15 Years Of Piano Lessons Later...
It can be easy to be dismissive of pop and dance culture. There are some people willing to look down their noses at this genre of music production and dismiss it. They may say it's just beats with no real tune, made by people who have no musical background or skill. Perhaps it is at this point one has to admit to sounding like one's father. Joking apart, Marek Pompetzki from Numarek Music is clearly one person who proves this kind of thinking wrong.
“When I was 4 years old my parents asked me if I’d like to learn an instrument and I answered promptly: Drums. But somehow they tricked me into playing the piano. When the piano finally arrived I was horribly disappointed that I couldn’t immediately play like Elton John. I had 15 years of piano lessons", says Pompetzki. "My birthday is close to Christmas so I always got my parents to buy me some kind of musical instrument. I moved on to electric guitar and finally drums.”
“I got the chance to make my first record when I was about 15 years old. Even though I was young I would make lots of tracks and send them out to labels, who to be fair were quite nice and gave me really good feedback. That was actually worth doing.”
He returns to piano "I had a really good piano teacher who taught me rock piano. He had an Atari with keyboards connected to it. I was 12 years old at the time but this inspired me to do jobs so I could save up to buy a computer, keyboards and samplers which I kept in the cellar of the house.” He laughs, “My parents thought I was up to no good down there.”
His move to recording was at an equally young age. “I got the chance to make my first record when I was about 15 years old. Even though I was young I would make lots of tracks and send them out to labels, who to be fair were quite nice and gave me really good feedback. That was actually worth doing.”
Collaboration Makes Perfect
Fast-forward to the present day and Pompetzki works alongside two other partners Paul NZA and Cecil Remmler. “We pretty much do everything together. We’ve been doing that for the past three or four years. We are working on singles, albums and remixes for various artists. We’ve also been doing a lot of TV commercials for brands like Lufthansa, Telekom or Mercedes Benz.”
Collaboration can be a minefield but Pompetzki feels their team really has it worked out. “Collaboration can be really tricky. I was in a couple of bands which I really didn’t like because I didn’t like a lot of the ideas. This is why I got into production. We really got lucky with our team: one of us is hot on the keyboards. Another has a background in film music, so he can do the orchestration. I do all the mixing and the vocal production. We all understand each other so we can criticize each other and take it. This helps us to move on quickly.”
All this sounds a little too good to be true. Surely there must be the occasional blow up. Pompetzki assures us this is not the case. “We really are lucky. It’s like the perfect marriage and we never really argue. If there are differences of opinions then we all get to try our ideas and then decide on the best one.” It seems this positive energy spills into other collaboration too: “We do a lot of writing with amazing topliners in the US and were lucky to have a Mylie Cyrus single with a team from LA as well as a number one record in Japan with Chantal Kreviazuk”.
“Reverb has two or three different roles for me. Rooms help to give dimension to the sound and this is where the quality of the audio reflections matters”
The Hybrid Studio
With modern music production being so technology driven, we are interested to hear about the gear in the Numarek studio. “I have a hybrid set-up build around a Pro Tools HDX2 system and a small Neve console. We then have a lot of vintage mics, outboard, and a beautiful selection instruments like guitars and drums. I was lucky. I managed to buy a lot of the old stuff at a really good price from some studio in Austria that went all digital. So I got a load of old Neve pre-amps and compressors… really nice.”
Pompetzki thinks capturing the audio correctly on the way into Pro Tools allows him to then take advantage of mixing in the box later on. “Mixing in the box you can do almost anything if you have a great sound to start with. All the nonlinearities of the vintage gear helps to give the sound some presence.“
So does this thinking extend to Pompetzki’s use of reverb?
“Reverb has two or three different roles for me. Rooms help to give dimension to the sound and this is where the quality of the audio reflections matters. Then I like to use a plate to help the instruments shine a bit, the size of the plate differs depending on the kind of song, sometimes it’s nice for it to modulate too, like the old Lexicons and brilliantly done in the R2. Then finally I like to use reverb as effects like spring reverbs and non-linear stuff that doesn’t sound very realistic, it might have its own twangy little character to give some vibe.”
With this much consideration given to the use of reverb it goes without saying that Pompetzki has tried pretty much every reverb there is. “I’ve used most of them, AMS, Eventide, Lexicon, TC, and plug-ins too."
An Exponential Awakening
Then I downloaded the demo for the Exponential Audio reverbs.” For want of a better cliché, the rest as they say is history. Pompetzki continues; “When you have the PhoenixVerb you can put a lot on it and then when you turn it off it all sounds dry and there’s no dimension there anymore. It’s amazing what PhoenixVerb can do to the dimension of a track, I much prefer using it to using a convolution, it works like some of the old hardware reverbs, it does something to the tracks and when you turn off the PhoenixVerb the tracks sound small.”
We talk for a while about some of the tiny spaces in the PhoenixVerb that simply gives instruments a sense of space. “It’s absolutely amazing, I haven’t heard this is ANY reverb EVER before, not even in hardware, I’m not turning them on as much anymore.”
He continues “I’m using Exponential Audio reverbs on everything, it’s the only reverb--except for spring simulations--on my last set of mixes.”
We come to the awkward question of getting Pompetzki to choose his favorite between the Phoenixverb and the R2. “I can’t say I have a favorite. I prefer the rooms in the PhoenixVerb, but for big vocals, plates and non-linear stuff I use the R2. I started messing about with the R2 non-lin settings and it took me back to the 1980s.”
It is at this point that we go off into discussing his recent night out to see Peter Gabriel in concert. And before we know it we are talking about Tori Amos and we're sharing album recommendations.
Don't Do It For The Money
In some ways this discussion about artists and albums music leads nicely into the tip he wants to give to those wanting to get into the music industry. “Don’t do it for the money. Do it because you love music. The industry is declining, so if you are looking to make money then do something else. You really have to love what you are doing and be prepared to work 18 to 20 hour days when the deadline is looming.”
These words of advice to aspiring young producers seem an ideal way to end the interview.
Pompetzki’s journey into music has been filled with years of musical training and working hard to amass a collection of high quality instruments and vintage equipment. He's capped it off by developing healthy relationships and working long hours to perfect his skill.
It sounds a far cry from the stereotypical view that some have of modern producers. If it proves anything then it’s the fact that the art of being a master at what you do is making it look easy.
Aloe Blacc, Namie Amuro, Miley Cyrus, Sido, Cassandra Steen, Eagly Eye Cherry, Deichkind, Kelly Rowland, All Star Weekend, Shaggy, Ivy Quainoo, Stefanie Heinzmann, Culcha Candela, Pop Idol, Pop Stars, The Voice of Germany, Lufthansa, Telekom, Mercedes Benz, Ergo, Adidas.