"I used to ride racehorses, but it became a job that I just couldn't do any more." explains Sound On Sound reader Jane Banbury. "There's a limit to how many times you can fall off. I had one really bad fall, lost my nerve, and that was my living gone. After that I spent a long time drawing up lists of things I could do, and there weren't that many of them. It was cleaning, gardening, more cleaning, more gardening, flower arranging and music, so this is the option I chose!"
Since then, Jane's working life has changed a great deal. Based in one rented room of a large farmhouse in South Yorkshire, her modest studio now allows her to play, record, mix and master all her own material. But the jump from racing horses to being a fully‑fledged home‑studio owner didn't happen overnight.
Fortunately, Jane was not a complete musical novice when she decided to set up her studio, having once been a French horn player for her local youth orchestra. She had also completed a two‑year course in Jazz at college, playing the trumpet, and was a fairly accomplished piano player by that stage, thanks to regular lessons. Playing French horn in a youth orchestra may seem like a far cry from producing hard techno music, but somehow Jane has made the transition from the former to the latter. The main inspiration for her musical direction were the Italian house/dance group Black Box (who are probably best known for their hugely successful single 'Ride On Time'), and she names dance music in general as her primary influence. Before she began emulating her musical heroes, however, Jane became a jobbing session singer: "In the beginning I offered myself as a singer, because there are always lots of people looking for singers. Doing that, I was spending a lot of my time in other people's studios, watching people with different setups. It occurred to me that one day I could probably do it myself, and, as it turned out, I can."
Luckily, the expensive task of getting the studio started was made a little easier thanks to a little help from her friends and family. "I was given the Atari 520 ST with Cubase by someone who didn't need it anymore", explains Jane. "Then my dad gave me a Halifax share payout cheque, so with that I bought the Roland JV2080 and the Roland A33 mother keyboard which I use to play sounds on the JV2080. There are various other items here that don't belong to me, which are on long‑term loan from friends who have upgraded their studios, and have suddenly got a rack of equipment they don't want to sell, but are happy for it to be used. The rest of the stuff has been paid for by buying and selling pieces of gear, gradually upgrading."
Naturally, for someone more used to performing music than the programming or production of music, Jane had some big adjustments to make, and a lot of manual‑reading to do before she could really get going. "I had never turned a computer on when I got the Atari, so it just sat there for about 18 months doing nothing. At first I didn't program anything, I just played, recording everything directly to DAT. I used to get a result but I doubt whether it was a good one, because no‑one does good stuff in the beginning, although I have kept some of the piano tracks in storage until I need them again.
"Now I program almost everything in Cubase", admits Jane. "I don't do piano parts very often, but when I do I sit there for about three hours and program them. It's often the case that I could have played them straight in within five or ten minutes. I forget that I can play, sometimes, because programming has become a habit. You've got so much control with a sequencer that you can achieve perfection, or your own view of it. The skill of playing becomes redundant, and so do a lot of things like singing. With dance tracks you don't need tons of vocals. In fact, in general I don't think you do. I like those punchy one‑liners that say it all — everything in just three or four words — so I don't really sing much at all now."
Once Jane had become accustomed to the basics of sequencing and studio recording, she began looking to expand her sounds and equipment to enable her to produce dance‑orientated music. "I went through a whole patch of borrowing anything anyone could lend me, which was lots and lots of different samplers. Eventually I bought the Akai S2000, which was unbeatable for the price — but if you want to get the extra outputs and the various chips inside you have to pay a lot more. I've expanded it now to eight outs, and an Arts grant helped me pay for an EB16FX effects board.
"The Roland JV is the bread‑and‑butter synth of the studio because it does everything. If you had nothing else you could still get a result with that, but many of my sounds now come off the Emu Proteus 2000. I've had the Proteus since last January or February so I know the guts of that one quite well now. The dance sounds are just brilliant. It's got some great basses, some tremendous drums and some very nice analogue sounds. It's different to anything else I've got here and there's nothing GM about it. I do get tired of Roland sounds, if that's just what you've got all the time. Everything ends up sounding incredibly 'Rolandy'.
"I very recently got the Yamaha CS6X and I'm really pleased with it. I used to have a CS1X, which I was a little disappointed with at the time. In the multi‑play mode it was 16‑part multitimbral, so you could use up to 16 GM/XG sounds, but in the real‑time performance mode with all the synth dance sounds it was only one‑part multitimbral, and that was your lot. That's fine if you've got loads of hard disk recorders and a computer, because you can convert your MIDI channels into audio by recording one track at a time.
"The CS6X has 16 channels if I want them. The drums are good and the sampler is fantastic. You can sample something into it, then all the real‑time control knobs let you make adjustments. It's so much quicker than fiddling with the Akai, where you're messing around with numbers. The CS6X makes editing much quicker, and I think the samples sound cleaner. Once I've edited the sample, I can either leave it on the CS6X as a voice part to be played, or I can put it back into the Akai, which is what I tend to do. All I have to do is move one lead on the patchbay and I've got it stored forever on the Akai."
At the top of one of Jane's racks is a Fostex D90 hard disk recorder, bought for a bargain second‑hand price. The recorder has been put to good use handling audio in the absence of a 'VST' audio version of Cubase. "If I have a whole track playing, the Atari will start to glitch because it can't deal with all the MIDI. When that happens I usually record the drums (or whatever is clogging up the MIDI stream) onto the D90. I have that sync'ed up to the Atari using MTC."
Elsewhere in the rack of equipment is one of the most significant recent additions to Jane's studio — a Dbx Quantum mastering processor which has enabled her to master her own recordings at home . "I've been sending various recordings to various places and they've all been going through mastering processors, because there is a sound that's expected, whatever you're producing, and it involves a certain degree of polish. Even if something is a demo it still needs to be of a certain standard, so you have to put it through some processing to get that — even if it's just a compressor. Sometimes you need a bit more sparkle, so that's what the Dbx is for.
"I've just joined a team of writers working for a company called Streamtheme.com. They provide music for network television and film. The TV stuff has to be mastered, and if it's not they don't want it. I have to master that totally myself, but fortunately I am now capable of doing that. I expect to be receiving briefs from them by the end of February. You get sent a brief, you deliver your stuff, then it either gets used or it doesn't. The director of the company knows what I'm best at writing. If he gets a brief that suits my style he'll give me a call. I did spend quite a long time learning how to write string quartets onceuponatime, so I can do that sort of stuff, but there are probably people on the books who are better at it. I'll be very happy if I get some briefs to do dance music."
Two further pieces of equipment Jane acquired for free were her CAD Equitek E200 mic and Antares ATR1 autotune rack processor, both of which she won in the Sound On Sound September 1999 competition. Although vocals and acoustic instruments are only used occasionally in Jane's music, the CAD mic has proved extremely useful for those occasions. "I use the CAD for recording vocals, and it's also great for trumpet, which it makes sound fantastic. Then I sample the recordings and mess around with them on the CS6X, or the Akai. At one time I used to spend time in studios with engineers who didn't like recording vocalists or anything volatile. They just wanted me in and out as fast as possible, and I only had two or three attempts to get it right. So at first I quite liked recording myself, because it seemed like such a luxury spending hours doing a vocal or playing the trumpet to get it exactly how I wanted, and there was no‑one telling me to leave or get it right. But now I find it quite stressful having to record myself. If I go anywhere and someone else is pressing the buttons, all I have to do is stand in front of the mic — which is a fantastic holiday. It's OK recording myself singing, because I can see what's going on with the levels, but with the trumpet you've got this big piece of metal in front of your face and it's really difficult to see exactly what's going on. If I've played something I really like but I've got the level wrong I get quite annoyed."
Fundamental to Jane's studio setup is her Studiomaster Mixdown Classic 24:8 desk which takes all the outputs from the sampler, hard disk recorder, keyboards and sound modules. "The eight outs of the sampler are routed to the first eight channels on the Studiomaster desk", explains Jane. "Whatever I sample first goes onto channel one, the next onto two, and then three, and so on.
"When I'm arranging a mix, I take everything down to zero, get the main drum or loop going, put the bass in and then mess around with the EQ and compression on the desk. I've got an Alesis 3630 compressor, and I have that routed through aux one on the desk. So for the drums I'll play the drum track and fiddle with the knobs on the compressor until I get what I want. Then I can mix the compressed signal back into the clean channel on the desk. Once I get the compression as I want it I'll quite often record that part on to the Fostex D90 and then use the compressor for the next part. The 3630 has two channels, so if I'm not boucing down to the D90 I usually use the other channel for vocal tracks.
"I work through the various sections of a track, sorting out the processing until eventually every fader is up. Then I play the whole thing back through and make final adjustments. The effect processors I use most of the time are the Boss SX700 and DOD Dimension 3. The Boss is an amazing thing for delay — I keep it on a preset delay setting and don't use it for anything else. The DOD I also use for delay on drums. That was someone's chuck‑out!"
Much of Jane's current work is as part of a collaborative project involving cellist Dave Green, trumpet‑player Roger Watts and keyboardist Mashall Thomas. Following on from their last recording — a 10‑track demo CD — Jane is currently busy completing a four‑track EP. She is also extremely active in the promotion of her music, and a combination of hard work and targeting has brought her grants, TV work and label interest. "It's all happened through a lot of letter writing and a lot of phone calls", explains Jane. "First of all, though, it's having a recording and deciding who it might suit. I ring or write first and then make an appointment or discuss with them what I need to send. Only then do I send it. I don't just bung it in the post. If you're doing a hardcore track you don't ring up a mainstream label and say 'here, do you want a bit of hardcore?' Also, some places are inundated with stuff, and if they're not going to open up their postbag for six months there's no point in sending anything."
Although the security of a good record deal and regular TV commission work are aspirations still to be fulfilled, Jane's studio setup seems to leave little to be desired. "My life would be a lot easier if I had a hard drive for the Akai, but they're very expensive. I use rather a lot of floppy disks at the moment but, there again, I probably would do anyway as backups. Otherwise I'm pretty happy with what I have at the moment. I've just upgraded the studio to a state where whatever I'm asked to do I can achieve it here, whereas before I had the Quantum, anything that needed to go through a mastering process was done in London. It's taken a lot of time and scratching around to get here, but now I have more than enough to do what I need to do."
- tari 520 ST computer.
- Steinberg Cubase v2.2 sequencer.
- Roland JV2080 sound module.
- Emu Proteus 2000 sound module.
- Studiomaster Mixdown Classic 24:8 mixing desk.
Ever keen to expand her technical knowledge, Jane took a one‑term course in engineering at college, to master Steinberg's Cubase sequencer, and to get to grips with recent versions of the program. "I could have picked up anything I wanted, because it was all available, but I chose to spend most of my time on a PC with a Cubase tutorial. I really wanted to learn the guts of Cubase. I was already using it but I had a whole list of things I wanted to do which I couldn't find or do properly. I'm sure there are still more features on my version I could use, but having now done the course, the Atari version seems like a tiny package compared to Cubase on a Mac or PC, which go on forever, window after window. In the beginning I had only accessed a bit of the programme and done very basic programming. Now I can see the possibilities and ways of getting different results."
- Atari 520 ST computer
- Steinberg Cubase v2.2 sequencer
- Akai S2000 sampler (expanded)
- Emu Proteus 2000 sound module
- Roland JV2080 sound module
- Roland A33 master keyboard
- Studiomaster Mixdown Classic 24:8 mixing desk
- Yamaha CS6X keyboard workstation
- Alesis Point Seven monitors
- Alesis 3630 compressor
- Antares ATR1 pitch‑correction processor
- Boss SX700 effects processor
- Dbx Quantum mastering processor
- DOD Dimension 3 delay
- Fostex D90 hard disk recorder
- Zoom 1204 effects processor
- Audio Technica MB4000C microphone
- CAD Equitek E200 microphone
- Marantz CDR630 CD‑R
- Samson Servo 170 amp
- Sony TCD D8 DAT player
As many Sound On Sound readers will know from experience, trying to earn a living as a musician can be a difficult and stressful business. For Jane, a single parent, there is the added pressure of providing for her son, Lewis. "I don't know how other single mothers hold down proper office jobs," says Jane, "because there are so many occasions when the school rings up and I have to whizz over and pick him up when he's ill or something has happened — but that's not a problem for me, as I'm working from home. While he's at school I work nine to three for three days a week, and nine till half‑past five two days a week when he has an after‑school club. Bedtime for him is eight, so normally from about half eight I do something in the studio. I can also get into the studio Saturday mornings when children's TV is on!
"He's 10 now, and when he's 18 I'd like to send him off to university or into a job with some kind of training or money behind him. That's just eight years away, and I've only just got myself off the starting block."