Grammy-nominated producer/remixer/DJ Chris Cox makes Billboard history scoring hat trick with Kelly Osbourne Remix
Making an impact in clubs and on the airwaves worldwide, Kelly Osbourne's "One Word" is the latest #1 remix by Grammy-nominated Producer/Remixer/DJ (and MOTU user) Chris Cox, and the first remix to achieve a hat trick on the Billboard dance charts.
According to Billboard Magazine's Dance, Latin and Classical Charts Manager Ricardo Companioni, "Chris Cox's remix of 'One Word' by Kelly Osbourne (Sanctuary) topped Billboard's 3 dance charts (Club Play, Dance Singles Sales, and Dance Airplay) simultaneously for the week ending June 18th. It's the first time in the history of the charts that this has happened."
The Chris Cox remix of 'One Word' is also included on Osbourne's latest album Sleeping in the Nothing, and a video was cut to his remix.
Chris has had a total of 38 Billboard #1 chart-toppers as part of the hitmaking remix team, Thunderpuss, and others with Pusaka and as a solo artist.
Chris is a long-time Digital Performer user and self-proclaimed MOTU Gear Freak. We recently caught up with him by phone as he was heading out for yet another weekend overseas DJ gig. In this interview, Chris gives us a snapshot of his ever accelerating state of mind, from the creative inspiration behind his latest chart-topping remix, to what it was like to hang with Kelly Osbourne, to his latest favorite features in Digital Performer, to how iChat and DP together help drive the existence of one of the top Remixer/DJs on the planet.
MOTU: What are your favorite new features in DP these days?
Chris: I've been living for Consolidated Windows. When I first got it, I was like, "Hmmm, what's this?" And now it's just so great to be able to monitor everything at the same time.
MOTU: Yes, people seem to really be loving that feature.
Chris: Yeah, definitely. I'm very surprised by how useful it is. And just like two weeks ago, I got a little flat screen TV in the studio - just for some background stimulation or whatever - and it had PC input, so I put a separate output from my Mac, and now I've got this sort of remote monitor over by my mixing desk, in between my workstation area and my mixer. So now I can set up separate things, like I can have my mix window displayed there all the time. It's this ridiculous little luxury that I never thought about - I know tons of people do - but I had just never gone there. And now I'm wanting another couple of monitors.
MOTU: So for the overall workflow on the Kelly Osbourne project, was it soup-to-nuts Digital Performer?
Chris: Yes, everything was done in Digital Performer. At the beginning of the project, the parts were delivered to me as a Pro Tools session. I have an mBox, but it's just for file transfers. I opened up Pro Tools, did a track consolidation, and then got the hell out of there as quickly as possible. Everything was then thrown into Digital Performer. Original BPM was I think 112 or 115. I took all the original tracks and changed them to 128. I did some of the time stretching in Serato and some of it in Digital Performer. I did all the vocals in Digital Performer, and anything rhythmic was done in Serato. Then I determined what tracks I wanted to use. And out of those I kept the vocal, a piano part and a few other tracks. Then I basically started working on my own tracks.
With a good majority of this stuff, there are only maybe three or four MIDI tracks total. Most of my material on this mix I built from audio. I pulled sounds from my library - certain things that I like, certain drum sounds and what not - and I literally just programmed the whole thing with audio - as far as setting up the initial drum tracks. I had a couple of keyboard lines that I did via MIDI. Little things that I played that were rhythmic synth lines. All the other stuff was live guitar and live bass plugged in through the Universal Audio UA-6176 going directly into the HD192. So the bass went right into the Universal Audio preamp and then into the HD192. And then my guitar chain went in the same way. Once I had all these raw elements, I just started hacking and cutting away in Digital Performer. Everything was mixed down in Digital Performer, and then grouped tracked were run out of my 2408mkII into the Mackie d8B mixer. I added little bit of the Mackie effects on some tracks - a couple of reverbs and a couple delays - and the whole master mix was then run from the AES/EBU outputs of the Mackie desk and recorded back into the HD192. I monitored the HD192 inputs live via the Digital inputs on the Mackie. The whole process: tracking, recording, mixing, editing - everything was done in DP.
Chris: Yeah. It was very cool. That was my 38th #1 on the Billboard dance charts. And all of them were done in DP. It's works out pretty well for me.
Pretty soon I'm going to want to update my system. I'd really just like to lose the mixer and output directly from the HD192 into a very discrete little analog mixer just to kind of wash things. Maybe something from Manley or Dangerous Music, or something that's just like an 8-channel analog mixer, because I definitely want to spread out the sound. I don't want to do everything in the box - I want to have an analog signal path. It's something I want to do before the end of the year. I want to have a totally different rig because I'm doing so much "in the box." I'm realizing the value of recording things directly into Digital Performer now, so it's kind of made me rethink the my entire setup.
MOTU: Sounds like a good plan.
Chris: I also want to get one of those Travelers at some point, too, because I've been recording my radio show every week live from wherever I'm playing. It's working well, but I definitely want to increase the fidelity because I've been using the little eighth-inch audio jack on the PowerBook. It's OK, but it's kind of ghetto and not really broadcast quality. I definitely hit walls and I need to have a different kind of gain control because I use different DJ mixers everywhere. Does it fit right underneath the laptop with the same footprint as the laptop?
Chris: That's cool. And is there any problem with heat from the laptop since my Powerbook gets so hot?
MOTU: No. The Traveler itself is very low heat - and virtually no noise at all - because there's no transformer in that thing. It's all bus-powered. So it's really light and it's really quiet and it's really cool.
Chris: Are there other power options?
MOTU: It also has a DC power supply input. And you can even - you would never do this probably - run it off an industry-standard DC battery pack that you might use at a video shoot.
Chris: One of the things I'm going to be doing this summer is going to Ibiza, and I'm going to be recording over there again and doing live stuff like vocals and live instrument tracks. Can it operate at 220 volts?
Chris: Very cool.
MOTU: So give us a rundown of your current rig at this point. Is it G5-based?
Chris: I've got two studios I've been working out of. And the Kelly Osbourne project was done in LA, where I've got a G4 dual 1.25 with an HD192, a 2408mkII, an MTPAV - actually two of those - and an XT, the Mackie D8B mixing console, Mackie monitors, Tannoy monitors, and of course tons of keyboards and toys. The second studio in New York is virtual and based around a dual-processor G5 Tower.
MOTU: What third-party plug-ins have you been using lately?
Chris: I've been using Vanguard as much as I can. I love Vanguard. And oh, my other new favorite plug-in - I mean the number one plug-in for dance music right now - is Ohm Boyz. I mean it makes anything sound instantly cool. Immediately it's the coolest underground track once you put that on it. I love their stuff.
MOTU: And MachFive?
Chris: As a sound design device, MachFive is really cool. Sound-quality wise, it's phenomenal. Like even today, for this one piece I was working on, a more chillout kind of thing, I needed real-sounding strings and a couple of sounds that required higher fidelity, and it was great! And now that the latency compensation problem has been taken care of, it's so much better.
There are so many things about DP that I am so happy with. And I'm finally just now starting to learn some of the values of recording live into DP because I was forever just MIDI - everything was all MIDI, MIDI, MIDI. I am having so much more fun with audio than I ever did with MIDI, and now for the first time ever I track everything - there's not one single MIDI thing that happens in the final mix. Anything that I do record as MIDI I just immediately convert to audio as quick as possible. I have so much fun just messing around with it and enjoying the flexibility. The only thing that's been an issue is if I have to repitch something, and it sounds like you guys are taking care of that with the new version of DP, so that's awesome.
MOTU: Not only is it a lot more direct and hands on in the track for you to make it faster to do, we've also improved the algorithms under the hood, so it does a better job of pitch shifting and pitch analysis. It does a much better job of knowing what the center pitch is of notes and that kind of thing.
Chris: That's really, really nice. So yeah, everything else has been jammin' along. I've been on the road more than anything else. The road stuff has been doing fantastic. I'm really surprised.
MOTU: Meaning DJing?
Chris: Yeah, and recording, too. I just did a whole week of sessions over in London at Olympic Studios. I've been partnering with Pete Tong, who is on BBC Radio 1 and quite a big name in the dance scene.
Chris: He has a room there, and so we just worked on this project. Olympic was such a cool studio because I got to go work, and there's Bjork having lunch in the lounge and Madonna's getting ready to come next week, so it's like this totally happening scene. I worked for a week there and ending up making a track that looks like its gonna be a big record in the UK. The initial buzz is just phenomenal.
MOTU: What is it?
Chris: It's an original by myself and him. We're actually the artists on it. I've kind of gone to that realm and actually have a few things going on that are kind of interesting. I'm working on a mix CD that will have a few originals on it. I had one single that was kind of a big underground buzz record in the UK earlier this year. It turned up in a movie and it's on all the Ibiza summer compilations. That single has led into me doing some other stuff for that market as an artist. And then, I've also got an artist I'm developing. I think I may have told you about her earlier because she's a girl from Boston who is actually a Digital Performer user! Anyway, we just got her first record signed. There's this really good buzz on her. We just finished recording our fourth or fifth track track together, and the first single has just been commercially released.
MOTU: What's her name?
Chris: Her name is SK8. Yeah, she's been a DP user... that's how we kind of met. She has the same computer, same mixer, same TV, same everything as me! We just like really hit it off. And you know, she's just really really young, hot, and gorgeous, which doesn't hurt. But she is also just way cool - a Vassar graduate - and has her wits about her and all that. So, yeah, it's turned into this whole other thing where I'm actually being a proper producer - at least for a couple of projects.
MOTU: So what was it like working with Kelly Osbourne?
Chris: It was surprising. Because after seeing the TV show, I had certain expectations. Even after hearing the first album, I was thinking, alright, what am I going to hear? And then I heard the first single, and I thought wow, this is interesting. I really like this!
MOTU: Who produced it for her?
Chris: Linda Perry was the writer/producer on it. And the original reminded very much of this 80's song - a new wave song - called Fade to Grey by Visage, which was a top ten UK record. And the minute I heard it I was like oh my god, that sounds just like Fade to Grey. It really kind of set a definite tone. I thought it was a really good move for her because of where she's at vocally - and even just what comes across personality-wise - like that very affected 80's kind of thing just seemed to really work well with her. So when I first heard the track, I thought "okay this is interesting, this is cool." When I met her, it was just completely, completely different than what I expected. She was so much better than I expected!
Chris: She is so sweet. She is so nice. She is so well-spoken, well-read. She was just really, really enjoyable. I was so pleasantly surprised.
MOTU: She was so not Hollywood.
Chris: Yeah, she was so not what you would expect. I seriously expected some monster to come out - some sort of brat. But I so enjoyed my time with her. We had lunch one day and then we ended up meeting the next day for a little PA thing that was supposed to be just for her, but then she sort of brought me in on it. She was just really sweet.
MOTU: What was the track that you remixed for her?
Chris: It's called 'One Word', and it's from her latest album Sleeping in the Nothing.
MOTU: So for the remix, did you actually do any recording with her?
Chris: Not with her directly, but I got the master parts. There was a lot of recording done on it because I did live guitar work and live bass work. I actually played a lot of live tracks. It's funny - there's two different mixes I did. There's the one that has become the really big hit, which is a more housey mix. And then - because it reminded me so much of the old days - I also did a total vintage mix as well that's called the "Night Mix." And that was, basically, the kind of record that I had always wanted to do in 1986, but didn't have the gear for at the time.
Chris: For that mix, what I did was - it was all vintage gear. I didn't break out one modern piece of gear to play. All vintage gear was recorded direct into the HD192. So I have an original LinnDrum and an original Prophet and all this other stuff just to give that sound, that character. It was totally fun.
MOTU: So it came out the way you had hoped it would?
Chris: Oh totally!
MOTU: In terms of the vintage quality?
Chris: Well the main mix that's become the real hit version - it was weird because it was kind of a departure for me soundwise because a lot of the stuff I do is more anthem-y, big room, screaming diva kind of records. This record is so moody and effected - kind of in that really dark, heroine sounding kind of thing, I just kind of went along with the mood and just kind of sculpted something around her vocals. I think it really made a considerable difference because I just kind of - I don't know - I just kind of let go. And it was one of the first things in a long time that I did - I just recorded a whole bunch of live stuff on it. I often get so caught up in just programming MIDI and sampling that I forget to play. And this one for some reason - it just sounded more fun because it had kind of a synthy edge to it, like back in the day when synthy records were still being played by bands with guitars. I just wanted some different character. I've been playing a lot of guitar again lately, so I thought I would just throw them in the mix. I'll play directly into Digital Performer, but then I'll totally tweak the sound out and just do tons of manipulation to the sound to the point that people might think that it's synth work or sample programming work, but its actually live tracks that I've just totally destroyed.
MOTU: That's great.
Chris: I've been doing that a lot lately and it's been really fun because, you know, after working on hundreds of records, there's only some much I'm going to get out of a Nord Lead.
Chris: So I'm getting a little bored. You know? So I've been wanting some new sounds. And instead of just digging through synth patches, I've been plugging in the guitar or putting in stomp boxes or even just playing clean directly into Digital Performer and then taking that audio data and just totally...
MOTU: Mangling it?
Chris: Yeah...creating something new out of it. Like, I'll just play along with the song, and then I'll grab a couple of beats here and there. Or I'll even play the song chord progressions, and then I'll edit together whatever a bar would be for a particular chord, and then I'll edit together all the other bars, and then I'll make this kind of clip art kind of thing made up of mangled bits. So there's like a looseness to it but its totally programmed - so it feels dance-y because it feels loopy, but it's not, really.
MOTU: It sounds like it's another way for you to keep the creative juices flowing and just kind of do stuff that is producing worthwhile results. You just dive into it and plow through it and...
Chris: Yeah, it's been inspiring again. You know, I was getting bored. You have your way of working, and there's a comfort level. But then there's also a fine line between a comfort level and getting stale.
MOTU: Good point.
iChat, Digital Performer, XM radio and the global DJ
During our phone interview with Chris, he pauses to handle an interruption...
Chris: ...uh, hang on, let me get rid of this ichat session - one second. [Pauses.] I've just got to clear out these people. Sometimes it's... ahhh... overwhelming. I usually don't leave it on. iChat's been the savior of the traveling DJ, I'll tell ya. As people are finishing things, they'll just give it to me through iChat. There's this whole little network. And on Fridays - Friday is the big day - I just log on and WHAM! Last night I got 28 tracks from different people and friends. I will also use it if I want to launch a record.
MOTU: So you download stuff, burn a CD, hop on a plane and then go play it?
MOTU: That's great!
Chris: Or even better, sometimes I'll download stuff in the hotel room and burn it during sound check!
Chris: I've edited things in DP all the way up until the doors open, and then burn a CD. I record all my live sets in DP - I record everything. I'm airing my live sets on a weekly show on XM Radio (BPM Channel 81). Everything is recorded live into DP on my PowerBook. One time - this is really bad planning - I started my set, but I had one or two more things that I needed to burn off iTunes, and so I burned a CD with iTunes in the background while Digital Performer was recording. It was so kick-ass! I was loving it. So I'll literally eject the CD and 10 minutes later I'm playing it live into the mix.
Chris: Every now and then, just altering your thought process and your work method, and even your instrument, is crucial. I'll play something completely different on guitar than I would on keyboard. And I'll play it totally different using MIDI pads than I would on a keyboard. So, sometimes it is worthwhile to just jam out on something. What I find myself doing often is playing along with a track on guitar, but then sitting down at the keyboard because now it's time to start "working on the record." But yet I was having fun on guitar making all the fun little sounds and goofing around, so I just decided, what if I started recording all those parts where I was just goofing around and having fun? And as a result, the records became more fun. It's like making music was just getting too serious for me. So instead, let's just.... like... jam for a minute! So it was during these solo jam sessions that I began recording everything. I then go back through those tracks and take little bits - take the weirdest little parts or some mistake or accident or whatever, and then suddenly just focus on that and turn it into some new interesting sound, or at least something that sounds kind of cool to me.
MOTU: Well, it is often said that some of the greatest musical inspirations were actually born as mistakes. Or something that was not originally intended. But then it becomes the source of something that is completely worthwhile from a creative standpoint.
Chris: Yeah, totally. So there's been a lot of that, actually. Where it's been a completely different process. The Kelly Osbourne project was almost the beginning of that - well actually the thing I did in the UK last year - that was kind of the beginning of it. I was just kind of being a bit more experimental, and there were no expectations. I just suddenly started having fun with some things again. By the time the Kelly project hit I just kinda took it and did my thing where I stripped it out and rebuilt it in a whole new way. Of course it really helps that it's a well-written song and there is a cool initial idea started. And yeah, it's turned out to be one of the biggest remixes of my career. It got added as a bonus track on her album, and while I was just traveling over in Europe a couple of weeks ago and I heard it all over the radio there. It's just really taken off.
MOTU: Is it available on iTunes?
Chris: I believe it is. I know there's a commercial CD single, and there's also an album track.
MOTU: We'll check it out.
Chris: In general the whole experience was way nicer than I ever expected. It was also pretty cool because her dad was one of my heros. I was a kid in my bedroom trying to learn every Randy Rhodes solo that I could. I am a massive Ozzy fan. Initially, I felt like I had to do this project just because of my passion for Ozzy all these years, but then it became more about Kelly, and I see where she's coming from and can respect her on her own terms. It's no longer just, "Oh, it's Ozzy's daughter." She definitely has her own thing that she's doing.
MOTU: She certainly does.
Chris: So yeah, I'm really happy. And as always, I use Digital Performer for the entire process!
MOTU: Chris, we appreciate the time.
Chris: My pleasure.
For more information about Chris Cox, including bookings, visit his web site.