Modal Electronics Backstage: Venus Theory, Part One
So, tell us who you are, where you’re from etc?
Well, I’m Cameron and I’m a few different things: a sound designer, musician, media composer, and content creator/YouTuber. Suppose in the end my job title is ‘busy’.
Originally, I’m from a pretty small farm town in Illinois (around 1,800 people or so, but more like a few hundred people in the actual town) but moved around quite a bit throughout my life. Currently residing in northern Tennessee with my wife and dog and absolutely loving it – although sometimes it’s hard to work instead of going out hiking or finding a new distillery!
What’s on your playlist at the moment?
I’m fairly adventurous with music in my personal playlists (especially my playlist of what my subscribers are making and send me) and open to most music but with ‘the core stuff’ I tend to listen to the same stuff I’ve always listened to.
I’m a big fan of soundtracks and scores, and also into some electronic music – mostly on the more ambient or ‘cinematic’ side. I do also like some of the more experimental hip-hop/rap artists and DJs with acts like Dope DOD, DJ Krush, Massive Attack, Portishead, Zero 7, or Tobacco if I’m just working on stuff and need some music to jam to.
Some new discoveries/artists lately are the soundtrack from TENET, Sturgill Simpson, the soundtrack from The Tunnel (Australian film), the soundtrack of the original Ratchet and Clank (absolute jam), and the Silent Hill soundtrack.
A subscriber also recently turned me on to the soundtrack of the show Hinterland which has really been a standout for me. I have yet to watch the actual show though 😅
Has Music always been a part of your life? Was Music a big part of your childhood? What did you listen to back then?
Music has always been a huge part of my life. I was always banging on pots or pans or noodling around with whatever instruments I could get my hands on. Eventually, my parents got me a guitar and I think really after that it just quit being a question and became ‘this is what I do’. I tend to be very obsessive, and when I find something I’m interested in it just becomes all that I can think about.
Both my parents had really diverse tastes in music which I think was helpful in a way since that exposed me to a ton of different stuff early on. My dad was a guitar player and sang in a band, and my great grandpa who I never met was a recording artist back in the 50s and 60s. I always thought it was really cool that he made a record so I really wanted to do that myself someday, and my dad had one of his guitars which was also really inspiring as a kid.
At one point, a friend of my dad brought me a CD of Buckethead’s album ‘Colma’ and that was really the point where I understood what I wanted to create. I had never really heard an album before that made me understand the idea of a ‘sound of feelings’ and something in my brain just clicked after that.
I used to listen to a lot more metal and experimental music and was really into stuff like Animals as Leaders, Meshuggah, Trifonic, Igorrr, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and a whole lot of other odds and ends. I still really enjoy that stuff, but my tastes have expanded quite a bit.
Eventually, as a teenager, I got a lot more into soundtracks and scores since other music wasn’t really covering what I wanted to hear in terms of stuff that was more emotionally and narratively driven.
I was always banging on pots or pans or noodling around with whatever instruments I could get my hands on.
What inspires you musically?
Mostly I’m a big believer in the concept of using your ‘internal radio’ and listening to what you’re hearing in your head. I try to avoid listening to too much music when I’m in writing mode so that I’m sorta forced to just fill in the silence myself.
The whole ‘Venus Theory’ project really stemmed from when I just gave up on music. I had such a tough time getting anything off the ground on a more traditionally ‘successful’ level, and I just gave up listening to music or creating music for about two years. Of course I’d hear the odd song on the radio in the car or in a public place, but I didn’t really listen to anything intentionally.
This really developed a sense of what I wanted to hear rather than what I figured I had to make for things to be successful, and really helped me clarify my own artistic vision and intention. I don’t think you need to do something as extreme as I did, but giving yourself a week or two ‘music free’ now and again can be a helpful creative exercise since you’re minimizing any external influence.
Whenever I’m needing some inspiration, usually I like to just go out hiking somewhere with ‘big’ views, watch some movies that are particularly stylized or atmospheric, or play some video games that have a more stylized flair to them in some way. Usually those sorts of visual and emotional cues will help stir up some kind of ‘mood’ that I can then try to capture.
Who are the biggest influences on your production?
I think overall some of the biggest would be Buckethead, Soundgarden, Trifonic, Massive Attack, and Solar Fields, Seb Taylor (specifically his work in Hibernation) and pretty much any of the soundtracks I grew up on with games like Mirror’s Edge, Assassins Creed, House MD, Thirty Days of Night, and a bunch of others I could list forever.
A few ‘newer’ influences would maybe be Carbon Based Lifeforms, Joep Beving, Hainbach, and Deaf Center.
With such a cinematic vibe to your production, how does a track start for you?
It’s always a ‘mood’ for sure. To me, most of my own original music is just a matter of setting a score to a specific feeling/mood/place/memory and usually that begins with something like a general atmosphere of things like field recordings and pads/textures or a melodic idea. I’ll then usually loop that soundbed and wait for ideas to pop into my head like a drum groove or a bass pulse or something and build it out and try to make it evolve a bit.
The thing I always try to keep in mind though is working horizontally and not vertically. It’s easy to endlessly layer ideas, but then you just have a really cool 4/8/16 bar loop and not an actual track and you have no idea where to take it.
Lately, I’ve found myself starting a lot more ideas on piano but that’s usually in combination with a few synth textures or field recordings to get the overall vibe set. From there, it’s just a matter of expanding on the details that help enhance or evolve the mood.
Did you just fall into making the music you do or was it a conscious decision?
It was definitely a conscious effort on my part. I was (and still am) an extremely hard-headed person, and once I decided I wanted to do music that was really it.
This mindset made me a nightmare as a kid and I had a lot of trouble in school because I would fixate only on the things I found interesting or useful, but I think that sort of determination has really been the thing that’s gotten me through the harder times when things just aren’t working. I’ve always thought that the real key to success in any field or situation is just wanting it 5% more than the other person.
This isn’t to say that music or whatnot is a competition – it’s more that once you decide you can’t do the thing or that you won’t be good enough and that sort of fire goes out, that’s that.
I didn’t necessarily have a plan, it was just ‘okay: I’m going to do music’ and I stuck with it and tried to put things in motion whenever I could. It certainly didn’t ‘work out’ for a long time and it was quite the uphill struggle but it’s really just the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do and I just never really gave myself much of another choice.
The biggest takeaway in hindsight is just learning by failing up. Every time something doesn’t work or you mess up or you get fired from the gig or whatever, as long as you learned what not to do or can figure out what went wrong you’re better prepared for next time.
Your Youtube channel is truly thriving; how did this come about and did you think it would become as big as it has when you started out?
Mostly it just started out of boredom. I was working a job I was pretty unhappy at, and at the time had just gotten back into music after a break from the industry for a few years after many disappointing endeavors into the music business with various bands and other projects.
At the time, I didn’t have much going on after releasing a new EP and figured I may as well make some videos sharing a few ideas and tips because I enjoy explaining things and talking about gear and sound.
For a while, nothing really happened and it was just a nice sort of hobby to do on the weekends – but after about a year things started to pick up and it became a bigger deal since I was getting more views and gaining a lot more subscribers.
Really in the last maybe two years since I’ve started taking things much more seriously is when it became a real part of my career path. I don’t really consider myself a ‘YouTuber’ in the traditional sense since my real job is working in sound design and media composition for the most part these days, but I think I’m certainly getting better at being a YouTuber. I have a long way to go, but I think I’m ready to make that happen…hopefully.
My channel definitely changed my whole life and career so I’m incredibly thankful for that since it’s opened up so many opportunities for me. It’s crazy to think about how just sitting down and talking to a camera has opened up so many things, and in the last few years I’ve been able to do everything I ever wanted to do and a thousand things more. I’m incredibly lucky and extremely thankful that it’s worked out to this level – there’s a lot of responsibility and such that go along with it though so it’s a delicate act to balance.
It’s getting a bit hard to keep up with these days but I think soon I may start going a bit more ‘full time’ into YouTube to see how far I can take things since the universe seems to constantly pull me in that direction.
I think my wife put it best when I told her I had hit 100,000 subscribers:
“I would have never thought that many people care about whatever it is you talk about”
The biggest takeaway in hindsight is just learning by failing up.
If Composition and Sound Design wasn’t your path, what would you have liked to have done as a vocation?
Originally I wanted to get into teaching, but that didn’t really pan out and didn’t seem like a great fit based on my mom’s experiences as a math teacher. Education has always been a big interest of mine.
I think if media composition and sound design didn’t pan out, I’d probably go back to working in the tech field doing web and graphic design and video production since I do enjoy that stuff quite a bit and pragmatically it’s a good career path these days.
YouTube has been a great compromise in all this though and I think it’s awesome that platform exists: when I don’t feel like making music or when I get an idea, I can create a video teaching and exploring that and it combines almost all my interests of education, music, filmmaking/photography, and storytelling/writing.
However, if money wasn’t a real concern, I’d love to go back to being a groundskeeper. That was easily my favorite job I’ve ever had!
Your release Continuum on Bleux Records is a great listen; did you have a plan in mind for this project or was it an exploratory process from start to finish?
Continuum was a bit of a weird process – at the time I was really struggling with what I wanted to do musically as I had sort of pigeonholed myself into the world of future garage and downtempo because people had associated me with that due to some of the content I had made on my channel. I still love that stuff, but so much of that scene became very ‘copy paste’ feeling and I didn’t feel like I had anything else to really contribute.
Having such diverse tastes and ideas and after getting more into working in the world of sound design and media composition, it was really hard to just stick myself back into a box of what I was making previously when it came time to make something new.
The whole EP more or less was born out of the frustration of having no idea what I wanted to do, so I just started sticking with ‘whatever comes to mind first, finish it’. I think it worked out really well, as there are so many different moods and textures and ideas but they all flow together with a broader tone and vibe.
I’m very happy with that project since it challenged me to create in a lot of new ways and I think sort of unstuck where I was musically in terms of what ‘Venus Theory’ is exactly as a music project.
It’s also a bit of a nod to the sound of some of my favorite game/film soundtracks that have a more electronic edge, and I think it really pulled together a lot of my own musical identity as a child of the late 90s and 00s digital era.
Sound Design. Part of your composition process or a totally separate discipline you have had to nurture?
It’s really hard to separate the two but I try to actively keep them sort of separate within reason. Of course, during a track you may get an idea to create a new lead or a cool bass hit or something, but for the most part I try to focus on getting the musical idea completed rather than getting lost in sound design.
Sound design can get so complicated since it’s really an endless rabbit hole, and that can definitely detract from a session since you end up making a ton of sounds but don’t actually end up accomplishing much if anything in terms of completing the actual musical idea.
Generally, I have ‘sound design days’ and ‘music days’ where I’ll be working on one or the other. I tend to compose with presets a lot since things are often on a short turnaround time or I need to get an idea down quickly for my own music before I forget it, so this process makes it easy to have a bunch of cool presets that are my own sounds that I can use without the need for custom sounds constantly.
Of course, I’ll use a ton of factory presets or preset packs as well. If a sound fits, there’s no shame in using it either as-is or as a sort of starting point. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that the end listener doesn’t care if you’re using X, Y, or Z: they just listen to the music.
I do have some friends who are very much into designing everything from the ground up for each season, but personally that just mentally burns me out since that’s like having to build your instrument each time you want to play it.
Venus Theory Signature Sound Pack
Anamorphobics for ARGON8
Cinematics. It ignites emotion like no other musical subgenre. Its power to take audiences from the lofty heights of adrenalin-spiked joy to an ether of tranquil calm – skimming a myriad of emotive locales along the way – is truly palpable. The foundations that play launch-pad to this feel-fuelled production discipline? Sounds, textures and next-level synth-theory application. Enter Anamorphics for ARGON8 by Musician and Sound Designer Venus Theory. This 30-patch collection of presets for the wavetable-centric pillar in our current synth roster is primed to kindle your creativity and transport your listener elsewhere. Everything, from stirring celestial leads to pulsating rhythmic beds and other-worldy textures, is expertly included – simultaneously providing an insight into the mind of this eclectic creative and a true demonstration of the power our forward-thinking Wavetable architecture provides. To think of this as just another run-of-the-mill preset collection is nothing but a disservice; Anamorphics is your inception and final-destination into an ever-changing sonic expanse like no other.