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10 Minutes, a Car, and Spire Studio: Electronic Duo Highlnd Get Creative

by Pippin Bongiovanni, iZotope Content Team May 2, 2019

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With Spire Studio, a car, and 10 minutes, electronic/pop production duo Highlnd recorded every sample they needed to create a track. Rather than pulling from their personal sample library, the group went out into the world to collect samples to transform into a track.

We spoke with Elliot and Joel from Highlnd to learn about their creative process—why a car? Why Spire Studio? Why the challenge? Eliot sets the scene for us below:

“Creating a song from purely self-recorded samples is something we have never done before. We generally rely on our personal sample library for all of our sounds. It was fun gathering unique samples that other people haven’t used, and we enjoyed seeing how far we could push the song without using any premade samples or synths. It definitely forced us to think in a different way.”

Could you tell us a little bit about Highlnd?

"Highlnd is an electronic/pop production duo based out of Hollywood. We started making music together a couple of years ago and we’ve been refining our style into something we are now confident in by blending both organic and electronic sounds together to create the simple but intricate soundscapes and percussive elements that drive our tracks. Following the release of our latest single “Throw Me A Line,” we will be pushing the project into full swing with more exciting releases later this year."

The recording process

The method and the medium: Why did you choose Spire to record with, and why a car as a sound source?

"We chose the spire to record with because it was recommended to us by one of our videographers, Lucas Fackler. We were told that the Spire pre-amps can capture a clear, concise sample. There was no specific reason we chose a car as our sound source. We just wanted to make a fun challenge for ourselves by using an inanimate object, and a car came to mind!"

The set-up: How was the set-up to record your samples?

"We did one sound check at the beginning of the video, in order to ensure proper levels for our voices as well as any loud samples we may get from the car. Aside from that, there was not much action needed. We recorded all of the samples onto one track, and emailed the stems to ourselves so we could chop everything up individually inside of Ableton. It was very easy and streamlined to transfer files from Spire to a DAW. We were able to email the audio files from the Spire app to ourselves and once we downloaded them onto the computer we were able to drag and drop it right into the daw and get to work!"

Creating the elements

The kick/snare: Do you often start a track with drums?

"Funny enough, we typically start songs with either a chord progression or melody. However, with this sampling process we needed a quick and easy starting point. Drums seemed to be the most obvious choice seeing as most of the samples we collected were very percussive. Getting our kick and snare sound solidified gave us a better idea of what kind of track we would be able to create using our limited sounds."

"It really came down to editing and layering until we got a decent source sound and then we mainly used EQ, compression and saturation to get those tight punchy drums. Decapitator and Little Alter Boy are some go-to plug-ins for us in many different situations."

Adding options with Trash 2: What did Trash 2 do for you?

"This was actually the first time we used Trash 2 before so it opened up a lot of creative possibilities for us in a track where we didn’t have too many options to work with. We loved how Trash was able to do everything between subtle saturation to completely mangling the audio and creating something new. We’ve been frequently using it in sessions ever since!"

The final mix

Workflow: Do you take a different approach to mixing your own recorded samples?

"In terms of mixing, the process was definitely more difficult than it would be with our average track. Typically, the sounds that we begin our productions with are already highly processed, so they already sound near-mix-ready. With these raw sounds, we needed to do a fair amount of EQ, compression, distortion, and general processing to achieve the final result."

Takeaways: What did this exercise—capturing samples with a simple high-quality device in order to distort them into something else entirely—teach you about the music-making process?

"It definitely encouraged us to keep thinking outside the box while producing. It’s always been fun for us to take unexpected sounds and use them in fresh and unique ways in our productions. This reinforced that thought process and pushed us to continue experimenting even further with our sound design."

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