Masterclass: Four Tet
Production guru and UK electronic artist Four Tet (AKA Kieran Hebden) paid a visit to BIMM London this term to give students an incredible glimpse into his world and to lift the veil on his musical composition and production techniques.
Hebden’s achievements during his twenty-year career include numerous original releases and remixes for independent labels such as Output, Domino and his very own, Text Records. He has appeared on such festival line-ups such as All Tomorrows Parties, Sonar, Wildlife and Field Day and has co-released tracks with the likes of Radiohead, Burial and The XX – his reworking of the latter’s ‘Violent Noise’ single earned him a Grammy Award nomination in 2017.
As an artist who rarely gives interviews, Four Tet’s masterclass at BIMM London marks an uncharacteristic break from cover, offering a packed room of students from all disciplines the chance to pick the brains of a master craftsman. Whilst being interviewed by the college’s Music Production Diploma Programme Leader Ray Tovey, Kieren spoke in detail about the creative and technical processes behind his latest ambient-electronic masterpiece, the ‘New Energy’ LP.
“A couple of years ago I was touring a lot, DJing mainly.” Said Hebden.
“So, whenever I sat down to make music, I was just trying to make ‘bangers’ – stuff that would get crowds really amped up. Eventually, I felt like doing something different. So, I took some time off to focus on creating something gentle and spacious. I worked on ‘New Energy’ for about 6 or 7 months before choosing the final tracks for the record.”
During his early career, Kieran blazed a trail for how many bedroom producers tend to work today. Opting to avoid much of the commonly used analogue outboard gear, he makes the vast majority of his music ‘in the box’, armed with little more than a library of self-made samples and a laptop. This way, he can work on the move, exploiting creatively inspired moments as and when they occur.
“One of the album’s main singles (Two Thousand and Seventeen) actually came to me during a party at my in-laws’ place which I really wasn’t enjoying. I found an opportunity to slink off into a corner with my laptop. I put my headphones on and created that track in about twenty minutes. So, the track that seems to have touched people the most came from this very bizarre, unexpected moment. I’m very aware that it’s these unlikely moments that could potentially become very important to my creative process. I find myself searching for things like that, and trying to make that sort of magic happen.”
Kieran went on to break-down his key creative techniques via a large-screen feed using original Ableton sessions on his own laptop, which demonstrated his use of raw mobile phone recordings for sampling. A great example of this technique was the track ‘Lush‘, which features a Hang drum loop; a sample he captured ‘on the fly’ using his mobile during a casual exchange at his booking agent’s house.
Throughout the masterclass, Hebden made plenty of practical recommendations for Music Production students including useful plug-ins such as Spectrasonics Omnisphere synthesiser, spectrum EQ analysers and mastering techniques, plus favourite features of his main DAW, Ableton Live.
Kieran concluded the masterclass by answering questions from students and offered one final piece of advice to them before drawing to a close.
“You shouldn’t do anything that doesn’t feel true to you. I see artists all the time who get pushed into doing things they’re not comfortable with because they’re being told to. I always think to myself, if there’s an artist that I really love, what would I want them to do? What would I respect? Not just musically, but on the business side too. Part of the reason I started my own label is because of that thought process.”
He continued “The other thing is, everything started for me by meeting people in record shops; people in the real world. I get sent emails with demo tapes all the time, and I don’t tend to listen to them. But the people who I meet in person? I’ll always check out their stuff if they ask. Being out there in the world and actually ‘doing’ stuff is a powerful thing. People think nowadays that all they’ve gotta do is put out some killer tweets and things will start happening for them. But, you’ve got to establish something first. You’ve gotta make absolutely amazing music. The people I’m most into are SO into their music. It’s important to be a music fan as well as a musician. If you’re getting stuck into it that much on a day-to-day level, you’ll come up with good stuff. ”
We’re extremely grateful to Kieran for taking the time to give students at BIMM London a glimpse into his world. Judging from the keen responses of the staff and students in attendance, his inspirational tips and technical demonstrations were extremely well-received.
If you’re interested in gaining access to inspired masterclasses such as this by studying Music Production at BIMM, click here.