Most students who come to Pyramind have one goal above all others: create better music.
What they usually don't expect is how often partnerships are formed and musical collaborations born.
When Quinn Flagg, Lucas Kwasny, and Zach Montoya enrolled in the Complete Producer Program in September of 2016 they were strangers. Now, halfway through the curriculum, they've spent countless hours together every week in the studio to put out music under their collective alias, QLZ.
All three of them are solid producers in their own right, but the collaborations they have released so far have been as musically breathtaking as they are technically impressive. It's fair to say that they've accomplished that number one goal of creating better music, and their careers are just getting started.
We sat down with them to chat about what their experience has been like here at Pyramind, the essence of their collaboration, technical workflow and more. You can read the full interview below.
Coming to San Francisco
So you guys are full-time students here, correct?
What programs are you enrolled in?
Lucas: We're all in the Complete Producer program.
All three of you?
And where are each of you from?
Lucas: I'm from Canada.
Quinn: I grew up in the Monterey area, two hours south of Carmel. But then went to school at SF State, and kind of just been in San Francisco for the past 6-7 years.
Zach: I'm from New Mexico, originally. Albuquerque. But I went to college at Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo. So I've been in California the last five years.
So you're scattered all over, a little bit? What part of Canada are you from Lucas?
Lucas: Alberta. Edmonton.
Nice. What made you guys pick the Complete Producer Program, versus maybe something like the EMP Program (Electronic Music Producer Program)?
Lucas: I think just getting the experience with video games and having a well-rounded education... like, getting everything in was a big decision for me.
Zach: I wasn't sure. I knew I want to be in the music industry and I want to be an artist, but I also wanted to do other things and I wasn't sure what those other things were so I just figured taking everything you guys have would be the best bet. Plus, if I'm gonna spend a year out here in San Francisco paying higher rent, I might as well fill up my time with as much stuff as I can instead of just doing a light program.
And you guys obviously didn't know each other before coming here, right?
All right, so you met here?
The Beginning of QLZ
How did you guys meet? Was it in a particular class?
Quinn: It was me and Lucas that met each other first because it was on orientation day. I just remember he went up to me like "Hey, I'm Lucas." And then on the first day of classes, me and Lucas kind of just started talking and then we were like "hey, let's book some studio time or do The Vault gauntlet together." And then we booked some studio time and then right when we booked it, Zach saw that we had time booked and was like "hey, can I join you guys?" And so, me and Lucas had our first session and Zach came in at the end and we started something, and Zach took what we started and then did his own thing with it, and came back with pretty much, almost a finished song. And that was our first big session together and then the rest is history from there.
Zach: Yeah they wrote such a dope chord progression that I just jammed off of it and made a whole song because it was really good.
Quinn: And then he came back with that whole Ableton session and then we kind of just expanded off of what he created. And then just saw that we could easily create well together so we kind of just kept it going. I think we all recognized that we're kind of all similar level in terms of previous experience. I mean Zach has the most, but relative to other students that are here as well. We kind of realized that and just shifted our focus to help each other out.
That's cool. That's important to kinda see you have some strengths and weaknesses in common and you guys are coming at this with a similar background.
I'm curious if you guys have roles that you're gravitating into. Is one guy a rhythm or drums guy? Is one guy a harmony or a melody guy? Or is everyone sharing the load and just working together when inspiration strikes?
Lucas: I mean I think it's pretty much everybody does everything. We kind of just work off of each other. Which is nice because we get three different takes at it, and we get to bicker at each other, and say "hey try this," "no let's do this," and it always seems to work the best when all three attack.
Zach: Yeah. Usually I'll be behind the computer just because I'm really quick in Ableton because I've been producing in it for so long, but then when I get burnt out one of them will switch in, or if they have a really good idea that's quick and easy they'll just come do it. But I think that's kind of our general workflow, but as far as like the actual ideas, it's pretty evenly dispersed... We just kind of all vibe off each other.
Lucas: If you listen to each of our music individually, it's completely three different genres, three different types of music. The other thing is we each have our main focus on the genres that we like to create individually, then we can bring that to the table when we are all together kind of producing.
Quinn: It’s just a huge melting pot.
So tell me about the remix that you guys just did. Cymatics was the original, right?
"Signals" was the name of that track? So how did that come about? Did you guys just hear about it online and just decide to tackle it? Or what happened there?
Zach: Yeah, pretty much. We saw that as an opportunity to really push us forward if we won, so we kind of just said "hey. Let's do this," downloaded the stems in class, booked the studio right afterward and ended up spending 17 hours in the studios in two days.
Wow. 17 hours in two days. So that was one of the studios here on campus?
Zach: Yeah, Studio 832.
Oh cool. Is that where you guys normally work?
Lucas: Uh huh. We try to, yeah.
What is it about that room that you guys like?
Quinn: It just sounds the best, in our opinion.
Lucas: It has the best privacy too.
Yeah, hah. So what's the toughest part about finishing a track like that? I mean if there's three of you working on it.
Quinn: Probably the mix.
Lucas: Yeah, definitely the mix.
Zach: Just because that's probably our least... That's where we struggle the most as artists, as of now. I think we're all pretty good at composition and arrangement and stuff like that, but mixing is really why I came here in the first place. And I'm pretty sure Lucas and Quinn are similar.
Zach: It wasn't as much that it was difficult working together mixing, but more just actually mixing and having a good mix for the genre we're trying to make, which can be difficult because you have to get it really, really loud, and really compressed without sounding like it's compressed.
Have you guys taken the mixing and mastering classes yet?
Quinn: No, not yet.
Okay. So you got a lot to look forward to there.
Lucas: That'll start in May.
Very cool. And as far as mastering this particular track, did you guys send that out? Or did you do it yourselves?
Quinn: We just did it.
Lucas: We did it.
Yeah. It probably makes sense to do that for a remix contest, right? Just kind of do it on your own.
Zach: Exactly. And just get the experience.
And what'd you use? Like plugin-wise?
Quinn: We used Ozone 7, we used the Oxford Inflator, we used Fabfilter Pro-Q 2, and Pro-L.
Lucas: Pro-L, yeah.
Quinn: There might have been another SSL-style compressor or something.
Giving Feedback, Taking Criticism
What's it like having an idea that you come up with and then stepping back and watching the other two guys mangle it. Is that hard? Is it precious with those ideas? Or do you guys trust each other now enough that you just know that it's gonna get better as it goes?
Quinn: I mean, I think there's... We all know that it's gonna get better as it goes. It's just like getting to that point. So it's kind of hard to get there sometimes, but again, I think we trust each other enough that it's like "hey, we can do this," and we all have our input.
Zach: I think what's cool is that because there's three of us, and we're all kind of picky, and all sort of perfectionists in our own ways, it can make it more difficult to get work done. That's why, hence, we had to work like 17 hours to finish that remix together, but we are able to have a better product at the end.
You push each other.
Zach: It can be annoying, but at the end of the day we all know that's what's gonna make it better.
Lucas: It's definitely worth it, yeah.
Zach: It's worth it.
Quinn: I mean, we don't really care about... We understand it's feedback that we're giving, and not like "your idea is just shit." You know.
Unless the idea is shit.
Lucas: But we tell each other that.
Quinn: We don't hold it personally.
Lucas: We don't hold it. We give an idea and there's been plenty of times where I make a suggestion and Zach is just like "No it's shit." Yeah, just Command-Z and get back to where we were kind of thing.
Have you thought ahead to performing live or any of that sort of world and what that would look like with the three of you guys involved?
Zach: I don't think we've done crazy thinking on that, just because we don't really know what we have yet, but, I know personally, I'm always gonna be up for performing and doing the whole live thing. Definitely not even just DJing. Like that'll be fun too, but having some sort of live show playing instruments, stage performance or whatever it may be.
Quinn: I think we're all on the same page with that.
Zach: We're all kind of, yeah.
Outside The Studio
That's awesome. You guys are three producers coming together, but you're also a band, at that point, especially when you're playing live. Do you spend a bunch of time together when you're not making music in the studio? Do you have your bonding time where you go and hang out?
Zach: We've had a couple of sessions.
Zach: Quinn and I live l kind of close, but Lucas is a bit farther away.
Lucas: Yeah I'm over in the East Bay.
Zach: But we try to... I mean we spend so much time together with classes and with studio time that it's almost like our time away is like "alright, leave me alone."
Quinn: Nice to get away.
Zach: So it's kind of like... There's no lack of time spent together.
Advice For New Producers
Any suggestions for people who are trying to rise up as up and coming producers?
Quinn: Just put in the work, put in the hours.
Zach: Don't stop.
Quinn: Also, yes.
Lucas: Learn off of other people.
Lucas: And don't take criticisms... Like don't take it personally when someone gives feedback on your track.
Yeah, that can be tough.
Lucas: Yeah. It's hard, but you gotta do it.
Is there a course here that you guys have taken maybe individually that was the most impactful for you so far? I know you're only halfway through your curriculum here.
Lucas: I definitely think P&A with Donner.
Interviewer: Producing and Arranging with Matt Donner.
Quinn: Specifically the 110-level class.
Lucas: Building blocks.
Quinn: It was very building blocks and you just talk about song structure and stuff. But like learning all the different modes and how to mix between different modes and understand the kind of emotion and just like the DNA behind the track, and just being able to like be like "I want to create a song that has this kind of feeling." All right, I should probably do it in this mode or scale. That was, for me, the most beneficial part of it so far.
Lucas, you're shaking your head, do you agree?
Lucas: Yeah, absolutely.
And are you guys in his 200 level class? Or are you finishing up 110 now?
Quinn: Finishing up 110 now.
Lucas: But we will be in that.
That's great to hear you guys liked it. What about you Zach?
Zach: Yeah, I mean as far as classes I think, yeah, that class. But then I think, personally, I think the most valuable thing that we've done has just been the countless hours of studio time. Like we've probably racked up almost 80 hours of studio time since we've been here. Probably more.
Quinn: Probably more than that.
Lucas: Dude we worked like 60 hours on that one track.
Zach: Yeah that's true, yeah. So probably like-
Lucas: Hundreds now.
Zach: Well over a hundred.
So you guys did the remix. How much other work have you done collectively? Like as a group.
Zach: We probably have the building blocks of like four or five songs.
Quinn: And we did another remix.
Zach: Yeah, “Supernatural.”
Lucas: That was our first track.
Quinn: That was our first track together
Zach: Yeah we've had a lot. Whether it's just like them two in the studio or me and Quinn or all three of us or like us solo, I think that's the most valuable thing because at least where I was at as a producer coming in, I just needed to spend more and more time in the room making music. And obviously the classes help gear that focus in the right direction and I'm pretty sure we're all gonna say that the mixing and mastering classes are gonna be our favorite once we take those because we feel like that's where we're lacking. Maybe just mastering, I'm not sure.
Lucas: I think we nailed the mix on the last track.
Zach: Yeah, I mean it's one of those things you don't really know until you know.
And I love hearing that, but it's also interesting because so many people are like "Oh I have my laptop and my headphones, what do I need a studio for?" and here you guys are now halfway through a curriculum saying that's one of the biggest things about being here is getting access to the rooms and the studios.
Zach: Yeah I mean for me, personally, just having a pretty decently-treated room helps. It’s a lot better than my apartment. And for our ear training and stuff, it's just been really helpful. Especially this last track we spent so much time mixing because our competition in that space gets mixed by really good mixing and mastering engineers, so it's hard to compete with them. So I feel like being able to hear the little details better, where we're at in production is everything. Because without those, the track's not gonna be where it needs to be. And I feel like we're ready to dive in and get really good at that stuff because I think that'll help us take our music, all individually and as a group, to the next level.
So you guys are referencing your music on those Genelec monitors?
Are you using the Yamaha NS-10's that are also in that room?
Quinn: Oh yeah.
Zach: Yeah we'll switch to those too.
Quinn: Yeah we'll go back and forth, or in between.
Yeah, OK. So those speakers with a sub, paired with a nicely-tuned room makes a big difference?
Lucas: It's huge.
Quinn: Makes a big difference, yeah.
What's the biggest surprise they you guys have learned in your classes here - whether it's about production or just the industry?
Zach: I think we all pretty much knew what we were getting into coming here. Which some people don't, so everything is taken from different perspectives. But I think we're all, all three of us are pretty driven, and know what we want.
Quinn: I think the biggest surprise for me was I just had zero music theory. Really zero music theory experience coming in here, and kinda learning music theory and just all the different things around it and being able to recognize patterns because - I'm just very mathematical and very logical, it's just the way my brain works. And being able to kind of recognize and be like "holy crap, it's not as hard as I thought it originally was," and then being able to throw in a secondary dominant here, and know "this'll sound good." And kinda learning how to do all these cool things that I never even knew existed before coming here.
Cool. Do the three of you guys have plans to keep working together after this track? You guys are gonna keep the QLZ thing going?
Zach: I think right now that's the plan.
Lucas: Yeah. Working title, I'd say.
Lucas: Probably just keep vibing with each other.
Quinn: I think our goal is to kind of figure out the type of music the three of us are best at creating when we're together, and then kind of find our unique-ness. Kind of our unique sound, our unique approach, and then find a way to, you know, make that our product. And then maybe try to get like an EP or something. Before our studio passes run out. Kind of follow the footsteps of what The M Machine did.
Zach: And we're all still pursuing our own individual stuff too, so it's really nice because if we get burnt out on QLZ we can have an outlet to do something different. When I work with these guys, everything that comes out of me is slightly different because I know what they like, and so it's a fun thing for any artist to be able to work with other people who are different than them. It's a nice, refreshing thing, so that's what I appreciate most about it, as of now. Just being able to have a second outlet that isn't just in my own head, in my room, alone.
Nice. That's a good thing to have. When are you guys scheduled to finish up here at Pyramind?
Zach: August 19th is when we graduate.
So do you have plans for after that? Or wait and see?
Quinn: Yeah, we're gonna move to L.A.
Lucas: Definitely moving to L.A. It's all up in the air. We're still figuring out exactly the best route to take for us, individually but also as a group as well. But I think the plan for now is for us to eventually get to Los Angeles.
Yeah. I heard they have a good music scene.
Lucas: It's OK.
Quinn: Slightly above average.