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saintjoe / JK Swopes Interview: The People's Champ

It may be a cliché to say, but saintjoe AKA JK Swopes really is 'The People's Champ'. 

He's the man behind three hugely popular websites: SoundsAndGear, MaschineTutorials (along with Knock Squared) and BoomAndBap

Each site caters to a different music production need: software/hardware news and reviews with a side-salad of hints and tips, original instructional resources specific to Maschine, and high quality drum sample packs. 

Each new project strengthens saintjoe's position as a leading figure in music production education and resources.

But, you may be asking, how does this make him 'The People's Champ'? Well, his sites are only one part of the equation.  saintjoe has a long established reputation for being arguably the most helpful, enthusiastic and nicest person in a community that prides itself on educating, working with and helping others. 

The New Beat Maker was lucky enough to catch up with saintjoe shortly after he came back from the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show and discussed, amongst other topics, what products really caught his eye out there, some of his favourite hardware, software and freeware, 'cracked' software and why the term 'nice guys finish last' just doesn't cut it in this industry.

You’re one of the hardest working men in the game.  Can you describe a day in the life of saintjoe?  

Hmm, well it really depends on what’s going on. After I take my kids to school I usually come home and start answering questions/email, answering comments on my sites and youtube, etc. Then I’ll probably mess around with some new software or gear and get into doing some videos. Around mid-day my wife gets home so I usually have some lunch and talk with her for a bit.  Then I’ll head back down to get some more work done. Sometimes people have a question that needs a video and I’ll do it. So it’s pretty much just whatever needs to happen that day mixed in with my family life and such. I always have my phone on me so I’m usually answering comments, emails, and questions all day long. Though I have many sites, they are all centred around what I do anyway so it keeps things fluid.

SoundsAndGear is an institution.  It’s a highly trusted authority on music equipment and software.  Can you tell me a bit about when, why and how it began? Was there one defining moment where you thought ‘This is really becoming a movement’?

Well I basically started it because I didn’t feel there were any magazines or websites looking at things the way many beatmakers and producers look at them. There’s always a lot of technical stuff but for most of us it comes down to what it sounds like and how it works. So that’s what I try to focus on mostly. There was never really a “defining” moment for me I just enjoy what I do and enjoy helping people. It’s always cool when people come up and say “hey you’re saintjoe from SoundsAndGear” because when you’re just doing what you enjoy sometimes you forget how far reaching the internet can be.

You’ve recently come back from the world famous NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show.  What pieces of gear most excited you when you were out there?

I really liked the Moog Sub Phatty, I also liked the new Stylophone2, and the SparkLE from Arturia looked really good. Those 3 are what I’m most looking forward to getting in the future. I’m still excited about Bitwig, it looked really good.

Sharing a moment with the legendary Roger Linn at NAMM this year

What one piece of software and one piece of hardware could you not live without and why?

Software would have to be Maschine, it really changed my outlook on the software game at a crucial point. I’m not one that likes to pick a single software, I use many different daws and such but if I had to have only one I would probably still go with Maschine at this point. As for hardware, man I have so many things but I would actually say my iPad, it’s such a versatile tool musically from being a controller to a sound module to a standalone production environment.

I love all my software and all my hardware synths, etc, but at the end of the day if I had to, I could still be creative with only my iPad and the apps on it, to me that’s really huge.

What criteria should the new beatmaker / musician have in mind when they’re looking to buy new gear?

Each person is different so they need to know what it is they want to do, how they want to work, and then research the best tools for the job according to what they want. Some simply do not want to work with software, fortunately there are still plenty pieces of gear both new and used that will allow a person to do what they need.

You don’t discriminate against freeware.  What are your top three freeware products and why?  

Man I like to highlight things from free to expensive because there are so many different people with different budgets out there. I would have to say Alchemy Player, AAS Player, and an issue of Computer Music. I love Alchemy Player because it just sounds amazing, it’s tweakable and you can still expand it slowly without having to drop out for the full version. I like AAS player because it sounds great and it has a nice clean simple interface, no tweaking, just playing. You can also expand it. I say a subscription to Computer Music because they have a large collection of freeware and special editions of synths/plugins that are exclusive that can give a person really all they need to be creative honestly. Of course we all want a lot, but I believe these are a great start for anyone with a small budget. I would also throw in Kontakt Player simply because it gives you access to tons of libraries without owning the full version but it’s not the same as the others as you really don’t get a deep library with the player itself…but it’s always good to have :)

When...companies that have full paid for products start making "limited" or "less robust" products of the same quality for free, it really allows people to get access to higher end sounds and software and then grow as needed...

Whilst many people wouldn’t dash out of the store with the latest copy of Cubase under their arm, they’ll download a trillion products illegally.  How do we reverse the trend of ‘cracked’ copies?

Man it’s a really tough thing and I feel it has a lot to do with the era we’ve grown up in. People do not see using cracks as stealing because it’s so readily available. It’s not the same as hardware which is tangible so they don’t look at it that way. Some justify it as they are just “trying it out” but in the end stealing is stealing. I’ve seen first hand how it can effect companies both big and small. We can each do our part by trying to educate and encourage people against it. I also think there’s a sense of entitlement these days. “I want to make music but I can’t afford this stuff so I just download it”. Well I come from the hardware era where we had to save up to get what we wanted. I remember the days of buying one new piece of gear each year as I was saving up lol…I think it’s just different times and the internet makes things so easy, people want stuff now.
Unfortunately I don’t think it will ever be totally reversed but I will continue to do my part to support the companies making the products as well as educating people within my reach and trying to get them to realize what it actually is they are doing.  That’s also why I’m happy for companies like Camel Audio and AAS, Computer Music, NI, IK Multimedia, and others. When these companies that have full paid for products start making “limited” or “less robust” products of the same quality for free, it really allows people to get access to higher end sounds and software and then grow as needed.
You and Knock Squared run the highly informative, very popular  Can you tell us a bit about what the site offers?  

Sure, we’re the first site to ever offer a dedicated tutorial community to teach people about Maschine. We have everything from video tutorials, to free projects, presets, samples from top sound companies, and other downloads. We have a built in note taking system for people to keep track of what they are learning, as well as exclusive “workouts” so they can learn how to apply what they learn. We also have our own social network as well as a traditional forum, we offer free vocal/beat tags to our members every month, chat/email support, and even remote computer support for those that need it. Most of all, we offer a community where people can grow no matter what skill level. 

A small selection of what has to offer

Your drum library website was launched last year.  I like the diversity of the site, with packs ranging in style from jazz to hip hop to RnB.  Do you have any plans to source packs dedicated to other genres, such as EDM and trap?

I plan to showcase any and every type of drum kit/instrument out there. The reason I did that site was because I constantly got questions about drums for specific styles. It’s different from SoundsAndGear in that I’m not really “reviewing” so much as putting together a video directory to showcase what’s there. People are free to make their own decisions and I just kinda show what the kit is about. So as you can imagine, I have a lot of drum kits on deck to add to the directory but so far people love the site and it’s proving to be a very valuable resource for the community. I know I’m a drum fanatic and I get many of them coming through my other sites so this new drum directory was a must!

Let’s talk horror movie soundtracks.  How did the ‘The Cthulhu Key: Legacy’ hook-up come about?  Are you a horror movie fan? 

Well that actually never materialized, but we started talking because the guy behind the movie was actually someone that frequented my site. He liked the stuff I was doing quickly in my reviews and we started talking from there. We kinda lost touch but it’s all good, it was cool to kinda get the process started though. I’m not really a “fan” of horror movies but I’ll watch from time to time if it’s good. I don’t really have any favorite soundtracks as I just love good music so I’m always paying attention to the music in a movie. I’m really a fan of a lot of the fantasy movies and their sounds/soundtracks.

Moving on to current projects, what have you got in store for 2013?

You know I’m always working on new stuff and ideas so you can expect a new site or two to pop up in the SoundsAndGear network this year for sure. I have a few things in the works that aren’t quite ready yet but as always they will add value to the producer community. I like to provide information in a way that helps people find what they need quickly, so just expect more of the same concept from me :)

...expect a new site or two to pop up in the SoundsAndGear network this year for sure.

Finally, let’s talk ethics and integrity. You’ve built a very successful brand without sacrificing your warmth and your willingness to help others - and the online community loves you for it.  What would you say to any new beatmaker or musician that’s stuck on the idea that ‘nice guys finish last’?

I would say first and foremost you have to be true to yourself. Period. It’s all about how you carry yourself and I find there’s no need to be cut-throat at all…why? There’s plenty of information to be shared and also it’s a matter of realizing you don’t know everything. I know there’s always someone way smarter than me so I never try to put anyone down for asking questions. That’s how we learn, and I like helping people “get it”. At the end of the day you have to carry yourself in a way that you would be proud to live with. I wouldn’t want to get anywhere if I couldn't be proud of how I got there in the first place!     

Many thanks to saintjoe.
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