Q&A with Toby Emerson
Over the last decade, Toby Emerson has established himself as a premier beatmaker and producer of electronic sounds. Through his production company, Black Octopus Sound, Emerson has sold over 45,000 copies of original beats and audio sample packs and forged a reputation for creating cutting-edge audio sample libraries. His original tracks and remixes have been used by some of today’s most successful DJ’s, including Paul Van Dyk, Flash Brothers, and Matt Darey. Emerson’s music can be heard on on popular video games like Flash Flash Revolution, iDanceand Rerave. His electronic compositions include elements of progressive, trance, breaks, electro and house.
Emerson recently teamed up with iZotope to create the new BreakTweaker expansion pack, Modern Grooves by Black Octopus.
Featuring modern, clean, and crisp sounds with a dash of retro throwback, the expansion includes more than 300 sounds with 40 presets—all designed to have a timeless feel and work well with a wide range of material.
We sat down with Emerson to discover what inspired the exciting and innovative sounds in Modern Grooves by Black Octopus.
How do you hope people might use this library? What styles do you think it will fit well in?
The main styles are based on house music—electro, deep, progressive—and breaks. I hope the pack will provide something for artists of all skill levels. For the more advanced users, I hope they can use the presets as a starting point and then tweak the sounds to create something original.
For rappers or people wanting to just jam out ideas in the studio, I tried to lay out the patterns in a musically logical way—someone could jam out full tracks on the fly just by switching between the patterns using a keyboard or MIDI controller.
Which BreakTweaker features do you use most frequently?
The MicroEdit function in BreakTweaker is huge for me. I love the simplicity of being able to select a specific note, and then go to town sculpting it without a ton of automation. Editing is so much faster and easier with the MicroEdit Engine, and I think we need to see more of that in the future.
I also love the pitch function in MicroEdit—there are some really neat patterns in there that can transform the sound into something new. I also love how the generator has three layers that can be used as a synth or a sampler. The synth is a very powerful workhorse—it can do tons of crazy stuff with all the included waveforms, which people might miss unless they dig deeper into it.
Has BreakTweaker inspired any new sounds and beats that you wouldn’t have found otherwise?
Yes definitely! Using the pitch function on certain notes has allowed me to stumble upon new sounds that I wouldn’t normally have discovered. BreakTweaker is great for creating glitchy fills—functions like “Octave”, “Minor”, and “Cherries” bring in glitched-out notes that still have musical qualities.
How did you get to be the beatmaker you are today?
I took piano lessons at a young age, but I didn’t get into electronic music until the age of 16. I bought a copy of FL Studio and it was game over from then on. I never liked the 9 to 5, and I thought it would be great to work on music-related projects for a living. It took me a long time to get there, but now I can happily say that I’m focused full-time on Black Octopus Sound.
What are the first steps for developing a new groove? Does it start with a specific sample, a rhythmic idea, or does it evolve out of experimentation?
I often find myself starting with the kick drum since it’s the main backbone of the track—especially in electronic music. Another important element is finding a snare or clap that fits nicely with the kick. It’s amazing how a mix will fall into place once these two elements are working well together. After I have some basic drums programmed, I like to build up a simple bass part, synth melody, or rhythm on top and go from there.
When you develop samples, are you sampling real instruments, vintage synths or combing through vinyl?
When I create samples, I use synthesizers and field recordings and combine them depending on the sound. I try to work on sounds within context of a loop—it’s easy to create something that sounds great by itself, but getting it to work in a mix with other sounds is a whole different story.
How do you integrate samples and synthesis when programming tracks?
A field recorder is a great addition to any producer’s toolkit—layering real-life recordings with synth sounds can really add an organic flavor to the sound.
What makes a hook “addictive?”
Great hooks consist of one part of something familiar and one part of something new. If you have a great sound, a simple part is better—you can let the sound speak for itself.
What equipment is really important to your studio?
I recently picked up a John Bowen Solaris, which an amazing-sounding luxury synth. I have anAccess Virus TI, which is very versatile and can make a wide range of sounds. And although I have an insane amount of software, I tell people who are starting out not to get overwhelmed with too much software—it’s more important to limit their tools and really learn what they have.
Over the years, my collection of tools has turned into somewhat of an unhealthy obsession. Some of my favorites include Image-line Harmor, Groove Machine, Sugarbytes Effectrix, Dune 2, Pro-L,iZotope Trash 2, iZotope Ozone, Sytrus, Twisted Tools bundle, Valhalla reverbs, Bitwig Studio, FL Studio—and too many others to list.
What sets Black Octopus libraries apart?
I have over 10 years of experience working with sample packs, so I try to make libraries that I would find useful for producing music. I focus on quality when I create packs—I want producers to feel inspired when they use Black Octopus samples. Sometimes I spend an hour crafting a single kick or snare sample.
What are some other Black Octopus sample libraries that might work well with BreakTweaker?
The Leviathan sample pack is huge—it features over 5000 sounds for electronic music including drums, one shots, synths, loops, FX and more. If you’re just looking for kick drums, Monster Kicks is great. I really liked working with synth samples in addition to the built in synth, so there’s also a large collection of synth sample packs.
Tell us more about the tutorials and education that Black Octopus has developed.
We hope to launch an in-depth tutorial section on our website soon so we can share some of our knowledge with other producers. We offer some project files on our site, which serves as a learning resource—it’s great to explore a project and see how it’s put together. We also have some basic instructional videos on our YouTube channel.
What direction is EDM headed, and what sounds and styles do you hear people gravitating towards?
Currently, I like deeper sounds that aren’t as in your face—I see that style becoming more popular as a contrast to in-your-face, fist-pumping EDM. But I can still appreciate a gut-punching electro banger. I like music that really blurs the lines between genres and has something new—there are an infinite number of new sounds waiting to be discovered, so it’s great when I hear somebody push the envelope.