Etui Podcast #36: Andrea Cichecki

Andrea Cichecki is an artist inspired by sound and specialised in the field of electronic music. Based in Germany but with Dutch roots, Andrea has been honing her skills intensely during the last few years in order to flourish her creativity and to perfect her craftsmanship.

We invited Andrea to hold a workshop about mixing and mastering at DAVE Festival in Dresden. But due to the Corona Pandemic the workshop had to be canceled. So we talked online with her about her work as a producer, mixing and mastering engineer, her creative process and living in the countryside.

Etui Podcast #36: Andrea Cichecki

01 Yosi Horikawa – Timbres
02 Dorisburg & Efraim Kent – Tecken II
03 Dauwd – Dolly Silverlake – Aus Music
04 Marco Nega – In Your Arms (Immer.Chic’s Spheric Dub) – Waehlscheibe
05 Aril Brikha – Setting Sun
06 Answer Code Request – Pasiris
07 Na Nich – KARPATI – OBQ011
08 Francisco Aguado – Deep Look
09 J & L – Save The Planet – ESHU Records
10 Tencion – The Hunger
11 John Beltran – Ascending
12 Ben Buitendijk – Near Mint
13 Deniro – Malamute – ÆX014
14 John Beltran – The Season Series – Sunflower

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It´s not uncommon creative people leave small cities for a metropolitan city. Why did you move from Berlin to the countryside near Dresden some years ago?

Berlin was really attractive to me and I loved the craziness of the city, the people, the vibe and the club scene. I’ve seen it, lived it and absorbed it all. As a DJ being in Berlin is great but for me it was hard to evolve as a producer, which was actually my biggest wish. After saving up money, I went to study at the Abbey Roads Institute and discovered a whole new world of music and sound.

One day in 2017, I visited Castle Studios near Dresden, to attend a workshop with iconic producer Sylvia Massy who worked with e.g. Prince, Tool and Johnny Cash. There, I also met her engineer Peter Junge, the artist community and the studio owner Arno Jordan. About a year later, Peter and I met again, fell in love and so he moved from London to Berlin and we started living together.

Not long after, we got an opportunity to live in the artist community and work at the studio. So we decided to give it a go, packed our things and have been enjoying the countryside since.

You are working as a mixing and mastering engineer at the Castle Studios. Can you tell us a bit about your work there?

I work as a freelance music producer, mixing & mastering engineer with my own clients. I’m specialised in electronic music and, being an artist myself, work on my own productions but also compose for other artists (such as singer-songwriters), for example, when they need additional electronic sounds, layers or soundscapes in their songs. For that I bring my clients into the studio as well.

Beside that, I work part-time as an assistant engineer doing band recordings where I help setting up sessions, run smaller ones and do all the little things around the recordings too.

This can be swapping mics, getting different instruments and also bringing coffee to the artists. Recording days can be intense and long but I don’t mind it at all, because there is so much variety in music, the musicians and the work I do, it never gets boring.

Is there any difference between mixing and mastering an indie band or mixing electronic music?

The main difference is that a band has several members, is recorded live and rarely computer precise. So you have way more things you need to do, like drum editing and vocal treatment, cleaning and comping the project files, before you can even start mixing. It also depends whether you have recorded it yourself or somebody else did that for you.

If you record yourself you can already tweak and do a lot whilst tracking the artist. If not, this can easily lead to a lot of preparation work in order to get the sounds and instruments mix and mastering ready, be it cleaning the session, organising it or re-recording sounds to get a better starting point.

With electronic music everything is usually tight, often programmed. Most of the time you are working with well selected instruments and often composed by a single producer who works it all towards a final sound. That makes it usually a lot easier to work with.

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Do you have any advice to make a good sounding mix in electronic music?

Before anything, mixing really comes down to doing it a lot and training your ears intensely. Actively listening to many musical genres can help to improve your hearing. Learning how to listen to music in order to recognise frequencies, compression and effects will make you better and faster too. I always try and listen to as much different music as possible.

When mixing new music, I ask myself (and the client) what I want from the song, whether it’s a club tune to dance to or an album track that’s emotional, flowing etc. It’s important to understand that and get as much information as possible before you start the mix. That can affect what you do with it a lot. The more you know the easier it gets to start your mix in the right way.

After that, for me, a mix is usually like building a house. First you need a foundation to build on. Otherwise, when you take one brick out, the house falls apart. For many mixers, in many genres, that’s the drums and the bass. They need to work well together in order to place the other instruments on top. Try and find a good balance between the two first. Also try to cover the whole frequency spectrum with enough mid-range in the music. A lot of times, in electronic music, the focus is on the lows and highs but when the midrange spectrum is properly covered as well the music starts to be alive.

Another more practical tip I can give is to use a monitor controller for your loudspeakers. With a monitor controller you can fine tune your listening levels and mark e.g. three volume settings: low listening level, normal and high volume. Ideally, you stay on either level for a bit without jumping between them too much. This will help to improve your mixes as your ears get more sensitive to what you do. It’s all a constant learning process and I get better with every project I do as well.

Mastering is still kind of a mystery. How does a mastering process work and what makes a good sounding master?

I often wonder myself why there’s such a mystery about it and, honestly, I have no idea. I found out that mastering is all about subtle moves and not overdoing what is already there, especially with compression. It’s always the finishing touch of the production and you have the responsibility to deliver everything in the right formats.

I always work closely with my clients and when I receive a mix they still can improve on, and they are open to feedback, I’ll guide them towards a better sound. The better the mix, the easier it gets for the mastering engineer to enhance the artistic vision. When I start a new master, I first inspect the music by listening as well as using analysers for levels, frequencies, stereo width and then make notes.

I usually start working with my personal setup as I know my speakers and room inside out. From there I start tweaking with what I feel is needed, that can be EQ, raising levels or adding compression if it’s actually useful to the music. I always check reference tracks that the client likes and my own previous masters to compare it to what I’m working on. It’s important to match the levels between your work and the reference track when you compare in AB. When something is loud it will always win over a quieter song and it can be easy to fool yourself. Level-matched you can get surprises too and they might not always be good but usually very revealing. :)

When I’m done on my setup, I check the music on different monitoring systems like ATC, Kii Audio, Genelec or Geithain at the different studios I have access to. To me a good master is when it has a lot of depth and sounds good at any volume, not only on loud levels, on any device, on good speakers, headphones and a kitchen radio too.

Andrea Cichecki Studio
What soft- or hardware do you use for mastering?

Depending on what it is, I use Protools or Samplitude and a wide range of plugins on the software side. When the client wants to have an analog vibe, I might reach for an SSL compressor, a Tegeler EQP-1 Pultec style EQ or some vintage Telefunken EQs. At the studio is also a Studer mastering tape machine I want to try out but haven’t had the right project for. It always depends on the music and what it actually needs.

Can you tell us a bit about your studio setup and your production process?

My studio setup is hybrid, some parts happen within the computer and others with analog hardware. I have a Mac with my DAWs Ableton Live and Protools. Ableton is my sketchbook to be creative, arrange and come up with things and Protools is my mix and edit program.

On hardware, I have a modular synth, an Audios, Neutron & Crave synthesizers, an Elektron Digitakt, an ACME clock, a Strymon Timeline and the Arturia Minilab with all their synths and FXs. To tweak things during recording there’s e.g. the Tegeler EQ, a DBX compressor and I can also borrow the synths and instruments from the studio when they are not in use.

I often start a song with a sound or noise I like and tweak it into something. From there I continue with chord progressions and drum beats that make the foundation of a track. After that I create bass lines and melodies.

When I have a basis that works for me I start layering my sounds with delays and reverbs. Sometimes that goes fast and flows by itself and sometimes it takes months to work on tracks until I find the right elements. I simultaneously work on different songs until they are ready to be mixed.

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From what do you draw your inspirations?

For me being in nature gives me the most inspiration, I can calm down and get my ideas from watching trees, clouds and animals. Also, working with musicians who do different music than I do can be very inspiring. The idea of layering elements in my music I got from working with Peter on an album production with the fantastic French prog-rock band LizZard. How they worked on layering guitars, also using a wide range of pedals, was just mind-blowing and very inspirational. Recently, I found out about math-rock. Wow! What they do with time measures, rhythms and melodies is out of this world. Now I’m exploring a bit in this genre and see if I can draw ideas from that too.

What was the key moment that got you into house and techno / electronic music?

I already got into electronic music when I was about eleven years old, secretly making cassette mix-tapes in the middle of Saturday nights, recording from a radio station called ‘1Live Radio’. I always wanted to know how the songs are mixed together and found that out when I was 15, on my first rave party and saw a DJ playing records. After that I started to collect vinyls and bought record players in order to learn mixing and to become a DJ.

Please name 3 artists that inspire you and why?

My all time favourite band is Pink Floyd, I’ve seen them live in concert at a ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ tour and my hypnotising, trippy sounds are certainly inspired by their music. Number two at the moment is Steven Willson who is a great producer, musician and engineer. So much talent in one guy and I can’t wait for the new album to be out. Last but not least, Yoshi Horikawa does awesome sound design and field recording music and I love how realistic and 3D everything sounds.

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Do you have any tips to visit in the great Dresden area? Hidden spots to eat, go for a walk or just watch the sunset?

Since I’m still fairly new it’s probably no secret but I love Dresden Neustadt for going to a nice bar or having dinner at Scheune. I really like their goat cheese salad and wine. For brunch, I like going to Cafe Blumenau as they have an awesome breakfast menu. When I moved to Dresden I fell in love with the river Elbe and e.g. often go to Zschieren near Pillnitz, over there you can see so many different birds. You can also find me hiking a lot in Saxony Switzerland.

What’s the idea behind your mix?

I collected some nice flowy music and wanted to make a mix that you can put up on different occasions. You can use it as background music for work, yoga or when you have a nice evening with friends at home.

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What can we expect next from you?

With regards to my own projects, I’m currently working on finishing my album. I have pretty much all the songs completed and started mixing already. I’m also producing new music for a few other single and EP releases but all will be revealed properly in 2021.

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