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Amid post-production suites, house clubs, and rehearsal studios in the fire-hot music neighborhood of Chicago's Wicker Park, the Slang Musicgroup is redefining modern music production. Founder and owner Vince Lawrence—recognized as the first person to produce and mix a house-music single, Jessie Saunders' "On And On"—left years of producing and mixing chart-topping albums with R. Kelly and others at Trax Records to launch Slang in a 8,000 square-foot former tool die factory. His goal (now achieved) was to attract a wide range of clients and music genres by working with a collective of producers, each in his or her own high-tech editing suite. Stroll through the Slang complex today and you'll hear R&B, soul, and dance remixes; rock, pop, and rap anthems; film soundtracks; surround-sound video game mixes; and cues for Nike commercials.
Lawrence, a longtime Digidesign Pro Tools user, loves his synthesizers, be they vintage hardware pieces or the soft variety in cascading plugin menus. You'll find over 50 hardware synths and drum machines in the main "vibe" room at Slang, where every song ends its production cycle. Lawrence and his Slang soundsmiths each have his or her own seriously equipped private "thinksuites" as well. These satellite studios are positioned just outside the control room to tweak the many projects oscillating throughout this huge former warehouse.
Reached by phone, Lawrence somehow remains calm as one fellow Slang producer after another interrupts to ask if, with clients waiting, he's yet auditioned their new remixes over the local Apple network.
Randy Alberts (RA): There must be a palpable work ethic left over in your studio from the building's warehouse days.
Vince Lawrence (VL): Oh, yeah. People really like to work long hours in here. [laughs] We have Apple iTunes in the control room and at each of our workstations, the kitchen, the lounges, everywhere. We can hear one of our new remixes in the kitchen over lunch and be inspired to try out a new idea as we eat. Someone might ask me, "What are you feelin' the kick should sound like right here?" and I'll say, "It should sound exactly like that kick sound in 'Coitus Interruptus' by Fad Gadget, or that kick in 'No Parking On The Dance Floor' by Midnight Star."
Vince Lawrence with a small fraction of his synth arsenal, including modules from E-mu, Studio Electronics, and Roland.
RA: So you're using iTunes as a Slang jukebox to inspire your collective of producers?
VL: Exactly. Someone might say, "Do you remember that particular distortion sound they used in Black Sabbath's 'Sweet Leaf'?" One time I suggested we listen to that interesting spatial effect in "Blasphemous Rumors" by Depeche Mode as an example, and one of the guys said, "Uh, could you spell 'blasphemous'?'' [Laughs.] We just type it into iTunes, find it, and have it playing within seconds of the suggestion. Here's the thing: we find it interesting to listen to how other people were thinking during a specific passage of a composition or a mix because it will always spark a new idea for us if we're stuck on a bridge, or intro, or whatever. It always gives us a spatial reference or placement in the sound field we want in our songs, every single time.
RA: It sounds like Slang Musicgroup is the connective audio tissue between many different music genres: rock, pop, metal, rap, and hip-hop melding with orchestral scores and surround game soundtracks. How do you make that work?
VL: Yes, we're challenging ourselves in these diverse ways to bring these new elements into the dance music and electronica tracks we've always been producing. At the same time, we're bringing all of these synthesizers to the rock artists we're working with, who may never have recorded with a synth before. We're also using dance and remix tricks at the console and on the computer that are typical for us in house and techno with the rock artists we're producing. [See the QuickTips at the end of this article.]
RA: Your and Slang's credits and tastes are very diverse. Whitney Houston, the Crystal Method, R. Kelly, Ministry, Snoop Dogg, Concrete Blonde, and Chicago's own Felix Da' Housecat have trusted your team. Is there one band that unifies it all?
VL: I've always been into anyone using synthesizers to make music, that's first to mind; and that's with all of us looking up to Kraftwerk, of course. A lot of people lose sight of them or don't even know who they are anymore, but I know them very well. I still have all of their records.
RA: Tell me about Slang's Chicago Fire project.
VL: Chicago Fire is a new royalty-free sample CD collection for Sony, a loop library for Sony Acid, or Ableton Live, or any program that reads and works with Acidized files. Loops, kick drums, one-hits, piano digs, bass lines, vocal samples, vocal phrases, anything you need to make a hot house music track rock. It's a five-CD set for just $249 list.
RA: Is it from old or new material?
VL: All those samples and loops are taken from multitracks I've done, plus some special vocals done just for Chicago Fire. You can craft a hot house-music tune just using this package with all the vocals and loops we put on it.
Slang's Pro Tools-powered studio in a rare empty moment. (Click to enlarge.)