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Miitri Aaltonen on the Finnish metal scene

Miitri Aaltonen has turned his passion for the Finnish metal scene into a career path. For his efforts, Aaltonen has already been nominated three times for the Finnish EMMA Award. He is a founding member of hard rock band Monsteriser and has also worked with bands like Mokoma, Stam1na, Viikate and Kotiteollisuus, all of whom have gold-album sales to show for their success. Steinberg wanted to learn more about Miitri Aaltonen and his country most famous for sauna, double-kick drumming and the Moomins — and possibly even the home of Santa Claus.

Tell us a little about your background, and how you got into music in the first place.
First images and pictures of me playing "guitar" date back to the late ’70s. That is the era that I began to show some signs to my parents that the boy might be interested in music in some way. Then at the age of ten, we put our first band together with my long-time band mate Janne Hynynen. And at that time I started to get more serious with the music in general, mostly listening to hard rock and heavy bands like Mötley Crüe, Wasp, Kiss and all-time favorite Iron Maiden. At the age of 14, I managed to get into the local music conservatory to study classical guitar just to realize that I didn’t have the discipline required to play that instrument. And soon I discovered also that in the world of classical guitar playing they weren’t using overdrive, distortion, fuzz or any other essentials! I was confused… During the five years that I struggled in the conservatory, I always had a band of some kind. And at some point, recording one’s own playing became crucial. First real studio experiments followed at the age of 16 and I noticed that the studio as an environment was very natural for me to be in. In my 20s I got into recording at Music-Bros studios in Imatra, Finland. Well, basically learning because I was making coffee most of the time in the first year. But I kept my eyes and ears wide open and got to the engineers chair in my second year. Then little by little I started to have customers of my own. I was lucky that at the same time some of my friends had their first record deals with their bands and offered me a sound engineer’s job in their projects. Basically that’s how it happened, a hobby progressed into a profession — with a little help from my friends.

Finnish bands like Hanoi Rocks, 22-Pistepirkko and Leningrad Cowboys put Finland on the music map back in the ’80s, but Finnish pop music rarely ends up in the main-stream charts. But it’s different with Finnish hard rock and metal, with famous bands like HIM, Nightwish, Amorphis, Entwine and others. What makes a lot of Finnish musicians gravitate towards this genre?
This is a tricky one! What can I say? Some nations are known for their coffee, some for their wooden shoes, some for their royalties’ illegitimate child and some for their heavy metal. It would be a cliché to say that Finland’s cold and arctic weather conditions drives the musicians in a certain direction. I believe it is more coincidence that many heavy metal bands from Finland have stepped into the limelight during the past ten years. And, of course, one might consider this as a result of hard work both on the song writing and production side of things.

Why did you choose Cubase as your preferred music production software?
Well this was also coincidental. When I first started making recordings at Music-Bros 1997, there were some early versions of the Cubase sequencer program available. The program could only handle MIDI information, but not audio, and the program was running under one of the first available PCs around. As the years went by, the first audio software applications landed on Imatra’s firm ground while the studio owners had stayed loyal to the Steinberg products, continuing to update the Cubase software on and on. By that time Cubase had become so familiar that it started to look like the only choice for me. I have tried all the other software applications, but with Cubase, I feel at home.

You have done a lot of engineering and producing for other Finnish bands. Do you see yourself more as a producer/engineer than an artist/songwriter?
It depends on the project I’m working on. When I produce or engineer an album for a client or a band I definitely put my whole heart into it, but if I’m doing my own stuff, then it’s really 24/7. The whole field of music industry or business generally appears to me more or less like a playground where you need to do your best to keep playmates, and yourself, happy and creative.

How do you typically go about writing songs, and do you think this process is different from a more traditional pop music and singer-songwriter approach to writing music?
I think my song writing is kind of traditional these days. I tend to play some riffs or chords to my tape recorder and then try some vocal melodies on top of that. If there’s any good reason, any there usually isn’t, I turn on my demo template on Cubase and start building some kind of rhythm corresponding to the idea I’m having. Then, when I’ve found a pleasant rhythm part to my raw idea of a song, I usually start layering guitar parts and tracks on top of each other to see if there’s any possibility to create a powerful song from what I already have.

I think the main difference to traditional song writing is the arrangements I prepare for the band to play. Of course I keep my mind open to the ideas and suggestions of my band members, but usually I have a rough idea of what kind of playing the song requires.

Do you have any favorite analog vintage gear, or do you also use a lot of virtual effects and instruments?
Yes, I sure do have some favorite gear. For example Ua’s 2-1176, it is a great tool for anything, and mainly on stereo mode to the ambience tracks, it is supreme. Solo 610 pre/ D.I. is also a great and reliable pre for line bass, for example. And, last but not least, maybe not so vintage but surely analog, Fatso Jr is my stallion for mastering and basically everything else. I also have UA’s solo and quad cards to run the most powerful plug-ins on the market, including all the vintage modeling one can imagine. I tend to use quite a lot of Steinberg’s VST Dynamics and REVerence too, which I find is very powerful and "natural" sounding. When I’m doing demos or building a metronome for the drummer’s ears, I usually use the Groove Agent drum instrument.

Do you find yourself using special techniques and “tricks” when you work with your own music and other bands in the studio?
I think I’m kind of inflexible using new tricks in the sessions. I prefer the trustworthy and "old school" ones. Basically, I’m more after the psychological side of the recording process than the technological one. Of course you need to know the basics of miking techniques and so on, but the process is so much more than that. In SM57 I trust.

The music industry has changed quite a lot over the past five years. How do you feel about the new channels for online music services like Spotify and digital download services such as iTunes?
All I know is that the record sales have decreased alarmingly over the past five years and the time you get to make a record with a band has dramatically been shortened. I am no user of Spotify and therefore I can’t have an opinion here. Basically every channel that promotes good music to spread all over the world is a good channel, but the ones who make the music should receive some kind of reasonable compensation for their efforts, don’t you think?

You recently finished a new album called Blessed to Breathe with your band Monsteriser. Are you going on tour with this album release, and what are your plans for the near future?
Yes, we did a few gigs in Finland and we’re planning to do some more this autumn and at the beginning of next year. We also keep our ears and eyes wide open for the markets outside Finland. I think we’re a rather down-to-earth-like group that we’ll concentrate on rehearsing and writing new material for the future, because every songwriter is after that a one perfect piece of music.

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