Part 1

Name: Steven Chung aka Juheun
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Nationality: American-Korean
Current release: Juheun's Instant Communication EP is out via Kuukou.
Gear recommendations: Actually one of the biggest recommendations I give people when they ask me this isn’t even an instrument or VST. Its actually the Sonarworks SoundID Reference monitor speaker calibration plugin and tool. It's amazing for anyone who just can’t seems to get their studios dialed in. It’s perfect for everyone from the bedroom producer to those who have a bit more of a pro studio setup. This helps dial in your monitor speakers to maximize the space your working in so that you’re hearing everything at the best possible setting when it comes to your speakers. Be sure to get the version with the measurement microphone so you can truly dial in every point in your studio setup. It helped fix my dead spot in the middle of my studio and also helped with the boomyness of the room from the bass. It also helped dial in the bass frequencies so I’m not getting that loose flabby bass I used to.

The second piece of gear I think I would recommend is the Izotope Insight2 plugin. It’s a visual plugin tool to help you see and monitor all your frequencies while working on your projects. You can visually see problem areas with certain frequencies and and perceived loudness and peak levels. Even if you’re not a master at mixing and mastering like I am, it’s still a great tool to help you dial things in.

If you enjoyed this interview with Juheun and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.

What was your first studio like?

I think the closest thing you could call my first studio was an old Sony Vaio desktop computer that was setup next to my turntables. I used the same speakers I had my turntables hooked up to for the computer. Back then I would dabble with editing and production software like “Acid Pro” and “Sound Forge” more for edits and sampling off my records as my production knowledge didn’t go that deep at the time.

How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
When I started to get serious with production I spent lots of time trying to learn techniques from YouTube videos, online articles, books, magazines, and pretty much anyone who was open to sharing knowledge. My studio setup evolved so many times during this period as many suggestions and opinions influenced the layout and gear I would get.

Early on there wasn’t much info regarding dance music specifically and most material I came across was information based around traditional recording studios and lots of techniques that were more catered to live recording like bands and such. Most of the gear available at the time was also heavily influenced in these genres so I found myself following trends like the Universal Audio interfaces and native plugins along with the waves plugins at the time. I was also working mostly in Logic Pro back then which I also felt had a very heavy influence outside of dance music even though most producers I knew were using it.

Over the years I started to learn more and more about electronic dance music production and was introduced to Ableton Live. I feel like that’s when things really took a shift for me and I quickly realized I was chasing the wrong beast. Once I learned the ins and outs of Ableton I started to realize that I need to stop wasting so much time trying to use these old school studio emulations of hardware effects and processors that waves and universal would make and just focus on what these individual tools actually did and effected the sounds.

For me personally at the time, I’d never set hands on any of the real hardware pieces these plugins were trying to be digital versions of, so I felt a real disconnect, almost like I was missing something. Everyone who was recommending these plugins and gear to me were all older heads that all played around and used the real equipment in real life.

Outside of the digital plugins, my current favorite pieces of hardware have to be a combination of midi and analog. I can’t live without my Native Instruments Maschine MK3 for drums and percussion, Moog Sub 32 for bass and FX sounds and my latest addition to the studio is the Roland Jupiter X which is a nasty hardware digital synth that is basically every Roland synth you want wrapped up into one unit.

The digital studio promises endless possibilities at every step of the process. What is it that you actually need from these potentials and how do go about you selecting it? How do you keep control over the wealth of options at the production stage?

This goes back to what I mentioned before with the plugin emulators.

I spent lots of time chasing certain plugins and basically making this giant library and collection of plugins and VSTs. After a while I had so many options that it was almost distracting when it came down to writing music. I think this is why I love Ableton so much. They give you every tool you need to write a proper tune. They purposely strip back the interface of their plugins so they are basic and not distracting with colors and overly design interfaces that are just distractions. I often find myself using only Ableton plugins and synths early on in my production process just for this specific reason.

I’m a big fan of starting projects on my couch on my laptop. So I purposely don’t install all my favorite plugins on my laptop so it forces me to use more Ableton plugins vs third party. I find myself spending less time trying to figure things out and scratching my head, and just being more direct and purposeful with my plugins. Once I get a solid idea down, mostly to the point where I have a solid 32 bar loop rocking, I stop there. It’s then that I move to the bigger studio and transfer my project to the studio computer where I have all my toys and plugins and start going in and replacing things as I'm working the structure and arrangement and mix down of the track.

This process also helps me finish a track because it gives me a very strict process and gives me steps to check off and keep moving forward in my productions till Im finished.

A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?

I like both. Being a touring DJ sometimes you get inspiration at the craziest times and you don’t want to wait till you get to the studio. So having headphones and a laptop with Ableton loaded up is crucial for me. Along with sitting on my couch when I am home, some of my best ideas and tracks have come to me between PS5 sessions and watching movies that inspire me.

When it comes to an actual studio space, I think that’s just as important. I’ve always been a fan of a proper studio setup and space. It’s a great place to sit down and focus and block out the world and get shit done. Almost like an office. Even though most of my work is done in the box, I’m still a huge fan of analog gear. So my studio is based around a hybrid setup.

Having both analog synths and drum machines with all my digital plugins is a dream. Sometimes when I get writers blocks, there’s nothing better than putting your hands on something real, and pushing buttons, twisting knobs, and pushing faders will quickly develop into some awesome ideas and break you right out.

From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customized devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces? What role does the tactile element play in your production process?
As much as I wasn’t a part of the traditional studio recording setting, I still prefer to input as much information into the box without the mouse and keyboard. There’s something about using the same controllers to search the net and write emails that just doesn’t work for me. I always need to have a traditional piano keyboard in front of me as my main input for midi notes. I come with a classical piano background and learned to play when I was younger so that’s a must.

I just recently replaced my Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol 61 keyboard for the Roland Jupiter X. Having the X gives me the same Midi keyboard input into Ableton that the Kontrol gave me, but also gives me the option to access and record straight out of the synth using on the onboard analog to vintage digital sound engine to access classic synthesizers like the Jupiter 8, Juno 106, SH101. It also has a built in sequencer with access to TR-808, 909, etc.

My other go to is the native instruments Maschine MK3. It’s in every track that comes out of the studio. I use it mainly for drums and percussion, but lately I’ve also been finding myself using it for bass and synth elements since you can load of any of the soft synths NI offers and use the pads and sequencer to trigger notes within the synth. It's super fun to create patterns using the sequencer and pads with VSTs like Massive and Monark.

Finally I would have to say that I interact using the Ableton Push to help break myself out of traditional workflow. The push really helps you think outside the box and adds that live element when triggering scenes and loops. I use the push a lot to create unique synth patterns that maybe I wouldn’t have thought of using the traditional piano keys. It’s crucial for those that hate using the mouse and Qwerty keyboard.

How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? Using a recent piece as an example, how do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?
I think they go hand in hand. This is actually what I find most interesting with Techno and Dance music in general. The ability to let the machine speak for itself at times and allow it to sometimes help direct you to something more interesting than what you had originally planned.

One of my favorite tools is the arpeggiator. I love using the arp to create repetitive synth patterns that really help to keep the music moving and evolving. Depending on the specific arp you use and how you use it, you can create some interesting patterns and poly-rhythms when using more than one to layer multiple synths. Here’s where I feel the unexpected results that are what keep my music interesting and “artistic” come to play.

Personally I feel when it comes to techno and more underground sounds, the musician or the person behind the machine is the “artistic” part of the whole process.

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