In The Studio with Quentin Harris
He’s remixed everyone from Justin Timberlake, Britney and Mariah Careyto Femi Kuti and Blaze. Detroit-born (now NYC local) Quentin Harris is some what of a musical quagmire, an excellent DJ, party-thrower and top-notch producer, able to effortlessly straddle multiple genres and make really great Housemusic. What lies inside the studio of one of the most sought-after remixers of all time? What fundamentals do we need to kit ourselves out with to become one?? Read on for ‘In The Studio’ with Quentin Harris..
What equipment do you have in your studio?
• KRK Rokit 8 Studio Monitors
• Yamaha HS50M Studio Monitors
• Yamaha DX100 Keyboard
• Yamaha Motif Rack Mount
• Native Instruments Maschine Mikro
• Native Instruments Kore Controller
• Native Instruments Audio 8
• Native Instruments Audio 10
• M-Audio Oxygen 25 MIDI Controller
• M-Audio Axiom USB MIDI Control Keyboard
• M-Audio Midisport 4X4 MIDI Hub
• Pioneer CDJ1000MK3s
• Pioneer DJM800 DJ Mixer
• Ensoniq ASR-10 Sampling Keyboard
• Korg MS-20 Legacy Keyboard Controller
• Roland Juno 60 Keyboard
• Oberheim OB-MX Vintage Synth
• MOTU 828MK2 USB Audio Interface
• Furman Power Conditioner
• Technics 1200MK2 Turntables
• Mackie CFX16 MK2 16 Channel Mixer
• EMU Vintage Keys Rack Mount
• AKG Perception 220 Microphone
• Alesis Elevate 3 Monitors
• Power Mac G5
• MacPro Tower
• Apple Cinema Display
• 2 MacBook Pro Laptops
• Two Tier Keyboard Stand
• Single Tier Keyboard Stand
NOTE: Click the images for large versions
Any favourite pieces of equipment to use in the studio? if so why?
My senses. As long as I can remember, I have always been very in tune with my surroundings. Creatively I feed off of the energy of what I can see, smell, taste and touch and hear. I have always listened for sounds you don’t normally hear.
Give us some insight into your production process. How do you typically begin constructing a track?
My process is different, depending on what kind of project I’m working on. First and foremost, if I am not feeling the project creatively, It will not happen until I do. If I am working on a remix that has a vocal, I try not to listen to the original version. Of course if it’s an artist like Mary J. Blige or Justin Timberlake, it’s almost impossible. I like to really get a feel of what the singer is saying. I want them to be the star and let my production compliment it. In this case, I would typically create a rhythm section consisting of drums, percussion and bass. I like to get that James Brown vamp approach to my records. I like very hypnotic rhythm sections. Once I have that in the pocket, I go back to the beginning of the track and start adding each sound. I like to play each individual sound from Bar 1, until the end. For me it’s like jamming in a band, you get little nuances that stand out even if the track is repetitive. I try not to get too overly involved with my productions. With remixes, especially vocals, if the song is good I really shouldn’t have to do that much work. When I am working with the songwriter, as producer, I like to work together with the artist in the same room if possible. That way we can bounce ideas off of each other or I can figure out how to creatively get out a performance that they may not know is already there.
Is there any piece of studio equipment or a production process defines your sound?
That’s a hard question to answer. I was thinking of being cheeky and giving you the same response as in question number two, but I think the piece of equipment that most defines my sound comes from the Ensonique ASR-10 Sampling Keyboard Workstation. It was the first piece of equipment I purchased. Even when I was making Hip-Hop and R&B, the ASR-10 had everything I needed for the way that I like to make music. A lot of my peers at the time used the MPC3000, the SP1200 or the AKIA S950. I also liked those machines but as a keyboardist, I always took the sampling keyboard workstation route. Let me also add the the quantizing on the ASR-10 was very loose.
What piece of hardware or software elevated your production to a higher level and how?
I would have to say Logic Pro. Prior to Logic Pro, I did all my productions externally and when it came time to recording vocals, I usually had to book a studio for time. With Logic, I also became more adventurous and experimental creatively. I tend not to use manuals when learning new hardware or software. I learn by watching others or just diving into it and try to make something happen. To me, if you don’t know the rules, you won’t know if you’re breaking any.
What fresh equipment have you recently added to the lab?
I haven’t added any new equipment in a while. I plan on getting the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-88 weighted keyboard. I have been working on two albums over a four year span and I told myself I would not get any new hardware or software until at least one of those albums are done. Also because of the length of time spanned on these projects, I have to have various computers with different operating systems because some of the software plug-ins that have used have either been discontinued or are not compliant with the latest operating system. I learned my lesson the hard way a few years back when it comes to updating. It does look like I’m getting that Native Instruments keyboard very soon. The album that Ultra Nate and myself have been working on is a couple of months away from being mixed, mastered and released.
Your essential studio supplies are…
I have two essential studio supplies. A window and a television that is on but with the volume turned down. I like to feed off the energy going on in the outside world while I create. It is the same when I am spinning. I need that energy in order to give that energy back.
Which artists have influenced your sound?
There are so many. First and foremost my Mom and Dad have been major influences. They’re followed by
• George Clinton
• Michael Jackson
• Quincy Jones
• Grace Jones
• Jay Dilla
• A Tribe Called Quest
• Missy Elliot
• Pharrel Williams
• Nile Rodgers
• Ultra Nate
• Timmy Regisford
• Ken Collier
• David Morales
• Frankie Knuckles
• Junior Vasquez
• Mark Kinchen and Roisin Murphy to name a few.
Give us 3 of your favourite productions.
• Quentin Harris – Let’s Be Young
• Ultra Nate & Quentin Harris (As Black Stereo Faith) – Give It 2 U
• Ultra Nate & Quentin Harris (As Black Stereo Faith) – Hey
Are there any handy studio tips you would like to pass onto producers out there?
Music is all relative, it all comes from the same place. Start with the sound you want to end up with. I also feel that learning how to play piano or some instrument is something that a lot of up and coming producers can benefit from. It really can open up a whole new world creatively and set your productions apart from others. It’s so easy to learn today with YouTube and on-line lessons. Even Garage Band has a feature where you can learn how to play a Sting song by Sting! Lastly have fun because there is no right way or wrong way to make music. In the end it’s all subjective.
Finally, what new music should your fans be on the look out for at Traxsource soon?
I currently have a new song with the amazing and gifted vocalist, Jason Walker. It’s called, “Stronger” (incl David Morales Remix) and will be out on Def Mix Records in May. There is also my labor of love collaboration album with the great Ultra Nate. We will be known as Black Stereo Faith. We have been working on this album on and off since 2007. It’s a twelve song album that is like our cool art project. We have such guest artists as Inaya Day. Monique Bingham, Darryl D’Bonneau and Jason Walker. The album also has a very live element to it with two of the songs having 30 piece string arrangements and two videos already completed. Ultra and I are very proud of this project.