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Composer Spotlight: Nat Clarkson

Composers are a key part of the Lemoncake community. They work day in day out to produce some fantastic, unique pieces of music that can be used across a variety of projects. Lemoncake is more than just a music production library, it's a place where you can get to know composers and see the hard work that goes into each composition.

We caught up with Nat Clarkson, a UK based producer who works across a broad range of genres and closely with multiple musicians, vocalists and songwriters. Here's what he had to say -

Hi Nat, tell us a little bit about yourself

I'm Nat Clarkson, some might know me as NJC or Blox. I'm a full time music producer and work in both the commercial and production music industry.

I work for Ola at JAL/JAMS (Just Another Label) and run an independent record label, Ambiel Music. I originally started out in drum 'n' bass where people may recognise some of my releases from 2003-2005.

Who inspired you to start making music?

When I was young, my parents were incredibly enthusiastic about music, and encourage me to get involved with learning musical instruments as far back as i can remember. I learned to play the drums, tuba and piano in my early teens. I even joined a pretty dodgy band as a drummer in my teens!

My dad loved music technology and had various reel to reel tapes, record decks, amps, and speaker equipment. He used to play me previously unreleased versions of Pink Floyd studio sessions and all kinds of music from all over the world. Basically, I was surrounded by music and music technology from a very young age.

How did these early influences help shape you as a musician and songwriter?

They definitely embed an understanding for composition and styles of music. I learned to understand genres very quickly and even remember discussing ska music with some classmates at high school; I remember them all staring blankly at each other and not having any idea of what I was talking about.

What are you currently listening to at the moment?

I try to avoid mainstream artists because I like to keep an eye out for underground music and up and coming musicians. There are so many undiscovered artists out there and far too many to mention.

Look out for a band called Deckajam, I'm currently working with them on some future singles.

How do you normally approach a track - is there a process you follow?

It all depends on the content of the production. I never approach two tracks the same way.

Naturally there will be similarities, but most of the time it all depends on what instruments are within the track and whether there is a need for much pre-production prior to getting stuck into it. The one thing that I always do when working on a new project is make sure that all the core elements of the track sit well together in the mix, and make sure that all the pitching of the instruments and vocals are within the same key and chord structure as the composition.

How do you normally put your tracks together? E.g. Do you start with drums and build from there?

It all depends on the project but if I had to start somewhere, big phat beats always get the creative juices flowing. I always need a strong backbone to my tracks.

What do you use to compose and record your music?

I use mainly Logic Pro X for composition and production. I also have Pro Tools 9 Native which I use for mixing down. Again, it all depends on who I'm collaborating with or what I'm working on.

What tools could you not live without when producing your music?

My valve desk and pre-amps - these are crucial to my audio workflow and overall sound. Obviously all of the software too!

What kit/tools would you recommend someone starting out?

This all depends if you're a producer, musician or vocalist. Some of the tools I'd recommend are:

  • DAW - Something like Logic Pro or Pro Tools. Ableton and Reeper are becoming more and more popular also.
  • Soundcard - You'll need this to professionally record both in and out. The more channels the better, but it all depends on your requirements for recording.
  • Pre-Amp (SSL, Focusrite, TL-Audio etc) - Some sound cards have decent pre-amps and some don't but I would always recommend one!
  • Studio Monitors or high quality headphones - You need to be able to listen back to what your work and hear it as clearly as possible. This is absolutely crucial.
  • High Speed Internet - You need to send out your demos! Gone are the days of burning CDs so you need to be able to upload and send your full project files out there.

What do you find the most difficult when creating a new track?

Getting the arrangement right. This can take a huge amount of time, especially when working with vocalists.

What are the benefits of compression and limiting?

For me, the benefits are ultimately for level control and presence in a mix.

I always use compression to help place a sound into the mix and with the right amounts of ratio, threshold, attack and release to either relax or make it more upfront.

Can you achieve the same sound with software as with an analogue synth?

Absolutely, in essence the balanced outputs of my DAW are no different to that of the balanced outputs of a synth (+4db operating level).

They are set to a professional operating level so my DAW based synths can end up just as fat as an external piece of kit.

How do you prepare your songs for mastering?

I always leave plenty of headroom and never run my mixes off with any dynamic control over the stereo file.

Whether you mix internally or externally, if you're sending your music off to be mastered then you need to seriously consider your audio workflow. However, there are naturally exceptions for the rule, for example if you mix internally and need side chain over your mix. Mixes such as this would fall apart if you removed the compression side chain. It's about understanding why you're doing something and what the repercussions are further down the production line.

What are the biggest barriers new producers face?

The market is extremely saturated. There is quite a lack of investment and funding for producers and it can be quite difficult to make professional contacts outside of London.

Who are your producers/musicians to watch out for in the future?

I've got to give a shout out to this bunch - Blox, Voodoo Browne, Cosha Don, Too Many T's, Chris Grabiec, Deckajam, Laura Bayston, Spencer Lee Horton, Mr Lee, Embee (Seven League Boots), Tekno Dred, Mackadena, Aletta, Drew Flanagan, The Decadent Futurists, Craig Morris, Beeba and anyone i've missed you're simply amazing!

What albums are you looking forward to hearing?

My own album, it's taken me over a decade to complete!

What is the best way to get your music heard?

Social media is a dominant in the exposure of new music, but ultimately hard work and very determined attitudes will conquer over all. You need a few key players within the scene you'e aiming for to back you and your music, then the rest will follow. It's almost like sheep herding, if you get one or two people interested, the rest will follow.

What one advice would you give someone starting out in the music business?

Don't ever give up! No matter what! If you're doing it for money then you're in the wrong industry, it's probably worth getting a different job!

Thanks Nat, looking forward to checking out your tracks on Lemoncake.

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