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Co Down DJ James Mountstephens reveals tech behind the music

  • When the lockdown presented itself most took up new hobbies, learned a little, exercised a bit or binge watched boxsets. Not DJ and music producer James Mountstephens. Instead he set about creating an alter ego in the shape of Synyx.

    Originally from Birmingham, where he DJ’d at some of the Midlands’ top clubs, James has been living in Northern Ireland for 12 years and over recent months has been honing his vision.

    With the single ‘Drop The Bomb’ making waves amongst aficionados of progressive house, melodic techno and electronic pop James revealed some of the software and hardware that he uses in his Co Down studio, and how music production is world’s away from what it was.

    “The world of music production has changed massively,” he explained. “There’s less need for huge mixing desks, as so much can be done in-the-box on a computer Digital Audio Workstation.

    “Though I still use hardware synths, they also link up live to the internet so If I want to update or download sounds it is easy to do.

    “In the past, If I was collaborating with other artists, I would have to go into a studio, whereas now I can record at home and send the files over instantly. Back in the day once you’ve made a track you can send it out to other producers for remixes.”

    Creating sounds in the 2020s requires quite an extensive array of kit to manipulate sounds, do his own remixes and finish the song to the required standards.

    “I use a Mac Pro 16 core as my desktop, this runs Logic Pro X, sound is pushed out through my UAD Apollo 16,” James said, “Current monitors are Rockit 5’s.

    “I use Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol as my main midi keyboard and that is fully loaded with Complete 12.

    “Most of my drum and percussion are done in Native Instruments Maschine and Maschine Jam. I also have a range of hardware synths and drum machines. Roland Integra 7 and my Moog Sub37 are my go-to synths.”

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    However there are pieces of software that have become key for all producers in electronic music, one of which is Vocalizr.

    “After I’ve finished laying a track idea down, I will often send it out to vocalists for top line ideas. Vocalizr’s site allows you to submit your tracks to a database of pro vocalists,” James explained.

    “They in turn submit top line melody ideas to tracks. You can do this through bidding or as a contest with a fee and royalties being offered to the winner.

    “As a result of submitting tracks to Vocalizr I’ve been able to work with some well-established artists. So far, I've collaborated with artists in the UK, USA, Norway, Italy and Russia to name a few.”

    James has developed his concept of Synyx into a fully-fledged vision, a super intelligent space faring chimpanzee that is now realised on James website.

    “I initially reached out to local graphic design agencies in Northern Ireland.

    “I found a great agency based in Lisburn called Icon where the owner Gareth helped tease out some ideas based around my vision.

    “We went back and forth and eventually came up with the idea of a super intelligent hominid chimpanzee with super abilities and Synyx was born.

    “Since then I have also been working with a freelance 3D animator based in LA who helped render Synyx in order to bring him to life. We tied in other design elements to start building up a story about him. My long-term vision would be to turn it all into stage show.

    “Synyx was a twist on the word cynical. At the time I found myself questioning more and more of the mainstream narrative. It was a bit of a matrix red pill moment.”

    As with seemingly everyone today, James is heavily reliant on cloud-based technology, some of which is music specific.

    “If I ever need samples, I will often go to Splice.

    “Splice allows me access to millions of royalty free one-shots, loops, FX, MIDI and other presets, all via access within my DAW. I find it's a great resource to search for ideas or inspiration.

    “I also use Dropbox Pro to back up my projects ideas and files. Not only is Dropbox great for saving files it also allows me to work in-sync with other producers or audio engineers via their cloud-based syncing.”

    As for distribution in the world of a multiplicity of streaming services making sure you get paid is key.

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    “Currently I use CD baby pro distribution,” James said. “They deliver my tracks globally to over 150+ streaming and downloading services such Apple, Spotify, YouTube and Tik Tok. They’re able to monetise, sync license, publish and collect royalties.”

    In the music industry he said that while there is a cyclical pattern, he still tries to keep his vision up to date with tech.

    “Though styles can change I don’t think things become dated. I personally find music can go in and out of fashion,” he said. “Occasionally a new genre or subgenre will come along. Personally, I tend to buy quite a lot of new plug-ins and tools as I find it keeps my ideas fresh and may give me inspiration for new tracks.”

    And, as for all in the business he has those who inspire him.

    “As a producer I have particular admiration for Steve Duda and Deadmau5. Steve has designed awesome soft synths such as Serum and Chord generator Cthulhu.

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    “They tend to find themselves in the majority of my productions. In regards to live performances Deadmau5 has now made his OSC/PILOT available to the public.

    “Essentially, it’s a customisable interface to integrate your sounds with visuals all through a touch screen interface. If I sell enough music and live shows return it will be up there on my want list.”

    Looking forward to the future, and perhaps when audiences can return, James believes that future shows need to become innovative.

    “I don’t see the sound styles changing too much but I do think live performances and gigs will change immensely,” he said “If I was to have my way I would have a moving stage show with a film 4D elements to bring it all to life.

    “I really like Eric Prydz’ Holo shows but think there is now even more room to make these more interactive.”

    You can find out more about James and Synyx at James' latest single Drop The Bomb is out now.

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