We know Bassrush readers also spend hours making their own beats, so we decided to create a new feature series that illuminates the production side of bass music. Our first comprehensive studio lesson comes from DJ and EDM producer Protohype, who has gained notoriety for his flashy, hip-hop-inspired dubstep creations. In this feature, we learn more about his technical approach to everything from creating huge basslines to how he likes to design his drum kits.
How did you get your music noticed in the beginning?
I started Protohype in Arizona. I went to school at Arizona State—back then, the rave scene was really big there—and I played a lot of free shows.
When did you first start teaching others about music production?
I graduated [Icon Collective in Los Angeles] and had an internship with one of the guys on their advisory board, Static Revenger. Afterward, they asked me to mentor there and help out. It was fun.
What kind of monitors are you using?
The Adam A5Xs. I was using one KRK Rokit five-inch and producing in mono; it was the most ghetto setup ever. When I made that track “Zero” with Datsik, he got so mad that I was producing with one shitty monitor, that he bought me this set of monitors. I paid him back for it the next day, but he was in shock. He’s got a badass studio setup, so he probably wasn’t used to standing in the middle of my tiny kitchen and looking up in the corner, seeing one speaker—but I got kind of used to it. Datsik was like, “Yeah, you can’t do this anymore.”
Do you have any advice for producers in their bedrooms who have to use headphones for their mixes?
I recommend a pair of headphones or monitors that your ears are really used to. If I’m making a song in a certain style, then it really doesn’t matter if you’re in your bedroom or in a huge studio. I think if you’re able to reference and A/B between something that’s really good and something you’re working to get to that level, I don’t think it matters where you’re at.
Best to learn one DAW or many?
I would say it’s best to learn one DAW and focus on that. I know Logic, and I started when I was on FL Studio. Once I switched, I learned Ableton, and learned all the ins and outs and all the little tricks, and figuring out my own.
I found once I switched to Ableton and was able to focus on just learning the ins and outs of that DAW—figuring out my own ways of doing things and watching tutorials—my music got better. Unless you’re a teacher, there is no reason why you would go back and forth between different DAWs. Sometimes I use Logic to record vocals—because it’s better than Ableton for that, in my opinion.
What techniques do you think are most important when it comes to getting heavy bass in your tracks?
At first I really got a lot of my heavier sounds from third-party plugins, like Camel Phat, and other distortion plugins, like FabFilter Saturn. As I’ve gotten better at making patches within Massive, I learned that a lot of those plugins have a lot of power just within themselves, without any sort of post-processing. Getting heavy bass starts with having a clean patch, then cutting out the low-end, and then making sure the sub hits proper.
Regarding synths, have you tried Serum from Xfer?
Yes, I have! The co-creator, Steve Duda, was my mentor when I went to production school. He’s the one who designed the plugin. I’ve actually worked with him on that plugin. I was messing around with it when I was on tour with Datsik, and that was over a year ago. I’ve helped him with different beta versions, so it’s cool to see the final product out now. Steve Duda is a fucking genius, and it was cool to learn from him. The plugin is just awesome.
What is your favorite reverb plugin for a Protohype production?
My go-to reverb plugin is just the Ableton reverb. As simple as it sounds, it’s what I learned on, and I don’t have too many third-party plugins. I use a lot of the stock plugins in Ableton.
What is your approach to creating melody?
I’ll pick the key I want to write the song in; that’s usually one of the first things I do. After that, I’ll start messing around with a minor chord… Say it’s F; I’ll just make an F minor chord, play with the voicing and chords, move a couple notes around. Next, I will try some sort of unique arrangement with the melody, just trying to figure out how the chords are timed, and then from there, it flows naturally. That’s probably one of the things I am best at when it comes to music production: writing melodies. It comes pretty natural; that’s the part I like doing most.
What’s the toughest part in the drum production process?
Getting the right sounds and samples is the easy part. The tough part is making them fit well in the mix. I’m learning a lot about post-production with drums specifically—learning how to get my drums tight in the mix, and making them sound good when they get to a loud system.
What is your current opinion on the loudness war?
When Skrillex and Knife Party came out, their tracks were so much louder than everyone else’s. I think it was sparked [by] the loudness war. People started getting better at figuring out how to make their tunes louder. I think it kind of died down.
It’s still important that your tunes are loud, but what I think is more important—especially when it comes to an EP—is volume cohesiveness. A lot of times, your mix can take a hit when you are focusing on just getting it as loud as possible. Sometimes people who don’t know as much about it will just crank the limiter, or put a limiter on every single thing… To me, a track sounds better when it has more dynamics and maybe a little bit less loudness than a track that is super loud and is just squashed and really just looks like a brick. The only person I know who can pull off just those big block waveforms is Bassnectar. I have no idea how he does it.
What are some of the releases coming from your studio?
Right now, I’m working on an EP. I have all the tracks at about 90 percent done. I need to get vocals, so who knows how long that will take. I recently put out a track with Two Fresh called “Gutta.” We put that one out for free. I also have a track with Far East Movement and Lil’ Debbie that I’m going to put out somewhere. I’m really just focusing on my EP right now.
Essential Protohype studio snacks?
I love string cheese, Martinelli’s apple juice, and Claussen pickles. They must be Claussen; they are the crunchiest.