Currently touring the US as part of the group "Animals", Bass player and Producer from Moscow, @Kirill Afonin is this month SoundGym Hero!
So how long have you been on SoundGym?
I`ve heard about SoundGym last year. I`ve finally built my home studio with proper sound treatment and updated my monitors, which allowed me to hear much more details in my work.
As I spent more and more time in my new studio I felt that my ears needed some «fine tuning». A couple of my fellow studio guys suggested that I should try SoundGym. I`ve spent a few days playing 3 games available on the free account and was sold completely! The games offered fun and effective way of training that was a perfect combo for me.
To my great joy, a New Year`s sale had just started so I bought a Pro membership right away and now I rarely spend a day without training on SoundGym.
What was your first connection to music?
My dad was a big music lover and hi-fi enthusiast. We always had music in our household. I learned how to handle vinyl and reel-to-reel tapes very early and just listened to whatever I could find in our home collection.
It was still the Soviet Union and records were very hard to get and very expensive but we had a pretty good variety of music at home. As far as I can remember it was mostly pop and R'n'B like Whitney Houston, Earth Wind & Fire, Barry White, Phil Collins etc with a bit of rock - Boston, Electric Light Orchestra and ELP.
Did you get a formal Sound/Production education?
I studied classical piano from the age of 6. After graduating music school at the age of 14 I became involved in my hometown local music scene as a bass player (I got bored with piano at that point) and all my further education was mostly field experience.
As I developed more as a musician and started doing some sessions in local recording studios, I became more interested in recording and production side of music.
I started (kind of) producing bands that I played with: arranging songs, doing some recording at rehearsals on 2 and 4 track cassette recorders, managing studio sessions, etc.
Eventually, I`ve ended up arranging and producing several albums for local artists before moving to Moscow in 2005 and continuing there mostly as a session musician.
Who have been the most significant musical influences for you?
When I started as a bass player at the age of 14 I listened to a lot of jazz fusion. One of my earliest musical influences was Marcus Miller. I was blown away by his slap bass skills and practiced like crazy every day.
Later I`ve found out that he actually produced all his solo stuff and lots of other artists as well so that was a big inspiration for me too. He was a role model for me for quite some time.
Around 2001 I discovered neo-soul. It was mind-blowing for me! I never heard anything like that, this laid-back, almost broken groove feel of artists like D`Angelo and Erykah Badu.
It has changed my approach to rhythm completely, as a bass player and as a producer. To this day I rarely use quantization in my production (only if style demands it) so that my tracks can groove and breathe more.
Tell as about the band "Animals" and your role in the group?
This band was formed in 2001 and was very big in Russia ever since. I joined the band 3 years ago as a bass player but sometimes I also do some additional production, like synth and drum programming. We have a very busy touring schedule with 80 to 100 shows a year and take time in between touring to record new material on a regular basis.
Being in this band is a valuable lesson on collaborating for me - when suggesting new musical ideas I always make sure to leave enough space for other members to contribute.
After going through your bio, I saw that you worked with a lot of artists as a producer, what was your favorite project, and why?
I`m proud to say that my favorite project is my wife, singer and songwriter Nani Eva. We met 8 years ago when I was looking for an artist to write some songs on my instrumental tracks.
After hearing her material I was struck by the deepness and musical complexity of it ditched my instrumentals and began developing her material from the ground up. After all these years of having the luxury to work with such a sophisticated songwriter and amazing singer, I feel like it affected my production style greatly.
I became more song-oriented, trying to emphasize the songwriter`s message in the first place and not getting in the way of a song by overproducing it. We released our first EP this year and I`m considering it my best work yet.
Are you currently producing anyone? What have you been working on lately?
Over the course of the last year, my wife has been very successful in conducting workshops for songwriters. It initially started as a vocal workshop but quickly moved into the creative side of writing and performing, with a main focus on unlocking songwriter`s creative potential.
Lots of people wrote their first songs ever during these workshops and some of them are really good. So in search for someone to produce them they logically come to me.
As a result, we already have 3 new artists in development with potentially more to come. And also my wife and I are currently working on songs for her new EP that will be released this autumn.
Have you made music today?
I`m currently on tour in the US with the band, but I have my mobile setup with me - a MacBook with a tiny midi keyboard and in-ear monitors. I try to make some music every day even if it`s just some ideas and sketches
Sometimes I revisit these sketches that I`ve made on the road and can develop them into full tracks to use in commercials or jingles. And also writing on a daily basis helps me develop consistence and not depend much on the mood or inspiration.
Tell us a bit about your workflow at the studio?
Generally, my process can be divided into three stages: writing (that includes tracking, programming etc), editing and mixing.
During the writing stage, I try to record all instrument parts as quickly as possible without caring much of details that can be fixed later.
I just want to have a basic structure and feel of the song quickly.
If the song has vocal in it, I want to have it recorded as early as possible or at least have a demo vocal track.
After that, the arrangement is built around vocals. I used to work differently before and often `overdo` the arrangement only to find that there`s no space for vocal anymore.
Now it`s a whole different story, having vocals early in the session helps me emphasize the message of the song a lot better.
Then comes editing part. During it I clean up midi tracks, write some automation for midi instruments if needed, edit vocals and live instruments takes, and generally oversee the song`s arrangement. I can add some parts if it`s necessary.
On the mixing stage, I commit all the tracks and takes as if there were recorded on tape. I don`t record any new tracks and parts, don`t do any more edits.
Usually, I take a day off the song if it`s possible to keep the song fresh to my ear. Or if I have limited time, I work on several songs simultaneously so the sound of each song won`t be blurred by endless repetitive listening.
In this case, if I get stuck with something during mixing I close the session and open another song to mix (I learned this from Andrew Scheps and it`s a very useful trick to keep things fresh in a studio).
Any habits you have before starting a session?
I try to focus the most on my personal performance as a human being. After being a night person for like a decade I was surprised to discover (thanks to SoundGym!) that my ears work much better in the morning and during the day.
I try to keep a healthy regime and start my work in the morning. I treat it like business hours, starting early and rarely staying in the studio till late night, unless I have some urgent project to finish. Also, I`ve discovered that yoga exercises help improve my concentration and thus hearing, so I usually do a little yoga session before starting working at the studio.
If I`m recording someone in my studio we usually have some tea or coffee before the session to make an artist feel at home and not thinking about the pressures of studio recording.
What is one of your favorite production technique?
I like to experiment a lot and try not to get stuck on the same patterns over and over again. However, to achieve maximum productivity I use some of my own presets and templates.
If I have to choose one favorite technique it will probably be multiple reverbs and delays on lead vocal.
In standard situation I have 3 delays sends and 3 reverb send:
- very short stereo tape slap back
- 1/4 or 1/8-note delay (depends on tempo), usually hipassed and lowpassed pretty heavily
- very saturated triplet dub delay with lots of feedback for some effects here and there
- a very small dark room or plate (less than 0.5 sec)
- medium hall or plate (sometimes spring reverb if I`m going for more vintage sound) with decay timed approximately to 1/2 or 1 bar
- super-long hall or plate (8 seconds and more), hipassed and lowpassed, with sidechain compression off the lead vocal
All sends are set to 0 dB and I automate return faders to create a desirable space around the lead vocal.
Sometimes I automate sends too for more precise accents of certain phrases, especially on delays.
I never get bored with this technique because it gives me almost infinite possibilities to create unique space around lead vocal every time. It`s almost like painting a new landscape with these 6 (or more) faders.
One free plugin that you recommend?
TDR Nova. When I started to dig deeper in the mixing process, I`ve discovered the concept of dynamic EQ. TDR Nova is a great free solution for dynamic equalization that can provide you excellent results.
It really helped me clean up my mixes, get rid of tone masking in dense arrangements (thanks to sidechain support) and to achieve more gentle non-invasive tone shaping. Great tool!
Favorite piece of studio gear?
Probably my Universal Audio Apollo Twin. It just fits my workflow so perfectly! And the Unison preamp technology is a total game changer! This piece of gear helps me move quickly and efficiently during my sessions and I consider it my best studio upgrade of 2018.
Which three plug-ins you can`t live without?
FabFilter Pro-Q3. Excellent tool, very versatile and intuitive at the same time. I use lots of analog-modelled EQ-s for coloration, but Pro-Q lives in all of my sessions now, that includes individual tracks, sibmixes and master bus (with some M-S processing on it).
Soundtoys Decapitator. I LOVE saturation. For years I tried to achieve the cleanest and the most polished sound possible, only to discover that it`s the saturation that gives the sound the features that I like - fullness, density, rawness, sometimes even sense of danger and insanity.
Sometimes I tend to overuse it a bit, but no one has complained yet, so I might be doing something right!
Valhalla VintageVerb. For a long time, this was the only reverb I used on my mixes. Lots of different modes and colors (the 70s, 80s and modern) make it very versatile for many styles of music. Must have for every producer!
What does the future hold for Kirill Afonin in the music industry?
I feel like my producer career is only getting started right now. Though I`ve been doing this for almost 20 years (give or take), the clarity of vision and understanding of my place in music had come only recently and I feel very empowered with that.
The music industry in Russia is very alive and growing right now and I`m happy to be a part of it. And with all that said I`d be willing to try my hand on the international level, collaborating with artists from other parts of the world.
Last question, What is your favorite SoundGym Feature, and why?
As a former gamer, I love stats! Besides competitiveness, it also provides lots of useful information on your performance in eq-ing, panning, etc. Also, you can use it to find out what to improve in your monitor system or room acoustics. Good stuff!