The Forest Studio
Studio owner Emika
- MacBook Pro
- Eventide Time Factor
- Earthworks Audio M30
- Arturia KeyLab controller
- Genelec 8050
Tell us more about your studio Emika.
At the start of this year, I relocated to just outside of Berlin to be closer to the forest and river. The more I work with technology over the years, the more I feel the need to be in a quiet place close to nature. I found myself competing for quiet places to record and mix in the city. A lot of producers I know seem to really love the option to come and meet me out of the city and work creatively.
After months of research into studio furniture and acoustic room treatments, my engineer had the idea to custom build some panels from fallen trees from the forest. Over the winter, we collected pieces and dried them out, ready to put into frames with custom made fabric and foam pieces to dampen the sound of the room.
The most important concept behind this new studio was for me to feel surrounded by as much natural material as possible. A lot of my gear is made from metals and plastic and is usually black. Therefore I wanted to room to feel lighter and relaxing. I call this space quite simply, The Forest Studio.
What’s the significance of the branches in your studio?
It’s my own take on acoustic panelling, it helps dampen the sound of the room and break up the reflections. And they make me feel good, studying them subconsciously while I create, it gives me more than looking at flat dark panels.
What is your favourite piece of gear, and why?
My laptop. I am a computer musician and can work on all kinds of music with my laptop. Believe it or not, I composed my whole symphony by just clicking in notes with the mouse using an EastWest orchestra library (which later turned into scores for the musicians).
Can you tell us more about your monitoring setup?
I mixed my first album with Rashad Becker in Berlin, and he had a pair of huge Genelecs. They had this honest and true feeling to them and really fitted my music. As soon as I had a decent paying job, I invested in a pair of [Genelec] 8050 BPMs and have not looked back ever since. But they are mega massive, and I like to mix it up with my pair of Adam A7Xs which have an incredible sound. Such beautiful details in the mids and low mids area, it really gives you a different perspective to just the Genelecs.
The Genelecs are great for bass, sub bass, overall balance, a true frequency response, and placing the sounds in the stereo field or putting things far in the back/upfront. The Adams have a different colour, which helps me to understand the mix in terms of how flat or dynamic it is. It’s like a serious deep talk full of criticism with the Genelecs, and then a magical adventure with the Adams.
What was the reasoning for having your digital piano away from the computer? Was this for focus or just ergonomics?
It’s how I perform and have my set up on stage, with my Arturia controller keyboard at right angles to the piano. And it means I am focusing inwards and not on all the gear in front of me. I try to set up a nice balance between being the producer and performer in one.
How important are hardware effects to your compositional and production method?
The Eventide Time Factor and Space pedals fully inspire my Emika signature sound and just feel like home. I improvise with them while singing and playing piano, I love their design, they operate almost like a small laptop in a pedal, so they make sense to me and don’t interrupt my creative flow.
How much time do you spend in your studio per week?
Let’s just say I try to go outside for a 60-minute workout once a day and the rest of the time its purely music until I sleep… Which I often postpone in favour of further sound experimenting. Luckily I have my daughter who keeps me grounded and gets me out of self-obsessed creative rabbit holes. You know, often the best break-through concepts hit me when I am actually out of the studio, riding my bike or talking to the trees.
How do you use your studio?
Mostly as a writers room. I compose, record, sound design, edit and mix all my work there and treat it like a special space where I can go to dream. Sometimes it’s just nice to sit on the floor and be with my gear. I sold so much gear and now only have the pieces which I used every day for all my projects. Things are tidy with my desk and patch bay now, and I manage to do things in a much simpler, efficient way than before. I think there is nothing sadder than having all these synths hanging around not being put to good use, it doesn’t have a good energy for me, and maybe the synths are also sad.
When you’re writing, how much are you thinking about how it will translate to a live performance? How do you ensure things translate?
Make it sound good in that moment, save it, don’t make it so complicated you can’t play it in the moment. It’s a new way of working for me. I come from the land of multiple takes, layering, sampling, adding more, maxing out all tracks in my sequencer. But that always made it impossible for me to perform solo later on, which meant I needed to switch to the DJ blueprint and play back tracks. But that’s not really communicated my vibe as a musician, so now I have my ‘Make it sound good in the moment’ concept, and I can play in the studio or play on the stage, and it’s my sound bubble and space regardless.
What is next on your shopping list studio-wise and why?
A compressor. I don’t really work with compression, just a plug-in here and there on a lead sound. I think if you pick the right combination of sounds and compose/arrange them properly, then you shouldn’t really need to compress unless you want a special effect from it. I like to leave a lot of room for my mastering engineer to then compress what is needed at the end of the creative process. Same goes for EQ, unless I want to do something special, or place something far back / front etc.
Do you have any frustrations with your current setup?
Nope! I spend a full year planning this new one, and it was totally worth it. I come in, turn on the power for the bits of gear I need and get to work. It’s awesome. I highly recommend spending a serious amount of time optimising your setup to really work for you, it is very liberating and inspiring once it is done. But it takes a lot of patience, and I really don’t like that side to this work, it’s just necessary.
What is your dream piece of gear?
Possibly having a couple of Tube-Tech compressors.
What is your top piece of production advice?
There are no rules.
What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting out building a studio?
Download and try as much demo software as you can. First, invest in a really solid laptop. The rest will constantly change and evolve as you and your music do anyway, so make the core part of it all really good and make sure you know how to use this really well. You can make amazing music with budget headphones and a laptop, you don’t need a studio to be creative. It helps if you want to work professionally later on, but don’t sit there and wait for this, just get cracking with all the amazing demo or free music software available online. And YouTube tutorials, of course.
What are the main components of your studio?
MacBook Pro, Earthworks Audio M30, Earthworks Audio SRV40V, Eventide Time Factor, Eventide Space, Arturia synths collections, Arturia KeyLab controller, SSL X Logic Alpha VHD Pre, RME Fireface UFX II, Genelec 8050, Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Zoar Cherrywood desk, Kawai MP11, Adam A7X and more.
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