Interview with Niall McCallum of ModeAudio


Hi Niall! Please give me some background information about yourself and how you came to be the co-founder of ModeAudio.

Firstly, it’s a pleasure to speak to you – I’m a big fan of Melodiefabriek, particularly your excellent blog pieces that roam beyond the confines of digital music production into jazz theory and beyond!

My music production journey began in high school, when I started to mess around with an early version of Reason on the advice of my drum teacher. I wasn’t totally hooked until I went to university in Scotland, where I’m from, to study Music Technology – it was here that my passion for all things floating between the borders of music and tech was really born.

From there I moved to London to continue my studies, developing my skills in software such as Logic and Ableton, as well as designing my own patches and mini performance systems in modular software environments like Pure Data and Max/MSP.

Whilst I found the world of ‘sound art’ incredibly inspiring and exciting from a tech point of view, I just couldn’t quite shake my love for the familiar rhythms and melodies of the dancefloor and creating my own soundware seemed a perfect fit for my interests.

Tell me more about the team at ModeAudio – how are your roles divided up?

We’re a very small but extremely enthusiastic and dedicated team comprising sound designers and developers. We’re a little different from the crowd in the sense that we do virtually everything ourselves – from sound design to formatting, creating graphics and developing our website, to social media, exploring new avenues of collaboration and so on, everything is done from within our core team.

This allows us to rigorously quality control everything that is and is associated with ModeAudio, and allows us to flexible and adaptive to the task or project at hand. It also gives our whole operation a friendly feel, which I hope our visitors and customers can get a sense of!

You develop sound libraries for Reason, as well as creating tutorials specifically for the DAW – what is it you like about the programme?

Aside from Reason being my first DAW love, comparing it to today’s raft of exemplary music making software packages reveals it to be a refreshing alternative in my book. I love the quivering wires and the vertical rack approach, even the limitation of only have a handful of dials and buttons to assign is something I find challenging and thus inspiring.

I also think Propellerhead are always looking to the next development or improvement, which I find inspiring, and they really care about their community of users. In other words, they’re good guys!

There are more sounds available than ever before. What advice would you give to a new producer who finds this choice a bit overwhelming?

I think we find ourselves in enlightened times – there’s more music than ever before and as a result, more options for making music. It’s never been easier to find a workflow that suits you, hopefully translating into increased efficiency and a greater volume of music the user is happy with. This can only be a good thing!

I suppose the big downside of this however, is the inevitable lowering of the quality of tools and products flooding the marketplace. Our response to this as soundware developers is simple – create the best possible sounds we can and let them speak for themselves!

In terms of direct advice, I’d say to a new producer always be on the lookout for a developer with lots of positive reviews from reliable sources (we have one or two from the likes of Computer Music Mag, Music Tech and Ask Audio (see this link), for example 😉 and be sure to try out any free offerings to make sure the sounds suit your style. Our 650MB+ free sampler (sign up for the ModeAudio newsletter) might be a good place to start!

What inspires you to create new sounds?

That one’s easy – music! Music is the most important thing in my life, plain and simple. I think it’s pretty much the founding principle of our team. Listening to new sounds inspires me constantly, I can barely listen to something for 10 seconds without wondering how I can learn from it in my own productions.

New tools are always inspiring too, such as a brand new synth or plugin to play with. I’ve been picking up vintage drum machines recently for example and it doesn’t take much of tinkering with their dials and switches to start dreaming up new sound packs!

ModeAudio focuses on loops, samples and synth presets, as well as field recordings. How are people using these recordings in particular?

In all sorts of ways, from layering them into dance productions to working them into sound design work for audio-visual projects and more. It’s one of the most satisfying aspects of the business actually, knowing how wide an application the sounds can have.

Finally, how do you draw the line between your own personal taste and popular genres when developing sounds?

That’s an excellent question – for us, it has to be a balance of both. I just don’t see the point in developing sounds in a genre you’re not interested in aesthetically, the sounds simply won’t come out with any great feeling. Pick something that you really love, like the sound of the LA Beat Scene for example, and you can really get cooking!

At the same time, we do of course have to be mindful of genres which are popular with music makers. So, we try to shoot for areas that satisfy both our tastes and what is popular at the given time, such as Deep House, Chillwave and so on.

Thanks for talking to me!

Thanks again for the invite!

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