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Studio Selections: DJ Spen

The Baltimore, Basement Boys and classic house legend opens his studio doors

DJ Spen is undoubtedly a classic house legend. After co-writing 'Girl You Know It's True' – later covered by Milli Vanili – DJ Spen joined the production team The Basement Boys, helping to craft remixes for Ultra Nate, Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul. Under his Jasper Street Co. alias, he went on to release on classic labels like Strictly Rhythm, Def Jam, Vega and Atlantic. Having worked with iconic house vocalist Crystal Waters with The Basement Boys on 'Gypsy Woman' in 1991, the two teamed up again in 2020 for 'Party People'. We asked him to pick five of his studio must-haves – find out what he choose below and listen to his vibe-filled set for DJ Mag Alternative Top 100 Virtual Festival here.  

Universal Audio 6176 Tube Pre-Amplifier

“The Universal Audio 6176 tube pre-amplifier is one of my favourite mic pre-amplifiers. The compression on it is second to none and it’s very user friendly, for high-end dynamics. I have recorded many vocalists with it, such as Ann Nesby, Sheila Ford, Tracy Hamlin, and Marc Evans. It is a really good piece for recording live bass, guitars, and horns to get an authentic funky/soul sound. Definitely one of my go-to tools."

Korg MS2000 Analogue Modelling Synthesizer

“There are a lot of synthesizers in the music world and a lot of soft synths built into various production programs, but I love this particular analogue synthesizer because it has very simple to operate but killer arpeggiators and oscillators. That is really useful for my productions. I am very fond of the bass sounds as well. Being able to shape sounds easily to work with the various kick drums I use in my productions is really nice. This became one of my favourite tools when I recorded the Little Louis remix of ‘Misery’ with Gary Hudgins. I have been using it a lot since then.”

Canto S Nearfield Studio Monitor

“I was sent these speakers from the company as a demo. Prior to that, I had been using the Radio Shack Optimus speakers since the 1990s – I started using them at Basement Boys. The Canto S changed that as soon as I hooked them up to give them a test. The Canto delivers everything that the Optimus does with added and much-needed sub frequencies. All of my recent productions, within the past year or so, have been done using these speakers. They are a really well-crafted and quality small speaker.”

Yamaha Open Face Reel to Reel Virtual Tape Deck Plug-In

“I use this tool on everything! It’s a nice tape simulator and surprisingly delivers the low- and high-end frequencies and warmth of an actual analogue reel to reel machine. On recordings, where I really wanted that old school sound, such as ‘Hot Shot’, ‘This Time Baby’, and ‘Love Sensation’, this tool was perfect! It provides the ability to select between vintage tape machine decks from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. This is a huge feature that has helped shape the various sounds of the records I have done for the past five or six years. It’s really an amazing addition to the tools I use to finalise tracks.”

Waves Renaissance De-esser Plug-In

“This is one of the most important vocal plug-ins I have ever used. It’s surprisingly easy to operate – especially when you consider how complicated the old school analogue de-essers used to be. I can count on this to give vocals that smooth sounding finishing touch. It removes all the noisy 'ssss' sounds vocalists tend to use when they enunciate correctly. I have also gone as far as using this tool on hi-hats to give them a nice fat sound without having to shave off the complete high-end frequency with an EQ. It’s definitely one of my most used tools – especially when working on vocal projects.”