The Making of Soul Sessions 1
Chairman of Music Factory, Andy Pickles, reflects on his return to the studio to create Soul Sessions 1.
I don’t quite remember when I did my last mix for Mastermix, although I do remember my first was featured on Issue 11 and called ‘The Off The Wall Dance Mix’. No idea why that title was used or why it referenced the Michael Jackson classic ‘Off The Wall’ as neither the artist or the track appeared anywhere in the mix, instead it featured tracks from Curiosity Killed The Cat and Hipsway. I have to say it wasn’t particularly groundbreaking, quite primitive really. A bunch of tracks blade-edited together on a 2-track machine. But still it was a start and it paved the way for a career in mega-mixing and music production.
Fast-forward about 33 years and I am now back at the Music Factory as Chairman and back in the studio doing my first mix for Mastermix in about 12 years, after being gently coaxed over a number of months by my brother-in-law and Mastermix Label Manager, Richard Lee. Richard asked me if I would revisit the Good Groovin’ Grandmaster series and consider doing another album. Tricky one, as I produced 5 albums in this range and covered all the bases when it comes to 70s & 80s Soul, so I wasn’t quite sure what I could do to add to what I had done without covering old ground.
Good Groovin’ Grandmaster 1 was probably one of my all time favourite productions, not because it was groundbreaking with its intricate mixing and production tricks, but more so because it just works as a DJ set and the links are simple and complement the style of music.
However, after a long phone conversation one night with Richard, as I drove home across the M62 from the Music Factory, I agreed to explore the idea of a new Soul Grandmaster but would park the Good Groovin’ series and start afresh.
So my starting point was: if I was to do a ‘Soul Session’ now, as a DJ, and lover of Soul music, what would I do? That said, Soul music is a broad church and this album had to be pitched right to be a useful tool for the Mastermix DJ rather than an album for the Soul purist, so my approach was to first of all put together a tracklist that centred around 80s Soul classics and a mix that from beat one would light the touch paper and all roads would lead to the dance floor.
Whilst personally I would love to start the mix slower at 95bpm with tracks like ‘All Night Long’ – Mary Jane Girls, ‘Juicy Fruit’ – Mtume and ‘Just Be Good To Me’ – S.O.S. Band, that would be an earlier evening vibe (a future album in the series maybe?) whereas I wanted to kick straight in and I knew where I needed to start! The Fatback Band – ‘I Found Lovin’ (12” Version)’
So I now had my bag of classic Soul tracks, which to be fair most have featured on previous Good Groovin’ Grandmasters, so what would be different? The production approach would be different. I knew that just putting a mix together wasn’t the answer, most of you could do a decent job of creating your own mix on a bit of DJ software.
If I was to do this I had to rely on my knowledge of the music and treat this as a studio production not just a DJ mix.
To achieve this I enlisted the help of my good friend, Paul Chambers, to engineer the sessions. Paul is a musician, producer and engineer all rolled into one, as well as being a fellow Alan Partridge fan, so if nothing else we would have a laugh whilst in the studio together…and we did!
In our pre-production meeting I explained to Paul that some of these tracks, such as ‘Ain’t Nobody’, and ‘Upside Down’ were notoriously difficult to mix with very little available in terms of intros or outros, so we were going to have to get musically creative.
And so we began, I spent a few weeks working on the track listing and finding samples and finally booked into Studio 3 at Music Factory to begin work on ‘Soul Sessions‘.
Over a 6 week period we put the mix together using Ableton as our chosen software. After a studio session Paul would send me the section we had worked on so I could listen to it with fresh ears away from the studio. This was an important part of the process because when you are in the studio you are very much focused on the transitions and production but it is essential you keep reflecting on how the mix is flowing as a set. Are you keeping the intensity right? Are we going to hold the floor? For example, after the second studio session, when we were halfway through mix, I actually went back and changed the running order and brought two tracks in which I had previously left out.
Without doubt the most difficult transition was getting into ‘Ain’t Nobody’, even when we had finished the mix and I was checking the master I rang Paul and said “I’m still not happy with the transition lets go back and re-work it”. In reality we ended up stripping it back and going back to a version of the first link we did.
Sometimes you can over produce things; less is more! However, as simple as it may seem, to get from ‘I Found Lovin’’ to ‘Ain’t Nobody’ there are elements of 5 tracks being used!
So now the mix is done I have had time to listen to it a number of times and I have to say I do think it is one of the best mixes I have ever produced, thanks in no small part to the engineering skills and dedication of Mr Chambers.
When you listen to the transition from ‘Somebody Else’s Guy’ into ‘Upside Down’ and then into ‘Give Me The Night’, spare a thought for Mr Chambers having to track the wayward live drummers with a back beat to carry the tracks!
I hope you enjoy the mix as much as I did producing it and I feel confident I can now finally put Good Groovin’ Grandmaster 1 out to pasture and hold Soul Sessions 1 up as the essential 80’s Soul mix for anyone who loves the music as much as I do and can appreciate the art of mega-mixing.