- Apple MacBook Pro
- Korg Microkorg
- Blue Microphones Spark
- Yamaha HS8s
- Steinway Vertegrand Piano
- Sennheiser HD650
23-year-old producer Ukiyo is celebrating the Australian music scene with his self-titled debut album, hoping listeners can feel the sun-drenched hikes in the foothills of Perth. Those hikes offered him a sense of solace and inspiration between solitary marathon production sessions in his bedroom studio. Ukiyo has gained support from the likes of Will Smith, Casey Neistat and PewdDiePie, who have all used his music in their YouTube videos, as well as by culture icons such as Pharrell Williams and FKJ. He opens the door of his studio and shows us where he escapes reality and immerses himself in his own sonic world.
Listen to Ukiyo while you read
Tell us a bit about the studio, Ukiyo.
I’ve looked into renting external studios for a couple of years now, but from a convenience standpoint, it just doesn’t make sense to me. My current studio is just a room in my house, but I close the door and I feel like I’m somewhere completely different. The house is in South Fremantle, Western Australia and is where I’ve lived for nearly 10 years now. My studio is a perfect balance of efficiency, technology, and vibe. I tend to move it around a bit, depending on my projects at the time. When I was mixing my album and listening to masters, I had it set up to maximise acoustics. Now that I’m back to writing, I’m much more interested in making it a place I want to create in.
How do you use your studio?
I use my studio a lot – I have my external hard drives and instruments all connected via one cable so I plug in and I’m away. The main live instrument I record is my upright Steinway piano, though I’ve done a bit of acoustic guitar, bass, and other random little instruments, too.
Which DAW do you use?
I’m a faithful Ableton Live user now. It’s built for speed and getting ideas down quickly, which is what I need. The warping and pitching is so much easier than what I’ve experienced in the past. I entered the music production world through Garageband and quickly upgraded to Logic Pro. I used that for a good number of years and knew it back to front, but found I’d cluttered it up through all my years of learning and almost knew the program so well that there wasn’t enough experimentation going on. I made the switch to Ableton Live and pretty much grew the Ukiyo project out of that switch.
What atmosphere do you try and create in the studio?
I get bored easily, so the most important thing for me is new stimulation and new experiences. I never force myself to make music – I wait for the inspiration to strike. If I’m feeling the desire to create but not feeling inspired, I’ll take myself somewhere new, whether it’s on a walk, to the gym, or on a mini holiday. Often, I’ll just take my laptop with me to start ideas to bring back to the studio and polish.
Can you talk a bit about the projector setup? How does it improve your workflow?
That definitely fits into the ‘vibe’ category. I’ve got the projector for movie watching more than anything else, but I do end up using it a lot for producing, especially when I’m writing with others. Being able to see things clearly from anywhere in the room speeds everything up tremendously. I’ve got an OLED TV underneath as my main monitor for everything from production to colour-sensitive stuff like photo and video editing. I’m the type of person that’s always working on a million things at once, so screen real estate is king.
What is your favourite piece of gear?
I love my Microkorg to bits. It’s the first real hardware music gadget I bought way back in the day and it’s died and been revived a couple of times now. There’s something about the simplicity of a couple of knobs, instead of trying to locate everything with a mouse. Between the Microkorg and my acoustic piano, I feel I can translate my ideas into something real a lot quicker now.
If you were left on a desert island, what one item would you take with you to make music with forever?
I would take the Microkorg, but if it’s only one item it wouldn’t be very helpful seeing as it hasn’t got any speakers. Regardless, I think I’d definitely take my piano. That would keep my brain occupied for a long time.
What synth or effect can be heard the most on your new LP?
There are three main ones on this LP – all soft synths. Sonic Charge Synplant, u-he Diva and Ableton Live’s Wavetable. Synplant is a no-brainer for anyone making electronic music in a similar vein to me. Diva makes beautiful warm retro synth sounds, and I use Wavetable so much for how quick and easy it is to use.
What’s been the biggest investment in your studio?
The piano certainly would have been but I was blessed enough to have that handed down to me from my Nana. The biggest investment I’ve made was probably the OLED TV for a monitor. It’s become a bit of a joke at how overkill it is, but the extra screen real estate it gives me is a godsend and the pro-level colour accuracy gives me full confidence when I’m working on anything visual.
How did you go about getting the acoustics right in the studio?
Right now you’re seeing the studio in creation mode, so the acoustics certainly aren’t going to blow anyone away, but I find they’re certainly good enough for anything I’m doing. There are three main things I’ve got to get the acoustics right, the first being placement, which is arguably the most important. Secondly, I’ve got some huge acoustic panels that came out of an old ABC radio studio; they do so much for absorbing sound. Thirdly, I’ve invested in Sonarworks Reference, which allows me to measure my room and make adjustments to what my computer is sending out based on my room. It’s a crazy piece of software.
What is next on your shopping list studio-wise?
I’ve been looking at upgrading my monitors for a while, but it’s a big investment – especially as I’d probably be looking to replace and upgrade acoustic treatment as well. One of my producer friends has been trying to sell me on the Eve monitors for a while and frankly, I’m sold.
What is your dream piece of gear?
A big old hardware synth is the dream at the moment. I absolutely love the Prophet emulator I have so that’d probably be the synth of choice for me. Hardware synths offer beautifully warm sounds and tactility.
Do you have any frustrations with your current set-up?
I’ve built my studio around my computer for so long that I feel I want to make it less of a centrepiece in the future. Of course, that takes money, because a hardware synth or mixer is a hell of a lot more expensive than an emulator or dragging a mouse, but if I had the money that’s what I’d invest in. I’ve been infatuated with how Flume’s set up his space recently, sitting down on the floor with a bunch of hardware. It looks a lot more fun than staring at a computer screen.
What is your top piece of production advice?
It’s all just a patience thing really, from giving yourself time to grow, to pushing a track to completion. Every Ukiyo song sounds absolutely terrible at one point or another before it starts sounding nice.
What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting out building a studio?
Don’t get too bogged down on the technical side, a studio with perfect acoustics is no use to musicians like us if the vibe is off and you never want to set foot in it. The most important thing by far for me is making sure my studio is the room in my house that I want to be in constantly, then the music-making and creation side comes naturally.
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