Anybody can make a great piece of music, and anybody can learn the tricks of the trade as a producer or mixer. That in itself isn't a very special or interesting thing when you know that it can be challenged by a technology that might deliver better results (subjectively of course) down the line. But yes I look forward to seeing where the idea of technology creating for itself goes and in fact, I would be right there trying it out.
I think that solves a great problem for producers and artists in some cases. Imagine you get a creative block and can employ a technology to come in and try a bunch of random things that potentially work. That would be fascinating and not too dissimilar to what we do anyway while sitting there trying out different ideas.
Do you personally see a potential for deeper forms of Artificial Intelligence in your music?
If it is good and works, then why not! I am task focussed, not so picky about who or what does it.
What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?
What we really need rather than creative tools are developments in education for the industry. There are a shocking amount of talent managers, labels, producers, artists, and everything else that simply have no idea what they are doing. This education aspect is essential to formulate an interesting direction for the future.
Right now it is full of music fans working in the industry rather than professionals and that in my opinion, needs to change, otherwise it will continue to be a free-for-all that works for very few.