Ryan Raddon a.k.a. Kaskade, performing a DJ set.

Photo: Eyewax.tv

Ryan Raddon, a DJ/producer better known to the general public as Kaskade, has seen an increasing amount of success over the past decade. He has enjoyed dance chart success on both sides of the Atlantic, has produced Grammy-nominated remixes, has seen his crowds grow from 350 to tens of thousands, and in September 2011 was voted “America''s Best DJ” by a DJ Times poll.

In 2010 Raddon released the album Dynasty, his most critically and commercially successful album to date, and with bigger success has come a bigger budget. Now the laid-back California transplant and unabashed gear dork has unleashed his latest full-length, Fire & Ice (Ultra Records), an album for which he made significant studio investments prior to production.

“This is my seventh album, and every single one of them has been recorded in a different studio,” reveals Raddon. “I''ve had rooms inside my house, outside my house, wherever. In my last studio, my computer room was my bathroom, to isolate the fan noise and vibrations and all that, and I drilled a hole through the wall for the wires.

“For this new album I moved into a room in Santa Monica, and it''s a fully built-out studio, the most professional room I''ve ever written in,” he adds. “It has a nice iso room to do vocals, and it actually has its own machine room.”

This studio saw a substantial influx of activity as Raddon geared up for Fire & Ice, a conceptual double album of a sort. “I didn''t want everything to be banging dance music, but I always need more stuff for my shows,” he says. “I thought it would be cool if I did this concept album where every song has two mixes, one more for the club and one that''s more chill.”

Raddon says he has evolved his preferred production tools over the years from an Akai MPC sampling production station, a Roland Juno-106 synthesizer, and a Rhodes electric piano through Propellerhead Reason and beyond, but certain aspects of Raddon''s process have never changed. He''s been a Pro Tools devotee for almost a decade-and-a-half, and often sketches grooves in Ableton Live (which he also uses extensively for sequencing a weekly radio show) prior to importing clips into his primary workflow to fit to size.

He''s a beat digger—not to the obviously symphonically spliced extent of a DJ Shadow, but he always keeps an open ear for compelling snare hits and other percussive components, whether off virgin vinyl or from crappy MP3s. He is always opening up his palette of energetic synth sounds, recently augmenting his go-to, Spectrasonics Omnisphere, with the reFX NEXUS2 virtual instrument.

“The libraries [for NEXUS2] are full of both familiar and completely crazy sounds, and it''s really easy to navigate, so I used it a lot on the album, though I wish you could sculpt the sounds a little bit more.” To facilitate this predisposition to fine-tune, Raddon turns to a wealth of plug-ins, such as the Epure II parametric EQ by Flux, the BX_Hybrid by Brainworx, the Massenburg MDW Hi-Res EQ, the URS N12 series 12-band graphic EQ, API 560 10-band graphic EQ by Waves, the McDSP FilterBank and more. This in-the-box cobbling of elements necessitates his continuous quest for ways to make tracks “warmer and airier.”

“The Crane Song HEDD 192 was a new purchase for [Fire & Ice], and I''m really happy with the converters on that,” says Raddon. “I''ve got a few pieces of their outboard gear, most studios I''ve visited have their stuff, and I''ve definitely noticed a difference when I A/B against the last record.” Raddon feels the positive analog-style “distortion” that the unit contributes makes up for deficiencies in his heavily sample-based productions.

Plenty of work was done in the laptop on the road. Raddon tours around 200 days a year and he says the track “Turn It Down” was almost completely arranged in airports, drawing on the NEXUS2 and Spectrasonics Trilian Total Bass Module. The track exemplifies the new toys and tones of Fire & Ice.

But Raddon also committed all available hours for around 10 to 12 weeks of proper pre-production time situating his new tools and collecting his hits and riffs. Once a basic melodic and rhythmic guide was completed, he brought in singers to see which ideas best fit a proper song format. Vocals recorded, he then developed the musical bed, finalizing the sound design.

Collaborators for Fire & Ice included Haley, Mindy Gledhill, Skylar Grey, Neon Trees, Rebecca & Fiona, Marcus Bently, Dan Black, Quadron, Skrillex, and more. “Since David Guetta came along, more people are paying attention to vocals on dance music,” says Raddon. “But I''ve been in that space for a while. There''s so much great dance music that doesn''t have vocals, but I''ve always been a fan of the song, not just the track.

“And I like to record a lot of ethereal female vocals, something about that appeals to me; so I use the Dragonfly microphone by Blue, into a Manley Voxbox,” he continues. “I think the Manley is cool because it can sound like not a lot is there, but you can easily add just a little bit of color. This combination is light, airy, has some character but isn''t overbearing, and I always feel like the most important thing is to get a nice, clean sound that I can mess around with a little bit later.”

Only on Marcus Bentley''s vocal did Raddon deviate from this setup, with a Telefunken CU-29 microphone and a Brent Averill 1073 preamp. Once vocals are in the box, Raddon most commonly pulls up the Massenburg MDW EQ, puts on a shelf, and brightens things up. The Waves DeEsser gets rid of any obnoxious sibilance, and then there''s a little additional carving in the midrange. Raddon says the key to a successful track is to give each sound space, but not so much that it offers nothing to grab onto. Elements need a nose, some attack, a feeling of width with a center of body.

In a reverberant track such as “Room for Happiness,” featuring Skylar Grey, this means using a production chain that begins with the Focusrite D2 EQ/dynamics control, dipped around 61Hz. This is followed by the Waves Renaissance Vox compressor/limiter/gate, for “smashing it up a little,” then the Sonnox Oxford SuprEsser and a SoundToys EchoBoy “studio tape” simulator.

This is, however, probably the wettest vocal on the record. “Guys in Jamaica figured out a long time ago that delay is an instrument within itself, and we''re catching on, but having things too wet doesn''t translate in all areas,” says Raddon. “Dance music can be kind of mediocre vocals, and some people just go, ‘Slap more ''verb on it!'' But it''s better to scratch it and re-record than douse it. I try to not abuse it.”

Ultimately, Raddon''s greatest quest is to assure tracks are epic, a wall of sound without being overwrought. Drums must be punchy, synths big but defined. This is done through conscientious stacking, tucking, trashing, shelving, and squashing on every track. Drawing on the Slate Digital FG-X Virtual Mastering Processor and iZotope Ozone 4, Raddon assures the tracks pump. And Ozone''s tube saturation “exciter” function adds to that hot pop.

Raddon runs everything through his premastering hardware chain: a Millennia NSEQ-2 for sheen, the API 2500 Stereo Compressor to thicken the transients, a Pendulum Audio limiter for cohesion, and the Dangerous Music Bax EQ for body. This adds “the extra warmth, the final oomph, definitely some cool color,” says Raddon, who monitors on everything from ATC Loudspeakers to Sony MDR7506 headphones.

Raddon turns tracks over for mixing to Mike Roskelley, who has worked on all of Kaskade''s albums. Now a long way from the bathroom-based workstation, Kaskade tracks are never rude or crude, just a collection of appropriately dynamic flow.

Video: Kaskade in the Studio