24 september 2013

Markus Schulz: What I've learnt about dance music

With a production career that spans well over a decade, six (soon to be seven) studio albums under two aliases and at touring history that’s taken him around the world and back more than once, there’s no doubting Markus Schulz’s dance music credentials. From his days – or seven years, in fact – as a resident at an otherwise unnotable club in Arizona to his headliner-level status in 2013, Schulz has experienced just about everything aspect of dance music. Not to mention his other job as the head of his label Coldharbour Recordings, his collaborative work with Ferry Corsten as New World Punx and his duties hosting the weekly radio show Global DJ Broadcast.

So it was good news for Australian Markus Schulz fans when Future Music Festival announced they’d be bringing the trance don out as part of their blockbuster 2104 bill. To celebrate the impending tour, we asked the scene statesman to talk us through what he’s learnt about dance music over the course of his very busy career. From starting out as a producer to touring, working with others and more, Schulz has plenty of valuable advice. We’ll let him take it from here.

Carve out your own identity

“When I was first starting out, there was a circle of DJs that I was hanging out with who were really into making music as well. We would all share our music and challenge each other, as well as going to each other’s shows and listening to each other spin. I think it’s very important to just be open-minded and surround yourself with other passionate people, because then you grow as a producer and your ideals and philosophies begin to grow.
But I also think it’s very important is to start to carve out your own identity. Don’t just do what everyone else is doing, do it your own way. That was probably one of the most important things when I was coming up – when the supersaw in tech-trance was huge and I came along with this dark, kind of alternative sound to trance. It was still the beautiful melodies, but it was a lot darker. So I stood out and grew my own fan base that way. There’s a lesson in that.”

Patience is a virtue

“I think about this a lot: the one thing I wish I knew back when I was starting out was just to be patient. I know that sometimes when you’re starting off, you’re in such a hurry to break through – but you have to enjoy the journey. I now miss the days of the residencies, and going in and playing for the same people week in, week out and creating a community of friends. That’s why I love doing long sets now, because it reminds me of when I first started and I would go in before the doors opened, set up the DJ booth, the doors would open and I would play until the very end. I miss those days. So I think the important thing to remember is to enjoy the journey and don’t be in such a rush to get anywhere.”

It pays to be part of the community

“The production values of today are much better than back when I was starting out and there’s a reason for that. When I was coming up, there weren’t forums, there wasn’t YouTube, where now you can jump online and pretty quickly learn how to do something. If you can’t figure out how to make a certain rift, now days, you can go to YouTube and watch a tutorial on how to make that rift.
I always wished I could be a fly on the wall sometimes in other people’s studio. Because I think it’s very important to do a lot of research and now days, the internet makes that a lot easier to do. Back when I was coming up, it was a lot of trial and error. Making a track took sometimes months because you were trying different things and you would have to road test it to see how it fared live, and maybe go back to the drawing board if it didn’t move people.
When you’re starting out, you should absolutely be showing your work to your peers. Share the ideas. It’s about a community. The reason dance music is so big right now is not because of one person, it’s because a whole community has come together to identify with this music. I think this music is for sharing. Ideas are for sharing. Be part of the forums, be part of the online production community and share your ideas. The experience of being around other people is crucial.”

There’s an art to collaborating

“Collaborating can be very tricky. I think the most important thing when I’m collaborating with somebody is that we all take turns. I call it driving the bus – the person who’s in control of the computer. It’s important each person has their time to drive the bus and I also think that when you’re collaborating, each person needs their own personal time with the track. What I mean by that is if you’re working in the same studio together, each person needs to have time in the studio with the song by themselves to bond with the song and give it the personal touch, without the other person in the room.
You have to surrender some control when you’re collaborating, which can be especially hard if you have really strong personalities who are used to being in control coming together. If you can’t surrender some control, it’s going to sound like somebody was just sitting in the room while you were making a track. A collaboration really should be a combination of the ideas of two people and the only way to really, really get the most out of it is to make sure each person has the opportunity to express their ideas without the other person judging it.
When Ferry and I work on New World Punx, we both work together on the track, we both enjoy it and we’re high fiving in the studio. But at the same time, we both take the track back to our respective studios and we have that personal time with the track to individually put our own fingertips on it.”

Touring is harder than it looks

“There’s certainly a lot more to touring than meets the eye. I think it’s important to be selective about the shows that you play, only because it gets to be very political – if you play for one promoter, you can’t play for another. Sometimes one promoter can help you more than another, or maybe the fan base for one promoter is more in tune with what you’re doing than another.
But when you’re starting off you have the unique opportunity to experiment a bit more as there’s not as many expectations. The problem is when you break big and go to a certain city, people expect you to play certain things – your big tracks. So you don’t have as much room and as much freedom to do what it is that you want. The ironic thing is that as you get bigger, your set time gets smaller. So when you’re growing, you have a lot more room to experiment and you should enjoy that. Because if I only come to a big city once a year and don’t play the big tracks released in that year, people are like, ‘Wow, we went to go see Markus and he didn’t play my favourite song!’
I’ll tell you though, it takes a special kind of person to do it at this kind of a level. I see a lot of guys hanging around for one or two years and then falling off. And you ask them, ‘What are you doing?’ and the answer is always, ‘Oh, I got burnt out from the touring, so I’m staying in the studio now.’ So it certainly takes a certain type of person to stick in there for longer than just a couple of years.
It’s a sacrifice. You’re sacrificing your body, you’re sacrificing your ears, you’re sacrificing your family. At times, you sacrifice your friends. I haven’t seen a lot of my friends in a long time. As your career starts growing, your social circle will certainly get smaller as a lot of your casual friends will move on. It’s a sacrifice to do this. But for me, it’s rewarding. I believe it’s what I’ve been put on this planet for.”

If you’re not doing what you love, it’s not worth it

“I think you need a thick skin, perseverance and your own identity if you’re going to survive in this industry. They all kind of go together. Especially now with Facebook and the internet, everybody is a troll and everybody will get trolled at some stage. You have to be set in your identity and not just do what people want you to do. Because at the end of the day, if you break big and you’re not doing what you want to be doing, you’re going to burn out. If you break big doing what you love, you’re going to be so much happier than if you changed your style to fit what was popular at the time. That’s how you stay in the business for a long time: doing what it is that you love.”

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