Our T-shirts come from Bangladesh, our Shure mics from Mexico and most likely our guitar strings from China. We don’t have to look far to see that we are now going global with music production. And I’m not even talking about touring. I’m talking about the outsourcing of your music to foreign, professional and significantly cheaper vocalists and mastering engineers. Let’s see what two exploring musicians managed to do through the tangled cables of the internet.
Somewhere between recording and mastering, the French trip-hop electro duo In Motion ran into a wall. The wall was a combination of many factors. Firstly, the pair needed to find singers to complement their music, which according to Max and Aze is almost impossible in France. Secondly, they needed a place and time when said singers were available to record. And finally, however enthusiastic and willing to learn the duo was, mastering a quality album can be a job too much without a suitable room and equipment. The two could have given up at this point, but they hadn’t come all this way through thick and thin, just to give in at the first hurdle. As good children of our generation, they turned to the internet for help.
The two friends already had a rich musical history at this point. They met 16 years ago in Metz, France, through an advert in a music shop window. Aze, a pianist was looking for a drummer for his metal band and as it happens, Max, a drummer was looking for a band. After a brief phone call they agreed to collaborate. The two have been inseparable since. Although they played in several different bands and different genres, including progressive rock, salsa and jazz, they settled on the electronic genre after discovering the uniqueness of Scandinavian music during a trip to Sweden. “Aze was already a big fan of Björk and all of a sudden we started to think ‘wow the sound is amazing, but how do they achieve it?’ I bought an iMac and tried to use the computer as a musical instrument itself, experimenting with rap and combining traditional instruments with electronic elements. We soon quit our metal band and never looked back,” explains Max.
It didn’t take long until In Motion was ready to record their first EP in their home studio. However, they soon had to face the unfortunate shortage of French singers. “We tried out a few local singers, but none of them would fit our music, so we had to let them go,” says Max. This is when the moment came and the pair placed an ad on Gumtree looking for singers in London. They received an overwhelming amount of responses from great, and not so great singers. Applicants were asked to improvise to one of their new tracks. “We were really blessed, because the feedback was amazing. We talked to a lot of creative musicians with nice voices. This is how we came across Miranda, the singer of ‘Geisha’, a song on our first EP ‘Crossing Lines’. She sent us a demo and we said ‘Yes, this is the song.”
On another occasion they recorded two singers during an afternoon improvisation session in the heat of the moment. They fell in love with the voice of the girls so they turned their central London Airbnb apartment into a recording studio. “Obviously, you have to be organised and you have to work really fast and efficiently to achieve great results like this. Most of the recording itself comes down to how well you prepare for the recording session and how confident and comfortable artists feel in your studio. You need that so you can work fast.”
Max and Aze are all for collaboration. They write most of their music together in a ‘creative ping pong game’. These sessions aren’t always successful, but every so often something interesting comes to life. “In a lot of our songs the starting point can be not the music but an image, a picture, a film and then we try to create a musical concept around the idea with different moods, textures, rhythms, harmonies, and samples. So the way we compose music is like a journey, travelling through different moods. Our name, In Motion reflects the way we think of music,” explains Max.
The In Motion repertoire couldn’t be more international. They have a wide spreading web of connections around the globe and they always know who to message when they need a helping hand. On their latest EP, infused with dark and airy, oriental rhythms and textures, they worked with singers from both China and India. “We wanted to involve people from different countries, because the music needed it. Since we have the internet and travelling is a lot easier, it is possible to create another network, another form of collaboration instead of being only local orientated. When you start to think like this there is no more ‘maybe’ or ‘it would be great if’, you can do it. You have to be brave to ask somebody to help you from another country. It was very interesting to meet with people from different countries who share the same passion with us. We feel really blessed each time someone says ‘Yeah I’d like to sing to this song’. This is something that we really enjoy,” says Max.
The duo’s decision to work internationally wasn’t only motivated by musical multi-culturalism. In order to produce music and survive as a band, they needed to save money to invest in gear and promotion. Thankfully foreign professionals often offer quality work for significantly less money. “It can be very frustrating when you want to share your music. You write your songs, you have creative ideas, but you still need somebody who is willing to put money, time and effort into improving your music. You can be a great singer, instrumentalist, and mixer but if you only want to work alone, it doesn’t work,” says Max.
The pair has collaborated with foreign sound engineers for years before In Motion. They originally decided to outsource their music to a professional mastering engineer in Hungary for both financial and technical reasons. “We wanted to release our last metal album with Aze in 2008, but it was very badly mastered. This was around the time when I started my journey with DAWs and tried to master a song. I thought if I buy the right tools I will be able to achieve great results. I bought extensive mastering gear and learnt everything that is possible to learn about tonal balance, compressing, acoustics and dynamics. But after six months of really hard work, I had to come to the conclusion that maybe I had the tools, but I didn’t have the knowledge to do a good job.”
Desperately looking for advice, Max eventually stumbled upon Ivan Folk, the chief sound engineer of Mastering7, who offered to help him. Max decided to give it a go and trust Ivan with his music. Two days later he got a mastered song back. “It was really good. I couldn’t believe it. It was just what we’d been looking for. I didn’t understand how he could do such a great work and why couldn’t I do the same. As an artist you have to know your limitations no matter how talented you are. The internet makes it possible to meet people who have the knowledge, tools and experience to make something better than you can. For us, outsourcing was a creative move. Ivan is one of us now.”
According to the duo, outsourcing your music to a complete stranger somewhere across the globe is mostly dependant on trust. It is also a big commitment. Good mastering engineers, like Ivan, will treat your music like their own and can give you constructive feedback and offer you help on fixing and improving it. They don’t try to rip you off but they genuinely care about your music. Basically, to successfully work internationally, you need to find somebody who loves music more than money and you are sorted.
(by Lina Boothby - Amplify Magazine)