RADICAL FEED

Emre Ramazanoglu: Renaissance Man

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Emre Ramazanoglu: Renaissance Man

The multi-talented Emre Ramazanoglu is a true renaissance man: from top drummer to Pro Tools programmer, to engineering and producing, composing and film-scoring, he can turn his hand to anything and, in his own words, “make it work”. He’s survived and thrived in a music industry which has changed unrecognisably in the past couple of decades – through the “dark years” as Ramazanoglu terms it, with technology transforming the recording scene and spelling the end for less adaptable engineers. His impressive and suitably eclectic resume ranges from mixing for Mark Ronson, Lily Allen and Noel Gallagher to drumming for Michael Jackson; and he’s a die-hard in-the-box devotee and a passionate advocate of Sound Radix in particular. We caught up to hear his verdict on our tools, from the “mind-bending” possibilities of Drum Leveler to the “magic” of Pi

Making it big at a tough time

A career in music wasn’t the obvious choice for Ramazanoglu, but he honed his skills and his passion as he went along: “My parents weren’t musical, but I started drumming when I was about 14, got really into it, and started teaching drums a bit. When I went to university and carried on teaching and played jazz gigs, then after uni I moved to London and did a lot of programming and playing, before getting into Jim Abbiss’ band.” Having realised music was where his calling lay, Ramazanoglu decided to go freelance as a programmer – at exactly the wrong moment! “That was the exact time that the really solid part of the music industry died… great timing! I ended up having to do a million more things than I thought I ever would have to. I crept into doing super-fast Pro Tools work and being hired as a super-crazy-fast guy that the Americans could deal with. I did loads of stuff for Shakira which was interesting, but then the Mbox came out and changed everything: the big studios realised people could do loads of stuff at home, and in the space of a couple of months there were no more big Pro Tools gigs at all.” Though he admits with hindsight this was a blessing in disguise: “It was really good for me in a way because I would have carried on with those well-paid, straightforward gigs and probably wouldn’t have done half the stuff I’ve done now - it pushed me to do a load of engineering and mixing and writing I would never have done.”  

Photo credit: Steve Lawson

Photo credit: Steve Lawson

A modern-day renaissance man

Having taken the advice of session drummer Andy Gangadeen not to go into session drumming, Ramazanoglu focused on studio work, developing a prolific and remarkably eclectic track record – the result, he claims, of chance rather than design; of taking whatever came along. “It’s becoming more through choice now, but back then it was always just a case of what’s going on, what is the job, can I learn something good here? Work – as for many of us – often came through personal contacts and friendships – projects such as Carly Rae Jepson and Noel Gallagher: “That was brilliant, a fantastic experience, and that came through working with David Holmes who is one of my favourite people to work with ever; he’s an awesome producer, super-talented guy and lovely, a good friend. We’ve been doing a quite a few movies together recently which has been really interesting as I haven’t really mixed movie score before so that’s been great, really fun.”

This casual mention of movie scoring highlights Ramazanoglu’s impressive ability to turn his hand to anything; one minute he’s writing, the next he’s mixing, the next engineering and next drumming: a modern-day renaissance man. Again, he sees this chameleon-like ability as a mixture of necessity and choice. “It’s kind of a consideration of ‘well, that fits the current model of the business quite well’. That’s why it happens! I never wanted to be one of those guys where people are like ‘yeah he’s quite a good song drummer, he’ll bash through it’ - I’ve always worked pretty hard to be more than that.” 

His varied experiences in his teens and twenties have certainly stood him in good stead: “I’ve ended up doing quite a lot of weird, difficult music which is great fun – then I have this whole other jazz angle which I can launch into if I’m lucky enough to get those calls. It’s quite nice. It’s been a lot of work and maybe taken longer than I would have liked for some things to cook up, but it does feel pretty good now that people know me and know they can call on me to engineer and drum and it’s probably going to work out well for them. Or we can mix then if they want to replace something there’s no problem to programme it or we can or write extra parts; it’s good that people get confident in what you do.”

Modestly, he doesn’t regard his multi-talented approach as necessarily that unique: “It’s not super-common, but plenty of people do lots of things. It’s definitely the state of the industry these days; that whole specialism thing is dead and gone. Maybe a very few people are lucky enough to do one thing they like, but most people I know (artists aside, I’m talking service people) do multiple things.”

Quietly in-the-box

When it comes to Ramazanoglu’s work, he is adamantly an in-the-box guy, a preference he thinks has worked in his favour: “I’m completely in-the-box, and almost always have done, even through the ‘dark years’. Which has turned out the best thing ever, because the jump people are having to make now in the last two or three years I already made ten years ago, so nothing phases me. I know how to make it work and have done since Pro Tools 3, through the challenges of 888s, to nowadays decent converters everywhere and amazing mixing facilities.”

He believes a lot of top mixers today are quietly working in-the-box, to meet the demands of a fast-paced industry. “I’ve never been shouty about it but always said you can make it work in-the-box, and people were dismissive in the past but now they’re not at all. Most big mixers are ‘quietly in-the-box’, at worst. Because of today’s workflow, the quick turnaround, I’ll sometimes do ten or twelve recalls a day and that would have been utterly impossible in the past unless I had multiple studios. Delivery specs are kind of mental now for the major labels, really crazy; they want everything delivered at 96/24 regardless as to what it was recorded at, which obviously degrades the audio much of the time. I end up delivering same-format versions for mastering and a second set of masters just for the label to archive which won’t actually ever be used. It’s a little bit of a minefield. But in-the-box is so helpful; I can do loads of stuff offline and non-critical stuff I can batch-process.”

Photo credit: Iain Grant

Though he does admit to relishing a studio-full of real gear: “I would be very upset if I didn’t even know what something like an 1176 from 1975 sounded like. I’ve always done big studio sessions with all the gear alongside the in-the-box stuff, so I’ve known what kind of thing I’m meant to be getting at. If I didn’t have that experience that would be terrible; I wouldn’t know what I was doing or what I was aiming for. Having experience with the real stuff is totally invaluable; it makes me open-minded and receptive to things like Sound Radix.”

Mind-bending encounters with Sound Radix

Talking of being receptive to Sound Radix, Ramazanoglu is a passionate (and un-prompted!) advocate of our plug-ins: “Your tools are nothing like anything else before them! I just can’t rave about them enough!” His first encounter was “a very early version of SurferEQ, which at the time wasn’t something I needed, so I thought ‘ok, I’m not sure what this is, this is pretty crazy’. Then a little while after that Drum Leveler came out, so I got that, and I just couldn’t actually believe it did what it did. I was like ‘This is literally impossible, it’s impossible’! I really tried to use it extremely and it still worked. I tried to break it and it just doesn’t break! It’s absolutely mind-bending. Though technically to understand it’s quite simple. It’s simple in concept but unbelievable in implementation. I use it so, so much with so many things.”

It is, he proclaims: “the best gate ever. There’s no better gate for drums. Which is super-useful. I use it to remove hits, constantly - I can take the target level to zero then take all the loud snares out or something, instantly, to nothing, it’s incredible. I used it to extract the hi-hats pattern from an entire track, and that worked. It’s incredible. I really do push it quite a lot. Before reverb and delay effects I might put it on the auxiliary to choose what bits of the signal are going to be delayed or reverbed - it works really well for that. It also works amazingly well on non-drum-related stuff like double-bass, or transient stuff, or acoustic guitar… it’s crazy. It’s so future!”

He's ventured into Auto Align to some extent, “though I often don’t like perfectly-aligned drum sounds for a lot of stuff I do because I do quite crusty, dirty stuff most of the time. But it works absolutely perfectly, and occasionally when I want that perfect punch it’s fantastic, no problems at all. It’s so quick aligning everything to the overheads, an amazing instant win. I’ve used it for aligning different kit mics when I want them in different places, and I imagine it could be great on guitar amp mics.”

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When it comes to Pi, his enthusiasm reaches another level: “Oh my God, it is the absolute best. I do a lot of bass-heavy music, and for sorting out a lot of people’s terribly-created out-of-phase bass parts it is just absolute magic. It will fix all your phase problems, at the low end, unbelievably well: it’s so great, I’ve read the manual extensively! Sometimes it’s maybe not the right thing to use because it’ll swirl and cause problems but once it’s in…it’s just a magic product. As is Drum Leveler.  And SurferEQ: incredible. I’m using SurferEQ2 now and it’s unreal. I’m using it on bass, on sax, it’s unbelievable. I use it to dip on a jazz track, and it just grabbed it and went with it. But bass is the classic thing for it. It’s clever, so clever. And nothing else exists like it.”

To anyone new to Sound Radix, he’d suggest they start with Drum Leveler, “because that’s very easy to use, and works so incredibly. Everyone I show it to just can’t believe what it’s doing. Maybe they need to read the manual or look at a video to see it in action because maybe it’s daunting, but it made total sense to my brain when I saw it; I thought ‘this is perfect, this works’. The amount of tweaking on it is great; there’s very little on it that’s conventional – perhaps that’s why I guess people might look at it and think ‘what’s going on!?’”

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Do something extraordinary - and do it by yourself

When it comes to advice for the next generation breaking into the industry, Ramazanoglu reflects: “It’s so different now to when I started out 17 years ago. For kids now, I’d say don’t do anything other than sit with your unbelievable DAW that I could only have dreamed about 17 years ago, and make the best music you possibly can by yourself. Put it out on as many of the platforms as you can possibly manage, and make an incredible album that no-one else has made that everyone will notice.” Standing out through your own work is the key: “That is your only way in, to do something extraordinary yourself. Otherwise you can go and try to hang on the coat-tails of the old-style business and see if you can get in somewhere to a system that isn’t really going to survive. Trying to get the kind of career that I got on the end of is not a good move now. My best advice is to do something brilliant yourself.” Avoid following too many other peoples’ leads: “Don’t look at YouTube, there’s too much misinformation around - find some reliable curated source to look for information if you need it. But you’ve got to make your own project, make it amazing and people will come to you. It will happen. Do something cool and interesting and new that you like: that’s the way forward.”

Wise words indeed from a versatile pro who has certainly made his own extraordinary mark on the industry; proving the merits of working determinedly in-the-box, getting such pleasure out of the best plug-ins, and adapting his talents to many a “cool and interesting” opportunity coming his way: a modern-day renaissance man.