Sweater Beats is the R&B-infused dance project of Antonio Cuna, an LA-based producer.
Known for his bouncy sounds and earworm melodies, Sweater Beats has remixed for the likes of Panic! At the Disco, Kiiara, and Flume. He recently released a sample pack on Splice full of punchy drums and playful synths that reflect his distinctive sound – in this Q&A, we sat down with the prolific producer to discuss his workflow, approach to collaboration, and more.
Let’s start with the basics: what does your studio space look like? What are your go-to monitors, outboard gear, synths, etc.? Paint us a picture of your creative space.
My studio looks like a vibey Ikea showroom. All of my stuff is from there. There are a couple of small couches and guitars hanging from the walls. I put LED strips behind the main sound panel – I have them on the whole time I’m in there. At the center is a desk with an Apollo 8, a Juno-DS, and ADAM A7X monitors. I work within Ableton and I’m pretty much all in-the-box – I don’t have any outboard gear.
Can you speak to us about your mixing process? Do you produce as you mix, or do you have a dedicated session for mixdowns? Do you abide by any certain plugins for EQ, compression, etc.?
When I produce, I lay every idea I have down into Ableton. After that, I start arranging the different parts I laid down, and that’s when I also start doing some mixing. I just make broad strokes as I go and make it sound good enough for a demo. I do a mixdown in a session on a different day so that I can listen with fresh ears.
I have FabFilter Pro Q and Pro C on pretty much every track in a project, and Pro L on the master bus for reference. ValhallaRoom and ValhallaVintageVerb are my go-to reverbs. I use RC-20 Retro Color a ton to bring my sounds to life.
Tell us about your synths. Do you have specific VSTs or hardware synths you abide by? How do you create your signature LFO-modulating synth work?
For basic sounds like pads, a reese bass, or a simple sub, I like to design them from scratch using Serum. It’s really easy to manipulate them with that synth, especially when I want to do LFO modulation. If I want to create a sound that has more character, I try to find a cool sample that I can throw into Ableton’s sampler so that I can manipulate it that way. I do this a lot for lead sounds. When I’m stuck, I like to sift through Hive presets and Kontakt sounds for inspiration.
Generally speaking, do you tend to work inside or outside the box? How do you get started on a blank session?
I’m in the box 99% of the time, unless there’s a synth in the room I can toy with to find a cool sound. When I open up a blank project in Ableton, the first thing I usually do is dig through samples, throw them into a sampler, chop them up, and play them on my keyboard. It can end up being the rhythm or lead of the track, but it’s what sparks new ideas to move forward.
You work closely with a number of vocalists and other producers – can you tell us about your collaborative process? What does your exchange of ideas look like, and what do you look for in your collaborations?
When I work with vocalists and songwriters, I tend to focus on getting a strong melody first. Production takes a backseat for the first few hours, while we throw ideas back and forth and string together a melodic arrangement for the vocals over some chords and a backbeat. It’s the opposite of working with other producers, because I like to focus on elevating a track with more unique sounds and rhythms. I think someone who is open-minded and patient makes for a great collaborator.
What do you do to stay focused? What kinds of habits or exercises do you practice to keep your mind fresh with new ideas? How do you get over creative blocks in your music-making?
I stay focused by taking things day by day. I give myself short term goals that I can accomplish each day. I listen to different music and experience other art forms regularly to keep me inspired. When I have a creative block, I shift gears and shake up my normal process to do something differently to get out of my comfort zone. A lot of times I step away from the computer and just play my guitar. I love to collaborate too – it’s great way to get out of a rut. Having another brain in the room exchanging ideas really helps spark my creativity.
In less than 5 words, can you share with us the things that embody your creative process and give you inspiration? Whether it’s technical, atmospheric, ritualistic, emotional, etc. – we want to know what you need to fuel your creativity and what keeps you inspired.
Dope sounds, efficient process, and honesty!
December 19, 2018