- Sequential OB-6
- Moog Matriarch
- SSL Fusion Master Outboard Processor
- Nord Electro 5D
- Universal Audio Apollo Twin
- Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor II
If Com Truise, TOKiMONSTA, Kaytranada and the Stranger Things composers collaborated, you might get something akin to Dot’s cutting-edge production style. Kate Ellwanger’s upcoming LP life support weaves complex sound design with head-bopping beats, bouncing around a range of genres. And it was borne out of 50 days of beat-making, hashing out 75 tracks to fine-tune into a cohesive album.
Alongside her intense solo production process, she heads up Unspeakable Records and is part of LA collective, Team Supreme. Dot has also produced tracks for SZA, Hazel Rose, Nora Rothman and Teri GenderBender. We head to her studio in Sun Valley, where the beautiful view and surrounding nature help in creating a consistent workflow, and where it’s always quantity over quality.
Tell us a bit about the studio – and the view!
My studio is located in Ketchum, Idaho, a small mountain town in the Sun Valley area. After spending so many years living in Los Angeles full-time, I wanted to switch things up and establish a creative base that was a little more remote and connected to nature. The idea was to create a recording studio where artists could come out and have writing and recording retreats for a few weeks at a time to take a break from the city and immerse themselves in a project. This was going great until the pandemic hit but, thanks to the internet, the studio has been a beautiful place for me to be able to work with others on production or engineering remotely.
How do you use your studio?
I mostly use it for my own production work, mixing and mastering for other artists’ projects, and recording vocals and some live instruments.
Which DAW do you use?
I’m a diehard Ableton Live user. I love the flexibility of the DAW and how easy it is to create your own unique workflow within the software, depending on the style of music or artists you’re working with. It also integrates seamlessly with the other analogue gear I’m using and is a powerful performance tool.
What is your favourite piece of gear?
Surprisingly for me, my favourite piece right now is the SSL Fusion. This was my first investment in mastering hardware, and it has completely blown my expectations away.
What atmosphere do you try and create in the studio?
I try to create an environment that’s peaceful yet awakening. Too much stimulation can be a distraction, but I also don’t want to put anyone to sleep.
What synth or effect can be heard the most on your new LP life support?
The Moog Matriarch gets a lot of airtime on the record, as does Ableton’s Operator. I move a lot between analogue and digital sounds, so there’s a pretty even balance of both across the whole album.
You created 75 beats in 50 days for this project – what was the process here?
The number one lesson I’ve learned from all of my musical mentors is the importance of consistency, so I wanted to develop a practice that would strengthen that quality above all else. I try to look at my music writing as an athlete looks at their physical training, and put together seasons for myself depending on what projects I’m working on at any given point.
For that particular series of beats, I was just feeling extreme anxiety and uncertainty during the onset of the pandemic, so having a practice that I could come back to, rain or shine, was one way to create a sense of stability in my own life. Staying motivated for me isn’t often an issue, it’s just getting in the habit of making time for music instead of letting other life events or daily tasks get in the way.
Does your approach to production change much when producing for artists such as SZA?
Not at all. That song, Euphraxia was originally posted as an unfinished instrumental on SoundCloud that she later recorded over, so I pretty much make music the same way regardless of who ends up on the finished songs.
How do you find time to run your label, Unspeakable Records, alongside your production work?
I rarely do everything at the same time. If there are significant releases or artist development programs going on, then I pare down a lot of my creative work to recharge my batteries in that area, then switch back to focusing on music when there’s less business work to manage. It’s never perfect, but I cherish the moments that I feel I’ve achieved some semblance of balance.
If you were left on a desert island, what one item would you take with you to make music with forever?
Probably just a 4-track tape recorder. I used to have so much fun making tape recordings of myself as a kid and overdubbing various sounds around the house, so I think getting back to that workflow would be extremely fun on an island with lots of interesting things to record or make instruments out of.
What’s been the biggest investment in your studio?
I think the biggest gamble was the SSL Fusion, because part of me would have rather spent that money on another synth or instrument instead of a processing unit. I also have a pretty extensive collection of plug-ins, so it was hard to justify the investment when I have so many digital tools that can perform the same task. But after using it on some of my own projects, I can’t imagine mixing or mastering anything without it now.
What is next on your shopping list studio-wise?
Next on my list is upgrading the space itself. It’s a big dream of mine to have a location where I can build a live room and vocal booth, invest in a console, and have more room for artists to crash there instead of staying elsewhere when they visit. I feel very content with the minimal amount of gear that I currently have, and want to save up for a much larger upgrade down the road.
What is your dream piece of gear?
I would love to have an analogue console like the SSL Origin. Recording and mixing in the box will never be the same with a desk like that. I love the portability and affordability of the technology I’m currently using, but having that console would be a massive game-changer.
What is your top piece of production advice?
Quantity over quality. Make as much music as possible without overthinking, then from that larger batch of tunes, select a handful of favourites to polish up and finish out, leaving the rest as just good practice. Not everything you make has to be released or used for anything besides the development of your own skills.
What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting out building a studio?
Try things out before purchasing, whenever possible, and never impulse-buy. Gear selection is such a personal choice, and reviews can be misleading when trying to make your decisions. I think that slowly going piece-by-piece and building over time will result in a much better studio for you personally than feeling pressure to buy everything on your list at once.
Dot’s life support LP is out on 26 February.
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