It's likely there are very few people in this industry who haven't heard of Paul White, but equally there's probably quite a few who don't know much more beyond the fact that he's the Chocolate HobNob biscuit-loving Editor-in-Chief of Sound on Sound magazine.
Paul started his career as an electronics engineer with music and recording as a serious hobby. In 1984 he joined Music Maker Publications as technical editor for Home Studio Recording magazine where he reviewed products and also designed electronic projects for the readers to build.
A few months later he became editor of Home and Studio Recording as well as technical editor of the existing Electronics and Music Maker magazine. He also took on the role of technical editor for the new Music Maker titles including Guitarist and Rhythm.
In 1991 Paul left music Maker Publications to join SOS publications as editor of Audio Media Magazine and founding editor of Recording Musician. When the existing editor of Sound On Sound left the company, Paul took over the post until 2004 when he was made Editor In Chief, a role he has held ever since.
When he’s not captaining the helm at Sound On Sound, Paul is one half of chill/ambient duo ‘Cydonia Collective’ who have just released their second album ‘Kronos’. Several of our brands’ products were used on the album, so we got in touch with Paul to find out more about his musical journey and how he has been using those products. Check out his video below too!
When did you first discover your love of music? Were your parents musical?
Apparently, my mother used to play a bit of piano but got rid of it because as soon as I learnt to walk, I used to climb up it and then jump off. My dad liked his classical records and of course back then all parents thought pop music was rubbish.
Music lessons at my grammar school consisted of Mr Thorpe playing some classic record or other, then stopping it to check we were at the right bar in the manuscript. If you weren’t, you got a ruler across the knuckles.
That’s all I can remember about music lessons, but then I saw a band rehearsing at the local youth club and thought the drums looked like fun. I started out playing drums at the age of 13 and by 15 was in a rather good school band with a particularly talented guitarist.
My parents were very supportive once I started playing and they drove me to all our gigs as getting a drum kit onto a bus was something of a challenge.
We supported The Who at Barnsley Civic Hall in 1965, which was great as we were all big fans. After getting interested in electronics, I started building fuzz boxes and treble boosters for the guitarist in the band, and I needed to buy a guitar to test them.
Within a few years, the guitar was my main instrument, though I still have a set of V Drums and a small jazz drum kit in the studio. The standing joke was always that I used to play the drums before taking up a musical instrument.
After school, I moved to Malvern to studio electronics with the Royal Radar Establishment where I met Peter Baxandall, who also worked there. I tell people I left Barnsley because I couldn’t learn the language.
I stayed in commercial electronics until 1984 When I was offered the job of Technical Editor with Home Studio Recording magazine. The rest is mystery ;-)
Which music/artists influenced you growing up, and indeed today?
Early influences included The Who, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The John Mayall/Eric Clapton ‘Beano' Album, of course, then a little later it was Cream, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. I also loved The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Today my favourite bands are still the ones where the members are old enough to retire! And you’ve just got to love anything Jeff Beck does.
My main disappointment with most chart music is that there’s too much emphasis on perfect ‘stage school’ vocals and not enough on the sound of the band. To me, the best bands always had something interesting to say both vocally and instrumentally and vocal perfection was never as important as a captivating performance.
What would happen if you subjected some of the enduring big stars to a Cowell-Oke talent show? Would Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Mick Jagger, Roger Waters, Neil Young, Alex Harvey or Roger Daltrey have lasted more than a couple of rounds? I suspect not.
What would you say are your strongest and weakest traits when it comes to writing music?
I can’t write music in a specific genre to order — I just create whatever appears at the time. I have no ability sing whatsoever, so most of what I write now is instrumental being a cross between ambient and chill out with a guitar.
I can coax a good sound out of the electric guitar if I stick within my limitations but as I broke both wrists in a parachuting accident when I was 25, playing barre chords is somewhat painful, so I try to avoid them.
I’d like to know more music theory, but when I’m programming string parts, I just use ‘The Force’ and then keep tweaking until it sounds right. I think my strongest aspects are in the use of creative sound manipulation and then mixing all the elements to form a cohesive final track.
Tell us about Cydonia Collective and how you got together.
Having already produced four albums of instrumental music under my own name (not to be confused with another Paul White who always pops up in my searches), I met up with Mark Soden via our mutual friend and guitarist Gordon Giltrap. Gordon has kindly added a few parts to a couple of the tracks on each of the two current Cydonia Collective albums (Stasis and Kronos), and we hope we can do more with him in the future.
Mark played in bands in Coventry in his younger days but gave up live performance for studio work, which in his case was mainly in the EDM/Dance genre. We got together just to see what would happen and it turned out that we worked well together.
I tend to come up with the basics of a new piece, then Mark takes it away and works on the arrangements, adding parts of his own. Then we get together again and try to add the final touches. Mark is good at finding motifs in my improvised guitar parts, so he’s become very adept with Logic’s scissors tool.
The name Cydonia Collective came after trying dozens of other names only to find that they were already taken. As an aside, I’m also reworking some of my ancient EDM material that is going online as I finish each track under the artist name of Psychic Badger. Nobody else had that. I wonder why?
How would you describe your music?
I used to describe it only half-jokingly as ‘music’ to soak lentils by’, but in reality, it is quite different from most of this the things you hear in New Age shops. No pan pipes! I think Ambient/Chill is as close as you can get to a description but you’ll hear influences from Eric Satie, Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck and even some classical sources.
I like adding heavily processed natural or vocal sounds to produce an unusual result that still sounds organic and musical. We just write what we like — I don’t think many people gain success by chasing the popular genre of the day. As long as some people like what we do that’s fine.
Many people have commented that it would lend itself to TV or film work, but it wasn’t written with that in mind. I have no illusions about making a lot of money from music as there’s just so much out there, but if I can offer something a little different that makes people happy, then I’m good with that.
What’s your studio set-up like? (Key hardware, DAW used etc.)
My home studio is set up in a single room (16 x 11 feet) with some basic acoustic treatment and Event Opal monitors. The main DAW is Logic Pro as it’s what I grew up with since the C-Lab days. All that still runs on a 2012 Mac Pro, which manages to keep up most days.
I used to have a live room, but that has been taken over by the laundry section of the house as it isn’t really needed anymore. Every Christmas I pull out all the plugs and rewire everything, removing anything that hasn’t been used for a while.
I have several nice external mic preamps, but I found that I’d been using the ones built into my Presonus and UA Apollo interfaces for the past couple of years with no problems. So I cleared some space by moving the surplus mic preamps to my ‘cupboard of eternal darkness’ along with the large DAW control surfaces that I replaced recently with a tiny Presonus Faderport.
All that extra space meant I could fit in two larger and brighter computer screens. In reality, my system is quite simple — you don’t need a lot to make good recordings these days unless you record a lot of acoustic instruments in which case a sympathetic space helps.
I think there's a smattering of one Zynaptiq plug-in or another on most of the tracks as I find them extremely useful tools in creating new textural sounds that still retain an organic element. Adaptiverb’s ability to constrain the reverb harmonics to a held sound spectrum or a set of musical notes has to be heard to be appreciated.
I did a demo at the AES show in New York in 2017 where choral sounds were created by time stretching a piece of speech, passing it through a pitch corrector set to a specific set of notes and then using Adaptiverb to transform it into a huge wall of voices.
If you want to try this, a tip is to edit out all the sibilant sounds first if you want a smooth-sounding result. Adaptiverb can also work wonders in reshaping the sound of an Ebow electronic guitar bow, something I use quite a lot during the Cydonia Collective recordings.
[Check out this video of Paul demonstrating Wormhole, Adaptiverb and Output in action - Ed]
Do you use any other Zynaptiq software?
I have just started to look at PitchMap, and I’ve reviewed most of the ‘corrective’ Zynaptiq plug-ins. I saw Orange Vocoder at NAMM and was really impressed by what Zynaptiq are doing with it. I can’t wait to try it. I haven’t used the previous version myself though I’ve heard the results and it always sounded pretty impressive — but I think this reboot will be so much more.
Other than Zynaptiq software, which other plug-ins/instruments do you frequently turn to when producing music?
As a rubbish keyboard player, I use Jam Origin’s MIDI Guitar software a lot to transform guitar parts into MIDI. It does this without requiring a hex pickup. If I need natural-sounding drums, I usually go for Toontrack's EZ Drummer, which sounds excellent, though Logic’s inbuilt drummer gets better all the time and now has a couple of useful brush kits.
For less natural drum sounds I’ll often combine something I’ve programmed myself with Spectrasonics Stylus RMX which I’ve always had a fondness for, especially the Liquid Grooves expansion stuff. I also have a Korg Wavedrum that gets taken out on occasions.
Other plug-ins that get a lot of use include Eventide’s Black Hole, the UAD plug-ins when I need something more traditional, and some of the more unusual Waves plug-ins such as Vocal Rider and Torque. And of course Spectrasonics Omnisphere — there’s something in that for everyone.
Of Logic’s instruments, Alchemy has also turned out to be a very versatile synth for our kind of music.
For problem-solving iZotope’s RX is probably my first port of call though they also make some great creative tools too including Iris II and Mobius Filter. And for adding rhythm to something, Output’s Movement is a genuinely creative plug-in that gets used a fair bit.
For guitar I still get the best results when miking my amp — unless I want a really nice clean sound in which case I usually just DI it and use compression, delay and reverb plug-ins with no amp modelling. I will occasionally use an amp modelling plug-in, but they don’t ‘feel’ the same to me as playing through an amplifier, even at low volume.
I have far too many guitar pedals but some of them are essential to my sound, and I like the less obvious things that EHX are producing such as the B9 organ pedal and the SuperEgo Plus.
I do tinker building my own guitars so when I thought fretless bass might be useful on some of the new tracks, I took the frets out of an unwanted Ibanez bass neck and replaced them with white plastic shim before sanding the whole thing smooth.
A piece of mahogany from a reclaimed snooker table was recycled as the body, and it plays really well. Getting precise intonation takes some practice — but a gentle application of Autotune makes everything sound so much more accurate than it really is.
As Editor in Chief of SOS, you see a lot of new gear released every month, is there anything, in particular, you’re dying for a developer to release?
Most of the things I need in the studio already exist, though I do keep badgering the Zynaptiq guys to add new modulation and morphing features that I think could be fun. Most of what I feel still needs inventing relates to small-scale live sounds as I still play in a trio, often in the corner of a pub where the stage area is only twice the size of my pedalboard.
I’d like to see more stage lighting and monitoring built into the back of PA speakers — the only people I persuaded to build something along those lines was Studiomaster — and when I tested their system it worked really well. There’s never space for separate lighting stands or monitors in most pubs so combining them with the main PA seems pretty obvious to me.
Actually, there is one studio product that I’d like somebody to develop, and that is a drum sound remodeller plug-in. I don’t really like to use full drum replacement, but if a plug-in could be developed to reshape or replace the harmonic balance of a drum to make it sounds more expensive without removing the original attack. I could certainly make use of it, especially for the 16 inch kick drum in my little studio kit as it never records with the weight of sound I’d like. And more content for Stylus RMX wouldn’t go amiss.
Finally, what’s been your most memorable moments in terms of a) your personal music production, and b) working for SOS?
Working for Sound On Sound has been a wonderful experience as I get to meet a lot of top producers and engineers and I always learn something from them. I also get to meet many of the people behind the products I use and, as my first career was in electronics, I enjoy geeking out with the designers.
Our Studio SOS series has also been a great opportunity to learn what real-life problems home studio owners face and as well as meeting dozens of regular Sound On Sound Readers. We’ve also had the occasional celebrity challenge such as helping sort out Midge Ure’s garden office studio and creating a temporary studio space for film composer Hans Zimmer above a West End film editing studio.
My little home studio has seen a few famous faces over the years including Gordon Giltrap, Bert Jansch, Nigel Kennedy (who used to live just up the road), and I even had a visit from Steve Winwood many years ago to check out Sound Tools, which was the two-track forerunner to ProTools. My most nerve-wracking gig was handling the live sound for Sir George Martin’s garden party. No pressure then!
People ask me about my ambitions for the future, and my reply is always that I’d like to be there to see it.
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