Squidgenini: Up close and personal

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Squidgenini: Up close and personal

(Image: Thomas Carroll)
Words from Squidgenini

A personal account of a journey through making music, featuring studio tips, a gear rundown, and more!

I’ve always been obsessed with music. 

I grew up in the USA listening to a lot of Alicia Keys, Groove Armada, Wes Montgomery, and St Germaine, courtesy of my parents. Getting my first iPod at age 11 unlocked a whole new world of iTunes pop singles. The first song I ever downloaded was ‘Pon De Replay’ by Rihanna. What an absolute tune. 

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I studied classical piano during school and had a natural affinity for it but not a whole lot of commitment! After high school I was drawn to music but I thought my only option as a singer and pianist was some kind of singer/songwriter – not my vibe at all. Conveniently, my cousin introduced me to Ableton and that triggered a paradigm shift in me when I realised I could create the hi-def pop music I knew and loved. Learning Ableton was incredibly daunting at first and I was grateful to have the piano background as it gave me the confidence to follow through with it.

I’ve been producing music as Squidgenini for almost 10 years now and have been through many sonic shifts, but my music now sits somewhere between soul, pop, house, and R&B. I create everything myself within Ableton often utilising my Juno-106 and Korg SV1. Early Squid was a lot more hip hop-influenced with slower, boom-bap type beats. My evolution into DJing these past few years has led me to producing faster house-y things. This is a direction I’ve been exploring in the tracks for my next EP. In classic Squid style, it’s a split vibe with a few broken beats and jazzy tracks, and a few that are pop/house influenced. 

I have a huge variety of influences that swirl around the cauldron inside me and inform my unique overall sound.

Erykah Badu has always been a huge influence on me, not only as a musician but as an all encompassing artist. I feel so inspired watching artists accurately capture the energy of the time they’re in and reflect that back to the world in their music. Jessy Lanza’s vocal production and seamless fusion of pop and dance music has always been an inspiration for me aesthetically. 

The fact that I sing as well as produce is pretty unique. It’s wild to me that it is but here we are. I’ve noticed that doing everything myself means that all the parts are interwoven in a way that is much different to when multiple people are creating a track.

A lot of singers get recorded in a studio by an engineer (usually under time and cash pressure) which can technically ‘sound’ good but you end up with something that lacks originality. Unless you’re Ariana Grande, you’ll usually end up with a set of doubles and maybe two adlib takes. So boring. Recording myself alone means I can experiment and do as many takes as I want which leads to more exciting vocal textures and layering. So I always tell people that want cool vocal production, learn how to record your own stuff!

I have an epic home studio in my share house that is home to my Juno-106, Korg SV1, Push1, Roland TR-8, Neumann TLM 103 condenser mic, and an SM58 running through a Space Echo delay pedal. Everything runs into the PreSonus Studio 1824c interface so we can keep everything always plugged in. I love having an idea and being able to sit down to work on it immediately without needing to set anything else up. 

The TR-8 is a new one for me. I’ve always recorded my drums in Ableton, usually by playing them on my Push but I’ve started using the TR-8 when I want that old-skool house sound. 

In terms of front end stuff, for the last several years I used a little Focusrite Scarlett which was fine as far as accessible interfaces go. But I recently upgraded to a PreSonus Studio 1810c which is far superior. It’s important to have a quality interface when recording vocals at home. But it is even more important to have a quality microphone. I upgraded to the Neumann TLM 103 last year and it massively improved my vocal production. As for monitoring, I have ADAM Audio T7V 2-Way 7” monitors. They’re great.

When it comes to DAWs, well, if you didn’t already get it – Ableton 4life, and it always has been! I’ve been teaching myself how to use it since 2012 and it’s so fun. I’ve never used a different DAW so I don’t really know how it compares but I always found it really easy to use. The one thing I’ve always missed is playlisting but that’s in the new Ableton update so I have to upgrade! I always end up with 100+ vocal tracks in most sessions and a playlisting option would make the whole recording process much less chaotic. 

In terms of my workflow, I usually start off a new track with a simple beat, then add a bassline or some type of melodic line, then layer some Space Echo sounds to start finding the core vocal melodies. I try and pick out a few words from my gibberish to formulate the lyrics for the track. 

As for my work processes, short burst sessions and marathons are both no stranger to me. I’m in the EP creation part of my cycle so I’m pretty much always in the studio in between working and eating snacks. Knowing when something is finished can be tricky for me. I usually jump the gun and realise after a week that it needs more work. I usually work on a bunch of tracks at once so when one needs a listening break, I can switch over to another.

My sessions are always pretty chaotic on purpose. There’s something about having a clean and easy to navigate session that kills my creativity. I copy and paste whole tracks over and over again to write different versions of the same song within the same session. This is how I allow myself to be brutal with cutting whole sections or parts without fully deleting them. I find this process to be really freeing which is an important illusion to create while working inside the Ableton box. 

On average, Echoboy would get the most use out of all my plugins – the Soundtoys delay. My last EP was riddled with Echoboy. I love having a bunch of different delays on my vocals to fill out the mix. I also put a few as return sends so some drums, synths, and vocals can have the same delay vibe.

But honestly I couldn’t live without all of the Soundtoys plugins. I use them on everything! I love a bit of Crunchy Decapitator on my drum group, Micro Shift on my synths and backing vocals, and the Plate Reverb on a return send for my drums. 

I use the trusty Ableton stock glue compressor on pretty much everything as well. I like its simplicity and how little CPU it uses! But when I upgrade my laptop, I’m going to go searching for my new favourite fancy compressor plugin. 

I love the FabFilter EQ but my laptop is so old and slow I have to be extremely selective with how many plugins I use. So I usually end up using Ableton stock compressors and EQs – as I need to have those on pretty much every track – so that I can save my CPU for the aesthetic plugins (the Soundtoys). 

At the end of the day though, if I could only use one effect for the rest of my life, it would definitely be delay. I put different delays on almost everything. I love a little automated delay on my hi-hats to give them that extra depth, a 1/8 delay crash for transitions (a classic) and obviously vocals. Every other effect I feel like I could create some other way by recording things in a specific way and making sure my sample selection is on point. 

If I could give any advice to anyone based on what I know, I’ve always had this mantra since the beginning – “just do you”. It always grounds me when I get a bit lost. Producing music electronically can be hectic sometimes because of the lack of limitations and it’s easy to lose your uniqueness in the process. I personally find that the most interesting music is when an artist’s essence is felt strongly within the work and you can’t achieve that by trying to be somebody else. 

I’m quite content with the gear I have so from here, I don’t know if there’s any dream pieces of equipment I’d like to own. A new synth would be epic but what I really want is to get better at using what I already have. I feel like there’s so much in Ableton that I haven’t explored yet and I’d really like to embrace my inner nerd and go deeper into the details.

I’m in the process of finishing off my next EP which is extremely exciting. I can’t wait to share the journey I’ve been on and get more music out there! Stay tuned.


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