Chasing down the Spiderhound

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Sean Naughton gives a peek into the origin and lair of Spiderhound

This month we continue our ongoing series of sensei profiles, which share some insight into the personality and experience of the official mentors for Class of 808 in Producer Dojo. This month’s profile is for Sean Naughton, AKA Spiderhound. You can hear Sean’s work by checking out his SoundCloud (and all major platforms). His Dopamine EP, on the Producer Dojo label, debuted on several Beatport charts. He was also featured on the very first Class of 808 compilation album from Producer Dojo. And he has appeared as a collaborator on the recent ill.Gates album Departures.

Author’s note: being a producer DJ myself, I always want juicy technical details and tips from the artists I look up to, so be prepared for some surprising questions and answers!

How long have you been producing?

27 years.

What led you to become a producer?

I have been in love with music since as long as I can remember back. My fascination with music as a listener and fan led me to pursue the guitar at age 14. I began guitar lessons and my musical tastes over the years went like this (Top 40, Classical Music, Classic Rock, Heavy Metal, Alternative Rock, Jazz, Electronic Music). When I was 18 in University, I finally mastered the skill of playing guitar and singing simultaneously and wrote my first song, “Shell” which reflected the grunge sound of the moment.  In college I played in quite a few cover bands and actually made quite a bit of cash playing in bars. Soon I became tired of performing other people’s tunes so I began to focus on writing my own music under the alias “Mushroom Spiderhound.” I joined a Jazz ensemble in college and at the peak of my guitar playing skills I was able to sight read in an ensemble. My guitar professor told me to learn theory and then forget it.  His point was to not get too restricted by theory, because it will suck all of the soul and beauty out of the music and make it too mathematical. Being a lazy punk, I loved this advice and was happy to forget everything I learned since my incredibly accomplished teacher told me to do so.  Let’s say I may have taken this to an extreme.

After college I produced my very first EP as “Mushroom Spiderhound” on a 4-track tape recorder. I then got involved in collaborating with other bands and projects and landed comfortably in the band YellowDog where I spent about 10 years or so collaborating on hundreds of original rock songs with my bandmates.  Our first project was a rock musical, “Project: Ground Control” inspired by David Bowie’s Major Tom character. This was a huge endeavor with quite the cast of characters that had a run of performances at the Brooklyn Lyceum theater in the year 2002.  After this, YellowDog continued writing and performing original music mostly in the New York, New Jersey area.  The birth of my daughter closed that chapter in my life and the role of being a new parent dominated my focus for the several years that followed.

What was your most interesting project/release in past year or two?

My “Dopamine” EP was a transformational journey of learning and self discovery. The running time is only 14 minutes, but 2 years and countless hours of focus, dedication, perseverance, patience and sacrifice went into creating it

Most recently, I was super psyched to collaborate with ill.Gates and Ego Splitter on the track Blackout, which ended up on the ill.Gates “Departures” album.

What inspires your songwriting?

When I was younger I actually needed to be “inspired” to write songs, but now I realize that it’s more about showing up consistently. You create your own inspiration through momentum so the trick is to just get started and keep things moving. I definitely think that I am a reactive artist – meaning that I more often than not begin a song with absolutely no idea of what the sub genre is going to be. As sounds and ideas begin to reveal themselves to me through the discovery and experimentation process, I begin to shape the track in ways that sound interesting to me and I eventually discover the face and narrative.

What do you try to communicate to your audience through your music?

I try to communicate a feeling of infinite possibility, joy, transcendence, and euphoria.

Do you write with specific genres in mind?

More often than not, I don’t. On occasion, I’ll specifically target a genre as a skill building and learning exercise.

Are you also a DJ?

I had my first live performance as a DJ in 2018 so technically, yes. Over the past few years my complete focus has been making music, but one of my goals for 2019 is to get out more and play more shows.

At shows do you mix in songs from other artists, and if so, who do you favor for that?

During my live performance I played 60% original content and 40% other artists. My favorite songs constantly change every day, so I would say that I don’t have a static “favorite” approach.  The answer to that question will change from week to week as I am constantly discovering new music and falling in love with new tunes every day.

What gear do you use for practicing your DJ sets at home?

I have the Pioneer XDJ-RX2.

USB sticks and CDJs, or do you take your laptop and other gear to shows?

I used USB sticks and I liked it a lot. It was just so amazingly convenient and streamlined. After hearing about some nightmare live scenarios from Dylan (ill.Gates), I am really wary of laptop and Ableton crashes during a live show. I definitely do not have the stomach for that and all of the anxiety and uncertainty that goes with it.

What are your thoughts about label deals versus self-publishing and self-promotion?

I think a combination of all of these approaches is great. These days, label deals are all about reaching a larger audience that you could not reach on your own. To stay relevant I feel that self-publishing and self-promotion are also key so that you can stay in front of the listeners and remind them that you exist and keep them engaged.

Are you a member of any producer collective?

Producer Dojo!

If you’re part of a collective, how does it benefit you?

My involvement in Producer Dojo has been life changing. I have learned so much from Dylan and all of the Dojo members and it’s amazing to be part of such a talented and supportive community. I have transformed from student to teacher to Head of A&R for Producer Dojo and I continue to learn, make music that I’m proud of and give back to the community every day.

What operating system do you use for production, and desktop or laptop?

I have a Macbook Pro laptop and I am currently on the Mojave Operating System.

What DAW do you use for production and what do you like/dislike about it?

I use Ableton Live 10 Suite and I love it. Prior to Ableton I used Pro-Tools and although it was great for tracking bands and mixing and mastering, I really hated it for creative workflow. I love the creative workflow of the session and arrangement views of Ableton and I am constantly switching back between the two views. Ableton is amazing for getting your ideas out quickly and coming up with alternate versions of ideas. I love the ease of being able to create new original instruments and experiment with so many amazing sound design tools.

What monitors (and size) do you use and what do you like/dislike about them?

I have a few sets of monitors: In my current studio I have the KRK Rokit 5’s and the KRK 10S Sub and a Sub Pac. I also have the JBL LSR 4328P monitors in my basement as they are a bit too big for my current studio set up. In the future I would love to set up a bigger space where I can have a variety of monitors that I can flip back and forth between like I used to do when I was producing rock bands.  

What headphones do you use and what do you like/dislike about them?

I have the Beats Wireless Studio Headphones and the V Moda Headphones and a ton of crappy ear buds.  I like the Beats Studio Headphones, because those are my main headphones for enjoying music so I can compare quite easily to the latest songs that I am listening to.  The V Moda headphones are really sturdy, but after wearing them for 30 minutes they are incredibly painful. They really squeeze my head and physically hurt the outside of my ears after a very short time.

What audio interface do you use and what do you like/dislike about it?

I have the Apollo Twin Duo that has really served me well for many years now.  I also like many of the amazing Universal Audio plugins that sound really great in the mix.

Any other notable gear you love and use frequently?

I love my Push, Midi Fighter, Maschine Studio, Sub 37, Make Noise 0-Coast, Electric and Acoustic guitars, and my collection of guitar pedals.

What are your top 3 “desert island” soft synths/samplers you couldn’t live without (and why)?

Serum, Omnisphere, Sylenth. These 3 synths are powerhouses for modern sound design and the sound quality is great on all of them.

What are your top 5 “desert island” processing plugins you couldn’t live without (and why)?

EQ8, Oxford Inflator, Saturator, Echo Boy, New Fangled Audio Elevate.  I can’t imagine doing a mix without EQ. The EQ8 is my most used plugin and also has the most impact on my mix. If I was reduced to only using 1 plugin for a mix I would choose the EQ8 (or any similar EQ). The Oxford inflator works magic on my mixes. It’s the kind of thing where if you bypass the Inflator, the entire mix falls apart. What the plugin does is it accentuates the even order harmonics in a mix and basically inflates everything so it sounds louder, but it does not negatively impact the dynamics of the mix.  It really brings the mix to life and makes it sound full and bright. Saturator is a workhorse that can really help to add pleasant sounding harmonics to elements of the mix. Echo Boy is a great sound design tool that helps me to get some really interesting sounds and textures. I really love the New Fangled Audio Elevate limiter. It really brings the whole mix together and makes it nice and loud.

What size room do you work in, and does it have acoustic treatment? Do you think a treated room is necessary for quality production?

My current studio is 120 square feet. I have some acoustic treatment in it, but not much. I can tell you that in my former studios I went all out with the acoustic treatments and the mixing environment was amazing! There is nothing better than mixing in a treated room, because the mixing decisions that you make are accurate. When working in an untreated environment, you typically have to listen on different systems and in different environments in order to get a better perspective on how the mix really is translating. Either way…you get used to the environment you work in and then become a good judge of how the mix needs to sound in the room in order to translate on other systems. It also helps to reference other material when you are mixing so that you can maintain a healthy perspective and not operate in a vacuum.

What loudness target do you usually master to?

It depends on where the master is going. If it is SoundCloud or for playing out, I’ll master to -7 LUFS. If it is for digital distribution, I’ll master to -10 LUFS. If the master is for a YouTube specific video, I’ll master to -13 LUFS.

What other artists’ reference tracks do you rely on most?

Typically I reference ill.Gates and Mr. Bill.

What are your top 3 tips for newer producers just starting out?

1 – Make music every day no matter what (You will get to quality through quantity)

2 – Remember that feedback is just someone else’s opinion about your music. Not all feedback is relevant. It is key to find people you trust for high quality feedback and decide which feedback to take on board and which feedback to disregard.

3 – Stay resilient and remember to have fun. If you are not having fun…take a break.

What is the top “secret weapon” technique you rely on for your sound?

Experimenting with a variety of different rhythmic gates to get different rhythmic ideas quickly.  I currently love to use Tremolator, Uhbik T and Gatekeeper.

Any teasers you want to share about what you’re exploring next?

I am looking forward to FAWM in February.  I have had great results over the past few years during FAWM and I am always blown away at the end of the month when I review everything that I experimented with.  I encourage everyone to participate in the FAWM challenge as it will help strengthen your ability to make quick decisions.

What’s one surprising fact about you or your work that other producers or fans probably don’t know?

I’m a dual citizen (Irish and American).