In Conversation With: Guzi

Working full-time in music is the dream for many, and few pull it off as smoothly as Sub-Division Recordings & Section 63 bossman Guzi. You may know him from his diverse, jump-up and jungle-tinged production style, his precise and punchy mastering output, his Education & Bass tutoring, or any number of his musical outlets.

You might think all these extra ventures would put production on the backburner, however this is undoubtedly not the case. Guzi’s recently released self-titled debut LP on Sub-Liminal Recordings is a 12-track foray into the ever-extending spectrum of drum and bass music. From the scattering jungle breaks of What To Do with DJ Hybrid, the spaced out liquid pads of Aerosphere, to the skulking 140 track Hot Gates, the album represents Guzi’s inability to stay settled in one place.

It’s high time we found out more. But rather than just a conversation about his own music, Guzi talks us through the mindset behind mixing and mastering, the rewarding process of teaching new producers, and some enthusing new plans for Sub-Division (sister label to Agro’s banger-machine Sub-Liminal). Read on for the full rundown. 

How’s life treating you?

I’ve just been busy building the new studio over the last month. I moved in just at the end of December, so I’ve been building acoustic panels and all that boring stuff to get the room sounding good.

Is that what I’ve interrupted today?

Nope, we finished that yesterday so today has been all about mastering!

Jack of all trades comes to mind. How do you keep on top of so many things?

First of all, I’m consistent with getting in the studio. I’m here 4-5 days a week, so I treat it as my full-time job. People that are directly paying or ordering services from me always get the priority, so that keeps me going. Whenever I clear that work, that’s when I start doing stuff for Sub-Division, working on my own tunes, or maybe doing lessons.

What advice do you have for people also wanting to go full time in music?

You’ve got to have more than one string to your bow. It might be that one of those things can be 80% of your income if it does well, but you don’t know which one that will be. Try five or six things, and hopefully one or two will be successful. Even if you’ve got lots of things going on, they all contribute a little bit and it adds up. Also, if something happens to one of these things, then you’ve got something to fall back on. When COVID happened, I couldn’t DJ for two years but I had other stuff to keep me occupied.

It’s not a case of making a few bangers and having a music career unfortunately!

It works for some people, but it’s a minority. That’s what we all strive for initially… make a few bangers and DJ around the world to thousands of people. That can be short lived though, so you need to think about what your value is to the scene and turn it into a long-term career. You could be one of the biggest DJs at a moment in time, but it might not last.

One of the most successful avenues for you is mastering. At what point in your producing journey did you decide to start this professionally?

I’ve been interested in mastering ever since I started producing around eleven or twelve years ago. I had a budget of zero when I started out, so it was the case of trying to do every single part of the production process myself. Do that over the course of a few years and you end up learning as you go. That didn’t get me to the point of mastering professionally, but it got me so far. It was when my production took a leap in the last four or five years that I started doing some mastering work for Agro at Sub-Liminal Recordings. I was already on the labeI so I asked if I could have a go on one of the releases as I’d been working on my mastering skills. From that point, I became their main mastering engineer and word-of-mouth took it from there. Within a year or two, I was doing 100 tracks a month. I never planned to start a mastering business, but I enjoyed it and clients did too, so it made sense to pursue. 

You actually mastered my forthcoming EP on Monk Audio! Apologies for all the changes we had to do, but I appreciate the professionalism and willingness to work with us.  

No worries, it’s all part of it. Ultimately, my client has to be happy with what I’ve done. It’s never the case that one person is right, and one is wrong. It’s about finding that happy medium.

Is there any advice you’d give producers before sending their tracks off to mastering?

I try and help people out in the areas where I feel there are major issues in their production, so it’s hard to give a general broad tip for everyone. One thing I would say however, is check your premasters before sending them. Once you’ve exported it, drag it back into a fresh project to double check things are in order. You might have left a limiter on the master channel and the audio is a brick wall. If I get sent this and it’s hitting 0db then it just delays the whole process for everyone. It doesn’t annoy me or anything as it’s just part of the parcel. I’ve sent masters off before and it’s just pure silence because I’ve soloed the wrong channel and exported it while trying to work quickly. Everyone makes mistakes.

It’s all part of the learning curve of being a producer, right?

It is. Plus, it’s in my interest to help people because when they come back next time, their premasters will be less problematic. I want to help and guide people, therefore I have no problem with giving free advice… within reason.

How is the mastering mindset different compared to production?

My philosophy is that it’s always better to have your track sounding how you want it within the mix. That’s 90% of your final product. When I’m producing or working on a mixdown, I’m hardly doing anything on the master channel. If a hi-hat is too quiet, I’ll just turn it up in the mix. The closer to the source of the problem you can fix, the better. With mastering, however, you are working with one single audio file, so it’s a case of working out what issues there are with the mix that you can fix. You’ve got to try work out if you can fix those things without causing problems to other areas of the track. Say I was doing a mix, and I wanted to make the bass louder – I’ve got a lot of options and can access the individual channels. Do that in a master, you’ll be using an EQ, and you’re going to be turning up and down everything else in that region. 

It’s also easy to have an unrealistic idea of what a master can do to your track when you’re starting out. You can send off a badly mixed song and then wonder why it’s come back sounding worse.

A great arrangement makes for a great mixdown, which makes for a great master. That’s the key. You can send a tune off to the most elite mastering engineer with a rubbish arrangement and mixdown, and it’s still going to be a rubbish track. The arrangement and the mix are the key elements, whereas the mastering is the final 10% or so.

Let’s talk about your debut album on Sub-Liminal Recordings. When did this start coming together?

Some of the tunes were made over three years ago before the album idea existed. All the tracks were in different sub-genres of drum and bass, so I felt as an overall project it would work best as an album rather than an EP. I really wanted to showcase my diversity and how much I like working within different styles. It was almost ready to go a year before it was released, but we were in the middle of lockdown and there were no raves, so I didn’t want to put out my debut album in that kind of climate. I thought I’d wait a year and used the time to get the tracks sounding as good as possible, work out a promo plan etc.

Must be a huge relief to finally get that out to the world then!

Definitely. I went full tunnel vision and didn’t take on any more label commitments, but now I’m ready to work on new projects.

I imagine you had a lot of creative control with it being on Sub-Liminal?

I pretty much had as much creative control as if I had self-released it. Agro trusted me and let me do my thing. We have slightly different tastes, but when it comes to having that ear for a good quality track, we’re on a similar level.

I guess that’s why he trusts you so much with Sub-Division.

Yeah, the Sub-Division roster is getting so strong now that I’m planning a full rebrand of the label, rolling all my ventures including mixing and mastering, tuition, and everything else into a new brand. There’s always going to be a ceiling on how much we can do being a sister label to Sub-Liminal, but this way we can have more autonomy and build on the foundations we’ve set. We’ve put out 28 or 29 releases on the label over the few years it’s been running, and some of the artists are doing really well now which is amazing.

There does feel to be that big focus on newcomers on both the album and the label.

Yeah, so my philosophy for that is I just don’t care about people’s social media numbers or followings. Some people might collab with someone because they’ve got X amount of followers, whereas I tend to make music with people that I’ve actually met or have a connection with. BP MC is one example of this. I met him a while ago at a Sub-Liminal night and I thought he was a great MC, so we made some tunes together and have been mates since. It was great to have a tune with DJ Hybrid on the album as well. I’ve known him for a while and he’s a wicked producer that does a lot for the scene.

I want to touch on your work with Education & Bass. What are you personally getting out of teaching new producers? That’s got to be a rewarding process.

I learn just as much as the person I’m teaching sometimes!  Sometimes they’ll ask me a question or explain a technique that they do, and it could be someone that’s been producing under a year, but I can still learn something. There’s always new techniques, new plugins, and stuff to learn. You can never know it all in music production, so it keeps me on my toes.

It’s also good for looking for new talent. There was a release from a guy called Entropy on Section 63 which is one of my other labels that focuses more on jungle/rave-y sounds, and I met him through teaching him on Education & Bass. He improved so much over the year I taught him to point that his tunes were good enough to release. His progression has been amazing, and now he’s got more lined up with other labels and is helping to run another. If I can help further people’s progression within music than that makes me happy. I want to release music on my label to showcase these new producers and hopefully catch the eye of other labels for their next step up the ladder. If I can help 20/30 producers do well in music, that’s a much bigger impact than my own individual career could ever have. 

Finally then, what advice would you give new producers for standing out amongst all this upcoming talent?

Try and get inspiration from outside of drum and bass. We all want to make drum and bass because we love it, so of course we get inspired by tunes from within the genre. However, if you really want to make your stamp on the scene, you need to come through with something unique and original. It’s difficult, because it is so saturated, but drum and bass is a melting pot. You can combine it with so many different sounds and genres. Try and find something that is unique to you, that puts an identity on your music, rather than just being bland and soulless. Also, try not to worry too much. The reality of it is that it’s a very popular hobby nowadays, so there’s a lot of competition. You make the best music when you’re having fun, so just enjoy it.

Guzi – Guzi is out now on Sub-liminal

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