Woodcut Studios - A Cut Above
Author: Kiran Dass
Auckland's Woodcut Productions Ltd began when Aaron Christie decided he would rather work in the music industry than the visually oriented field of advertising, in which he was an accounts manager.
In 1999 he joined forces with DJ Justin Ferguson (Juse) and after working together on a couple of projects, the dynamic duo set up base on Karangahape Rd to specialise in hip hop, Pasifika, pop and dance. Woodcut began operating as a studio in 2001 with the modus operandi of providing reasonably priced, high quality creative music production, and New Zealand-made music publishing services.
In addition to this, Woodcut offers studio recording and production to brief, quote and deadline; sound design (including animation) through to audio post-production and mastering; ringtones, realtones and jingles.
Woodcut's resident engineer/producer Matt Scott at work with Juse and Ethical looking on.
"We are also publisher members of APRA and members of AMCOS. We were the first, but now there are a few local publishers and international subsidiaries around Auckland. Our artists assign us the rights of a selection of their works and we licence our repertoire for various productions," explains Christie.
As a producer Ferguson has worked with Che Fu, King Kapisi, Sola Rosa, Scribe, Shayne Carter and the Black Grace Dance Company, so it comes as no surprise when Christie says there are no real guidelines to the types of artists Woodcut will help out.
"We have to like what they do. We approach and get approached. Timing is always an issue. To work with specific people on specific projects, planning and management are important. The stars need to be aligned in some cases for a project to get off the ground," he laughs.
"Our studio was made available for DJ Premier when he was in New Zealand as our studio set up and equipment were to his specifications, but he never got creative while he was here and we never got to meet him!"
The facilities in question include two Pro Tools suites; full valve vocal path; wide guitar range; six sound modules with over 4500 sounds; five synths; four sampling drum machines including MPC 3000 and SP 1200 and a vintage 16-channel mixing console.
"Quality gear is more reliable. You can always have a more powerful computer but all this works for us pretty well," explains Christie.
While he runs the day-to-day business and administration side of the show, Ferguson ensures the studio continues to produce quality audio.
"There is a lot of crossover and we combine for the big decisions creatively and financially," says Christie.
Matt Scott, Woodcut's resident engineer/producer who also runs the audio visual studio, joins Christie and Ferguson. Woodcut also contracts Christiaan Ercholano (House of Downtown) and Angus McNaughton, who assists with mixing and mastering.
"He also helps keep the studios working properly," says Christie.
Open to embracing new technology, Christie says there are always new and better ways to manage ones' assets.
"Matt can do some work from home now, which means he's not stuck in the studio all day. Hard drives, like iPods, instead of CDs is the new way to supply music for TV clients."
"We have also developed ringtone production services as popularity in this media has grown."
Christie says Woodcut aims to challenge existing distribution methods.
"A few years ago, we felt record labels were scared of digital downloading and stood back while it all developed. For our part, we put some songs for download on our website. To an extent, this has changed now, and labels are starting to consider alternative forms of distribution," he says.
"A large red building is the only place to get some CDs in small towns."
Woodcut is branching out with its own hip hop label Move the Crowd Records. There has always been a 'label' side to the Woodcut business, but now people are beginning to notice some of the talent Woodcut has developed.
"We wanted to help develop artistic talent separate from job-based work and do straight art projects. We specialise in hip hop artists because that is what we love and what we do best." says Christie.
New York-based ex-pat Kirk Harding (recently appointed Senior VP of Universal/Motown) is also involved with Move the Crowd Records, whose first album release is Juse's debut album 'Global Casino'.
Christie says Harding contributes to the label project in many ways; particularly in artist and song development, track selection, sourcing international producer and artist contributions, label contract negotiations and all aspects of marketing and promotion.
"He lives in Brooklyn. We email constantly through the day and have the occasional conference call. I don't know how he sleeps!"
In 2003, pre Move the Crowd, Woodcut released 'Woodcuts', a compilation of Woodcut artists. Last year they released Te Reotakiwa's self-titled, debut album through King Music.
So what have been some of the most memorable projects Woodcut has worked on?
"There are so many it's hard to say! The music score for Black Grace was really challenging creatively. Commercially, we are all proud of the success of C4 and the contribution we have made to their brand. Te Reotakiwa's album was a long process, and the reporting associated with a funded project meant a lot of admin work, but it's extremely gratifying to have his music, voice and songs recorded for all time," says Christie.
Other Move the Crowd artists Woodcut is recording at present include Tyree, Smashproof and Ethical. When Ferguson was in New York recording artists for 'Global Casino', he had the opportunity to play Harding some demos of Tyree's work. Harding's hook-ups have proved valuable.
"We have some top international beat-making producers and artists contributing to Tyree's, Ethical's and Smashproof's albums," enthuses Christie.
He says the goal is to make Move the Crowd Records a truly Australasian-based hip hop label comparable to successful US-based labels.
"We want Woodcut to grow in stature as one of the premier creative music and audio production companies in New Zealand, and to develop careers for our artists with our publishing business and label."