Name: Manni Dee
Occupation: Multidisciplinary artist working across music, film and fashion
Current Release: Manni Dee's latest EP, The World Goes On Without You, is out on his own Silk + Steel imprint on July 15th.
Gear Recommendations: Fresh Air by Slate Digital. I add this to almost every master channel on my tracks to achieve that brightness and sparkle. The MEqualizer by Melda Production is amazing too. Probably the best sounding EQ I’ve used for a while. You can achieve some great saturation effects with it too.
If you enjoyed this interview with Manni Dee and would like to find out more, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.
What was your first studio like?
I’ve always had different set ups at home, so technically my first studio was in my bedroom when I was 14. Fruity Loops, PC speakers and a £5 microphone.
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?
Over the years I’ve acquired and sold a lot of gear. Over the last couple of years I’ve realised I can do everything I want to do in the box. I barely use the bits of hardware that I have anymore. My most important piece of gear is my iMac!
Some see instruments and equipment as far less important than actual creativity, others feel they go hand in hand. What's your take on that?
Instruments and equipment are vessels that allow your creativity to manifest. However, it’s the idea that instigates everything so I believe creativity is more important. Also access to and affordability of equipment is more democratised now, so it’s the idea that really sets something apart.
Your idea can be realised in different forms depending on the instruments and equipment you use, so it’s important you’re using something intuitive to your workflow that facilitates the idea rather than hinders it by an overly complex workflow.
For the vocals on “The Remedy” and “Pillow Princess” I used both high end and inexpensive microphones. It’s all about capturing the creative performance in any way you can.
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’m so adaptable to different spaces, but I do prefer professional recording studios as the isolation allows you to live with your ideas without interruption. It’s really the isolation and solitude that allows my creativity to thrive. It’s more about headspace than physical space for me.
In the light of picking your tools, how would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
Timelessness is impossible to predetermine, so it’s a pointless goal. I think it would only cloud the creative process. Originality and innovation are always things I strive for in music. Even if it’s not achieved, I feel like those principles allow for progression.
At the moment almost every genre is oversaturated by unoriginal music. Searching for gold among the dross can become tiresome. I’m drawn to artists that take risks and innovate, but I’m also drawn to artists like Kendrick Lamar, who are taking the reins of a tradition and steering it forward by being authentic and speaking from personal life experience.
Most would regard recording tools like microphones and mixing desks as different in kind from instruments like keyboards, guitars, drums and samplers. Where do you stand on this?
They’re all extensions of the artists / engineers behind them, but instruments like the ones you mentioned facilitate a different side of the process. The instruments allow for compositional work, whereas things like mics and desks are more about technical preference and mixing.
I do think one can be as creative as the other. A lot of my creative work on Pillow Princess for example was applied during the mix down.
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 want everything to be as intuitive as possible. Technology is a crutch to achieving your ideas. For me it’s about recording ideas first and utilizing technology during the mixing process.
For example with ANGEL BBY’s vocals on “Pillow Princess”, it was about getting the ideas down while they were fresh and thinking about the technicalities later. When I’m working with vocalists I’m producing and engineering. I have to remind myself to produce first and engineer later so we can focus on getting the best take. I can mix and arrange afterwards.
After the recording session I went in on the vocal takes, adding all sorts of EQs, reverbs, delays and panning to give the track more energy and variation.
Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.
I’ve recently been devoting time purely to writing melodies. At the moment I have about 7 Logic sessions that all contain different synth melodies at various tempos using various instruments. It’s interesting returning to some of the earlier projects because there are certain melodies I don’t remember writing. It’s like creating a sample bank of your own to draw from.
With “The Remedy” I knew I wanted to connect the techno part with the rap part, so I had about four sketches in the session for different lead melodies. I decided on the one you hear in the final track, but now I have the option to go back to the unused melodies and create something new from them.
How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?
Surprises come from jam sessions. Sometimes I’ll write a melody and completely change the instrument once it’s written. In the past I’ve moved every stem down one channel to hear if anything interesting comes up.
Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?
A lot of my ideas are fully formed before entering the studio. I’ve been using XO by XLN audio a lot recently which is great for drum switch ups and randomizing patterns. So even if an idea is already formed I’m always open to where technology can take that idea.
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I saw Splice launched something called CoSo recently where you can literally just drag and drop loops to create a track. I think CoSo adjusts the tempo and key so everything automatically works.
When I was 14 I started making beats on a PC using a program called Hip Hop Ejay which did a similar thing. It’s crazy to see things come full circle.
I can’t imagine using something like CoSo now. It seems like a detached, effortless way of making music driven by other people's ideas.
To some, the advent of AI and 'intelligent' composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative process. Do you feel as though technology can develop a form of creativity itself? Is there possibly a sense of co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I can definitely see that happening in the future. I don’t like the idea of co-authorship, and while I use technology to assist my ideas, I’d be reluctant for it to take equal or the majority of control when composing. It would feel inauthentic to me.