Interview With Olly James

Interview With Olly James

Interview With Olly James 150 150 Artist Coaching

Joey: What’s up, Olly! How’s the temperature over there?

Olly: Yeah, it’s horrible man. I’m in this office room right now trying to work on music. I just cannot concentrate. I’m here sitting and sweating man. Don’t have air conditioning either.

Joey: I never like to have air conditioning in the studio since you always have that little zoom sound in the background.

Olly: For me, I’m literally producing with these V-Moda headphones all the time. These are what people use to DJ, but I’ve never been one to splash out on hardware like speakers or headphones. I spend a lot of my money on vst’s and stuff like that. Over the years, I’ve learned to get the mix right in these headphones, so I’m extremely scared to change to KRK Rokits or other speakers haha.

Joey: If it works, why would you change it?

Olly: I could have better. When I’ve been in the studio with Blasterjaxx, their studio is sick. When I’m working on music there, I think ‘damn,’ this stuff would really make a difference to my mix.

Joey: I think for a lot of producers, when they get to some kind of success, they start doing different stuff which changes what actually got them to success.

Olly: Yeah, that’s something I was worried about. I look at other people who release on the same label as me, and they’ve got these big studios and equipment, and I think, ‘why am I not doing that.’ I think the main reason is because as a person, when I get something and learn it, I just want to use it forever. I didn’t update FL Studio for a long time until I physically had to. I was kind of doing myself a disservice. But yeah, I don’t like to branch out, and I’m scared to try new things.

Joey: The funny thing is you probably think you could do better, but if you ask your fans, they won’t hear the difference between you mixing the track on an expensive studio or on your own.

Olly: I think that if I had a studio, the most important thing would be the inspiration. I come in here and wake up, and it’s the same thing every time. I would love to have a space where I could be inspired. And when I leave that place, I can stop thinking about music and stuff. Right now, I’m constantly thinking about stuff. One day, I’d like somewhere where I could separate life and music.

That was the same reason I started renting out a studio outside of my house. I became this prisoner of my own home. I was constantly in my bedroom. I would wake up, take off my bathrobe, have breakfast, and then go back upstairs.

It’s the same reason why I like going to Holland every month since it breaks my routine. I have this routine right now where I wake up, work on music, bounce whatever I make, go to the car, listen to the track in the gym with headphones, come back and work on it some more. It’s that routine that sometimes slows you down and puts you in a writer’s block.

Joey: Let’s talk about that routine, since you mentioned that you’re going to the Netherlands every month. Why is that?

Olly: My manager and I have been working together for many years now. I go stay with him, and he’s obviously the manager of Blasterjaxx as well, so we’re all one big team. I get to go to their office and use their studio. It’s just really fun since I work with other producers in the studio versus when I’m home I have to send stems. It brings a different edge to the track when the person’s sitting next to you.

Joey: Where in England do you live?

Olly: Very close to Newcastle. Here, there’s no EDM scene whatsoever; it’s mostly tech house. It makes me sad since I’ve never played once in England before. It’s one of my biggest goals. I’ve played all over the world, but not yet here. I know one day it will change, but for the moment it’s all about the house scene.

Joey: I feel like England has always been underground focused.

Olly: When Big Room was popular for two years, even the clubs that I would go to would play it. That was one of the reasons I started. I heard Sandro Silva’s ‘Epic’ in the club, and was like, ‘whoa.’ I was just starting to drink at 18 years old and was like, ‘damn this is a vibe.’ Nowadays it’s just sad to see that doesn’t exist. I don’t think you here Big Room in clubs anywhere really.

Joey: In the Netherlands, it’s kind of the same. EDM disappeared in the clubs as well. You can still hear it in festivals, but I think in the last couple of years, Dutch hip-hop and Dutch reggaeton culture took over. There’s also a big hardstyle community as well. The hardstyle community is such a strong fanbase; they’re very dedicated to the artist.

Olly: I’m hoping that, one day, Big Room might come back. I went through a long period of abandoning the sound which got me to where I am because I wanted to make music that was cool. I was making bass house and all different kinds of genres which really slowed me down and my career. All these artists have this sound, and I just abandoned my sound because I was chasing the hype. Nowadays, I’m happy with where I am.

Joey: Wait, let’s go back to the beginning. So, you mentioned you went to the club at 18…

Olly: I’m 25 now.

Joey: Whoah, you’re young!

Olly: So I discovered Big Room, and that made me feel things I had never heard before. Naturally, I wanted to download more music in that style. When you get all these songs no one else has heard, you think ‘oh I should be a DJ now’ so I got the equipment and started practicing. I played to like ten people at my university and had never played in a club before. I got very lucky with ‘Ecuador’ which got signed to Spinnin’.

Joey: Was it your first release?

OllY: I signed a track to Revealed on their ADE sample, and I think the next year was when I sent Ecuador. From then, everything changed. I got another track on Spinnin’ with Vinai. I worked with that hype and kept it going. Then the shows started to come in. Naturally, I’m quite a shy guy, so it was difficult to start. Like, one was a top 100 club in Switzerland, and I turned up there with one USB, and there were 20 songs on there. Everything was already set, some tracks at 150 bpm. I was booked to play Ecuador kind of songs, so the guy went and told my manager, he’s killing the floor and needs to start playing harder, I just panicked and said, ‘I don’t have anything else, this is all I have on my USB.’ That was honestly one of the worst nights of my entire life.

Everybody I knew started playing in these empty bars and worked their way up. But when I got offered a show, I felt bad. When there were seven days left to the show, I wished the time went slower. Now it’s the opposite. I love playing shows.

Joey: Yeah, that’s a completely different story of what you typically hear. Like you mentioned, usually, people start playing locally and build their way up. They have experience before they have the gig. But for you, because of a pretty big release, you had your first gig and were put on the spot.

Olly: Is that how you started? Playing in empty bars?

Joey: Yeah, I started at the real bottom: playing at children’s parties. I gathered my own stuff and took a hi-fi set from my grandpa. At first, I didn’t have a mixer; I had two regular CD players.

Olly: See, this is the dream story I think I should start telling people..

I thInk it’s good for people to see, though. I would honestly say I’m a lot more different than anyone else. There’s no one in my family with a musical background, and no one’s had any interest or job in music. All I did was pick up Fl-studio. I’m surprisingly really bad with computers, software, and all that stuff. I just found something I was super passionate about, and that was Big Room.

Joey: So you didn’t have any connections to music – no passion for computers, and still, you managed to make those songs. What happened in between?

Olly: People ask me, ‘How did you get here?’ Literally, anyone can do it however old you are. The only thing I had from a young age was creativity. I would spend hours making cars on Need for Speed II – not even racing the cars. A lot of when I was young carried on. I started making mashups and naturally started combining different samples to make my own songs. You look at Zedd, and he can play all these instruments, I had nothing man. I treated FL studio like a video game and played it over and over again. And after seven years, it turned out I was pretty good.

Joey: I really believe that philosophy. Eventually practice, makes better.

Olly: Some people who have a musical background and can at least play the piano. That’s definitely an advantage.

Joey: Actually, for me, I started out the same as you: no knowledge at all. My family wasn’t into music and I couldn’t read notes. I just did it all by hearing. I listened to what I was making and decided if I liked it. Then, I went to music school where I learned to read notes and chords. And later, the more I learned, the more it started to block me. I started creating this book of rules which I had to implement. That blocked my creativity because what sounded well, wasn’t really okay technically.

Olly: Recently, I decided to try and learn an instrument. I had around 8 or 9 piano lessons and bought a keyboard which has not been used once. Honestly, since I wanted it so badly, I did everything I could to make myself better. It turns out, I don’t really work in the way of forcing myself to try things I’m not. interested in. If I create a good melody, I know which notes are good together and which chords work.

Joey: I think that’s really important. You need to know yourself and how you learn. Some people prefer to learn from books, while others just do it and see what happens.

Olly: I can do things in FL studio and with VST’s, but I can’t tell you why these things happen. I just know that I clicked it three times and it sounded good.

Joey: And who cares? I’m looking at your Spotify. Somehow, your tracks are getting 22 million plays here, 2 million plays there. People don’t care. It’s the same with a Ferrari – nobody cares how it’s built. They only care about how fast it drives. How I see it, nobody’s interested in how they make it, of course, there’s a few people, but that’s mostly music producers.

Olly: The real fans, who aren’t producers, the ones who literally care about your music, they really don’t care.

The only reason why I wanted to do those things with the piano was because I looked at other people and compared myself. And that was the worst thing. That’s the number one thing you can never do.

I recently had to delete my social media from my phone. I was looking at my friends, and I’ve always looked at them being proud of them. But a few weeks ago, I was starting to think, ‘why aren’t you doing that, why aren’t you there.’ I just had to take a week off and take a step back. If there’s anyone out there suffering from the same thing, don’t worry about taking a step back from it all. I think we all do it, and it’s a hard thing to get away from.

Joey: I don’t think social media is a bad thing, but I can totally see how it becomes a problem for someone. It’s addicting, especially for younger people. They’re an easier target to compare themselves with others and feel that they’re not special enough.

Olly: In the past, I would compare myself to Martin Garrix’s music, and that would make me feel bad. Now, if I don’t have a show that weekend, and my friends do, that would make me feel bad. But yeah, that’s just life.

Joey: I was also in a period where I was looking at other DJs. The problem is that you’ll never know. It could be anything. It could be network, the fact that it just was a better track, or a track that the label was looking for. The only one that’s really struggling with it is you.

Olly: For me, I just want to be better than I was last year. That’s all I compare myself to now.

Joey: So what’s the main thing that you changed for yourself?

Olly: Basically, all I did was, when I had that period of comparing myself to my friends’ stuff, all I did was look at my path. My manager actually always does this. He’ll say, what about in 2017 when you couldn’t even look at a crowd when you were DJing, and now you just played in a festival with 10,000 people. That would click. But I think it’s very rare to have someone who constantly has that positivity. He has helped me a lot.

Nowadays, I sometimes have to tell myself, look where you were two years ago. There are some people out there who would love to be in my position. That’s what I think about and where I feel happy that I’ve been given that opportunity.

Joey: It’s really easy to forget all your successes.

Olly: Exactly. People who I haven’t seen it in a long time, say ‘wow you’re killing it right now’ because they’ve seen the good things. But I’ve also seen the not so good things.

Joey: Do you like touring?

Olly: Yes! In the past, I didn’t like it. There was one time where I was left in China. A photographer came with me and just went home. That was the craziest experience since I was so far from home. Nowadays, I can’t get enough of it.

When I’m hungry, that’s extremely hard – I get very hangry! But apart from that, I never thought I would be the kind of person who would enjoy traveling. I’m obsessed with Asia. When I get back from tour, I feel so refreshed and ready to get back into the studio. It’s a great balance for me.

Joey: I used to get hangry as well on tour. As a tip for you, always bring food that you can keep for a year as in peanuts or Snickers.

Olly: Yeah! I used to bring protein bars. I take an extra case with me full of food and stuff. For me, I can only eat western food. I’m really not into sushi, so when I go into places like that, my diet is bad. I usually come back really fat and sad since I ate so bad. So that’s something I need to work on to keep doing this for a long time. Being out of shape after eating all of those horrible foods is just going to affect your work when you’re home as well.

Joey: Do you workout on tour?

Olly: Not as much as I should. But I workout at home a lot. For me, I just get lazy somehow because I got used to sitting and waiting. Most of the time on tour, I would just want to sit in bed and watch Chinese TV. But now, my tour manager will take me out to places. We’ll go shoot some pictures, and even if I’m super tired, I’m in this new country and experience, and it really brings up my mood.

Joey: Let’s go to the music. You released you first main release on Spinnin’, and you’ve had some releases on Maxximize and Revealed. How are you looking at releasing music right now? There are a lot of options available right now to release your own music without labels. At the level where you’re at, what’s your opinion on that?

Olly: I think it’s important to release on these big labels because they are almost a separate group of fans. There are fans of the label, and then also my fans. I’ll always drop free downloads. But when I release on a label that I haven’t released in a while, people go crazy.

Joey: How did you first get signed with a big label? With the Spinnin’ release, how did that process go?

Olly: Well, the first one was with Revealed, and basically, my thing at the time was making unofficial releases and bootlegs. That’s how I kind of got discovered on SoundCloud.

Joey: I think I played a couple of your bootlegs, now that you mention it.

Yeah! I used to love it, man. That’s still a thing that makes me click.

Joey: Is that how you started building your fanbase?

Olly: Yeah, just by bootlegs. Because people are going to search for a remix of a big song, not for an unknown artist’s original mix. That’s how I targeted more people, and basically, I got a few things played on Hardwell on Air. And then I got an email from Seb from Revealed asking if I had any demos for the ADE sample. So I panicked and made a song with two really talented guys. I didn’t do much on it, I did 5–10% of the work, and that track got signed. So that was my really lucky entry.

With Spinnin’, I also think I was very lucky. I made this Ecuador remix in 3–4 hours; in one night. Basically, Hardwell played it on Hardwell on Air, and they tag both of the artists on Twitter. I got a DM from Sash! who made the original, and he said, ‘yo, who said you could remix this song?’ And I was like, ‘oh man, this is going to go bad.’ And then I got an email from Spinnin’, saying ‘looks like we’re going to release the Ecuador track.’ But a track that took me 3–4 hours was probably the most successful track I ever did.

Joey: You hear that quite often, that the most successful tracks take less time. Do have any idea why that is?

Olly: It’s the cool idea which takes time. When I have a good idea, I can finish a song really quickly – especially when it’s a remix or a bootleg where you already have this amazing hook from them.

Joey: I think that’s the biggest difference. When you’re able to finish a track in that short amount of time, you’re not really thinking about what you’re doing. Everything comes straight from the heart, not from the brain. When you start to overthink, things start to break down.

Olly: With Ecuador, I was making it as an unofficial remix that I would put on SoundCloud for free. I didn’t have these label restraints. I just made it for free, and I think having that much creativity helped.

I recommend it to anyone trying to get started, but also when you’re already at a decent level. It’s always a great tool to build a fanbase – every DJ wants to play a good bootleg because crowds love them. The crowd is also going to look for remixes, and they will find your tracks in it as well – the knife cuts on both sides.

Joey: So after you got your foot in the door with Revealed and Spinnin’, how did things go from there? What changed?

Olly: First of all, it was extremely easy for me to get music to the people I wanted. That was super important. I always wondered how people got that first contact, but once you have it, it becomes so much easier. You can get feedback, they can tell you what works and what doesn’t work. But I also started to feel a bit of that box. That was a bit hard at the start, but as I got more tracks on there, I started to get more confident and work with other artists on the label. And then I could just really make music from the heart again, and that box kind of slowly disappeared.

Joey: I think that’s something you hear a lot: getting your foot between the door, getting that first contact. And with you, it just happened by creating bootlegs.

Olly: Obviously, nowadays Soundcloud isn’t as powerful as back then. But I think if you get a remix played at the Tomorrowland mainstage, it still has the same impact on your career.

Joey: So what’s something you’re focusing on right now? What do you think is something people should focus on right now in the industry?

Olly: I think people should focus on what they enjoy deep down. As I said before, I was chasing the hype train for a few years, which meant I got fewer releases and less shows. So I think that for me now, I know Big Room isn’t where it used to be, but I enjoy making that genre and I’m good at it. I’m going to put everything I can into it and make a more creative version of my sound. If you’re just starting, you’re gonna want to make the ‘in’ thing – I know that. You’re going to want to chase the hype. If you’re not really into that sound, you’re never going to be good enough to release on a label. Deep down, you need to be super into it. You have to take the time and think about what you actually enjoy. Because one day, that genre can become big again.

Joey: I actually had a talk with Bart B More about this. I knew him in my town when I was playing. At the start of my career, he was going really hard because he had this track on Toolroom. His sound was new. He started touring, and then the industry changed and went more EDM. He didn’t like that at all and he just kind of disappeared because he didn’t like making EDM. And now, he’s come back and totally redefined himself. He’s started to release the same kind of music, and it’s really successful again. He’s now signed to STMPD.

Olly: Also, because you’re looking at those people’s tracks, for example, Mike Williams, you’re never going to make future house like him because he’s already onto the next wave. You’re always going to be chasing that circle. Just stay where you are.

Joey: When you’re following trends, you’re always second.

What’s the thing you would have liked to have known before you started this whole journey?

Olly: That’s a tough one. One thing I wish I should’ve known is that money is not that easy to come by. I left my job way to early and thought it would be a lot easier because you see what kind of fees DJ’s get. But what I didn’t understand was all the costs you have. So don’t leave your job too early. Try to make as much time as possible, but don’t expect to make a full-time wage straight away. That has to come in time.

As a producer, you cannot make money from music unless you are creating all of the song, releasing samples, and all those other things. You need to have a DJ profile if you want to be a successful artist financially. We all want it as a job. Just don’t jump the gun too early.

Joey: What I always think as well is you don’t have to quit your full job all at once. There’s a middle in that whole story. The minute you get financial stress because you need to pay rent or need to pay the car, it’s killing. Financial stress kills creativity; it kills your positivity; it ruins everything. So, I would recommend maintaining a decent income as long as it’s possible to combine with your music. Most people quit early because of their ego; they feel like they’re already there when they really aren’t.

Well, thank you for being so open about everything, man! I really appreciate you talking about this kind of stuff but also the problems you’ve been having in your career. I think that’s important. The things we see on social media is only 1% of the career. So thanks for being open and sharing your whole story!

Olly: I know a lot of people listen to your stuff who want a career in this. I’ll always be honest because I think it’s good to see the other side. That’s the only way you can really make it in this business: if you know everything.

Joey: Best of luck with the rest of your career!