Audeze chats with producer, engineer and musician Callan Alexander (cln)

Callan Alexander, better know as cln, is a producer, vocalist, engineer and composer from Brisbane, Australia who makes beautifully chilled electronic/alt-R&B music that has been likened to a mix between James Blake, Bon Iver and Odesza. Since releasing his first single ‘Better Than’ in 2014, cln has worked steadily to expand both his body of work and his audience.

 

"These headphones are a dream to work with. The first time I listened to them I was truly blown away. The sound is unreal and the improved mix translation is instantaneous." - Callan Alexander
Here's our talk with cln:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

I am most proud of my composition work for Queensland Ballet. Composing a ballet is not something that an electronic or contemporary music producer usually gets to do! I produced/mixed/mastered and composed a contemporary electronic work for the company, alongside the incredible vocalist Katie Noonan, who has been named one of Australia's greatest vocalists of all time. Queensland Ballet is an internationally renowned company whose artistic director is Li Cunxin (the author of Mao's Last Dancer) so it was a true privilege to be involved.  

I also am grateful that I have had the opportunity to tour both Australia and the United States performing my original material. In 2016 I had the privilege of performing at Red Rocks, in Denver CO performing in support of The Chainsmokers and San Holo. Red Rocks is a venue that every musician dreams of performing in, so it was an incredible experience.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

I am a bit of a jack of all trades really. I sing, I produce, I write and I engineer. I am starting to shift my focus towards producing for other artists, but creating my own original music is at the top of my list of priorities.

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

I started with piano lessons when I was very young, but was always a shocking student. I preferred to make my own melodies rather than practice the songs I was supposed to be practicing. I got a copy of FL studio when I was a teenager and never really stopped making music after that!

When I was very young my dad used to play really great classic stuff. Phil Collins, Queen, Depeche Mode, REM. When I was in my early teens I started to branch out into listening to all sorts of things. The album that really got me into electronic music was Demon Dayz by Gorillaz. I think I was 10 years old when it came out, but probably only got my hands on a copy a bit later than that. That album really blew my mind as it was unlike anything I had heard before. It was super catchy, but also super weird! The sound design and production on that album still stands out to me, and the songwriting is just incredible.

Lately I listen to a bit of everything. I love listening to electronic music in the Flying Lotus/Bonobo/Caribou realm, and also really enjoy hip-hop/R&B artists like Isaiah Rashad or Frank Ocean.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

Apart from music, I also spend time in the acoustics field as a researcher (I am currently undertaking a PhD in ecoacoustics). I mainly work on bird research, using sound as a tool to aid conservation efforts. I have always been inspired and influenced by the natural world and I think that probably makes its way into my music somehow!

My manager Jez is also a huge influence. He allows me to create freely and not worry too much about the business side of things.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

My music career started in the Soundcloud/blog era where you could upload music quite freely and there was a really great community of musicians who supported each other on the platform. You could promote your work relatively easily without a label. I found transitioning to streaming fairly difficult as an independent artist, because now there are more gatekeepers and everyone is fighting for playlisting! We basically had no choice but to adapt to the streaming world, and it has worked out fine. Streaming has ultimately given my music a larger audience, so I am grateful for that. If I had to repeat the experience I would make sure to find a trustworthy distribution company as quickly as possible.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

I work mostly 'in-the-box.' I adore Brainworx and Unfiltered Audio Plugins both for production and mixing/mastering. I, like many others, could also never go without FabFilter Pro-Q or Pro-L.  Lately I have been really enjoying the Soundtoys plugins, particularly Echoboy and Decapitator. I'm also really liking the Shadow Hills Class A Mastering Compressor and the NEOLD V76U73 compressor. My only bit of hardware that I can't go without is my RME Babyface Pro.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

Try not to lose your sense of enjoyment. Make music that you enjoy making and do it with people who you enjoy being around wherever possible. If you do that, you will usually find that the end result is better. Also, get a good lawyer and don't sign anything unless you've run it by said lawyer!

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

I use headphones almost exclusively for every part of the process and always have. I produce, mix and master primarily in headphones. I will always do final checks on my Event Opals but 99% of the time I'm working in headphones. Unless I'm working in a really top-tier studio I usually trust my headphones more than the room. If you know your headphones well you know that you can work just about anywhere, which is a huge plus. The main reason I like headphones though is that feeling of being 'dialed in' to the music. I can't really explain it but the headphones block out everything else and your focus is just on what you are creating. I never really get that feeling with monitors, and the music I make on monitors never quite hits the same way.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

These headphones are a dream to work with. The first time I listened to them I was truly blown away. The sound is unreal and the improved mix translation is instantaneous. When I mix and master using the LCD-X my mixes sound so much better in the car, earbuds, laptop speakers, you name it. As I often work in rooms that aren't fully treated, these headphones are a lifesaver because you know the sound will be reliable wherever you are working.

At the moment I am finishing a new album, which was mixed and mastered almost exclusively on the LCD-X. The first song will be released in June of 2022.