Beatmixing wizard Albert To, KiSS National Imaging Lead, on why research is key

Albert To is the imaging producer for KiSS 92.5 (CKIS-FM) Toronto and the CHR Imaging Lead for Rogers' Radio.

Albert To is the imaging producer for KiSS 92.5 (CKIS-FM) Toronto and the CHR Imaging Lead for Rogers’ Radio. Originally from Edmonton and a 2012 graduate of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) Radio & Television program, To has worked at stations in both small and large markets and in multiple formats including Classic Rock, Active Rock, Classic Hits, AC, Hot AC, Country, and CHR.

I was following Albert on SoundCloud before we were introduced and was especially impressed by the beatmixes he was doing. Of course, I jumped on the chance to ask him some rapid fire questions. Learn why research is so important (I totally agree, prep is everything) and what Plugin to learn to do tune and pitch corrections and manipulations.

AS: Which production system do you use and why?

AT: In school I used Audition, but I picked up how to use Pro Tools when I started interning and have stuck with it…mainly because I like it, it’s what is available at work, and I also use it at home.

AS: What are your favorite Plugins?

AT: Not sure if I can nail down favorites, but I’ll give you three that I think are super neat:

For beatmixing, I love H-Delay Stereo, especially since I tend to do multiple beatmixes in one session. It’s helpful for me as I can just set it on a track and I can set it to snap to whatever tempo I have in the section of my session.

Speakerphone is this cool plugin that comes with a bunch of interesting pre-sets and what not, but you can use it to mimic different mic settings, like if it was recorded on your phone, a bull-horn, or in recording studio in 1960. You can also add things like bull-horns and ambiences that come with the plugin.

Lastly, this plugin is starting to become a favorite, even if I’m essentially an amateur at using it – Melodyne. That fancy, fla$hy plugin. I’ve used autotune, waves tune, even just regular pitch shift, and I’m incredibly privileged to be able to mess around with it. You can use it to tune VOs and it drops to whatever music you are using. Essentially, all nuances can be covered. I mean…there’s a reason recording studios use it.

AS: What is the perfect VO chain?

AT: Personally, I don’t believe there is one. You can use a plethora of plugins, but it’s how it all sounds in the end to your ears. A lot of plugins have the same function, I think you just find the one that works for you (whether that be easy to read, or with helpful extra, etc). What I currently use is the L3-LL Ultramaximizer and L1 Limiter for mastering. I also use Renaissance Vox (RVox) on VO’s as well as REQ 4, REQ 6, and also EQ3-7-Band

AS: How do you schedule your work?

AT: Spreadsheets, mostly. Besides primarily working on KiSS 92.5 in Toronto, I also am the CHR Lead for Rogers, so when there are national projects I either have to work on them myself, or I assign them to another producer. I try to stay as hyper-organized as possible, so I keep a constantly updated list of ongoing projects, run dates, which producer is working on what, what things have come down last minute, which things have to be delayed, etc. I am always checking in to ensure the list stays updated (for own sanity and so that if any other producer is helping me out with a project I can keep track). I’m lucky that I don’t have to handle everything on my own, and that when things get too busy I have support.

AS: How do you balance your music vs. imaging time wise?

AT: What’s considered music vs. imaging? Are beatmixes and things like branded intros, parody songs, etc. considered “music”? I would almost consider all of that falls under imaging?

AS: What do you love about working for Rogers?

AT: I love being able to work with a team where we can always get a second opinion. We’re able to share our own tips and tricks with each other, and it’s great being around people who aren’t fiendishly guarding their “production tricks.”

Grrr. Argh. Muh Secrets! Hiss.

AS: What is the best Pro Tools or production trick anybody should know?

AT: The biggest secret that I have is…research. OMG, so exciting!

Literally, that. It goes a long way. If I’m creating a beatmix, I typically receive a list of songs from which I arrange by Key and Tempo. From there, depending on the project (such as if it’s a concert promo), I start looking into other things such as lyrics of their songs. I’m a huge fan of utilizing wordplay. I mine the internet for clips or interesting things. So what I’m saying is…be an audio hoarder.

A great tool to have if you’d like to organize your audio is Mixed in Key. Other than that, I’m not fully sure myself. Did you know if you’re in grid mode on Pro Tools, if you hold CTRL (I think it’s CMD on a Mac) while dragging a clip it’ll treat it like you’re already in slip mode? I dunno. Don’t dump water on your computer?

AS: How do you get inspired and what do you use as a source of creativity?

AT: Music is the biggest source of my inspiration. I am always scouring for new, interesting songs. If there is a cool beat, a cool lyric, or a clip, I’m always thinking, “How can I use this?” If I can’t, it becomes “If I can’t, how can I make it work? What will make it work? Adding a beat bed? Speeding it up? Does it work when mixed with something else?” I’ve re-written entire promos just because I found a small piece of audio gold that I want to really make shine…also, there’s Soundcloud. A lot of other radio producers are on there. I like to listen to what other people are creating.

AS: Who were your radio production idols, who influenced your work as a music producer?

AT: Not sure if I’d consider myself a music producer completely, but I can definitely list people who have inspired, influenced, and made me go “wow!” I’ve even gotten to meet some of them as well: Kelly Doherty (K3), Dave Foxx, George Taylor, John Frost, Matt Fisher, Trevor Shand, and Chris Nichol to name a few. Certain music producers and DJs have also inspired me as well, like Madeon, SOPHIE, Morgan Page, Kap Slap, and even Kanye (who has an incredible talent of being able to mix together really cool and/or obscure samples).

AS: What would be your three key pieces of advice for a youngster?

AT: Are you implying that I’m not a youngster still? I’m triggered. Where’s my anti-aging cream? I’m 29…I would say 1) Find someone who can critique your work. Someone who can be honest and straight with you. You want someone who can give constructive criticism. Anyone can tell you your audio sucks, but it doesn’t do anything for you unless you actually find out what you can do to make it better.

2) Don’t be afraid to try weird stuff. Let someone else hear it. If you’re never hearing “no” or getting stuff rejected then there’s a chance you’re probably not growing. You can fall into a rut. I definitely sometimes do as well. Nobody actually knows it all. Constantly learn.

3) If you’re getting into this, I think you’d better love what you do. I feel lucky to also be working with a format that I also love. Hearing new music excites me, and makes me think of how and what I can use it for in my next piece.

Oh, and toilet paper orientation should always be over instead of under. If you disagree, you can fight me.

Check out some of Albert’s latest work on his Soundcloud page.


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