Published Feb 01, 2005It's Thursday morning, about 20 minutes to nine not exactly primetime for a hip-hop producer. But here in mcenroe's bedroom studio (aka South Slope Rhythm Repair) in Vancouver, the workday has already begun. Usually, the man born Rod Bailey is a late riser, but on this frosty West coast morning, he's invited Exclaim! into his home to show off his wares. A virtual one-man band, mcenroe has no traditional instruments lying around, just a bank of four Mac computers, various pieces of outboard electronic gear, a plug-in keyboard and several hundred vinyl records. Sure, it may look modest, but this collection of equipment is being used to make some of the finest and finest-sounding bedroom music in all of Canada.
Stay At Home Dude
As the owner of the nation's finest indie hip-hop label, Peanuts & Corn, working from home makes a lot of sense for mcenroe, allowing him to spend half his day tending to business and the other half working on his music. More just than an extension of his business responsibilities, though, the producer's decision to make beats in his apartment has everything to do with his keen interests in gear and his desire to take his sweet time when need be.
"I've invested so much in my own equipment that I might as well use it," he reasons. "The best part about being here [instead of a studio] is that it allows me to work at my own pace and make slight adjustments as I want. For the first record I made as mcenroe, I made all the beats at home and then went into the studio and recorded all the vocals in order, and the whole thing felt a bit rushed. I would never want to do that anymore."
Big Box From Little Boxes
When he started out making his beats in the early '90s, the Winnipeg native played by the rules of the day, using various outboard gadgets to create his first rickety beats. But as the digital revolution began to take hold, mcenroe became a willing convert, retiring his old equipment and moving into the strictly virtual realm.
In order to show us how he crafts his songs, mcenroe calls up the Logic file for "Big Box," a new track off his recent split EP with Pip Skid, Disenfranchished 2 / Funny Farm 2. In the Logic display, all of the song's 24 sound tracks are laid out in two dimensions: the vertical axis denotes the name of each track ("strings," "bass," etc.) and the horizontal axis shows the progression of each track through the course of the four-minute song. Stacked up on the computer screen, the tracks look like 2-D Lego building blocks, drag'n'droppable cubes that mcenroe has arranged with mathematical precision.
A long-time user of Cubase, the Manitoban has only just started using Logic in the last year, but he's already in love. "Just recently, I bought Logic Pro, which has a ton of EQs and effects, a built-in sampler and lots of virtual instruments that sound fantastic," he enthuses. "It's a product that I'm extremely happy with, and the fact that it's owned by Apple now means I'm more confident with it in terms of customer support."
The producer uses Logic in concert with two other software applications one old and one relatively new. The first, Sound Edit 16, is an audio editor that mcenroe's been using as his primary sampler since 1997. The other, Ableton Live, is one of the industry's most reliable sound sequencers, an ideal program for suturing together loops into something like a finished song.
Of course, well before mcenroe can even think about toying with all his software gadgets, he's got to build his library of sample sources, and while he's eagerly embraced digital technology, he steadfastly refuses to have his loops fed to him on a silver platter.
"Some people buy CD-ROMs of loops, but I don't do that," he says. "Sometimes it's tempting to go and buy them because some of those loop collections are really good. But I like digging through and finding my own sample sources.
"Basically," he continues, "my approach to buying vinyl is to go out and buy as much cheap, crappy vinyl as I can, just spend a buck or 50 cents on each one. I used to look for labels and buy $6 or $8 vinyl but if you do that you can get into a rut and it becomes really easy for people to tell what sort of records you're using. Now I'll just buy anything anything that looks cool or looks weird and I can usually be sure that I've got something that no one else has."