Joey: What’s up, Sam?
Sam: I’m good. As you might expect, a bit more quiet than usual, but on the other hand, also quite busy. I launched my record label, Heartfeldt Records, a few months ago. I’m also busy with the complete relaunch of Fangage, an artists platform that I started a couple of years ago.
Joey: How do you feel about the current circumstances?
Sam: It’s two-sided. On the one hand, mentally and physically, I feel a lot better. On the other hand, I miss my hobby of DJing and performing. The rush and energy you get from the crowd are addicting. So yeah, I definitely missed that, but I’m not depressed or anything.
Joey: I think one of the significant advantages that you have is your multiple sources of income.
Sam: I see many DJs around me that are focused 90% on touring, and when that falls away, it’s pretty hard to fill. I’m quite lucky that I’ve invested in multiple income streams like real estate and my other jobs. My music is also a bit more radio-friendly, so I don’t rely on only club tracks like some artists. Obviously, 80% of my revenue from touring is gone, so it’s not the best year ever, but I’m not lying awake in the middle of the night.
Joey: The way I see it, you approach an artist’s career more like a business.
Sam: I think the bigger guys are doing it. If you look at guys like Tiesto or Calvin Harris, they all have a brand. They realize they’re a business, and that’s what keeps them relevant. Investing in content and your brand helps you during these tough times when you can’t tour.
Joey: I’ve got some artist career and entrepreneur related questions that I’d like to ask you. The first one is, how did a failure in life help you to become successful as an artist?
Sam: Oh wow, it was years of failures. Before Sam Feldt, I had several different artist names, begged people to play in clubs, and spammed all the labels with my music. I was also making music that I thought I should make, and ripping off other popular people because I thought that was going to make me famous. These were all mistakes: begging for shows instead of building a profile, spamming labels instead of finding the right person, and ripping off other people instead of finding my own sound. However, seeing that they didn’t work taught me the path to success. So yeah, I think failures are inevitable. They are a stepping stone for growth.
Joey: What’s the most valuable investment you’ve done?
Sam: The time I invested in my DJing and producing career, rather than giving up and finding a job. It didn’t pay off for over four years. I felt like I was investing in the wrong thing. In the end, my biggest business and success right now is the business that came out of that investment. It sounds super cliche, but success is always around the corner, and sometimes it takes a little longer. It’s a matter of persistence and feeding and growing that business. Whatever you’re building, it will happen. But sometimes it takes too long to happen. And then you give up.
Consistency is another big thing. I see so many great producers that are either too perfectionist or not releasing enough music to break through and keep fans satisfied. They might release three tracks in a month and then no tracks for half a year. You should have a consistent schedule and sound that people recognize. I’m not saying you can’t be creative or think outside the box, but I think it’s essential that fans recognize your style. Otherwise, what are they fans off? If you switch genres, the people who love the first record will hate the second one. Create an alias if you want to make different stuff. Or at least make sure you have a consistent sound throughout all your tracks.
Joey: What tip would you give an artist that is on the verge of breaking through?
Sam: Guard your sounds. When I started Sam Feldt, I had a very distinct tropical sound, and now it’s evolved into a dance-pop sound, which is great because I like the music. When you have success, it can be very attractive to keep making the same music. Success can get in the way of creativity. Also, don’t change your studio setting too much. If you always produce in your bedroom and then start producing in a spaceship studio after your big paycheck, you might not be inspired.
Joey: Which advice should artists ignore?
Sam: One thing that I’ve now realized with COVID is you don’t have to play every show. Your manager or booking agent will push you towards making a lot of money. I would ignore that because if you’re consistent with your music and brand, you will increase your fanbase, which will reassure you that you will keep having shows. You can have confidence in the fact that you have a profile that is bookable.
Joey: Is there anything you believe will always remain in the industry, no matter the circumstances?
Sam: Yeah. I was with Spinnin’ for five years, and their slogan was, “it all starts with good music.” No matter the scenario, if it’s live streaming or shows, 20 or 30 years from now, people are still going to want to listen to good music and celebrate it.
Joey: Thank you!
I had a chance to talk with the head of Toolroom records, Stuart Knight. Here’s a paraphrased version of our conversation where we discuss how to get signed as an unknown artist, the evolution of labels, and the impact of COVID.
Joey: How are you, Stuart?
Stuart: Very busy! I’m coming off a virtual music conference and making a lot of progress at the label. Toolroom is the main record label that I’m in charge of, but I also help look after our sublabels like Toolroom Trax and Zerothree. We’re always trying to find new music, so it’s been quite productive during this time as everyone’s at home and in the studio
Joey: Are you noticing that artists are becoming more productive during quarantine?
Stuart: Yeah, when there isn’t a live performance side, the creation and the production side really comes to the front. We’re about to release a T2 album, which is a collaboration between 32 different artists who are randomly chosen to collaborate by pulling a name from a hat. So we’re definitely seeing artists being more productive.
Joey: So your release schedule is stacked up until December?
Stuart: I talked to Matt, our label manager, and he’s got a tentative release schedule to the end of the year, which is great. This means we can also spend more time marketing our records, as it’s hard at the moment without the live side.
Joey: How do you deal with marketing tracks as a label given that nothing can be played or promoted live?
Stuart: The lack of live shows has an impact. In addition to shifting towards livestreams, we’re also focusing on album projects which are more stream friendly for Spotify, not just the dancefloor.
Joey: I have some questions from the Artist Coaching community that I’d love to ask you. The first one is if an artist sends you an instrumental track that you like, would you help find a vocalist?
Stuart: Yeah, of course. The strength of Toolroom is our A&R department’s ability to take a record and make it the best it can be. If it’s a great instrumental which needs improvement through a vocal, we’ve got the connections and experience in the industry to hook those things up and develop the song. That’s really what a label should be doing. Don’t get me wrong, we’d like for people to try and put their own vocals on, but of course we’d help if the track has potential.
Joey: Does the same process apply to mixing and mastering? For example, if the song has potential, but somehow just doesn’t sound right.
Stuart: Yeah, we put a lot of trust and value on mixing and mastering. Andy, our engineer, is very skilled at what he does and knows the sound we’re looking for. It’s the role of a record label to really polish the product and make it the best possible. We’re also making sure that the artist is happy with the product as well.
Joey: The million-dollar question: how do you get signed as an unknown artist?
Stuart: Talent, determination, and perseverance. Determination shows that you are going to keep improving, and perseverance shows that you won’t take ‘no’ for an answer (be polite!).
Artists should also try to build levels of communication. Big record labels always have their eye on the market. You’ll be surprised how many labels are monitoring what’s going on under the surface. It’s a small world, and that’s the beauty of it. If you can make the right connections and keep that level of communication up, your voice starts to become louder, and it’s easier for people to listen to your music, and then ultimately sign you. There isn’t one particular thing that’s going to get you signed; it’s a combination of four or five different things that you constantly have to be working on.
Joey: What are some other things that big labels look out for?
Stuart: We very much see an artist and a project as almost a business within its own right. This means your social media, branding, production, etc. has to be on point. Especially for bigger labels, they are looking for people who are organized and have their shit together.
Gone are the days of plucking someone from obscurity and turning them into a star. Big labels amplify what an artist has already started. A great record is good, to begin with, but you need more for a label to be really confident and put their team and resources behind you.
Joey: Do you think it’s a smart strategy for an artist to start releasing music themselves to get the ball rolling and possibly gather support from other DJs and smaller labels?
Stuart: Totally. Again, labels with a good A&R will notice. We monitor the bowels of the industry. It definitely takes a lot more hard work and dedication to self-release, but if you have consistency, solid artwork, and socials, we can see if you’re ready to join a bigger organization.
Joey: In the last couple of years, we’ve started to see labels creating “homes” for certain artists. Now, if you’re trying to play at a festival, you have to be part of a label family to get placed on a stage. Do you think it’s important to be a part of one label or releasing on different ones?
Stuart: Most organizations are looking for a level of loyalty for the investment they make; however, balancing between a couple of different labels can also benefit all sides. It comes down to communication. If you openly and honestly communicate with your label and say that a release on another imprint may bring a new fanbase and sales, they will understand.
Joey: Here’s a hard but honest question: do you think Toolroom will still exist in 10 years?
Stuart: Yeah, of course, I do. There are loads of more things that we want to do and achieve. As to what shape a record label is in 10 years, I couldn’t tell you, and to be honest with you, I think that’s the excitement of why I want to do it for over 10 years. If I knew, I would probably be bored because the industry would be too predictable. We’ll have to adapt to situations. Obviously, labels will still be about music, but I think it may be more of a lifestyle thing where you buy into a record label.
Joey: Thanks for your time!
I had a chance to talk with German DJ/producer duo Jewelz and Sparks. Here’s a paraphrased version of our conversation where we discuss label deals, key career advice, and new music projects.
Joey: How did Jewelz and Sparks start?
Jewelz and Sparks: We were both attending the same school and were involved in the dance business, like releasing on similar labels such as Spinnin’ and Ministry of Sound. We just started exchanging knowledge, and one day decided to start a collaboration. Our first track, Toxic Rush, was signed to Fede le Grand’s Flamingo Records and became popular; Fede was playing it in every set.
Joey: Why do you think the track was so successful?
Jewelz and Sparks: The record was stripped down to its essence. At the time, it was 2012, so Swedish House Mafia and Avicii were so big, and a lot of people were making this progressive melodic sound. We wanted to tone it down again. It was just very refreshing because DJ sets were full of these progressive anthems, and a lot of DJ’s played our tracks in between.
Joey: Where did you guys take it from the success of your first track?
Jewelz and Sparks: It was a long trial and error from there because we had no master plan. The booking agency became key in the end. They heard the song, signed us, and that was the start of international touring. Our first shows were already outside Germany, so Belgium, Czech Republic, and even Asia like Singapore. Within the first five shows, we were already playing at ridiculous top 30 DJ mag clubs. The music side was a bit different. At the same time, we reached out to other labels like Revealed and Spinnin, but we often got turned down.
Joey: How many of your tracks were turned down?
Jewelz and Sparks: It’s more that our tracks were released on second or third choice labels. For example, we had a track titled MYNC, which was released on CR2 Records. It wasn’t our first choice, but it turned out pretty good. It was quite easy to sign the tracks. Maybe not always to the favorite label, but there was so much interest at the time. Obviously, it’s much harder since there are so many producers now.
Another challenge is that you have to guess what labels are looking for; their preferences are always changing. For example, Revealed or Spinnin’ stands for a particular sound. You have no idea what they’re looking for. Sometimes we thought we had a perfect Spinnin release, and they would say no. We thought, “what the fuck? How is that possible?” But in the end, you’re in control, so you can make your own decision like releasing the track for free and sending other genres to labels.
The same also applies to collaborations. At first, we thought we should approach artists with tracks that sound like their style. You have no idea. We had a folder with music that we presented to Hardwell, and it was always the last option. Now we send everything, and let people choose.
The thing is, it’s tough to see the bigger picture. When you send it to someone else, they’re listening to it for the first time and have a different perspective. Another important tip is to listen to your production with someone else in the room. It’s weird, but whenever there’s someone else listening to it, I hear different details.
Joey: If you look back at your career, what would be something you would change?
Jewelz and Sparks: One word: patience. At the start, we always wanted a deal and tracks to be released right away. This would lead to a lot of complications in release schedules; for example, we would have two releases in a month, and then not have another track until three months later. We didn’t know better. We also recommend setting everything up “in-house,” meaning take your friends and close surroundings into your circle instead of approaching big companies. For example, our manager is from our high school. It’s just better to work with people on a personal level and have them come up with you from the very beginning.
Joey: How are you managing Corona?
Jewelz and Sparks: Our primary market was Asia and China, so we knew pretty early about the disease, but that also meant we were pretty early to stop shows. I’m not stressed out so much because I think there’s always solutions. As long as we still have some money left, that’s okay. But it’s a bigger problem for people who do parties and events; it’s really stressful since the costs are high.
It’s also interesting from a psychological perspective. It’s hard to switch from a pure touring life to staying at home. We see some positive health effects from this period of getting better sleep and having a healthy schedule.
Joey: Are you working on something special while touring has stopped?
Jewelz and Sparks: We picked up our radio show again! So we’re prioritizing that, and also working on a lot of club records and pop tracks. One of our creative goals is to create listener-friendly Jewelz and Sparks music that’s not just festival tracks. Streaming music has also obviously gotten very big.
Joey: How many hours a week do you spend right now in the studio?
Jewelz and Sparks: At least four or six days. We enjoy it because we’re used to traveling and jet lag.
Joey: Well, it’s great to hear that you guys are doing well during these times, and I think it’s inspiring for a lot of starving artists to hear about your story.
Jewelz and Sparks: Thanks for the invite! Everyone can get in touch with us on our social media. Also, producers can send demos to email@example.com. We can now continue supporting new talent on our radio show, and we’re always listening to new music.
This interview has been paraphrased for consistency and clarity.
Joey: Could you please start with a short introduction of who you are?
Cor: My name is Cor. I’m the father of Robbert van de Corput, better known as Hardwell. As parents, we supported him professionally for 18 years.
Joey: When did you realize that Robbert now had a professional career?
Cor: Probably the moment he signed his first record deal at 14 back in 2010. I realized that it was my responsibility as a parent to help him with the business and financial aspects, while he continued to enjoy what he was doing. It was also essential for me to understand the obligations and the rights of his contract.
Joey: When did you realize that your son had the potential to become something big?
Cor: As soon as Robbert started touring as a DJ. He had already become famous within the Netherlands because he was the new kid on the block. He was a swift learner, and within two years, he was well known within the Netherlands. The most important thing for us was that it had to come naturally. We wanted him to enjoy the process and have a lot of fun.
Joey: And how did it impact your life and your wife’s life?
Cor: In the beginning, we accompanied him to all of his shows because he needed the guidance of his parents, not from a commercial person involved like a manager. When he was 14, it was two weekends a month, and by 17, he had three or four bookings per weekend. Our private life was affected; it was a big time investment. At the same time, we never saw it as a financial investment or an obligation because we also enjoyed it.
Joey: And how did school come into the picture?
Cor: When he was 18, he applied for the Rockacademie. He had already gotten a lot of support from the music industry, so we walked through that whole process. Within a few months, it became clear that he was too good. Some teachers were already working with him professionally on a production. We eventually got the advice from the school to leave so he could develop on his own. We never decided for him. He decided to go and work with more people in the industry outside of school.
Joey: Somewhere along the way, you decided that it was best to assist him in some things. How did that come about?
Cor: It came more or less naturally. I worked in the financial industry, so I found it my responsibility to help with the business part of Hardwell. It started with one hour a week, and eventually ten hours.
Joey: Would you advise all parents to work with their children?
Cor: Absolutely not. You have to do what you can do. We never pushed him. He made his own decisions.
Joey: Were there any moments where you, as parents, felt scared of any decisions?
Cor: I remember when he had his first international booking at 16. We saw him leaving the airport to take the plane all by himself. He didn’t have a tour manager or anything, so we were just scared about how the people would be at the club and if he would be well received.
Joey: From a younger perspective, most people would focus on the money and wouldn’t think about the long term experience. What was your view on funding and costs?
Cor: We never discussed money. When Robbert got the opportunity to tour with Tiesto in North America for three weeks, that was very expensive, but he learned so much. To work with Tiesto was an honor, and he also had the opportunity to play in front of tens of thousands of people. We saw more value in that.
While he was touring, Robbert never knew what he was earning at a gig. He was never interested in it. He didn’t want that to affect his performance.
Joey: Is there any additional advice that you would give to parents who have children that potentially want an artist career?
Cor: The essential thing should be that they enjoy what they are doing and learn. When you see that’s not happening anymore, when the learning stops or when the fun comes along with stress, then you should reconsider how to help and proceed.
Joey: Thank you so much for taking the time!
This interview has been paraphrased for consistency and clarity.
Joey: Dannic, how are you?
Dannic: Good! I’m currently in the studio preparing an EP and some new stuff for Miami. It’s been two years since I last played Ultra Music Festival, so I’m excited to showcase new music.
Joey: How do you prepare for such a big event like Ultra?
Dannic: We planned for a new Dannic sound in March. We realized that after four years, it was time to rebrand a bit and refresh the Dannic style. It’s hard for people to get to know the new updated sound with just one single, so we decided to do a three-track EP.
Joey: What’s the process like to get a show at Ultra? Do they approach you?
Dannic: That’s an interesting question. Nowadays, it’s especially harder to get booked for bigger festivals, mainly because artists or labels now usually host the stages or “islands.” For instance, Martin Garrix has his own label STMPD. Whenever they have a stage hosted at a festival, it’s obvious that he’s going to invite all his friends from STMPD instead of me. This happened to me at Tomorrowland. They had less EDM stages, so my only option was to play at the Nervo stage since it was the most fitting. I had to reach out to Nervo myself and ask if they had any spots left.
To be super honest, it’s getting harder and harder if you’re not locked or releasing on a particular label. For Ultra, Revealed is hosting a stage because it’s their ten year anniversary, and since I used to be on Revealed, they invited me to play. It’s not that Ultra booked me – of course, they had to approve my name – but I still needed a strong network.
Joey: I think that’s a crucial topic to discuss because the new kids on the block might believe that things happen for you automatically since you’ve already had so much success.
Dannic: Back in the days, when I was more popular and was playing the main stages, it didn’t affect me. Now I have to work hard and prove that I’m worth it. It’s more a political and strategic game nowadays then it’s about the music or the branding.
Of course, I did very well, and I’m very blessed with my career thus far. But it’s not like I can lean back, relax, and stop working. I think there’s still a gigantic gap between the top 15 DJ’s in the world, and the rest. In certain areas, I’m a ticket seller, but not like Steve Aoki or Hardwell. That gap is getting bigger and bigger.
When we started in 2011-2013, the EDM bubble was really big. I always tell people the door has closed, and I’m right behind the door. For instance, after Hardwell played our collaboration at Ultra, my bookings and brand blew up. It was crazy and all eyes were on me. Nowadays, if I do a collaboration with, for instance, Garrix, everyone’s like, yeah, cool. It’s not that important anymore. You have to work harder and do better.
Joey: What have you done as an artist to deal with these changes in the industry?
Dannic: We’re continually evolving and rebranding. These days marketing is more important than ever, primarily because of social media. People are used to fast and accessible content – they want it to be easily digestible. For example, on your Instagram stories, you have to make sure that there’s a good balance between promoting your stuff but also showing your personality.
Joey: People are tired of seeing stage photos with fireworks and lasers. They know you’re a DJ and want to build a deeper connection with you. At the same time, you have to consider that everything is also a matter of seconds when you’re creating content.
Dannic: I have more than 500K followers on Instagram, but if I post something, the reach isn’t even 10%. Also, funny enough, the top comment every time I post something with a track is like, “what’s the track title?” Meanwhile, that track has been out for maybe six weeks, and I’ve posted about it almost every day. It just gives you an example of how important it is to keep informing people without being too pushy.
Joey: What’s the most important thing you focus on as an artist?
Dannic: I’m continually trying to keep my music fresh and exciting. The hardest part is finally finding your sound but trying to evolve within that sound. My goal is not to have amazing streams on Spotify, because I’m a club DJ. For me, it’s essential that I have DJ support and that my tracks go well in the charts of the DJs rather than the number of views on YouTube.
Joey: How many days do you spend working on music every week?
Dannic: I would say two, which is not enough. However, while I’m on tour, I’m usually the most creative. At the beginning of my career, when I just started getting more bookings, I would get stressed about finishing tracks. At first, you have six or seven tracks lined up already for release, but then you start to play more shows and become less productive. I noticed that my creative flow was completely gone when I forced myself.
Joey: In my opinion, you can’t force yourself to be creative, but you can put yourself in specific environments where you can get inspiration. For example, I liked watching Tomorrowland after movies or artist documentaries to get my creative juices flowing. The important thing is for artists to discover what triggers them into being more productive.
Do you feel like the last couple of years was a process for you as well when it comes down to personal development?
Dannic: Yeah, it’s an ongoing process. The hardest part of doing this is balancing social and work. I’ve been doing this for seven years, so that’s seven years of having to skip weekends, birthday parties, and visiting friends. When I was younger, I wanted to do everything since my ultimate dream was coming true. Now, I see my parents getting older, and I have less time to spend with everyone, so I now have to prioritize certain events over others—for example, my mother’s birthday over a big festival.
In terms of structure, I usually take Mondays off as my “DJ weekend.” It’s essential to take a break since 24/7 I’m dealing with time zones, different managers, emails, and phone calls. When I’m in the studio, I usually switch off my phone. I also just bought a whiteboard so that I wouldn’t get distracted by my phone. Another important thing is that I don’t work more than eight hours in the studio day. There’s only so much you can do on an individual level every day.
Joey: What’s the most important thing that you learned over the years?
Dannic: Make choices on your intuition but also seek help when you can. One of my bad habits is that I want to do everything. The most important thing is knowing when you need to let go and trusting people in this industry. Having amazing people around you is a significant part of your success.
Joey: How many people are on your team?
Dannic: Around 12. There are people on my management team, helping with social media, booking agencies, publishing companies, etc. I do want to say that even if you have a big team, in the end, it comes down to you. No one will be more passionate about your career than yourself.
Joey: Thank you so much for all the great advice. It’s very rare for artists in your position to be so open and honest.
Dannic: My pleasure!
Joey: It’s our second conversation together. What have you been up to lately?
Shanahan: I’ve been doing a lot of co-writing with other artists, finishing tracks, mixing, mastering, and tutoring. I haven’t been releasing too much; I’m very picky with my releases. Right now, I’m more passionate about finishing records and being involved in different projects.
Joey: Are you still designing samples?
Shanahan: Yeah! I work as a freelance designer for Cymatics, which is one of the biggest audio resource companies out there. That’s fun too, because making sounds from scratch allows for a lot of creative sides.
Joey: Do you think it’s essential to have different jobs within the music industry?
Shanahan: Yeah, the possibilities are endless. I think a lot of artists should understand that there are a lot of opportunities in the music industry to make income. You just have to find the niche of what you’re good at and what value you can bring.
Joey: Yeah, I’m just really amazed about how many options there are to make money in this industry. A friend of mine was talking about the value of making advertising music, for example.
Shanahan: That’s another great topic that you brought up. Everybody’s putting videos, but their content is so much better with music. Makeup artists or fitness models would prefer a customized sound for their brand rather than just a Calvin Harris song. It’s a huge market. I write for a lot of small fitness models and don’t charge them. I say, let’s just do a simple exchange where you shout out my name and can utilize a 32nd clip that I produced copyright free.
I build all of my Instagram following organically. If you do that throughout a month with several people that have hundred thousand followers, you can add a lot of value to not only your Instagram, but people would also start going to your Spotify, etc.
Joey: What are your thoughts on using your songs to sending them out for free of use?
Shanahan: Yeah, so I also do that with makeup artists. I’ve had a good amount of success using some of my Enhanced music that I would give out. Free music in return for a shout out is more common and works out better for both sides. Start off by making a relationship with these people. Even if you don’t know them, do some research on their Instagram. Make your Excel sheets, create your contacts, send your emails out one by one. Be very formal and explain how to bring value to them.
Joey: Sometimes I get questions from people on my Instagram looking for a ghost producer. There’s a couple of platforms where you can buy tracks, but they are looking to build a relationship with one person, which they can maintain for the upcoming years. How would you go through that process?
Shanahan: I’m a believer in privately working with a producer. I think there’s so much value in a building relationship with someone. A huge part of having someone write for you is trust.
Find someone that you are interested in and reach out to them personally. On the flip side, I’m kind of against the whole idea of online platforms. I think doing everything privately with your producer is the best move.
Joey: Do you do that physically or through Skype sessions?
Shanahan: Yeah, just Skype. I need my space and don’t like the pressure of having someone else in the room. It’s a matter of taste. I’ve been doing about nine years of co-writing and ghostwriting with clients, and it works out that way for me.
A lot of people are against ghost producing. I’m a firm believer in if you want to get in the scene, and you have another skill set, by all means, get in touch with a producer that you believe in and want to try to work with. There’s nothing wrong with it, in my opinion.
Joey: There’s a reason they call it the music business. The minute you say that you want to make money with your music, there are certain things that you will have to face.
Shanahan: Yeah, the moment you make that logo and branding, you’re putting together a small business plan. When you create a small business, you have to understand you’re going to be investing money, regardless of whether it’s on a producer or a singer, you have to get on Spotify, promotion, whatever it may be. That’s why when you pay a ghost producer, that’s part of your business. That’s okay.
You also need to look at time. Time is money. It takes a lot of time to produce by yourself, do all the research, and understand where your music is going. It’s a full-time job. You need to be open to getting help and working with others.
Joey: That’s 100% true. Half a year ago, I was at the same point with the business as creating content took a lot of time. I decided to hire a freelancer to help me with the content. In the beginning, it may feel a bit weird because someone else’s touching your product. But at the same time, it really helps because there’s so much more time for me to work on other things to grow.
Shanahan: I think it’s a great angle. Even if someone’s helping out with your website management, your social media management, etc. think about how many hours that gives for you to get right back in the studio. Whether it’s free or 50 bucks a month, it opens up the possibilities of what you could do as an artist.
Joey: Do you have any production tips?
Shanahan: Yeah, I have a few small things that I think a lot of artists could benefit from. I’m a firm believer in bus sending and bus processing. It’s a more natural way to control a large set of sounds into one. One thing that I like to point out to artists and producers is controlling your reverb and your delay as its own track. You have a lot more flexibility processing and eqing your effects using bus processing. This will help with a crystal clear mix.
Joey: What’s the other one?
Shanahan: This one is when you’re working with vocalists. Communicate with your vocalist before you get the end stems back. Try to get the least amount of stems as possible. It can be really frustrating and overwhelming to get 100 takes and stems. I like to tell my vocalist to send ten tracks. There’s nothing worse than spending hours on editing and tuning, and sending it back to the vocalist who actually doesn’t like the take that they sent you.
Yeah, vocal production and music production are almost completely different. Outsourcing things to mixing and mastering engineers can be really valuable as well.
I am a massive believer in it, too. If you have the budget and a good song, it really makes the difference. Especially today where the market for vocals is so popular. That could be your difference from signing to a label, getting Spotify placements, getting on a chart, whatever it may be.
Joey: Any plugin recommendations?
Shanahan: I guess I have a plugin tip; the plugin is called Track Spacer. I think Hardwell pointed it out probably five-plus years ago. It’s a very minimal plugin that has sidechain features but also analyzes the spectrum of the input signal and creates a reverse eq curve. Say you send a kick drum in, it analyzes the spectrum of that kick and creates a reversed EQ curve. This especially helps with getting your bass and kick to sit perfectly in the mix spectrum wise.
Having something visual to see in your mix is really helpful. Sometimes you can’t pick those details up with your ears.
That’s something people overlook. If you have a small bedroom studio, that’s awesome, but you can’t always rely on that being a functional space — test different headphones and speakers. I usually recommend headphones to producers since you have fewer problems with acoustics.
Joey: Do you have any headphone recommendations?
Shanahan: I’ve been using Beyerdynamic DT 770 headphones for probably ten years. I trust them more than any monitor I’ve ever used. For an affordable headphone, they’re amazing.
Joey: It was really nice talking to you again, man. Thanks again for your time!
This interview has been paraphrased for consistency and clarity.
Joey: Thanks, Jeffrey, for joining me! Let’s start by talking about producing environments. A lot of clients ask me what type of speakers and equipment they should get. I always say it starts with your room. You can buy the most expensive speakers on the planet, but if your room sucks, it’s not going to work.
Jeffrey: Very true. First, it’s always a matter of taste when it comes to the speakers itself. What’s even more important is the room. If you have terrific speakers, but your room has a lot of reflections, dips, and peaks, you’ll still get a shitty sound.
All rooms have spots where sound is reflected. You can visualize waveforms bouncing back and overlapping, which either causes dips or peaks in your sound. You may think that your bass or high frequencies are boosted when they aren’t. This becomes problematic when you’re mixing or mastering.
Joey: How can we fix the acoustics?
Jeffrey: By using a lot of bass traps. A lot of people tend to go online and buy those cheap foam panels. What’s funny about those bass traps is that they don’t work since they trap below 200 hertz. Get some proper acoustical treatment like Rockwool panels. GIK acoustics also has some affordable acoustic panels. They also have excellent customer service, which can help you find the right panels for your room.
There’s also a scientific theory where there are certain volume levels that boost more high or low frequencies. The best volume is roughly around 80 dB SPL. My room is calibrated to approximately 80 dB, which means I always master at that monitor level. You can also download an app on your phone and use the SPL meter. You can then have a fixed point on your master volume knob, which you can use as a reference.
Joey: Are bigger speakers always better?
Jeffrey: Not necessarily, with larger speakers, they actually move slower, which could be less precise. However, you can definitely hear a broader range of lower and higher frequencies. I think regular near field monitors that are six to eight inches are good enough.
Joey: What’s your opinion on the SubPac?
Jeffrey: Yeah, I still haven’t used it. I think it’s cool because you can feel those low frequencies. My gut says that it might feel unnatural at lower levels. I think it might be even better than subwoofer though since those can be more problematic without room treatment.
What a lot of people do when they buy a subwoofer is crank it up all the way to hear the bass. When you hear the subwoofer, you’ve done it wrong. You should not hear the subwoofer; you feel it, but don’t pay attention to it.
Joey: Are there any trends you see in the mastering world?
Jeffrey: Yes, a couple. One of the biggest misconceptions right now is people think stem mastering is better. If your mix is bad, stem mastering will not make the result better. The only reason why stem mastering is cool is that engineers can charge more.
I’m also noticing that the industry is more conscious of the loudness war. People are finally realizing that maximizing loudness doesn’t always make sense. In specific scenarios, like an EDM track, you still want a crushed and compressed sound – you want that energy. But for other genres, it isn’t necessary, especially nowadays with streaming services.
I see more people transitioning back to vinyl, especially with techno and some club tracks. However, they forget to ask the mastering engineer for a specific vinyl master. If you have a digital release, you will use limiting and compression methods, which won’t work for vinyl.
Joey: Are there any mastering plugins that you would recommend?
Jeffrey: Yeah, during Amsterdam dance event, I was invited by Isotope to talk about Ozone 9. There’s a function called master rebalance. Using artificial intelligence, you can simply turn the level of some aspects like vocals and drums up and down.
I still use the Fabfilter plugins all the time. The new Pro-q has a dynamic EQ function, which means it’s just boosting or cutting a frequency just when that frequency is speaking. It’s brilliant.
Joey: I was talking to a client yesterday, and he had a specific question: Is it a bad thing to put a limiter on a kick?
Jeffrey: In music, there are no laws, so no. To be honest, I don’t think it will add something to the sound. The point of a limiter is to reduce peaks, but for a kick drum, you want to have that peak, so it could even make it worse.
What I always say is that you should know the rules, to understand how to break the rules. If you want to send your work to a mastering engineer, you should not have a limiter since that limits the dynamic range an engineer can work with.
Joey: If you do want more of a bass presence, what’s the best way to do that?
Jeffrey: Add distortion to boost the harmonics. It’s perfect for songs on phone speakers since they can’t go that low. Because you’re adding those harmonics, you’re basically tricking the mind into listening to those low frequencies.
Joey: Thanks for your time!
This interview has been paraphrased for consistency and clarity.
Joey: What’s up, Mr. Ortzy?
Ortzy: Really happy to be here!
Joey: Tell us a bit more about yourself and where you are now?
Ortzy: I’m originally from Columbia and have been a DJ for 15 years. I was initially part of the duo HIIO with an Argentinian partner. We played festivals like Tomorrowland, and released records on Revealed, Spinnin, and Musical Freedom.
Joey: How did you manage to grow as an artist?
Ortzy: The first thing I did was I talked to my partner say, we’re going to build a brand, but it has to look good from the beginning. So we have to take excellent pictures and look international. We were not going to be Latin American DJ’s, we were going to be international DJ’s.
Joey: So you made the outside look better than the inside?
Ortzy: Yeah, completely. It’s all about branding.
Joey: Tell me more about how you ended up working at Revealed?
Ortzy: I think it was November one year ago at ADE. I ran into Sebastien from Revealed, and he later sent me an email asking if I wanted to help him check demos. A few months later, I realized that living in Amsterdam was really expensive, so I sent him an email asking if there was a place at Revealed since I had 15+ years of experience. A week later, he said that I might be able to help with the Revealed Community sub-label. It was growing really fast and was getting a lot of attention. I started working a few days and fell in love with the Revealed team. I’ve now been working full time since February.
Joey: And what is it that you do?
Ortzy: Yeah, so I’m the label manager of the community sub-label. I’m also involved in the main label and Gemstone, which is our other label. First of all, I’m in charge of all the demos for the new artists. So I’m the one who’s taking all the demos that we receive on the platform every day. But it’s super fun – it’s cool to see people from India, Peru, and Indonesia making amazing records.
So I choose the best tracks that I feel that will fit the community label. Some of those tracks are so good that we upgrade them to the main label, or sometimes to Gemstone. After I choose the tracks I like best, we all meet together and discuss which ones are good to release.
Joey: So how do you pick the right song? What are the things that you are on the lookout for?
Ortzy: What I always check is, how original is the track? We don’t like it when we listen to a song, and it’s just a cheap copy of another record. Of course, the quality of the song itself, like mixing and mastering, is important. But sometimes we help master a track if we think the idea is dope.
It’s funny because sometimes I’m in the A&R meeting and we are three people there. And sometimes I say like, hey, guys, I love this song. And then Ivo will say like, oh, man; I hate that one. And then its Martijn who’s going to decide.
Joey: So with your knowledge of the music industry, all the experience that you have as an artist and as someone who’s working in the music industry, how would you say is the best way to get signed to a label right now?
Ortzy: I think most producers only focus on music. And it’s not like that anymore. I mean, it has never been like that, you know? You need to offer something to the market. Why should we sign you?
That being said, I always thought that big labels only signed records to people with a lot of fans or a lot of followers. I remember one of my first meetings with Revealed I had heard a track that was good, not amazing, but the DJ had like 100K followers. I went to the Revealed guys and said we should sign him, and to my surprise, they said it wasn’t a good track and didn’t sign music just because of followers. I felt so bad, haha.
But it was so special because then I realized how unique Revealed was, you know. I know other labels sign based on fanbases.
What I mean is if you’re a fantastic producer, and have a good fan base and brand, that’s amazing. That’s the best option. You can be a terrible producer with a lot of fans, but it’s tough to sell your music if it’s awful. On the other hand, it’s also difficult to sell your music if nobody knows you.
Joey: Balance is essential.
Ortzy: I have seen many artists, not only from Revealed but from other labels. They have released 30 excellent records, but if you go to their Instagram, they only have three pictures. So it’s not about signing an artist that has 1 million followers, but it’s also like, okay, who is your fanbase? Where are your fans?
And that’s what I think is big nowadays. You need to focus on the brand. I also know some artists who aren’t signed to any big labels. They’re good producers, but they have a lot of fans, and people love them. That’s what matters. It’s not only about record labels; if you want to get booked, they will look at how many fans you have. I mean, how many people will pay a ticket to see you?
Our goal is to sell tickets. That’s it. It doesn’t sound romantic. And I think that’s the thing that a lot of people are struggling with. Like that’s not what we want to believe. We want to believe that music is the only thing, but it’s a business.
How do you expect to play in Ibiza if no one knows about you? It’s not about making great music anymore. The same amount of time that you spend in the studio making music should be spent on your brand – getting a nice logo, trying to save some money for good pictures, getting support from DJs.
Joey: What I keep seeing is that all the people that have achieved something in life have spent enormous amounts of time and effort. And that’s the thing that people want to forget. Because they don’t want to spend that time. They want to have that quick fix to get there tomorrow, and not within five years from now. And, you know, Martin Garrix is one in, not even a million – more.
Ortzy: Maybe Animals came at the right time, but then you have to sustain that success. That’s not luck, that’s just hard work and knowing what you’re doing.
Once you get signed to Revealed, that doesn’t mean you’re done. It’s not going to change your life. Now you have to release two tracks on Revealed, and then three, four, you know!
Joey: I want to thank you for having this conversation with me. I really enjoyed talking to you and finding out more about you and your life.