Interview by Emmalee Brunt
Westwood Sounds is proud to present the debut Sample Pack and Serum Preset Pack from renowned bass music producer Kotek. Following official collaborations with EDM superstars like Rezz and Gramatik, Kotek's signature sound design has been in high demand and we're excited to see him open his Ableton vaults for the very first time. His debut sample pack comes loaded with over 400 sounds including a vast array of sublime textures, FX, melodic loops, gritty drums, synths, one-shots, and of course his signature bass sounds. Brimming with edgy and textured wizardry, the debut Serum Preset Pack is a clinic in sound design and synthesis showcasing over 50 expertly crafted patches that traverse a broad spectrum of sounds from grimy bass, modulated FX, and screaming leads. We hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we do, here at Westwood HQ, available for download via Splice.
Kotek’s debut sample and preset packs come full-circle for the renowned Canadian bass producer. Back in 2016, Kotek’s first introduction onto the scene was through Gramatik’s remix contest hosted on Splice (which he won). Four years later, Kotek is creating content for Splice’s platform via Westwood Sounds, which is by no means a small feat. Earlier this week we sat down with Kotek to dive further into the backstory behind his debut packs and what people can expect.
Now available for download via Splice.
You are the first artist to release both a sample pack and Serum Preset Pack on Westwood Sounds debuting on Splice. Not only is that a huge feat, but you’re also the first artist on the label to do this. Was this something you were already working on, or how did this project begin?
Kotek: Any time I've ever been asked for advice about how to improve as a producer, the first thing I always say is 'Remember to save your samples and presets.' I think this is one of the most important habits that a person can incorporate into their workflow. Every time I create a new sound or a new instrument, I save it into my library so that I can come back to it later. When Westwood asked me to make a sample pack for Splice, I was very excited because my job was already half done. The first thing I did was start going through all of my saved samples and grabbing everything that seemed even mildly interesting. Eventually, I had a folder with nearly 2000 samples in it.
Being the first sample pack you’ve created, how was this first experience for you?
Kotek: This was a great learning experience for me. A tip that I’d like to pass onto others is to start categorizing and labeling all of your sounds at the beginning. Admittedly, I had been adding all of my samples into what I like to deem ‘my folder of chaos,’ which unfortunately hadn’t had any form of organization to it. Sifting through over 2,000 samples was a lofty undertaking that could have been remedied if I had labeled everything from day one. I literally had to listen to every individual sample so that I could begin organizing them, and soon realized that I had a bit of an asymmetrical sample pack that was missing quite a few things. I created a spreadsheet with columns for each category of sample (eg, Kickdrums, Snare drums, Loops, Basses, Leads, FX, etc. Then I took 300 tally's and individually added them to each column until I ran out of tallies. I did this so I could visualize how many samples would fit in each category while still adding up to 300 in order to balance out the pack.) Initially, I had been focusing on interesting bass sounds and weird atmosphere and texture samples that I had created during the process of writing my songs. But after going through all of the samples, I realized that I was focusing more specifically on the types of things that I search for on splice, as opposed to curating a sample pack that contains a bit of everything that would be necessary to actually construct a song. So after reviewing the first draft of a couple of thousand weird noises, Westwood and I decided that it would be best to grab just the best of the best from those samples, and then fill up the spaces that were lacking.
Now, talk to us about the Serum Presets Pack, what was it like designing more than 50 of them?
The Serum Presets were much easier to deal with. Unlike samples, presets are limited by the parameters of the plugin you're making them in. This makes creating them a much more linear and simpler process. I started by going through all of the presets that I had already developed prior to this undertaking and weeding out the more useful ones that could be condensed into just one instance of serum. After I had finished gathering the instruments that I deemed worthy of sharing, I went to work just experimenting and having fun building some new sounds with all the new techniques I had learned over the years. I tried to create sounds that utilized as many concepts as I could think of, focusing on one or two key ideas for each instrument. That way, any producer who uses these sounds will be given some insight into the fundamental processes that go into generating each type of sound. I also spent some time really learning how to create my own wavetables in an attempt to resynthesize some of my signature sounds that were created using Ableton stock instruments. This gave me the freedom to incorporate some of my custom instruments that otherwise wouldn't be possible to share. By the time I had exhausted all of the different ideas I could think of, I already had nearly 40 instruments. I also asked one of my friends who is an amazing sound designer and artist who goes by the name "IN1T" if he would be interested in hanging out with me while I made the Serum Presets. So he generously spent some time creating some of his own crazy patches and we incorporated them into the pack as well. Anyone who downloads a patch that was created by either of us will clearly see the difference in approach to creating sounds. I think that is one of the things about sound design that excites me the most. Even when I think that I've tried every combination of putting things together, there is always someone else who will find a way to assemble a sound in a wildly different way than I would have ever considered.
How did you develop your sound design? With 400 individual samples and over 50 presets, this debut pack is an ambitious undertaking. Was this a personal target for you or did it flow naturally?
Kotek: When Nick Middleton and I first started discussing the pack, we agreed that including 300 samples was a good number. When I first began working on it the first thing that came to mind was ‘what do I look for in a pack’?
I traditionally look for really obscure sounds that people might not understand their potential, like sound effects or weird bass noises. I chose sounds that I would include in my own music because that’s what I know. The sample pack was originally 90% FX noises when I started, but is now far more balanced. I chose to focus slightly more on FX noises because I thought a lot about up and coming producers and how these more obscure samples could help build out their own tracks versus providing samples that would act as the base to their music, I wanted to provide them with something a bit more playful and interesting. When you’re starting out, developing FX isn’t necessarily an area of music everyone wants to focus on, so I hope this pack assists them with building out tracks that are unique and varied.
Is there a style or genre that defines your sample and presets pack?
Kotek: To be honest, I've rarely taken "genre" into consideration while writing. I just create whatever comes out naturally and then let everyone else decide what genre it is later. The sample and presets packs are a collective of sounds that you would hear in my own music. They have a complex, rich texture and character to them with the potential to use them in a variety of ways. I definitely focused on the heavier, crunchier side - weird, heavy bass music.
When building out the sample and presets packs did you have anyone specific in mind that would use these?
Kotek: In all honesty, I kept asking myself if I would personally use these? Music is so personal and I wasn’t going to create samples that I wouldn’t use. I did, however, include samples and presets that other artists have requested from me in the past, and I’m excited to share these with the Splice community.
What are some examples of the most unique sounds in your pack?
Kotek: In the studio, I recorded all of my own percussion. All of the drums and cymbals were recorded using multiple microphone angles, giving them a truly organic sound. The drums and cymbals I recorded are from the same drums I use to play jazz, so they naturally have a rich character to them. I specifically left the sounds in a very clean and raw state that would allow them to be used in a multitude of genres.
Outside of the studio, I’ve recorded a lot of external sounds ranging from my creaky studio door to construction sites, beaches, and yard work. I especially like my rock digging sample from my backyard, something that I had not intended on recording, but when I heard the sound of rocks cracking together or sliding off the metal shovel I ran inside and grabbed my microphone. I love capturing random external sounds from everyday life. And while not all of these samples are included in this debut pack, you’ll be able to hear them in future ones.
What was the experience like for you creating these packs since it’s a bit of a derailment from focusing on producing your own music?
Kotek: Developing both packs was a nice break from what I normally focus on. Writing music as an artist can be stressful because I have a personal connection to every song I write as if each one is a reflection of my own identity. Combine this with being a perfectionist, and needing every song to live up to a certain standard of expectation, and you're destined to run into an existential crisis every now and then.
Since I wasn’t developing songs as a whole, it allowed me to think about what I could create for other artists as far as useful building blocks and how this could help them with their own music. It was a really fun process to create sounds and dive deeper into the world of sound design.
Do you often use samples and presets in your own music? How have these inspired your own sound direction?
Kotek: My own sound direction has inspired me, it came in the reverse order so to speak. With every song that I create, I incorporate the best samples that I’ve made and developed the song around those. I haven’t used too many instrument presets but I have used other artist’s samples. Oftentimes when I'm trying to create a certain sound, I will go searching for samples in a completely different category. For example, if I'm trying to create a Bass sound, I will search the FX section of splice instead to see if there are any interesting samples that have the potential to be manipulated into something they were never intended for. I find this is a good way to be creative with samples you've downloaded, and also a good way to learn how to think outside the box when approaching sound design. I really enjoy Splice because it’s always been a useful place to study and analyze sounds.
As an artist soon to be featured on Splice and Westwood Sounds, what are you most looking forward to as other artists use your creations?
Kotek: I’m genuinely curious to see what people do with them. I’m looking forward to recognizing them in songs in the future. I think what I’m most excited about is how people turn them into something that I’ve never even considered, which in turn inspires me with my own music. I really want to thank Splice and Westwood for giving me this opportunity and I’m looking forward to hearing these two packs in other artist’s music down the line.