in the studio with: SamKing

'I feel like there’s an audience out there for everything, and if you have a sound that’s uniquely you it will catch on eventually.'
9th August 2022

By Vanessa B

Hailing from Reno, NV, SamKing is an indie/bedroom pop project that fuses the instrumentation of artists like Dayglow, Arctic Monkeys, and Yeek, with a lyric-writing style akin to John Lennon and Tyler Joseph. After releasing 5 singles & 2 music videos during the Summer of 2021, as well as launching a YouTube channel, Sam is tackling new subject matter and a new sound with the lead single off of his 2022 Summer EP, “close 2 you.” With its spacious, reverby guitar riffs and driving, in-your-face drum beat, this new sonic direction is one that SamKing is very excited to share with the rest of the world.

Sam is also the first artist to join us for our brand new In the Studio series, where we’ll be interviewing artists on all the behind-the-scenes magic that goes into writing, recording, marketing and more. To learn more about Sam’s creative process, industry insights, and the gear and online resources he uses, keep reading!

Can you show us your home studio setup?

Definitely a little cluttered, I know. Been a while since I’ve cleaned up around here. You’re seeing my studio fresh after a couple months of grinding out an EP so it’s bound to be a little messy.

What recording equipment do you have in your studio?

My main setup consists of a pair of KRK Rokit 5’s (G3), a Focusrite 8i6 interface, an ART Tube MP/C preamp/opto compressor, and Ableton Live 10 Suite on a Dell XPS 17 laptop. I have a Novation LaunchKey 49 MK2 MIDI keyboard (and an AKAI MPK Mini for when I’m on the go), and a Korg N-5 synth that I use from time to time. My microphone “locker” consists of 2 Shure SM57s, a Shure Beta 58A, a Shure SM7B, an Audio Technica 2035, a pair of Behringer C2s, a Sennheiser e602-II, and the one mounted on my desk is a Behringer Ultravoice XM8500 to record audio for my YouTube videos (and to record various instruments for when I’m too lazy to hook up one of my nicer mics). I’ve also got a few cassette recorders for when I’m going for some out-of-the-box lo-fi vibes. Can’t forget the salt rock lamp & lava lamp, too. Essential items right there.

How do you go about recording vocals/instruments/mixed instruments?:

I record pretty much all of my electric guitar and bass guitar stuff right into my Focusrite 8i6. I’ve dabbled with more analog recording techniques like miking up my guitar amp and bass amp, but I’ve since concluded that for my specific situation it’s just better to do those 2 things directly into the DAW. It’s just so much easier (and faster) to tweak a virtual amp, and it always sounds just as good if not better than what I’m able to accomplish by doing the real thing. We’re very lucky to be living during a time where that can be said. BIAS FX by Positive Grid is my go-to for electric guitar tones, and for bass guitar I just use the stock Ableton bass amp most of the time. Lately I’ve been loving the sound of my AT 2035 on acoustic guitar, and I also use that mic for various percussion instruments like bongos, shakers, or tambourine (sometimes I’ll switch it out for an SM57). For vocals, I tend to gravitate towards the Shure SM7B, but for a song on my upcoming EP I switched it up and used my AT 2035 to track the vocals, and I actually think I like the way that mic sounds on my voice better (I have to go a lot harder on the de-essers with this mic, though). And all of my drums are completely virtual/sampled. EZDrummer by Toontrack is my go-to for a more acoustic drum-kit sound, otherwise I just use the Ableton Drum Rack and load various samples into that and make my own drum-pad/kit. Whenever I upgrade to a larger studio space, I would love to get my hands on a real drum-kit, though.

What resources would you recommend for independent artists going down a self-taught path like yourself?

YouTube, YouTube, YouTube. I know it’s cliché at this point, but YouTube has been the single most useful resource for me to learn about all of this stuff. I would just get into the DAW and mess around, and whenever I encountered something that I didn’t know how to do I would just look up a YouTube tutorial for it. It’s insane how much knowledge is at your fingertips over there. If we’re talking about some specific creators that have helped me learn a lot, I’d say Andrew Huang is great for learning a plethora of different things (music theory, songwriting, various Ableton tips and tricks, etc.), You Suck at Producing is run by a really goofy guy (Underbelly) who teaches you some amazing techniques within Ableton (and if you like his wacky sense of humor it just makes the process that much more enjoyable), The House of Kush and Produce Like a Pro are great for learning mixing techniques, and some of Sadowick Production’s earlier videos were great for getting me on my feet when I first started producing. If you’re also a self-taught guitarist, Paul Davids, Music is Win, Tomo Fujita, Samurai Guitarist, and Djence were all great resources for me when I was first getting started (and still are!). If you’re able, I would also highly recommend taking a few recording/production classes, and/or classes for whatever instrument you play. I’ve taken a couple recording/mixing classes at a local college, and I’ve done a virtual one-on-one guitar lesson with the lead guitarist of the band Last Dinosaurs (Lachlan Caskey), and both of those experiences provided so many lightbulb moments I couldn’t even count. The wealth of knowledge you get from a more personal interaction with someone who’s been doing music their whole lives is priceless, and can fill in some of the gaps that naturally occur when self-teaching.

Do you find it challenging to balance creating your music alongside promoting it? How much time would you say you spend in your studio per week?

Oh, 100%. As of me doing this interview, I’m preparing a bunch of marketing material for my upcoming EP release, and it’s taking almost all of my time away from creating/playing music. When I’m in the music-making mode, I probably clock anywhere from 30-40 hours a week in the studio, but when it comes time to do all the TikToks, YouTube videos, music videos, press releases, etc. to promote the new stuff, I’ll be lucky if I get 8-10 hours a week in the studio. It’s just kind of one of those things where I don’t have the resources to hire anyone to do this stuff for me at this point in my career, so I’ve accepted that this is part of my journey. I do enjoy it, but I would much rather be able to spend more time working on the music. My girlfriend Mari helps with the marketing from time to time, which is really nice (maybe I can talk her into working for me full-time – will have to get back to you on that one).

Have you ever collaborated with another artist before?

Yes, I have, but it’s not something I’ve done very often. When I first started making music I helped some friends record a song – that was a fun time. Then I started playing some covers with another group of friends, which is where I got my first taste of performing. I’ve also provided vocals for a local EDM artist (Madlo), helped a close friend of mine record his own songs (Deficit Space), and most recently I remixed a song for another one of my friends (Void Kandy). The whole collaboration process does give me a little bit of anxiety because I feel like that other person is counting on a certain level of quality to come out of whatever I create, but overall it’s a lot of fun, and helps to get both artists’ names out there a little more. When it comes to my own music though, I do it all myself (with the exception of feedback from close friends and family).

Do you have a marketing or social media strategy for your music?

It’s all just trial and error right now! Marketing is definitely a huge weak spot for me (which sucks because it’s so important), and I’m still trying to wrap my head around all of it. Right now, I’m just making content for my YouTube channel to help promote myself and my music (song breakdowns [of my songs], music videos, song recreations, and beat making videos), and promoting my content on Instagram & Facebook. I also have plans to roll out some TikToks soon to hopefully draw some more people in, and reaching out to curators/bloggers like yourself has been something new that I decided to try out for this new release (liking the results so far!).

What is your understanding of the music marketing process?

Not much, as mentioned above, but I’ve heard lots of people talk about consistent content, and the closest I’ve come to that without burning myself out is uploading to my YouTube channel bi-weekly. I think TikToks help a lot because it’s such a viral platform at the moment, and just being yourself is what people want to see the most. I think trying to mold yourself into something you’re not makes peoples’ BS detectors go off, which will turn a lot of people away from your music. The MOST important thing overall though is making good music that you’re proud of. Not speaking from experience here, but I feel like there’s an audience out there for everything, and if you have a sound that’s uniquely you it will catch on eventually. Might take your song a couple weeks to pop off – a month; a year; 3 years, but if your music is something that truly represents you artistically (and you at least give somewhat of an attempt to bring it to peoples’ attention) people will find it in time. Overall, I guess my understanding is to just promote your music as much as possible, collaborate with people, and offer other types of content besides just music (like starting up a YouTube channel, or posting TikToks about your music, for example).

What has excited you most over the past 12 months in music?

The new Silk Sonic album was a blast. Anderson and Bruno killed it – so much quality packed into such a small track list. That album is probably the best mixed album I’ve ever heard, as well. “Bad Habit” by Steve Lacy was also really hype, and was the first new song I’ve heard in a while that just got me really excited. It’s a great callback to his project Steve Lacy’s Demo (which is one of my favorite projects from the last 5 years), while still keeping things feeling fresh. I’m also really pumped for Last Dinosaurs new album. Can’t wait to give that a spin. In terms of my own personal journey, I’ve acquired a few new instruments that just make me feel warm inside (2 new Fender guitars, a Fender Jazz Bass, a toy piano [gifted by my girlfriend], and my first analog synth which is one of those tiny pocket-sized Korg ones that are just so sick). I’m also really excited about the release of my new single “close 2 you,” and the upcoming release of my new EP. It’s been a labor of love (as well as just straight up labor) to get these songs finished, and I’m so stoked that they’re finally done and ready to be heard!

You can connect with Sam via his website and socials below:

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