Whether it’s an up and coming new artist, a former X Factor winner, a global superstar, or even a stormtrooper, Pete Boxsta Martin’s passion and enthusiasm doesn’t falter one iota. The Oscar-longlisted South African producer has a beautiful studio in South West London, in one of the city’s most musical buildings, you could say; and he admits that he does more business over a cappuccino in the café than anywhere else. We decided to check it out for ourselves.
On arrival at Martin’s studio, I am handed a bottle of water followed by a coffee (he has a great cappuccino maker, in fact). The first thing that strikes me is the vibe of the room: the artwork, the colours, the video games neatly arranged on the shelves, and that awesome picture of a load of stormtroopers from the seminal Star Wars movie.
“Yeah, I love George Lucas, dude; and I try to apply that aesthetic to everything I do. I can push beyond the human element with this décor,” Martin smiles, as we take a seat in the control room. “We constantly have people coming in and out of here, because ultimately, the major labels are going to be done. I remember an interview with Sean Parker nine years ago, and he said the only people that are going to make the money [in the music industry] are the ones with the portholes. It’s so true, because the main guys at Spotify and iTunes might be cleaning up, but the songwriters are getting left behind. There’s going to be a revolution in the next five years; all the kids will be doing it themselves.”
Maybe. Martin – a published songwriter himself – seems to have a very strong relationship with a lot of up and coming artists, who are doing some pretty great things: he mentions singer-songwriters Lula Beggs and Nicole Dash Jones, both of which he is working with in some capacity.
“We stack the [guitar] amps in there, and then there is a vocal booth, too,” Martin explains, signalling to a little side room attached to the main area. “It’s a little production house, really; and artists are constantly through the door. I’ve had a host of assistants, too, that have gone on to do great things: one of them went on to produce the last [The] Script album. Also within this building, we have Modest Management, Crown Talent, and Media Group; Crown looks after Jessie J, and I am doing joint ventures with Crown – there’s a young girl called Amber-Simone who I’ve been developing for three years; she’s fantastic. So really, just walking into the café, the business that I have spun here is fantastic!”
MIXING IT UP
There is so much going on in Martin’s room, it’s difficult to know where to begin: I spy a sizeable keyboard rig featuring a Nord, a Prophet, and several more top synths; a set of the new Genelec 8351A monitors; a ton of G-Technology drives; and something white with lots of colourful buttons, that actually might not look out of place in a Star Wars movie... Martin informs me that it’s Native Instruments’ Maschine Studio, which is crucial in his studio workflow.
“I do master classes with Maschine, and I am beyond impressed with it,” Martin admits. “I have always had Logic here, and Pro Tools, and server drives connected with Ableton - lots of DAWs running at the same time, basically. Then a couple of years ago, I changed to Maschine. At that time, Logic was getting super-buggy, and I loaded Maschine Studio, and it loaded all the Logic plugins just like that; for some reason, the new UI just loaded all the stuff. It was very fast and very fresh, so I just stuck with it. I look at it now, and it was actually a revelation; I am changing to Studio One from Pro Tools at the minute, too, as Studio One is another brand that seems to have taken all these functions and exploded them, basically. I am very impressed with both.”
A very forward-thinking setup, with two forward-thinking companies, by the sound of it. And it keeps you ahead of the game then, Pete?
“Exactly that. And yeah, it really does. One of the key things [in Maschine] is the mapping features, because what happens is, if you’re programming something on Logic, you’re constantly messing around trying to find parameters: if you open a synth, for example, you have all these parameters in front of you, you automate this bit, and so on. But this way of working means as soon as you click on something, you have the synths, and they automatically map in front of you!
As Martin begins playing some mixes to me, conversation turns to the Genelec monitors he has recently acquired: the new flagship 8351As.
“It’s always been about getting a crappy speaker and a very high-end speaker, and see how they react to sound; and I have to say, I have never been more convinced so quickly about any studio monitor than these 8351As,” Martin reveals. “I was invited to Grove Studios in London to the launch, and there were a bunch of older guys at the console, playing very bad music very quietly through them! [laughs] I was with a new artist I’m working with who’s just landed a deal with Universal this year, Arrow Benjamin; and I said to him, ‘come on, put on some Jackson stuff.' So he played a track from the Off the Wall record, we banged them up, and when I heard it through these, I was ordering them there and then! When you have reference points that are seminal to you like that record, you know when something sounds unbelievable - and that was me done!”
ARE YOU SITTING DOWN?
Benjamin’s first release was with Beyoncé and Naughty Boy - a track called Running, so he is destined for big things, no doubt. Martin and Benjamin also share the same management, and sometimes strange things happen...
“Arrow [Benjamin] said to our manager, ‘I’ve had a dream about this guy called Mali Music, could we work with him?’ So he puts in a call to his guys, plays him some stuff, and they put him on a plane to New York to come and work with us,” Martin laughs. Seriously? “Yeah, and this was the first session I did with these Genelecs. The record (Sit Down For This) was recently shortlisted for an Oscar, so it was a really good omen - the first track I ever did on them! It was a steamroller. We got it on Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq movie, and that’s how the Oscar shortlist occurred. Manny Marroquin mixed it, and it’s a good testament to how close the mixes are, as it was the first mix I did on them, and my mix and his final mix are very similar.”
Martin goes on to play me the track, and he’s right: very little difference between the two. Is it normal to get used to a new pair of speakers so quickly, and be that at home with them?
“Oh, absolutely not; the whole thing when you get a speaker is, you need three months with them,” Martin insists. “But that mix was finished during the third day I had spent with the speakers; and all the record company was saying was, ‘Pete, I think we need a vocal up a bit on this part’, and very minor changes like that. So instinctively, they were just really great from the get go. And Manny I trust implicitly; he has done four mixes for me so far on this guy, and he’s amazing.”
Martin also praises the stereo imaging on his Genelec monitors, and says they’re suited to any genre of music:
“I’m doing a lot of hip hop type projects, where the kids want to feel the whole sonic range, which these things can do with ease; they’re very heavy, too, so it reassures you in terms of build quality,” Martin smiles.
No fatigue either, Martin insists, despite him blasting the system pretty regularly, ‘sub and all’, the latter of which is pretty unusual for most producers.
“They’re 100% easier on the ear than anything else, and they have a bit more of a sheen to them, so they don’t hurt; and at very, very low levels, they are extremely detailed, which I love,” he enthuses. “It always feels like you’re listening to the same mix whether it’s loud or soft, so
they feel very true to me; and unlike many producers, I want to hear all the sub. There is a great pop mix that I always reference to - Beyoncé’s If I Were A Boy - and there’s a real bass and a sub bass; on normal speakers you don’t hear them, but on these [Genelecs] you immediately hear it. The track was mixed by Spike Stent, and it’s a very clever thing, as there is a sub that attacks the one [beat] every time, and you hear it on these speakers every time. In my world, that is so important, as when you are doing hip hop, you have to understand where that hits in a club.”
So who’s going to be the next big thing then, Pete? Seems like all your artists have a shot..!
“[smiles] I’m working with a lot of talented artists – I’ve been working solidly with Arrow now for two years, and him getting that Universal deal is a big step, so the future is bright for sure for him; but also, all the others have something about them. Then there's James Arthur, who won X Factor a few years ago, and just got resigned to Sony - we work a lot together, and his stuff really is excellent; he is also a real ‘one take’ guy, and he has a phenomenal voice. And Lula Beggs is fantastic, also. In fact, I was doing some backing tracks for Lula’s live shows on these Genelecs recently, and when I watched the show, it translated fantastically well, which also really impressed me about these monitors. The four acts on before her, I heard dips in the various backing tracks, but none whatsoever from hers!”
For more on Pete, head to his website >>> CLICK HERE