John Nathaniel is a Montreal-based producer, mixer, and songwriter who’s worked with artists like OneRepublic, Gwen Stefani, and Kygo.
We caught up with John to talk about how he utilizes the dusty, digital charm of SQ80 V within V Collection for his epic, award-winning mixes.
_Straight from the Heart
Finding out where to start with any song can be tricky business that’s easy to overthink. That’s why John’s tried and true technique is not heady, but one one that starts within before any musical tools get involved:
”I know that if I’m starting from an emotional perspective when I mix or produce a song, I’m setting myself up for success.”
Having worked on Kygo’s gold-certified single ‘Lose Somebody’ (337 mil. Spotify streams), this is a technique that can undoubtedly lead to something beautiful millions of people can resonate with.
Finding that workflow synergy of heart and gear is crucial for achieving a mix one senses as a feeling first: ‘I’m always bouncing technique and emotion, and always pushing the emotion first.’ As someone who worked on OneRepublic’s album ‘Human’ that topped the digital sales charts across the US, Canada, UK, and France, John makes it clear there’s something to prioritizing the heart in a mix.
When getting a mix to its final shape, maintaining that initial feeling-based inspiration depends on the tools as well:
”The Arturia synths - this is the one thing I love about them - they feel analog. The way they sound, the way they behave, the envelope, the filters, everything is just pristine.”
Starting with an emotion and then cultivating it with tools that feel tactile and genuine lead to more authentic sound.
A bundle of Joy
Like emotions, sounds can move fast - and that can be a great thing. With V Collection, although the selection of soundscapes is truly expansive, awakening them can be instant:
I always look for things that allow me to move fast. The Arturia V Collection - all the synths, they have these incredible presets.’ V Collection’s 8th edition breathes music history and future with 28 legendary software instruments and over 10,000 carefully crafted presets.
On the Latin version of OneRepublic’s single ‘Run’ featuring Mariah Angeliq, John relied on Pre 1973 to add color, EQ, and saturation to both Ryan’s and Mariah’s vocals. ‘I’m a huge fan of Neve EQs and Pres and Arturia has such an amazing version of that classic Pre.’ The craft that went into emulating the Pre shows in its nuanced, yet powerful flavor. Its dynamic scope comes in especially handy when mixing:
”The lows, the mid-range, and the tops are beautiful, and because the input gain/drive is level matched with the output, you are not fooling yourself thinking that louder is better when you crank it. It’s very smartly designed! It’s now one of my go-tos.”
Journeying through sonic history, the 60’s were a seminal period. The sweet-sounding vintage goodness of the orchestral tapes is a one-way ticket to production bliss:
”The Mellotron V is another go-to! The tape saturation, the flutter, and the mechanics section is so good to create lo-fi haunting textures and vibes. The flutes and vocals are classic.”
The early 70’s got nice and fat, and the synth world was never the same with the arrival of MiniMg and Solina. Arturia’s Mini V3, created in partnership with Bob Moog, claimed its title as a trouble-making potion:
Mini V3 is badass for bass. Whether I’m looking for a gritty sound or a rounder sub bass, I can always rely on it.”
The warm and ethereal sound of Solina is still seducing producers of today, including John:
”The Solina V - we don’t hear enough about the Solina V, but it’s so brilliant for retro pads! There’s so much gold in the Strings presets folder.”
Exploring the immense scope of these available soundscapes is a joyride. At the same time, looking for a sound for hours does not necessarily mean your mix will be all the more beautiful. John, who was awarded the prestigious SOCAN Songwriter of the Year Award in 2017, shares:
”When I write a record, I need to find a good idea and just map it, and this allows me to do it. And very often, these sounds make the final cut.”
Diving into SQ80 V, our highly praised emulation of the iconic Ensoniq SQ-80, John discovers and plays with the First Rave preset. The evocative rumble coupled with its industrial undertones is disarming to say the least.
”The power of it truly lies in the synthesis section where you can balance the oscillators, but also create movement with the LFOs. Within minutes of messing with it, I got a really mean sequenced bass sound and an iconic 80’s pad with pitch modulation. Once you understand it, sky's the limit! I really dig the sound of the filter as well.”
At the heart of Arturia’s mission, we want music to continuously erupt and fall in all the right places. This is a commitment that can lead to a producer’s dream come true:
”If you have great sounds at your disposal, you can just flow through the session.”
The Good Kind of Mean
We start with one of the main elements of this piece: the arps. It’s JUN-6 V’s preset Kids with Marbles, a plucky melody with an echo of emotional urgency.
”This is an instant 80’s vibe. I love these types of sounds, they’re so retro - and they’re mean. It’s got that crazy felter sweep.”
His love for the rich-sounding synth recreation is unlikely to fade. In John’s words, it’s
"absolutely amazing! I can get something modern or retro really fast and it’s really easy to tweak. Also, the chorus is absolutely iconic.”
Another preset by JUN-6 V, 13 Strings 3, blesses our ears with a satisfyingly impatient ‘wah wah’ sound:
”Jun-6 V once again being an absolute rockstar.”
He then uses Rev INTENSITY on this track, and we listen to the contrast between the dry and the wet mix. That section of the piece rapidly goes from a linear beam to a multi-dimensional wobble. John then plays it in the context of the whole song. In his words, this is a ‘mean little guy’ that comes to add a lot more story to the piece.
”I love to get creative with weird sounds. I love when they creep up on you and add a little bit of tension.”
Finally, we look at the CMI V, which John states
"has got tons of crazy sounds.”
He picks the preset Silver and Blue, an eerie, pressing beauty with a massive emotional scope that can go from elevated to drastic in a matter of few seconds
Times like These
The time we live in is truly unique.
The endless possibilities of sound and gear can feel overwhelming, but with a guide that simplifies your workflow to your deal breakers, this journey can be blissful:
”I’m so grateful to live in an era, where we can just recall plugins and have access to all these beautiful sounds whenever we want.”