iron curtis top 5 production tips

In the second of a sporadic series where we ask our favourite music makers to shed light on their 5 most important production tips, we caught up with the superb Iron Curtis. Having released original music and remixes on the likes of Mirau, Smallville and Sonar Kollektiv, Mr Curtis (Johannes Paluka to his friends) has shown a deft ear and a nimble approach towards drawing the sounds of Detroit, Hamburg and Chicago together to form a cohesive musical fingerprint of his own.
He’s a pretty good DJ, too, but we’ll get into that another time.
From mix tips to creative limitation, here’s 5 secrets of Iron Curtis’ production approach:
1) Just do what you like best, don’t be intimidated by the skills and production quality of others. 

This might sound pretty simple but I think it’s really important that you have the courage to try things out. Don’t worry about what others might think of it . Don’t pressure yourself and worry if the track you just finished will be a massive Panorama Bar hit or not – it’s just you who needs to like what you do – at first.  If you have an idea, a groove, a harmony or just a sample you are messing around with: go for it and let loose. (It took me several years to step out of my cosy kids room production studio and to show music to close friends of mine.) Besides that, I also think that it’s important to leave your musical comfort zone from time to time – there is more to discover than 4/4 beats and minor 7 chords (in particular if you’re into house music). 

2) Limit yourself

I started making music with a shitty Casiotone Keyboard, Propellerhead’s Rebirth and a Tape Deck. I spent ages trying to get everything out of this set up. I wonder if I would be where I’m now have I had the possibility to use hundreds of millions of plugins or a stack of hardware synths and drum machines right from the start. So, try to get everything out of your machines and get to know your gear (me and my Yamaha DX7 II had to get pretty cosy before the old lady did what I wanted her to do).  But still: the more you have the more you get sidetracked. And honestly – the more time you spend on searching for the latest upgrades and new machines, the less time you spend on making music. 

No doubt it’s great fun to collect gear and don’t get me wrong: I like all of my synths and machines. But you don’t have to have it all to write and make good music! 

3) Keep an archive of your productions and sketches and get organized

Do not delete anything even though you might be embarrassed or ashamed of it at some point. 
At least this helps me a a lot to overcome the insidious writer’s block. I have an archive of everything I wrote in the past 10 years. Sometimes I like to go back in time and open projects from several years ago – just to discover a tiny hihat loop that inspires me to do a new track with. I don’t wish for anyone to experience loosing samples or opening a project that misses samples or previous recordings. Take good care of your file structure – this also makes it easier to travel back in time. Regular backups and a clear archive of my productions are a must for me.

4) Feel comfortable and get to know the sound of your production environment.

When making music you should feel comfortable and safe. Switch off your phone! Switch off your Wi-Fi! Take care of the light situation, put your slippers on and grab a cup of fennel tee. No matter how you do it: Create your personal refuge. Your studio is nothing but your own place to make music in. It doesn’t have to be representative, but cosy and functional.

Get to know the sound of your production environment – and improve it. Try out different monitor speakers. This takes time, so don’t be impatient. Try to improve the sound of your room. Listen to tracks that you know very well already to get an impression of what you end up with in the studio. There are a million and one tip available on the internet on how to improve the sound of your studio. Take your time and read, and more important: listen!

5) Take care of your mix downs

Most of what I do is self-taught or knowledge I got from friends and fellow producers – even though I studied media techniques. I’ll never forget how nervous I was when being in a professional recording studio for the first time. It was back in 2008 when Peter Haider and Florian Seyberth from Boozoo Bajou helped me with mixing down the tracks for my first 12″ (Solgerhood on Mirau). Part of the lessons I learned from this session was to be aware of over-limiting, doing a low cut (30-40Hz) on each element of a track at and get to know the basics in compression techniques.

Iron Curtis plays Holic 7th Birthday on Friday, grab tickets and info over at RSN Tickets.