Valuable Music Production learnings from Dutch techno pioneer Gert van Veen.
For over 25 years, Gert van Veen has been the frontman of Quazar, one of the first and most famous Dutch live electronic music outfits. He was the first to produce a Dutch house record and the first to write about house and techno as a music journalist for De Volkskrant, he has been the director of Amsterdam’s renowned club Studio 80, is the godfather of Welcome to the Future Festival and is a passionate music lover and producer.
Recently, Gert updated his entire studio, which is now fully powered by his newly (re-)acquired hardware, and even contains some of his first modulars. Van Veen shares some valuable learnings with us for our new column Learning Curve.
Text: Aron Friedman
© Dennis Bouman – Quazar @WTTF 2016
TSOH: What’s your most recent learning experience?
Gert van Veen: “The most important thing I’ve learned in recent years, is that I’m much more inspired by working with hardware. Just like anyone who started back in the 90’s, I was working with hardware from the start, because that was the only way to make music. Apart from a sequencer on your computer, software simply wasn’t there yet. When plugins and software came, i sold all my gear and started working in the computer. For eight years, I was working almost solely in the box, but now I’ve re-acquired an entire hardware studio.”
TSOH: Why wasn’t it inspiring you?
GvV: “In the 90’s, total recall was considered the holy grail. Mixers that were able of recalling the exact mix you made cost about 100k. So when software came around, that was amazing. But the problem was, that every time, the sound of those plugins would be almost there, but never really there. I was never completely happy with the sound. And since I got back all my hardware, I’m so much happier about the sound.
And now that I don’t have to stare at a screen, it’s also more easy for me to get into the music. I’ve got a Moog Sub 37, and for each function, there is a separate button. You’re working with your hands to sculpt the sound. And I find that a more inspiring workflow.”
TSOH: What would you still like to learn?
GvV: “I still have so much to learn, it’s an ongoing curve. What I find important is to know all my gear through and through. It used to be that a producer only had two or three instruments, and would know everything there was to know about them. Nowadays, producers have hundreds of plugins at their disposal, but the danger of that is you end up spending most of your time scrolling through presets, never really getting to the point where you can create a truly extraordinary sound.”
TSOH: What’s your most valuable source of information?
GvV: “There are many sources of information that I use, but one of the most important ones is the dance floor. You need to frequently visit clubs when making dance music. Otherwise you’ll never find out how your music sounds. It’s best when you’re a DJ yourself. That enables you to test your own music on the dance floor. If you’re not a DJ, it’s wise to have a DJ friend who can test your stuff and see if it works. Things sound very differently inside a club. Many times, you’ll find out that you’ve used way too many sounds, or that your arrangement doesn’t have a natural flow.”
TSOH: How important is a sounding board, and who makes up yours?
GvV: “My friends, people like Dorine Dorado and Anonym. But many, many more. I love to hang out with friends who also make music, listen to each others creations and give each other feedback. I meet up at least once a week with friends to hang out and listen to music. That’s not just a valuable sounding board, but also a lot of fun.”
TSOH: Who’s your most recent musical discovery, and what do you find most intriguing about them?
GvV: “I know I’m a bit of a late adopter with this, but I’ve recently gotten into Peter van Hoesen. I was trying to define what I think is good techno, and a lot of the stuff in the Beatport Techno Top 100 is really not my cup of tea. So then I checked out a lot of Van Hoesen’s stuff, and also this great YouTube video of his (see video above), and I found it really inspiring how he is using modular systems. I’m dabbling with modulars myself now, and I really felt that this was the way I’m feeling the music myself at the moment.”
TSOH: What’s the most important lesson you can give to beginning producers?
GvV: “Next to being a musician myself, I’ve been a music journalist for 25 years. I’ve interviewed countless artists in all corners of the music industry. I discovered that the most important thing about making music is that you discover what you feel inside, and are able to express that. It sounds easier than it is, but you’re much better off following your heart instead of thinking about what is expected of you or which music will be the most commercially viable.
That’s the only way you will achieve longevity as an artist. Why? Because if you end up not being successful, at least you will be happy about what you’ve made. But if you’ve made music just to please others, you’ll be left truly empty handed once that isn’t successful. You’re better off staying true to yourself.”