Who are you and what do you do?
AfroDJMac is the work of Nairb Funk, a New York based producer, songwriter, musician. I began playing guitar, then some drums, and most recently got involved in the world of electronic music. Most of my musical roots are in rock and roll, but as of the last few years, I’ve become increasingly interested in taking some of those influences and bringing them into the 21st century. I like to describe my music as “futuristic and nostalgic.” Usually it’s fun, while being somewhat introspective.
What hardware are you using?
As far as guitars, these days I primarily use my Fender Mustang and Jag-Stang, as well as an old Gibson Acoustic given to me by my grandfather. They all have a characteristic sound and smaller scale necks, which despite having large hands, I find very comfortable and easy to get around on. Most of my other hardware are MIDI controllers. I use the Akai APC40 and MPK49, Novation Launchpad, and Keith McMillen SoftStep to control Ableton Live. These controllers allow me to get my hands on the software and not rely on a mouse. In fact, I never really even need to touch my MacBook Pro during a live performance. They offer me a level of control and expressivity on par, if not superior to most traditional hardware. Another secret weapon in my arsenal is my Nintendo Entertainment System. I access the soundcard via WayFar’s MidiNES, and the sounds that come out are like a time machine back to my childhood. One of my favorite post production techniques is to run my tracks through my Tascam 8 track 1/4 inch reel to reel. The analog touch is subtly tremendous! I also just ordered an OP-1 from Teenage Engineering that I am extremely excited to use in my set up (!!!).
What software are you using?
I use Ableton Live. I’ve experimented other software and loved Logic, but when I started with Ableton, it changed the way I saw the studio. To me the studio is now my own custom instrument. Live allows you to customize just about every single aspect of the program and map most parameters to MIDI controllers. Basically if you can dream it, you can make it. I have my setup to trigger clips, samples, play synths, control effects, manipulate my voice… It’s a constantly evolving beast.
Something I’ve learned along the way: It’s more important to master your setup and understand your tools than it is to have more tools. With limitations one is forced to be creative; often that is where inspired ideas are born. I’ve been caught up in periods when I thought I needed this or that new thing, and those were my least productive times. Once I decided on using Live and building a set up, my productivity sky rocketed and I became an expert on my specific setup. The days of scratching my head wondering how something works or why something isn’t working are few and far between. I hate having an idea and then losing that vibe trying to figure out how to execute it.
What would be your dream setup?
Honestly, there’s not a lot I would change. Sure it’d be nice to have some crazy vintage synths or new guitars, but a lot of times those new toys inhibit creation. I’m trying to avoid lusting after any new gear and accept what I have as more than adequate.
Where do you shop for and discover music?
The last few albums I’ve bought have been through Bandcamp. I like that you can sample the tracks and how easy it is to buy. I’m always dropping in on music blogs to find out some more obscure stuff people are listening to and Satellite Radio has been a good source of fresh music. For music production news, I really enjoy Create Digital Music, Synthtopia , Steelberry Clones, rekkerd.org, and many others. They have also been very supportive in getting the word out on my Ableton Live Racks releases. An awesome site for Ableton users is Jon Margulies’ 365 Live Tips. The internet is loaded with people willing to share their favorite music and production techniques; it’s how I got my education
Any highlights from your latest musical discoveries?
Lately I’ve discovered the power of creating your own virtual instruments. Presets are nice for starting off points, but everyone has the same presets. Using them is sort of like that episode of the Twilight Zone “Number 12 Looks Just Like You,” where at a certain age humans undergo a medical procedure to become “beautiful” and select one of a few different faces to wear forever. I’ve been sampling all kinds of sounds and instruments. Even if I have 20 different pristine piano instruments, when I sample my old, somewhat out of tune piano, I get character and imperfections that make my instrument sound unique. In electronic music it’s very easy to sound generic. Creating your own instruments from your own samples is one way to avoid that. I’ve been releasing my sampled instruments to the public once per week and it has proved to be a great way to meet musicians and share my music. The actual process of having to produce a new instrument every week has created some stress to meet deadlines and therefore forced me to be creative on a regular basis.
What’s brewing in your studio?
My collaborator SuperKid and I are putting out an EP entitled “Cowboys and Synthesizers.” It’s four tracks of songs that mix rock and electronic influences. We wanted to create something personal in this digital age we live in, so we hand painted 100 album covers and made a collage out of them. Then we photographed the collage and that makes up the album art. When we distribute the albums, each person will get their own individual piece of the actual collage. It’s a very limited run (100) but it makes for a personal connection with the listener.
Any production tips & tricks you’d like to share?
The best advice I can give is don’t be too critical in the early stages. It’s advice I wish I was better at following. If I am too critical when my ideas are brand new, I never get anywhere; I can always find a reason why what I am doing is “bad,” “cheasy,” “boring,” or “been done before.” Most great works of art are built off of simple ideas that may not be super impressive in the early stages of creation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or seen ideas in their infancy and thought “what is this person thinking?” only to hear the finished product and be completely blown away. Many of my best works were created from ideas I had originally discarded for some reason or another, only to find them again with fresh eyes and a more open mind. Don’t Judge, Just Create!