Derek “Jack Chicago” Pinkham
Derek Pinkham is a musical lifer. Receiving his first guitar at age eleven, he started writing songs the day it arrived, and a garage band with friends was quickly born.
Pinkham earned a BA in music theory and composition, with a focus in jazz guitar, from the University of Vermont in 2005. As he puts it, “I decided to go for it, since I would have failed any other major.” At UVM, he studied with jazz guitarist Joe Capps and composer T.L. Read and also enrolled in private composition lessons in the Middlebury, Vermont, home of composer Ernie Stires. In 2008, Pinkham earned an MFA in music theory and composition and interdisciplinary art from Goddard College.
Pinkham spent some of his post-grad years teaching music theory, piano, guitar, bass, and drums before moving into production and recording full-time. While he’s called “Jack Chicago,” this prolific producer has bounced around from Chicago (where he worked as a hedge-fund trader) to Los Angeles and then New York before settling back in Burlington, Vermont.
Once settled, Pinkham set up his current studio, Friday Pop Café™ Productions. While pop production and live band recording are Friday Pop Café’s main courses, of late Pinkham has also taken up artist development.
Pinkham is a PreSonus advocate through and through. A glimpse inside his studio reveals much familiar blue-and-silver gear! The PreSonus inventory at Friday Pop Café includes a StudioLive 16.4.2 digital mixer, Studio Channel, HP4 headphone amplifier, AudioBox USB, and Studio One Professional 2.
While his reasons for choosing Studio One are legion, many of them boil down to ease of use, particularly the DAW’s intuitive GUI. “Studio One’s layout keeps me moving,” Pinkham says. “The browser, mixer, and editor panels keep projects flowing fast while keeping them organized at the same time, which is crucial for me. For example, if there is something I want to resize, the zooming is intuitive. If I need a file, it's right there in the browser, and I just drag-and-drop. Simply put, Studio One allows me to minimize time spent figuring out how to make life easier. Instead, I am maximizing my time spent creating epic music!”
Being easy to use may lead some to suspect the software is lacking in features. Not so, according to Pinkham. He’s quick to champion the DAW’s versatility, as he leverages it as a MIDI sequencer and for more traditional recording applications—and sometimes less traditional applications! “There’s a huge amount of tweaking and functionality available,” Pinkham asserts. “I use Studio One as my DAW of choice for all sequencing, as well as for mastering. I mainly use it for producing pop tracks, but also for comping and editing vocals. I also use it for tracking bands live at Friday Pop Café Productions, as well as for sound design and composition.
“If I need to change gears from composing, sound design, or production and quickly do a full band session, all I have to do is set up new inputs and outputs in the StudioLive, and off we go! Getting the program to take audio in and out is very easy. And the easier it is, the more creative I can be with it, allowing me to cater to nontraditional ensembles, which is what I love to record. Friday Pop Café is in a college town, meaning indie ensembles of all kinds roll in here needing live-band recording techniques: various instruments, isolation, live room captures, etc.
“Both audio and MIDI routing are so easy and customizable with Studio One that setup for even an outrageous ensemble is quick and easy. Need to track flute, virtual cello, isolated vocals, and re-amp some guitar while the drummer has a kick, conga, and dampened snare setup with no cymbals—all live? Done!
“Recently I recorded a live rehearsal of a seven-piece funk band, and that can be taxing on the setup phase. Not so for me. It took an hour to get it all routed, if that, and we were on and poppin'.”
Pinkham came in to Studio One after years of production work in other DAWs, so the man speaks from experience. And while Studio One is his main workhorse, he has found that Studio One plays well with others. “I just don't like Pro Tools. It’s dated and designed for another, old world,” he opines. “Yes, the updates reflect what's going on today, and yes, it's the industry standard, and yes, some folks will think I'm nuts for saying that—but it's not functional as a home base for me, not like Studio One. I did a project recently where the engineer who tracked it used Pro Tools, and I mixed it in Studio One. It was easy to bounce the files out of Pro Tools starting from zero, and just as easy to load them into Studio One by dragging-and-dropping. It's really no big deal in terms of passing files around.
“I also use Ableton Live and an APC40 for remixing my tracks live in the studio,” Pinkham continues. “But I'm always slaving or bouncing those back into Studio One. I also use Logic for various vocal-editing plug-ins that are made for Logic—but again, they always get rendered out back to Studio One. So, Studio One really holds up as my DAW headquarters.”
With all of those DAWs and WAVs filling up hard drive after hard drive, strict order is critical for a guy like Pinkham. Studio One fills this need as well. “Another crucial aspect of Studio One is the file management,” Pinkham states. “I am extremely organized, and Studio One allows me to get down to the nitty-gritty with file naming and keeping my projects in order. I also keep a MIDI catalog, as I'm often popping MIDI lines into Sibelius to better compose using traditional notation, so Studio One Musicloops are a life saver! I just drag-and-drop the MIDI to the browser, and I’m all organized!”
As devoted as Pinkham is to Studio One, it comes as little surprise that he has done a little work to help spread the gospel, and recalls details about watching Studio One help launch a new producer’s career in audio. “About a year ago, I decided to take on a few students who were asking about my production techniques,” Pinkham recalls. “I started them out on Studio One, and they were able to defeat the common confusing issues that surround audio production. But one special person took it into overdrive! He learned the program, developed his craft, and he is now Friday Pop Café's studio assistant. He is extremely fluent in the Studio One language, and in a short time has become a go-to advisor for my own continued growth as a producer. When I ask him to add a mono track pulling audio from Channel 12, for example, and insert the custom “Dope Girl Vox” FX Chain, he not only does it fast, he does it with full knowledge of the program. He knows where the FX Chains are saved, and how to edit them. He also knows and maintains my extreme and OCD file naming and organizational system.
“Studio One's ease of use and intuitive design gave him a chance to get this good in only a year—its user-friendly nature provides a service to the pro audio beginner that other DAWs can't come close to.”
While some producers may choose to stick with an incumbent, Pinkham sees value in Studio One’s status as a breath of fresh air in the DAW landscape. “I feel that new software, written in the current recording age for new-school producers, is well worth promoting.
“As a very respected engineer told me, 'you can never lose the heart for the math. Just be awesome, and the rest will follow.’”