Thursday, February 24th – Hollywood, CA
On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I had the privilege of spending some time with an X1 pro user who really exemplifies the modern day musician on all fronts. His name is TC (born Anthony Crawford) and he is also known by some in the producing underground as “Spitfire”. “TC,” as we will refer to him today, is employed by Paul Oakenfold as his main music producer, co-writer, mixing engineer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. Working in that capacity, on a daily basis TC will mesh with artists such as B.O.B., Usher, Madonna, Lloyd and Rico Love just to name a recent few.
As I first rolled up to the studio, I could not help but notice how impressive and peaceful the setting was. It immediately enveloped me into a creative feeling and I knew I was about to be surrounded by some great music. When I entered the studio I could not help but notice all the full-sized feature film posters that were along a wall. “Yeah, we like to get full posters of the movies that we work on,” says TC. “It keeps us inspired and gives us a sense of accomplishment at the same time. It’s amazing how difficult it is these days to land anything in a major movie so we like to take a bit of pride in that.”
TC’s real story is interesting. You will rarely find him at any of the hot-spots where his industry colleagues hang out in LA, and you will never find him on any of the Cakewalk forums or gear forums for that matter. The reason for this is simple; “I’m constantly working,” TC tells me with his patented grin. “I am so far in the trenches sometimes that I forget to sleep. Thank God for X1, it’s actually helped me to cut some time down in terms of my workflow, so now I AM able to catch a few zzz’s once in a while [he snickers].
There is no question that his work ethic and creative talent are top notch, but how did he get to this point in his career? How does one end up in such a creative spot for a career? TC started out like most of us in this industry trying to get to another level, but even at the ripe old age of 13 he was learning how to hustle. In Northridge, CA where he was born and raised, he started bartering guitar lesions for washing his teacher’s car. That sounds absurd right? Well if you think about it in terms of the music industry, it was really a brilliant move and exemplified the “sense” that TC has carried through his career. “The Music Industry is about talent, relationships, timing and the placement of how you set yourself up, TC states. I didn’t have any money but I knew I wanted to learn how to play guitar, so I figured out a way to make it happen.”
By age 15 TC had also figured something out that carried logic beyond his years; that songwriters and producers make more money than the people just playing the instruments. With this notion, he went on a quest to analyze and learn how to construct commercially viable songs while in the meantime, bartering his guitars skills by exchanging lessons one-for-one with a professional vocal coach who wanted to learn guitar. In the following early teenage years, TC lived the Hollywood life that most kids dream about, or at least watch on their favorite reality TV shows.
After a while, playing prestigious LA clubs such as The Roxy, The Whiskey and The Troubadour as a promising young band takes its toll in the City of Angels. “Lazy mangers with big words, agents with bogus contracts, and A&R Reps with empty promises all start to wear at your soul on another level,” TC replies. “I started to really get down on the fact that I had done everything right, but nothing was happening to get beyond ‘The LA Scene’ and its local politics. I decided to do something a bit drastic to change up my thought process.”
A drastic change it was: the military – TC jumped head first into the Army and then the Air Force for a 6 year stint that would really take him far out of “The Los Angeles Scene” and into Iraq and Afghanistan where he naturally climbed up another political ladder fast and furiously. As the years went by in the Military, TC never lost his love for music and finally after fulfilling his duty he returned back to the streets of Los Angeles, literally; performing as a street musician down on Venice Beach. “It was actually a really fun time for me,” says TC. “I had seen [and learned] so much in the military through some pretty heavy times, so being on the beach doing what I loved was great therapy to get my head back to music.”
It wasn’t uncommon for TC to be strumming his guitar and singing in front of some prestigious folks on that beach, and one day he found himself in front of the late and great DJ A.M. along with another member of the group Crazytown. Little did he know at the time that this would be yet another chapter of his life-novel where some more doors would be opened up. “The next thing you know I was flying around and touring with these guys – it happened pretty much that fast. They needed a guitar player who could sing and I had nothing to lose. It was a pretty cool feeling to know that I was not wasting my time at the beach just doing what I loved to do. It was at that time that Cakewalk came into my life.”
Through his travels, TC was introduced to Paul Oakenfold who was doing a track called “Starry Eyed Surprise” at the time and he instantly struck up a musical relationship where Paul quickly caught wind of TC’s melodic intellect. “Paul kept on calling me to work because I was able to do everything in SONAR that he was using a studio for, and paying big money on. I was delivering tracks to him out of my home studio that sounded better than the tracks he was paying the big-bucks on.” After proving himself on many occasions and many levels, Paul offered TC a permanent spot on his team.
Fast-forward to now, and TC is engraving his name and style into many great commercially released tracks using SONAR X1 as his creative workbench:
CW-AR: Who are some of the most recent artists you have been collaborating with using SONAR X1?
TC: Oh man, we have been really busy recently – and fortunately. Let me think; Lloyd and Rico Love were in here recently and I was tracking some stuff with them. We just worked with Usher on a remix and we also did a great track with B.O.B. recently. On the film side of things we did music recently for “Tron” as well as “Home for the Holidays” which was pretty exciting.
CW-AR: What are a few of the features in SONAR X1 that you could not live without?
TC: That is a tough one actually. I think one of the most unique features that gives me an upper edge is the ability to work with clip based effects. Nowadays it’s really all about coming up with something so fresh that no one else has; a sound, a style – you know what I mean. The fact that I can splice clips up into tiny instances and then place whatever I want on each of them in terms of effects is huge for me. It really opens the door up to be as creative as I want to be. I am not just limited to putting effects on sound via effects bins or busses like I was when I was using other DAW’s [Digital Audio Workstations].
I think besides that and sonically speaking, the ProChannel is a game-changer for me. I’m someone who comes from both the analogue and digital realms, so to have this built-in power on every channel that delivers like the ProChannel is amazing. On any given day I have to deliver finished-radio and club-ready tracks to various industry professionals, and the ProChannel gives me everything I need to get my tracks sounding huge.
CW-AR: I see you are also using the V-Studio 100, how has that been working out for you?
TC: I love the VS man. I have faked out so many people with the preamp in that thing [laughs]. Sometimes I have tracks sent to me, and I have to match my vocal sound when I sing to vocals that were recorded on $15,000 preamps. I have heard “vocals sound great” every single time from the other producers that I send the tracks back to with my performance. I can’t help but laugh a bit when they ask me what I tracked on. Sometimes they don’t believe me and they think I’m not telling them about some special “chain” I use. Don’t get me wrong, it takes a bit of work to get it right, but between the 100 [VS-100] and SONAR, I can get basically any type of sound recorded that I need. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an affordable interface that can play ball in the big leagues – not to mention I just pick it up and take it accross town with me or on a plane when I work out of the studio.
CW-AR: Are there other pieces of gear that have contributed to your creative environment that you are digging?
TC: You know what, I have to say that this Dell Precision M6500 Mobile Workstation that I use is just important creatively as anything else I use. This thing blazes, and it enables me to move on the fly anywhere I need to go. It’s important to have a rock solid base with what I do.
CW-AR: On a typical session where you have to create a beat from scratch, how do you roll?
TC: “Typical” is a funny word for me because it depends on the variables of the project. Sometimes I actually sample my own sounds and start putting things together from there, but other times I actually draw from sounds and loops I already have. The first thing I do is open up a new project and then take a look at all my “track templates” which is a new feature in SONAR. This is a big timesaver for me because I actually have different templates set up for different types of artists and projects. I then drag and drop what I think I need for track templates into that section from the browser. So for example, if I am working with a really strong dance track I will just drag and drop layered kicks, some varied basses and synths into the project to begin. After I get the base of what I want, I start to spice up the beat with filters, fades, different EQ’s and compressors – and then I start to work on unique sounds by cutting things up and dropping in clip based effects where appropriate. After the this step is done, I will get the vocals in and then go through one more round of spices before I start mixing.
CW-AR: How do you go about getting unique sounds?
TC: That is the beauty of SONAR and why I continue to use it. There are so many ways to tailor your sound. One thing that I have been doing recently in X1 is using the Tube Saturator that is on the ProChannel [a feature on every channel]. Between that and extreme ProChannel EQ settings along with the compressor on “nuke mode” [TC using his own saved preset here], I am able to take standard synth sounds and totally whack them out where I want. I can get things to really cut through and come up with crazy unique sounds with the ProChannel. I also automate EQ quite a bit – this is a great way to get moving filtered sounds. All you have to do is click the “W” on the track and all the EQ parameters are ready to be automated. I find myself sweeping the HPF with a steep slope quite often these days.
CW-AR: You refer to “saving time”. Specifically what is it in X1 that has enabled you to speed up your workflow from SONAR 8.5?
TC: Screensets are a big time saver for me. I can customize basically anything I want on any monitors and get there with one keystroke. I like how it remembers how I left it too. It’s almost like it’s a helper working with me, and if I want to keep a Screenset as is, I just lock it – genius.
The new drag and drop feature combined with the browser has been huge for me too. This has literally cut my work flow in half in some cases. It’s all about organization these days and I have everything I need at my fingertips. I can sample all my loops in one place, and then just drag from the browser onto the workspace, and it even creates a new track for me if I don’t drop it into a pre-existing track.
Effects chains – another one that is a massive time saver. I have all my favorite effect chains in one place and I am able to drag and drop any one of them at any given time into an effect bin on a track, or onto a clip itself. I can’t imagine working without this now.
I can’t go without mentioning the Smart Tool either. I love how I can get to all my editing tools by tapping the center wheel of the mouse – and the tools are global, working perfectly over my midi and audio tracks without having to change up anything. Editing is actually a creative process now for me and way more efficient.
CW-AR: TC, thanks so much for spending some time with us and we are really psyched to see X1 in such a great work environment. What are you working on in the next few days?
TC: Thank you guys for stepping up this $#!^!. This week we are doing a remix directly for Britney Spears with her new single “Hold It Against Me” and we are also doing a remix directly for Nicki Minaj on her newest song. These songs will be out in the clubs and on the radio by the time people are reading this I think.
For more information on SONAR X1 please visit: SONAR X1
For more information on the V-Studio 100 please visit: V-Studio 100
For more information on TC and Paul Oakenfold please visit: www.PaulOakenfold.com
To see how TC uses SONAR X1: TC on SONAR X1
To see the interview with TC: TC INTERVIEW