Artist Interview: OZD

Over the course of the last decades, digitalization of music production has considerably democratized the means of production. This lets ever more enthusiasts acquire the necessary equipment and software and live their dream. Today's modern producer is an all-around talent who manages to create every song component on his own. Lukas Drozd from Poland is a perfect example.

He has been active as a composer, arranger, sound/mixing/mastering engineer, musician and producer for various Polish pop stars (among others Formacja Nieżywych Schabuff, Feel, Kasia Popowska, Olek Klepacz) and TV programs (Rodzikna PL) for almost 20 years. Since 2012 he's releasing and performing under the stage name "OZD". His professionalism and international competitiveness have earned him a contract a Universal Music sublabel in 2014. "OZD" produced, recorded, edited and mastered his entire debut album "Journey" in Samplitude before it was released in November 2016. The electronic aesthetics of the album are a special feature, as they consist up to 40% of recorded acoustic instruments.

In our interview, "OZD" explains the secret behind his pumping, crisp drum sound design and tells us all about his favorite plug-ins. Additionally, he describes the struggles facing the Polish music industry today.

Music - “Creativity, talent and diligence are the most important things”

How would you define the genre of music that you produce?

The best description of the type of music I make would be “live electronic”, but if we’re talking about details and particular songs, you could find several different styles. Styles which are inspired by music from the past and present. Funk, House, Drum&Bass/Jungle, Big Beat and Electronica. I would call my music “live” electronic because it’s not a pre-prepared DJ-set. It’s performed by live musicians in studio as well as on the stage.

How do you create your sounds and tones? Do you use pre-prepared samples or primarily VST-instruments? Do you record these live with a MIDI keyboard?

I mostly use a MIDI keyboard. I play all instrumental parts manually. There aren't too many pre-prepared materials on my album, just some single background loops in a few songs. Top instrumental tracks were made especially for particular songs and created using both VSTi and live instruments like drums, bass, guitars, sax and trumpet.

When I use VSTi to find the proper sound to my song, I modify the sound of the virtual instrument or of the custom sounds created by myself. For creating new sounds from scratch, my main tool is D16 LuSH101 and NI Massive. You can hear them a lot in my productions.

Which are your favourite plug-ins and VSTs?

I’ll just mention the most important ones:

Plug-ins: PSP oldTimer, PSP MixPressor, AM-Suite – AM-Track, Vintage Effects - Ecox Delay and VariVerb, eFX Plug-ins, OZONE, PSP Mix Pack, Waves De-Esser, Nomad Factory Blue Tube EQ and Compressors, Ni Softube Vintage Compressors.

VSTi: D16 LuSH-101, NI Komplete - NI Massive, NI Battery, Spectrasonic Trilogy, Cableguys | Curve 2, Vita.

What does your studio setup look like? Are you more analog or digital?

During mixing I mostly work in-the-box, because of the amount of music projects being realized in the same time. So let's say that I’m more digital in the post-processing way. But I’ve got no problem with using an analog console for the final summing. I'm going to do this more often in the future.

To do the recordings, I use a simple solid analog setup: Neuman TLM-103 microphone, SSL XLogic Alpha Channel and Teletronix LA-2A. That’s a great setup used in the majority of my productions on the album “Journey” and productions for other artists. I really like that sound as it’s clear and wide. On “Journey”, I also used the CharterOak SA538B microphone, as well as an ultra cheap lo-fi condenser mic combined with a cheap preamp from Focusrite, as well as the Lawo preamp and Wes Audio compressor.

I'm not a fan of equipment. In my work the most important thing is creativity, talent and diligence.

“Journey” - “I can't work my entire life just to pay the rent”

How many people were involved in the production of your album? And how much time did it take, from the very first concept, to recording, to the final release?

My very first solo album “Journey” was like a life decision. Over 15 years I’ve been working as a composer and producer for many artists from Poland. I decided to start out on my own artistic path 5 years ago. The premiere of the full album was in November 2016. During this time, I had a lot of projects with various artists, so I couldn’t fully focus on my music. But everything was going in the right direction, and then “Journey” was released. Now I’m working on new tracks.

I invited five artists to sing my songs (Brian Fentress, Lenny Hamilton from the USA and Kasia Malenda among others) and six musicians who recorded special tracks like drums, bass, guitars, trumpet and saxophone. I also sang in some of the songs (Moment, Dancing all the night, World). I used a vocoder as well. I recorded all instrumental parts and mixed and mastered all songs on the album, all in Samplitude. It was a huge project.

What motivated you to start out on your own artistic path?

After making hundreds of songs and dozens of albums for other artists, I realized that I needed to change something. I couldn’t work my entire life just to pay the rent. And I had a lot of unrealized music ideas in my head. I’ve always been that kind of creator who has something to say, and that’s only possible when I do it alone. That was quite a challenging moment in my life. A new path, new possibilities, new people and finally releasing some parts of my ideas. I prepared almost 25 draft projects for “Journey”. Some of them are still ongoing right now, some of them I’ll continue with in the future.

Were the drums in “All Right” or “Schematic World” created using samples or played by a drummer? And how did you achieve so much punch on the snare and bass-drum?

There were mixes of both live-played and synthetic drums. In both songs, the top layer has a synthetic kick and snare. The second layer are live drums and percussions played by SpacePierre and background loops. The parallel compression is very important. It makes the drums sound very authentic and detailed without an extremely high volume and peak levels.

You can here the full top layer live-drums in “Moment” and “Dancing All The Night”. Although I really like the sound of live-played drums, there is no way to achieve the same sound and power of synthetic samples (I mean it in the context of produced music, not music played on stage). These are two different dimensions. That’s why it's good to mix them together.

How did you create the synthesizer sounds and trumpet in your single “All Right”?

A lot of sounds come from D16 Group’s synthezisers like LuSH-101 and Phoscyon. The acid Phoscyon sound with eFX Reverb is side chained by kick using the eFX Compressor. The main bass track too comes from my own custom library created for LuSH-101. Perhaps someday, I will release all sounds which will be then available in D16 Group online shop. You can also hear there the live performed trumpet fx and solo melodies. In general, all horns have been recorded by great musicians in our studio, MAMAMUSIC.

What is the percentage of real and virtual instruments used in your album?

It’s hard to estimate. 60% synths, 40% live. It depends on the song. What’s interesting is that although I used so many live parts of instruments, the main character and sound in all my songs is electronic. That was my goal. That’s a nice connection, because i love guitars, bass and drums.

Samplitude - “The eFX tools are simple, handy and have a very good sound”

Why did you choose Samplitude and which feature do you use the most?

When I started making music with PC computers, DAW programs weren't as good as they are today. Probably the most important feature that I found that time in Samplitude was the object editing – a feature that’s absolutely intuitive. The first song I made in Samplitude was “Funky Beat” with my very first edition of Samplitude back in 2001. I remember that everything was quite simple to learn with an intuitive layout, analog-style mixer console and the ability to work with real time VST on objects. Maybe this is why I chose the software. Previously, I had used the OctaMed Tracker on Amiga (later on PC) for the MIDI work. That was a great software for the older generations of computers (e.g Commodore or Amiga in my case), especially for the work with short samples.

It’s hard to say which feature I use the most now in Samplitude but in my opinion, object editing is the most important feature in this DAW. I’m very attached to onboard Samplitude plug-ins. I use them all the time and Elastic Audio is my key-feature in every piece of work with vocal tracks. It works in a different way than other similar solutions (like Melodyne for example) and I can achieve better results with it. It would be nice to develop and extend Elastic Audio and make it even more useful (like Revoice). I don’t like to use supplementary software. Copying data from the DAW to specialized programs – and then back – takes too much time.

What do you think about the new Tempo automation and time-pitch function? And which new feature do you like the most?

I don’t use tempo automation very much, but real-time tempo changing is very important in certain cases, especially when working with analog recordings. The new pitch shift algorithms sound a lot better; I use them a lot on audio objects! Object editing and pitchshifting is a great connection, especially when editing vocal tracks.

You produced your album entirely with Samplitude and used the AM Suite and eFX plug-ins. In which way did these plug-ins help you achieve your musical ideas?

Yes, eFX tools are simple, handy and have a very good sound. As an example: the eFX Compressor is my only sidechain tool right now. This compressor sounds great, even with a low threshold – very musical. The eFX Reverb has great plate algorithms which sound amazing with long-time release and modulation. You can hear all these effects on my album (“Moment”, “World”, “Close Enough”). I use it mostly on instrumental parts. VariVerb is my main reverb for vocal tracks.

AM Suite Ecox Delay has been my main delay effect for years! It’s a complete solution – 2 filters, modulation, diffusion. What more could I need? All delays on my album come from Ecox and eFX Delay.

Do you have a pre-defined workflow when you start working on new projects or is it always spontaneous and varied?

Yes, mostly for composing. For example, in one setup, the piano VSTi is ready to play and record. As for vocals, I have a preset processing setup. In this way, I can save spontaneous ideas without wasting time. My standard project uses only one predefined template and includes a grid and quantization setup (snap to quantization), snap activated, 8 tracks. I have my own prepared set of plugins ready to be opened in master and vocal tracks. It saves time. But I modify this while working on it depending on the situation. Everything else I do is spontaneous.

It would be great to see some new features where you can organize your favourite plug-ins and presets. I’m sure that Samplitude will evolve in these areas.

OZD - “Creating music is my purpose in life”

Which instruments do you play?

My main instruments are keyboards and synthesizers. As a child, I learnt standard music education on the piano. Now I play percussion instruments and the guitar and sing as well.

At school, I felt more like a creator than a pianist. I’ve always felt connected to music in a creative way, maybe that’s why my classical music education didn’t last so long.

Now I know that these turn of events were the best for me. Creating music is my purpose in life.

What excites you about making music and what is for you the essence of it?

I think that the process of creating is the most exciting. When I create melodies, there are a lot of emotional moments which bring me a huge amount of happiness and new inspiration. That’s what all music is about. When the sounds of instruments inspire me when I play, then I follow them and search for the melody to fit to that sound. When I have both a melody and the leading sound motif, I develop them further and start with the arrangement. I really like arranging, it's a very creative moment when everything is still open, so I can have the most influence on the shape of sound. Another great moment is finalizing a song – that makes you internally proud. Of course, like every creator, I’m not always 100% satisfied. Maybe because I’m something of a perfectionist. This isn't always helpful [laughs]. What’s the essence of making music? The answer is simple – authenticity.

Some disco funk and blues influences come through in the album. Did you grow up with these musical genres or are your musical roots elsewhere?

My musical roots are probably in jazz funk and electronic music. As a very young keyboards player, I was fascinated by jazz stars like Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea as well as other stars like Prince, Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre. Two different worlds. But with time, I started to focus more on funk and club music. Herbie Hancock’s albums from the ’70s especially had the biggest impact on my funky groove feeling. Funk music and its groove have had a huge influence on all types of dance music (from disco in the '80s to house music in the '90s). We see how much Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers and Adam F have drawn on funky styles and taken it to different, more modern dimensions (Breakbeat, Bigbeat, Electrobeat, and then Dubstep etc.). Even Drum&Bass and Jungle styles are nothing more than funky grooves converted to 150+ bpm. So, let’s say that I’m into the ’70s and ‘90s.

Where do you find inspiration and how do you overcome writer's block when deadlines loom?

Yeah, deadlines are worrying, and it's a common thing when you work on albums for artists, especially when they're signed to big companies. I think that my professional experience helps me finish the job even if I’m a bit exhausted or under pressure. Listening to music is a great solution. I can then reset my ears, and get inspired by different sounds which push my creativity further – or just doing anything that makes me more relaxed is good. This changes your attitude directly and lets you focus on the positive points of the project you’re working on.

Which artist would you like to do a collaboration with? Which producers do you look up to?

There are few examples of artists from mainstream and alternative pop who fit with my sound and music preferences and inspire and excite me with almost every production:

Justin Timberlake and Timbaland, Kate Boy, Alicia Keys, Rudimental, Daft Punk, One Republic, Mark Ronson, Disclosure, The Chemical Brothers and Coldplay. These are just the most famous, and only a few of them. It would be a real high point and an honor in my professional career to get the chance to work with some of them. I have no particular idols from the world of production. I like the productions of Bartek Królik and Marek Piotrowski (from Poland), Max Martin (especially for what he’s done with Katy Perry, and his last collaborations with Justin Timberlake), Ryan Tedder and the One Republic team, Benjamin Paul Ballance-Crew (Plan B), mixes of Mark “Spike” Stent and Rudimental’s productions.

Music business - “The competition in the music industry is huge and probably greater than the amount of listeners.”

Your album was released under the Universal Music label. How did you come into contact with this major label?

The label which released my album is called Regio Records, a sublabel of Universal Music Poland. Signing a contract is not very difficult today. All the work starts afterwards: when you then have to promote your music, that’s the challenge! Especially today, when we've got millions of artists around the world and there’s no limit in terms of the internet and the possibility of distributing your music to a wider audience. The competition in the music industry is huge and probably greater than the amount of listeners. Although the chance of every single artist becoming successful is statistically smaller than in the past, it would be stupid not to even try. I create because it fulfills a need in my life. What will it bring in the future? I don’t know, but there is one thing that I’m sure of, I won’t stop. My second album is being produced right now, as well as a videoclip to my next single!

You told us that for years now, you’ve been trying to make Samplitude more better known in Poland. What do you mean by this?

Perhaps it’s strange, but among the music community, there is an awareness of Samplitude as a great tool for mixing or mastering. So people are surprised when I tell them that actually all my work is done from the beginning to the final song using the Samplitude DAW – including recording and editing. Perhaps this is, because in the past, Samplitude did not have MIDI support. These days, it's a complete tool and I always work with it. My evidence for this is my professional portfolio, which I started creating entirely using Samplitude in 2001. I hope that I will have more and more chances to show what Samplitude can do to a wider audience in both Poland and beyond.

Are there any specific aspects in the Polish music scene that are unique?

The Polish "mainstream" music industry has always been following the western one. We are very similar to the majority of eastern European countries. Here, we have our own local music market, where local artists and the "mainstream" market follow the newest music trends coming from the US, UK or Sweden. Unfortunately, countries like Poland have no impact on the global music industry. We are like consumers, rather than producers. Only artists from the alternative scene have a chance to reach international listeners. Perhaps it’s because in many cases these are international cooperations, and the general artistic level is relatively high. I hope that in the future more and more artists from Poland will have the opportunity to reach listeners around the globe and have a great career. Many of them deserve it.

If we look at our music education, I can say that it's becoming better and better. Now you can find all type of schools, from classical to modern music production schools. It’s a good way to meet interesting people, increase awareness and learn new production techniques. But as every professional knows, the real knowledge comes from real work on projects, not from education like this. People like me are the best example. All knowledge and experience comes from hard work and long years spent in the studio with different types of hard challenges. Education is not necessary in that profession – the most important thing is passion and creativity, which bring skill and experience.

Also, from my point of view, there is no way you can become a music producer or composer without loving it. There are always some periods of time in your life where – especially at the beginning – the income is relatively low. A lot of talented people give up their passion and just choose to take another path. They then start to see music as their hobby. This makes it very difficult to achieve the very high level of skill which you need in order to be better than average. These professions – artist, musician, creator, composer – are only for those at the top of their game. Lots of money or success won’t come fast in most cases. Sometimes you need to work 10 or 15 years to find the best conditions to bring your career to the next level. This not only true to Poland; they are general thoughts and concerns that everyone has. My suggestion is: if you really love music, don’t give up, follow your path and develop your own style. Results will come. If you are good and better than 75% of the music community, sooner or later you'll find yourself in a better situation than before. But in the meantime, don’t forget to promote yourself. The combination of these two elements will bring you progress – and in the end success.

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