Vancouver-born, Toronto-based Shaun Frank has been actively catching listeners’ ears with his infectious hooks for over nine years. From co-writing the chart-topping hit ‘Closer’ with The Chainsmokers to having his own tracks achieve over nine-million plays on YouTube, Shaun continues to write music that resonates with a wide audience and is played at festivals across the world. Speaking to Native Instruments, Shaun shares tips on his production and writing process as well as how he uses MASCHINE live.
What was the first piece of production equipment you ever owned?
The first piece of production equipment I owned was a Digi 001 and Pro Tools setup. I can’t even remember the version of software I was on back then but it was very primitive compared to what we’ve got today. I remember I used to use Cakewalk on a separate PC as a midi sequencer through an old Roland JV-1010 to make drum demos for my band.
Using the wrong type of sounds can ruin a good song. How do you approach sound selection to ensure it not only works for the song but also sounds different to what is already out there?
I always try and start a record with a bit of a signature sound. I find that when building a track, the early elements really decide the direction of where the record is going to go. I spend a lot of time on those early sounds to make sure they are as dope as possible. I hate using placeholder sounds, cause I find once you build a record on top of those more “demo” sounds, it’s hard to get away from them.
Are you using particular sound libraries?
I try to use a lot of sounds from my previous recordings, stuff that I’ve built myself as far as samples go. I used to play in a band, so I have hard drives full of old drum, guitar, and vocal recordings. I love to dig into that old stuff cause it’s stuff that nobody else has. I am also loving the stuff that Output is putting out; Substance, Analogue Strings, and Exhale all provide a lot of Inspiration.
I always try and start a record with a bit of a signature sound
Is there a particular technique to getting your individual rhythm signature?
Generally, just looping and moving sounds around till the groove and swing is right. I’m a big fan of taking stuff off the grid to get the record sounding more human. I love making drums in Maschine and using the swing to get the groove sitting right.
One of the best tips in production is having a solid template to start a song from. What is included within yours when you load up a new project?
I actually don’t do this. I’ve thought about it, but I never wanna fall into the trap of using the same sounds on every recording. I do however have some default settings that I pull up on Ableton when I load a track. Every track I load will have the standard low cut at 100, a utility for volume automation, and a great plugin called HoRNEt AutoGain.
A big mistake a lot of producers make, and I definitely used to do this, was having your sounds come into the channel way too loud. What happens is they hit each and every plug-in in the chain, and sometimes get louder and louder. Every plug-in you are adding is now soft-clipping your sound as it goes in and out of each plug-in if the source sound is too loud. HoRNet automatically sets the input volume of whatever is playing on that channel to a desired value (I generally use -6db). Since I’ve been doing this, I’ve gained so much more clarity out of my mixes.
You use MASCHINE live, such as in the video for ‘No Future’ with Dyson. How has MASCHINE influenced your live performances?
It’s so much fun to get away from just straight DJing and actually triggering sounds and performing the songs. Maschine has been a big part of this for me and is one of the main elements in how I chop up my songs live.
Do you use any particular effects?
The onboard effects are great, I slap the compressors on everything…makes it really punchy.
With the newly added performance modes, what are you most excited to test out?
I love that the Beat Repeat is a big fat button that’s super easy to access on the new Maschine. I’ll be using that a ton live to mess up the beats.
To what degree is MASCHINE embedded into your studio setup?
I’m newer to Maschine to be honest, but what I love about it is that I have so many creative drum kits and sound pallets to choose from. Rather than having to scroll through sample libraries and pick drum sounds individually, on Maschine there are so many dope kits to just load up and vibe out on. It’s become my main source for making loops, I’m using the kicks a bunch. It’s an incredibly creative tool, and the new version is just plain sick.
How has your background singing in the The Envy influenced your approach to EDM production?
Well, because of my background singing in bands, my start in EDM was actually singing and writing vocals for dance records. I definitely approach my beats from a song perspective first…in general all of my stuff starts with the song, lyrics melodies and chords.
One of the key things that identifies a Shaun Frank song is a strong hook that immediately catches the listener. Where do the lyrics fit in within the production process? Is it the melody that informs the lyrics or vice versa?
Like I said, I generally write the song first, and if I’m not confident that the hook isn’t something people are gonna be singing on their way home from the club, it won’t even make it to production. I spend a lot of time on the vocals and lyrical hooks.
Almost every artist has trouble knowing when a song is done. What is it that tells you when it’s time to stop making changes?
I don’t think I’ve ever finished a song. Usually my manager says “dude, this was supposed to be submitted five days ago” and then I know I’ve gotta be done.
A lot of your songs feature some great vocalists alongside yourself. How would you recommend producers connect with artists they would like to work with?
I’m always on the hunt for great vocalists. I usually just jump on hype machine to search for new and upcoming singers and songwriters. Some of the best stuff is hiding on there.
When working with another artist, whether it’s a vocalist or producer, how do you ensure the end result is true to both your sound and the other artist’s sound?
I think the best way to do this is to write the song together, about something you can both relate to. I’m not the hugest fan of just receiving an acapella and making a beat around it. I find when you get to vibe out with the other person the results are a lot more honest.