MusicMakers is a new interview series from Adafruit that explores the intersection of the DIY music and maker communities. We’ll be talking to some of our favorite musicians about art, tech, DIY, gear tips and more. Along the way we hope you’ll find some great new music as well as some ideas and inspiration for your own projects.
Photo courtesy of Pamela Berry
We covered Deerful, AKA Emma Winston on the blog back in July and have been smitten with her beautiful music and penchant for DIY innovation ever since. A fixture in the London scene, Winston has worked with the likes of Darren Hayman, Owl & Mouse, Papernut Cambridge and others. Her contributions extend beyond performance and composition into academia, with her research focusing on musical subcultures like ukulele groups and the nightcore genre.
As Deerful, Winston creates lush and emotive electropop. Eclectic and adventurous, she has experimented with the 8-bit Gameboy sound and even accompanied one EP with its own retro videogame. She adapts popular songs to stripped down circuit synth versions on her YouTube channel and even once duped a robot into a freewriting duet (you can read more about that on GoldFlakePaint).
Having moved from collaboration and working with other songwriters to writing and performing her own songs, we’ve seen a huge evolution in her artistry. She self engineered and produced her acclaimed debut LP Peach earlier this year, independently creating a unique record that sounds both fragile and full and is packed with brittle bangers.
Considering Winston’s broad musical experience with composition, performance, production and academia, we thought she’d be a great person to kick-off the MusicMakers series with. From selecting gear to using tech to reach an audience, Deerful offers some insight into how you can make the most of what you have.
Where are you based?
What was your introduction to music?
Um, I think it was a cassette tape with Jupiter from Holst’s Planets Suite on it, that came with a children’s classical music magazine my grandfather bought me aged four. I’m not sure that’s had much of an influence on my recent work really.
If you mean *making* music, flashback to me in the passenger seat of my ex’s car in 2009 hearing the Postal Service for the first time, and thinking ‘god, I wish I could make music like this, shame I’ll never be able to.’ Six years later, watching a live video of Emily Reo on YouTube, I finally started to realise I might be able to after all.
What have you been working on?
It’s actually been a slightly fallow period for me recently in terms of songwriting, and Deerful music is currently getting sidelined to my PhD thesis! Next stop, though, is album number 2 I think. Or maybe an EP first. I love the EP format because I’m deeply impatient and the album release cycle takes forever.
How have you seen technology change the creation and consumption of music in your lifetime?
When I actually sit down and think about how I started making music, gingerly tapping Nanostudio for iPad because it felt less scary than using a ‘real’ DAW, it’s incredible – even ten years earlier it would have been impossible. Getting started as an electronic artist is so much easier now than it’s ever been and I’m so thankful for that, as someone who thought until a couple of years ago that I could never ever be a producer. There are so many possibilities and resources available in terms of YouTube tutorials, mobile apps – it’s a very exciting time to be an electronic musician, I think. I know there have always been independent artists, but it was technology, and especially the internet, that finally made me feel like I could be one.
Consumption is interesting – I’ve been reading the futurist Gerd Leonhard recently who, about a decade ago, predicted a movement towards consuming music as a utility rather than a series of products, in the way we do water or electricity, and I think he was almost spot on. The way I personally consume music is weird – I either really love a track or album or artist and want to listen to them nonstop until I feel physically sick, or I can’t sit through a song at all. Because of this, I had basically no knowledge of anything but a few artists until streaming started to be a thing. Even though streaming services are set up for a much broader method of consumption than that, they work really well for me because of how customisable they are in terms of playlists etcetera, and how accessible everything is. I feel like I’m finally starting to be someone who Knows About Music. With that said, I’m not sure how sustainable our current models of streaming are financially, especially for smaller artists.
Describe your recording or production setup:
I live in a tiny flat, so everything is small and movable. I mostly use a Teenage Engineering OP-1, and an iPad (running various things but Korg Gadget has been the mainstay for a while). I use a Korg Nanokey studio as my only MIDI controller, which is about the same size as the iPad. Vocals get recorded on a Blue Yeti USB mic, and I mix in Ableton, listening on some small Mackie monitors. Everything fits under my bed when it’s not in use, and most of the key parts for actually writing stuff are little enough that I can get them out while I’m on the bus if I have an idea.
Any tips for gear or customising your workspace?
My rule for gear is to only buy hardware if it excites me, because being excited is creative fuel for me. I definitely don’t own what a lot of people would consider to be a proper collection of classic synths but the things I do own I love to death and am constantly inspired by. If I need something for practical reasons alone I will find a low-cost software alternative. I completely understand why a lot of people work with software alone – but I love having the occasional synth that I can hold in my hands too. And the interface is almost as important as the sound in terms of creative inspiration.
In terms of customising my workspace – I wish I had a workspace! I love the idea of having a room or even a desk that’s always there to sit down at and switch my head into Work Mode, but there’s just no room where I live. I really envy people with their own studios! Maybe one day. Any tips on customising my complete absence of workspace?
What’s one song everybody should hear?
I’ve listened to ‘Adam Copies’ from the new Baths album nearly one hundred times in the few days between its release and doing this interview, so I feel like that probably means it deserves your attention. It’s 180 beats per minute of impossible detail, and I adore it. It also makes me feel like a rubbish producer in comparison.
Who do you think we should ask these questions next?
The producer In Love With A Ghost! Their work is delightful and I’d love to know more about the process of making it. OR the band Haiku Salut, who have become more and more electronic over the seven or so years I’ve been following them, and are doing some really interesting multimedia work with programmable lamps and controllers as part of their live shows. Or both.
Photo courtesy of Pamela Berry