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Niall McCallum

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Niall McCallum is the co-founder of ModeAudio—a small but passionately dedicated team of sound designers and music lovers based in the UK, specializing in music loops, samples, and bespoke preset design for some of the world’s best-loved music technology. Niall and his team's credits include a wide selection of drum and percussion samples that comes pre-packaged with FL Studio, and custom sound design for Native Instruments, Bitwig, Intua, and many others.

A few words with Niall McCallum

Hello Niall, can you tell us what made you end up working in the music industry?

Hi! Well, I suppose it all started when my parents forced me to start learning the piano when I was around 10. Those lessons taught me patience and discipline, which when I started playing drums and guitar in high school I was thankfully largely able to ignore!

However, now that I think about it, those skills have really helped me on the path to becoming a music producer and getting to grips with new technologies and software, which it certainly requires a certain degree of grit and perseverance to master.

It was really playing in bands in high school that set my love of music, and making music, in stone though - from playing percussion in orchestras to writing my own material in rock bands, I quickly became obsessed with all things musical, which later blossomed into all things sonic when I studied music technology at university.

It was there that I learned the true power of the marriage between a musical mind and a computer, and my interest in electronic music grew as I dove into creating my own performance software systems using Max/MSP, as well as getting to grips with the synthesis of both the analog and digital kinds.

What are some important projects in your career you feel have helped you grow as a sound designer, composer, or producer?

Back at university, I remember signing up for a night of live electronic performance, and I decided to create a live sampling and audio processing system for myself and a friend to make some noise with. It was when developing the interface for my friend to use to process his trumpet playing, using a MIDI controller to direct an array of samplers, granulators, pitch shifters and other effects, that I realized just how complicated all this DSP business is!

A great interface belies the complexity of the processes and calculations occurring beneath its surface - this is the great trick of modern synthesizing tools such as your excellent range of synths and plugins. I feel we carry this into our audio and preset pack design at ModeAudio, by putting all of our skills, knowledge, and experience into crafting sounds that can be seamlessly slipped into existing projects for instant impact.

From more of a business perspective, creating our own expansion for Native Instruments’ all-conquering Maschine platform was just a wonderful experience - from the challenge of working closely with their team on all the intricacies of the software and hardware, to the sheer creative satisfaction of knowing my work is being used and enjoyed by producers across the globe, it was nothing but an honor to be involved with them. As it is with AAS, I hasten to add!

What part does sound design occupy in your composer/producer work?

Pretty much all of it! ModeAudio is my working life and I must admit to feeling incredibly lucky every time I boot up a DAW to begin working on a fresh sound design project. Which at the moment, is often and long may it continue!

How do you approach the creation of sound banks? Tell us about your process.

The first stage in the process is always to study the brief in detail - firstly, having a clear grasp of the technical requirements is key, which is great if I’m using a tool I’m unfamiliar with because it means I can spend time just playing around and finding out what it can do.

Secondly, if there is an artistic direction attached to the project, then making sure this is as distinct in my mind as possible before beginning is also crucial. This typically involves listening to lots of music in a similar style to what I’m aiming for - another perk of the job!

Then, bringing these two things together really is the crux of the process - it might take a few mini projects to really nail it but learning new styles and production processes has been a part of my work at ModeAudio since the beginning, so I feel being adaptive and learning quickly is something we’re all well-versed in.

If we have some packs in our catalog that happen to be in a similar style to the project’s artistic territory, then I’ll often begin by dragging some loops, samples and presets that we’ve already made into my session and work my new sound design in alongside. This is a great way to make sure I set off on the right foot, as well as encouraging me to stick to the high creative standards of our releases.

You're behind ModeAudio.com, can you tell us more about that?

Sure! I started ModeAudio with 3 friends in London in late 2013, driven by a desire to make use of our collective passion for music production within a vehicle that was entirely under our own control. We felt like we had a knack for great audio and design, which came together in our website, which we’re all immensely proud of.

I don’t want to bang on about it but we really do all feel extremely lucky to be involved in a business that we genuinely care about and our users seem to respond so positively to - here’s to the next 4 years and, fingers crossed, beyond!

What are the things you like the most about AAS’ software?

First up, your acoustic modeling engines are just excellent! I love how I can use Chromaphone to dial up real-world tuned percussion vibes in a heartbeat and, with a nod to what I said about interfaces above, it’s a breeze to make substantial changes to the sound with just a touch of a dial.

I think it’s especially cool you teamed up with Ableton to create the set of synths that come pre-packaged with Live 10 also - I believe collaboration is so crucial in all aspects of life and is something I really hope to see more of in the industry. Bringing DAW developers and synthesis experts together results in better tools for music makers, as does the combination of sound designers with synth makers. Getting to work on Hover with you is a case in point if I don’t say so myself!

Tell us what you have going on in your life!

Haha, that’s a great question! My wife actually gave birth to our first child about 4 months ago, so we’ve all been enjoying getting to know each other and finding out how to make each other laugh. I’m delighted to report that it doesn’t take much!

From a ModeAudio point of view, we have more sound packs planned for our website in the coming months, as well as one or two sound design projects with some of our very favorite collaborators. I can’t wait to share more about them with everyone soon!