Ferry Corsten Q&A

Dutch trance and techno DJ Ferry Corsten and L.A.-based Moonshine mastering engineer Christian Dwiggins talked to Remix for a July 2003 article. Following

Dutch trance and techno DJ Ferry Corsten and L.A.-based Moonshinemastering engineer Christian Dwiggins talked to Remix for aJuly 2003 “Frequencies” article. Following is the fullQ&A:

You’ve done quite a few mixes. How was this 5.1 projectdifferent for you?
It’s very live in a club with people screaming and a lot ofstuff happening around you. You have to first do your mix; second, youhave to entertain. My set was recorded at the same time, and fivemicrophones were in the room. So I had to do this mix from one recordto the other record, which was cool. On the other hand, I also wantedto have that crowd on the stage, so to speak. I wanted the people wholistened to the CD to really hear what the atmosphere was like in theclub. To me, it was like a really nice project because it was veryinteractive. You could hear the crowd all around you, so you could kindof relive the moment.

I heard an edit that you did to replace a small part of the mix.The original sounded almost perfect. Are you a perfectionist withproduction?
When it comes down to a CD, in the end, you want to put it on and youwant to listen to it. It should sound flawless. It’s likeeverything that disturbs you when you listen to it disturbs you evenmore the second time you hear it. So when I was doing my mix, this guyin the crowd bumped into the turntable, and the record skipped, like anasty “Cccchhht!” And the whole crowd went,“Aaaah!” It’s cool if you do it once. But a secondtime, if you know that it’s going to happen, it’s not socool anymore. So we edited that out. And there was also one mix that Iwas really not happy about. Something happened again with the crowd,and something went wrong with my mix, so I replaced that. He was solike, “Oh my God, they’re going to take me out of the cluband shoot me!”

How do you prepare your sets to really engage acrowd?
Normally, I’ll just play whatever idea comes up. I have myrecords with me, and I see a record that I think, “Okay, this onefits with the crowd at this moment right now.” It’s notlike I have a setup format or something. But since this was going to bea CD and you’re dealing with clearance of records, you’rekind of bound to a certain list of records that you are allowed to use.So I wrote down all of the records that were cleared for the CD. Fromthat list, I made a running order of how my set should sound. I alwaysplay records in a certain category: Where records are slower or lessaction or more trancey or more techno, I play in certain categories.Also, I look at the rising tension and build up throughout my set time.And I look for the transition records that make my set go from tranceto techno. When I have played all my records in the right position… I think Ferry Corsten’s “Indigo” is one ofthose records that can go from trancey very easily to techno.It’s one of those records that has elements of both.

What’s your DJ setup?
Three Technics decks and one [Pioneer] CDJ-100 and one CDJ-1000.Sometimes, I mix with three records, and it’s always nice to haveone CD player.

Christian Dwiggins told me that this was the best MoonshineMixed Live edition in the series yet. What made it such asuccess?
I heard the other mixes, which were definitely great. The vibe that Iheard in the background wasn’t as explosive, though. In the end,if the crowd just stands still, I could be the biggest DJ in the world.If the crowd stands still, then I feel like, “Oh, shit, am Idoing the right thing here?” It affects your attitude toward yourcrowd. If the crowd is through the roof, then it’s a lot easier… you’re more up for daring certain things. You dare to puton the record that is not very obvious. As we say over here, “Itgives you wings.” They can’t reach you anymore. Before, youstill had to do the right thing, but if the crowd is energetic, youmight play a record that you wouldn’t normally play.

What do you see for the future of surround sound andDJing?
I just bought a new setup for my studio, which has 5.1 capability, aswell. It’s a new Sony DMX-100. It’s not a DJ mixer.It’s basically for my studio at home because I make my ownproductions, too, to mix them in 5.1. So by the time the clubs are setup with 5.1 systems, the records that I’m producing will soundright. I’ve heard about 8.1, where there are sounds above you.Especially with trance music, you get these weird effects that comeright at you and hit you and bounce off you. It’s really avirtual experience. That’s probably the future. I hope it willhappen in the next two years. I know people are already experimentingwith it.

What’s the protocol for recording a live DJ set and mixingdown in 5.1 surround sound?
We record it on a mobile rig; it’s an 8-track digital recorder.Then, we bring it back here and I rerecord it into my Pro Tools system.That was Saturday night when we recorded this. Sunday, Ferry and I camein and edited it all because we have 16 tracks licensed for the CD, but16 tracks ended up being 110 minutes. You can’t fit 110 minuteson a CD, so we chopped of 20-some minutes. So, basically, every songhas been edited. Usually, I do [edits] without the artist and then theyapprove it later, but he was in town, so we just did it. Hewasn’t completely happy with a couple of the mixes that he did,so we redid two or three mixes here, and I plotted those in. And sincethen, that’s about where I’m at.

What’s the setup?
We have a mobile rig that’s all in a big case. We haveeverything as far as cables and connectors inside of this. Aside fromthe microphones and cables, we tie in to the back of an 8-channelpreamp. It’s a digital preamp, so it converts to digital, goes toa digital converter to convert it to TDIF, which is a connection forthe Tascam DA-88. It’s a Panasonic WZ8096M. That goes to theDA-88, and depending on how many microphones are set up, I use all theway up to eight. But at a minimum, I’ve been at six. Tracks 1 and2 are usually from the DJ booth, and any number of microphones up untileight channels. For Ferry, I used five microphones, so I had sevenchannels. I had a stereo mic at the center of the room facing towardthe DJ. I had one mic hanging right in front of the DJ for all the kidsthat were right around the booth and then two off the side in themiddle between those. I know that club really well and know where theaction is, so I kind of hang the mics accordingly. And it seemed towork really well; I’m really happy with the way it sounds.

You factor everything you know about recording when you go on site.And every venue is very different. You have to keep in mind where thespeakers are. You don’t want take up too much of the speakers,but you don’t want to hang [the mics] too low so you’rejust getting one conversation all night. But you don’t want themtoo high so you’re getting nothing but music and no crowd. So itjust kind of depends. Once I get on site, I just get a feel for theroom and understand how it’s gonna sound, and I just put the micsaccordingly to how I think it’s gonna sound best. The club therewas really noisy. And you can hear it. It’s a veryindustrial-sounding room. With Baby Anne, the room sounded very nice.The crowd wasn’t very loud. So you hear that. Spundae wasprobably the best we’ve had. It was a perfect mix of lots andlots of crowd, and the room sounded really good, and I had plenty ofmics. I have an assistant who helps me and makes sure the red light ison the whole time. And I pretty much step away from this so I can seethe bigger picture, make sure the DJ’s sorted up front, make surethere are no technical problems in the booth, make sure the needles areworking, make sure there are no mixer problems and take notes if thereare any skips. That night, actually, there was a lot of action over thebooth, kids reaching up and going, “Hey, Ferry!” One guyswatted the tonearm by accident, and it was a record that was playing,so it was a big skip and jump. Everybody freaks out because it’sa recording and it’s pretty awful, but everything can be fixedwith Pro Tools seamlessly.

What’s different about this series of mix CDs?
What’s different about mix live than any other compilation isthat you can’t hide behind Pro Tools too much. I have crowd mics,so it’s not like we can go back in there and change track orders;I can’t really Remix the records if they really falloff, because I can’t re-create the room tone, the crowd, allthat. I can add crowd, but I can’t re-create what we recordedthrough those microphones, so I’m limited by that. I can’tchange things too much. But within those limitations, we can do acouple things. We shorten things up. If the actual mixing of recordsfalls off just a little bit, we can come back in here, Remixit at exactly the same cue points, make sure that the mix is the samebut make sure the beats are a little bit tighter and slot that in,which we did here with Ferry. He decided to do that on three of themixes.

What mics do you use?
A couple of condenser mics, a bunch of different ones so I can getdifferent sounds. Two condenser mics, and a stereo pair mic. Idon’t really like the stereo pair mic. The whole setup wasdesigned by my teacher when I was in engineering school. He works nextdoor with Dave Audé. He bought those microphones, and that’sjust kind of what we’re stuck with. The stereo pair mic isusually my rear mics, and I use an SM57 sometimes up front near the DJ.Sometimes, we have DJs speak, so I put a microphone on there. DaveAudé spoke into the mic; Carl Cox talks into the mic; DonaldGlaude loves to scream into the crowd. But the DJs I’ve beenworking with lately, Baby Anne and Ferry, they are very more just intomixing the records. So I just threw that mic up for more crowdsound.

Could you tell me a little bit about how you work with surroundsound?
Because it’s still such a new format, there’s a whole lotof confusion about this on the consumer side. And because it’s sonew, it’s not very cut-and-dry at the moment. There’s 5.1,7.1, 10.1, 20.1, and there’s DTS, Dolby Digital, all thesedifferent formats. Typically, what you’re hearing in surroundright now is 5.1: five speakers and a subwoofer. 5.1 was designed bythe movies, and it was the five speakers: you’re left, rightcenter, left surround, right surround, and your subwoofer was the .1channel, but it was just a channel designed not for bass, but aseparate channel for big explosions, big effects. It’s typicallycalled the LFE channel, Low Frequency Effects. But that was adopted foraudio, the same format. The .1 channel is now considered the subwoofer.A lot of the consumer-type machines that you get, they’re allpretty much what’s called “bass managed.” It takesall the speakers, the whole range, but cuts 80 Hz on all of them andtakes all that and shoves it down the subwoofer. So you’ve seenthe Bose systems with those little tiny satellite speakers, andyou’re wondering, “Well, how can I get these speakers toplay so loud when I have all this bass? They can’t reproduceit.” Well, we’re going to cross it over, and they only haveto do the mids to high frequencies, and we’ll dedicate asubwoofer to handle all the bass. So when we mix here, it’sactually a problem hat I’ve had over and over again. I wouldrather mix just five channels and let the bass management handle thesubwoofer channel. And that’s the setup I have here. I have todraw this out to explain it better. What happens is, the first time,when I mixed Tall Paul, I did pretty much a 5.0 mix. I didn’tsend anything to the LFE channel because I know that everything theconsumer listens to is bass-managed. So if I mix normally in all myspeakers and it sounds good, when it plays on a cheaper system,it’s going to be crossed over and sent to the subwoofer anyway. Igot e-mails when we first put it out, and they’re like,“You know, I have a 5.1 Dolby Digital setup, and I’mlistening to it as a discrete 5-channel mix, and I don’t haveanything in my LFE channel. Is this a defective product? Did you guysnot mix it correctly? I feel like I’m getting gypped.” Soafter that, we decided to put something in my LFE channel, andI’ll mix it bass-managed, as well, to satisfy everyone so theydon’t feel like they’re getting gypped. But, typically,that’s not the best way to do it. What happens is this: We havefive channels of information: left, center, right, left surround, rightsurround and your LFE. If I mix information just on these and they arecrossed over, if I mix just in these speakers and I don’t worryabout this LFE channel, when it goes to the consumer player, it goesleft, center, right, left surround, right surround, crossed over 80 Hzand sends all that information to the subwoofer channel. If I mix thisin 5.1 with information sent to the LFE, now I have information senthere, and all of this information here is still crossed over 80 Hz andadded with the information I have in the LFE, essentially doubling thebass, which is not accurate. So that’s what I’m kind ofdealing with.

How do you set up in the club in order to mixdown in 5.1effectively.
The idea when I’m there on site is just to get the best amountof crowd noise because I understand that here, I can reshape it anywayI want. As long as I get enough source material, enough crowd, enoughroom tone, then here, I can mix it anyway I want. If I want the room tobe bigger, and I have my rear mics and I want it to sound as I’msitting here, bigger, I can delay the back two speakers so that itsounds farther away.

When you set up a new session, you set it up in 5.1, and it knowsthat the I/O, right here in your I/O setup, instead ofstereo—which would be left, right on channels 1 and 2 the way youhave it set up—I have 5.1. My interface has eight outputs. Thisis an 888/24, so it’s 24-bit-capable, eight in, eight out, eightdigital in and out. So here are the eight channels I have to work with:1 through 6 are my surround channels, 1 being left, 2 being right, 3being center, left, right surround and LFE. Seven and 8 are left forstereo if I choose to use it. And then when you open up a new track,you can create a mono track; you’re outputs automatically snap tostereo, but if you want it to go 5.1, then you go 5.1, and you havethis panorama. Here’s my 888, and I come out of that and intothis M&K bass-management box, and this allows me to mix just forthe consumers who are going to be listening to it bass-managed.I’m running full range out of channels 1 through 6; they go intothe bass management as left, center, right, left surround, rightsurround, LFE and comes out of this LFE4 studio bass-managementcontroller bass-managed directly to my speakers.

How do you EQ differently in 5.1?
I cut out at 150 Hz on pretty much all of them because, otherwise, itgets too messy. Here’s without the filters. Do you hear thesubwoofer now working? The microphones picked up 10 Hz below 80 Hz. Sothe bass management is taking all that and shoving it to my subwoofer.But when I run my main channel, I want to send just this music andeverything 80 Hz to the subwoofer. All the microphones I want just tobe ambience. So if I don’t filter it and remember that themicrophones are always delayed from the direct line, that I’mgetting bass phasing in the subwoofer because it’s taking 80 Hzdelayed, throwing it with my bass from the direct mix from the records,and it’s doing all kinds of crazy things in the subwoofer that Idon’t want it to do [it sounds muddy]. So I’m just going tocut out all the bass in all the microphones. It cleans it up.

How is editing different when dealing with surround-soundlive-DJ-set mixes?
Well, here, for example, is piece of mix that we did but haven’tdialed in perfectly. The drums are slightly off. The crowd mics neverchanged, which is the difficult part. Now, if I soloed these crowd micsin the same section?actually, it wasn’t off enough that you canhear it, which is why we can get away with replacing this section. Ifhe just totally wrecked really bad, the beats just fell way off, thenthe crowd mics would have picked it up, and there’s not a wholelot I could have done here fixing it because you still would have heardit in the crowd mics. But because we’re in 5.1, even thoughit’s louder, when you’re sitting here, your ear is stilllistening to what’s happening back here, so if this is differentthan this [points to two different speakers], it screws you up.

You see all of these tracks here, which are just our faders and pansand my inserts for effects, this is our actual mixing portion. Out ofthese faders, the signal flow comes in to your effects; it goes to yourpans; it goes to your fader; then, it goes to your pans; then, it sendsit out to your master fader here. Your master fader is determining ifit’s going left, center, right, left surround, right surround. Sothere’s big matrix inside of here that you don’t see, butyour pans are sending essentially whatever track you want to thatchannel of my output, and then that channel goes to whatever speakerit’s hooked up to. So we can have as many tracks as we want. Ican add five more mono tracks; we can set a microphone; you can talkinto it, and you can put that anywhere in this mix right now.

Remember, what I’m sending to the LFE is also in addition,because, right now, I’m bass-managing this. It’s alreadybeing sent to the subwoofer through my bass manager, which is whatyou’re going to hear when you go home. So everything thatI’m adding here is just cake, just for those people who arelistening to a discrete system, which is not bass-managed, and theywant to see the LFE channel work. And I have to find a medium betweenbass management and LFE.

How did you deal with the situation editingwise when the guyswatted the tonearm and the needle flew out of the groove?
[Wiggins points to that section on the screen] Ferry was smart enoughto know to restart before the buildup. So we can essentially cut fromhere to here. Hit “Shuffle,” and every time you make anedit, it closes it up. Instead of moving this manually and moving inand getting to two parts really close together, you just hit Shuffle.See how it’s blinking on that line? It snaps it right together.Grid mode is dependent on the tempo that you’re dealing with. Ifthis isn’t a DJ mix that we’re dealing with?it’s onlya song, and I know my song is 120 bpm over here on the transportbar?then you’re Grid mode, starting over here at the verybeginning, is broken down into 4/4 time, and you can zoom in. If youlook down here, two measures, four measures, eight measures, you canchange it into eighth notes, quarter notes, and all of your edits nowsnap to grid. If I place it here, it automatically snaps to grid. So ifyou’re perfectly on tempo, like a lot of dance music, Grid modeis fantastic. If you copy a part, it’s going to automaticallycopy it at the grid marks all the way across. If you’re movingthings around, it automatically snaps to a grid. TCE is your timecompress. If I’m not in Grid mode, it goes wherever I want to putit, and it will time-compress there. But if we’re in Grid mode,then it’s going to snap to the grid.

How have people reacted to the 5.1 club series?
What I get a lot of criticism about is that it’s not really 5.1because of the music. They think that the music needs to be mixed in5.1, and we can’t do that because it originates in stereo, sothere’s no way of doing that. But when I mixed the crowd micsaround in 5.1, now we’re getting the appearance that you’rein the club. Until DJs start mixing with DVDs and with surround itself,there’s nothing really we can do. It would have to be a DVDplayer, and the player would have to be a 5.1 player, and you wouldjust have all six channels coming out of one DVD player and six inputson a mixer and another one that does the same thing, and that mixer youmix all the channels together. So for now, this is our 5.1. It’sre-created the club sound.

I don’t see an external hard drive in the studio.
I transfer back and forth between my two systems, so this one has aninternal 80G. I have 75G of internal IDE, essentially a FireWire drive,and I shouldn’t be running all my audio on it because it’snot the best idea to run all your software and your audio all on thesame drive, but it is what I’m doing just for simplicity and forcost’s sake, but I do have a 120G FireWire drive that I bounceback and forth in between my two systems. So I’ll put that onhere, and I’ll work on it; then, I’ll take it over there,and I’ll edit on that and bounce back and forth.

Where do you think the future of surround sound isheaded?
I’m really excited about the whole process because I think thisis where the industry is gonna go. I think that multichannel music isdefinitely what we need to start thinking about selling instead ofstereo. I think we’ve pretty much screwed ourselves as far asstereo goes with CD-Rs and MP3s and all the copyright crap. I thinkthis format is so much better than stereo; everyone who’s heardsurround sound versus stereo loves it. And that’s where itstarts: If we find something that everyone thinks is better,let’s reset, start over, start selling multichannel information,and you can give away stereo all day long. CDs can go. We can give awayMP3s; it doesn’t matter. It’s all promotion because whatwe’re selling and what they want to buy now is multichannel?aslong as we protect. Before we decide on it, we have to make sure thatnobody writes software that’s going to crack it. And the musicindustry is powerful enough to do these kinds of things.Everybody’s fighting over the next format for multichannelinformation. Is it gonna be Sony SuperDisk, is it gonna be DVD Audio?They want the copyright. Sony had the copyright for CD when it cameout, so every time a CD was manufactured, they got a royalty just onthe copyright on the CD material. So that’s what they’refighting over right now. Who’s going to get control of theformat? Who’s going to make money on it? Meanwhile, the recordindustry is just dying.