Austrian producer and multi-instrumentalist CID RIM injects the fluid energy of live performance into his jazz-inflected electronica, putting his skills as a drummer and pianist to work in genre-spanning productions for the Scottish label LuckyMe.
We caught up with the producer in advance of the release of his latest record, Songs for Vienna, hearing about his unique approach to songwriting and picking up three production power tips.
When did you start making music, and how did you first get started?
“I started playing piano when I was six, so technically that was the first musical gear I had my hands on. Playing mostly classical music till about 11 years of age, I then found out I can just play whatever I want, without the notes, very liberating. I started trying to find out the chords of the records I was listening to and that kicked it all off.
"The possibilities of having a DAW with just a simple synth, a sampler and a drum computer basically blew my mind. I was using my headphones as a microphone, sampling jazz records, recording all sorts of everyday percussion objects, like playing using a glass and a pencil as a ride cymbal.
“I’d say genre-wise those early things were mostly hip-hop tempo instrumentals, partly quite jazzy, but always very weirdly organic sounding because of the badly recorded sounds I found around the house.”
Tell us about your studio set-up.
“I use a rented studio in East London, it’s not big but I’d say the most important thing about it is a window with daylight shining in. Between 6 and 7pm the setting sunlight directly hits my face while I’m wrapping up the day’s work, and I love that. My studio is part of a bigger studio complex with a bunch of rehearsal rooms, so I can just walk in one of those whenever it’s free and play drums, which is brilliant too.
“I got great ADAM speakers that came with the space, two monophonic and one polyphonic synth. A MIDI keyboard and a decent Neumann vocal mic. That’s all I need really, all the rest is in the box. When I finish up records I often go to a mate’s studios and use their fancy old analogue gear, I love putting all sorts of things through any kind of tape echo and I use plenty of tape saturation.
“And when I get a good old synth into my hands I record right away, and see what happens. Often those initial get-to-know-a-synth moments are where the best ideas come out of.”
What DAW (or DAWs) do you use, and why did you choose it?
“I still mainly use Reason. I went through all the different stages with them, starting off with no audio and no plug-ins, just their onboard effects and MIDI. You had to play any recorded audio through the sampler, a very limited process that taught me a lot. I’d compare it with footballers learning how to play with a tennis ball on a concrete pitch. But I wouldn’t say that was a disadvantage at all.
“I still think the restriction of the things you use helps a lot in being creative and increasing the odds of being kissed by the muse. I also use Ableton for recording multiple tracks, like a full band or drums, and I use it for playing live too. Sometimes I make a track in Ableton, but I still prefer Reason. Seeing the cables bounce when you press tab just makes me happy somehow.”
What one piece of gear in your studio could you not do without, and why?
“I need my laptop, my £27 Sennheiser in-ear-plugs and a MIDI keyboard. The first two of those are always on me and the MIDI keyboard is the easiest thing to get everywhere. Even the laptop keyboard is fine to be honest. I love making music while travelling, on a train, in a hotel room, in the neighbourhood cafe, in the pub, anywhere really.
“If I count all the spaces I’ve worked in on this album I’d say that’s been about 15 different studios, and probably another 30 weird random places. I’m quite flexible, I also don’t keep synths forever, one must go when another one comes in.
"Never more than three at a time and they all need to be tiny and light. I guess with playing drums for all my live performances there comes a deep, true, genuine hate of carrying heavy things. [laughs]”
What's the latest addition to your studio?
“The latest addition is a AKG C520 L headset mic that I use for playing drums and singing at the same time. Technically that’s more a piece of live equipment, so the latest studio gear I’ve bought is the Roland Jupiter Xm.
"I still need to properly dig into it, but simply playing around with a regular triangle wave and the filters already sounds amazing. I just wanted a good new polyphonic synth, asked a couple of mates who have the new Jupiter how they’re finding it, and bought it based off that. I don’t read reviews or stuff like that.
“If I get my hands onto something directly I’ll trust my ear and my instincts, or as it was in that case, I trust my mates. There’s already so many people absolutely obsessed with the tech side of things, knowing everything about every synth, I don’t need to be that guy. They’ll ask me to record drums in return. Use your network. Everyone wins.”
What dream bit of gear would you love to have in your studio?
“To be honest I’m pretty happy with my setup right now. I think if I had to pick one thing it would be a grand piano. Just last week I recorded in a beautiful, old, huge radio studio in Vienna, Studio 2 at Funkhaus. It’s where they record entire orchestras for radio.
“In there they have two Bösendorfer grand pianos, and one of them has the lightest touch to the keyboard I’ve ever felt. You just gently lay your fingers on it and the keys drop down. Pure magic, anything sounds good on that thing. So one of those please, thank you!”
When approaching a new track or project, where do you start?
“Any type of dogmatic approach to writing a song will bore me after a while. Whenever I think I have found the recipe, the cheat code to writing songs, I quickly realise it doesn’t work like that, at least not for me. I need to come up with new things constantly. New approaches, new sounds, new chords, new drum patterns, it’s all in motion.
“Where ideas and creativity come from generally is so interesting to me. It makes me humble and grateful. But it’s exciting too, I never know what’s gonna happen today, there are no plans, no blueprints, I just try to get in the right mindset everyday and then I start to write. I often feel more like a vessel, or a medium.
"The ideas and inspirations are all there already, floating around or already within me, I just need to grab them and put them on a blank piece of paper. And at the end of the day, when I bounce out what I’ve gotten today and listen to it, that’s why I’m doing it all. Still feels like it did on the very first day.”
8. What are you currently working on?
“I’m currently working on the follow-up EP that’s meant to come out some time after my latest album. I’ve been to the rehearsal room to prepare my new live show more than I’ve been in the studio lately, so it feels great being back in that zone, just creating everyday.”
CID RIM's production power tips
1. You're always right
“I understand that what I’m about to write here is intrinsically a paradox, but I mean it: when someone tells you how a certain thing should be done, especially if they say there’s only this one way something has to be done, then you should get wary, in fact maybe try out how the exact opposite sounds first.
"Only you can create the music you’re making, therefore I believe you’re always right. Just trust your ears and your gut and never be shy to experiment, it’ll always pay off, if not today then in the long run.”
2. Train your ears
“They’re all you got really. No ears, no music. The better you hear, the better you play, produce and mix. Go into that micro timing and start to feel the tiniest 5ms difference, start to hear 10ct difference in pitch. Play, sing, record, learn every instrument, and practise. It’ll improve your ears and it’ll feed back into improving everything you do.
“For example I think there’s nothing more annoying than listening to someone swiping around the EQ forever to find a frequency that maybe needs to go. Listen to it closely, make a decision and know the frequency that you want to get rid of before you’re even opening the EQ, you can train that too.
"Make your decisions quickly, don’t get lost in the details. It’ll save you a ton of time and make your ears less exhausted, because really what you want is using all your energy to be creative.
“The best live tech I know was an incredible child prodigy violinist. I’m not saying you have to be that to be able to mix a track, but being interested in playing instruments and singing, maybe even a bit of traditional ear training will help you everywhere.”
3. Side-chain certain frequencies
“By now you’re probably gonna think: Finally, an actual tip I can use! I love that Fab Filter Pro-Q-3 option, where you send another track into the EQ and that track triggers your dynamic EQ curve.
"It’ll even show you where the two tracks are clashing on the frequency spectrum in red, so just get rid of the frequencies where you see a lot of red. Super simple. It’s a very handy tool to get something up in the mix without touching the volume fader.”