London-based producer Richard Knott is our progressive house man of the week. Describing his own music as melodic electronic (there’s a nice ring to that), Richard has been laying down some quality progressive and techno tracks this year, culminating in a groovy Lo-Fi set in Stockholm earlier this month. I asked Richard to impart some wisdom from his experience in music and production. He has some incredibly valuable insight.
If you could sit across from eighteen-year-old Richard right now, with all the current knowledge of music you have, what advice would you give your younger self?
Looking back, I’d tell myself to be patient, and wait to release music. I’d only been producing a year or so when I released my first track, and I believe it would have been so much more beneficial to wait, improve, then have a big initial impact, instead of having to gradually work up.
Tell us about yourself. What makes you stand out?
Musically I like to think I write a good blend of old and new sounds. A lot of my favourite tracks came out between 2006 and 2009, and in some ways I’m trying to bring some of those sounds into my music today, without it sounding too dated. With my DJ sets I don’t like just staying on one path, and I always look to find the best way to move sets from techy/housey, percussive music through to more melodic, progressive stuff. I like taking people on a journey through music.
Why did you start DJing and producing?
Some friends at school were just starting to get into dance music and DJing when we were 16, and they introduced me to it. I used to go round to a friend’s and practice mixing funky house vinyls. That kind of music was pretty accessible then (and still now). Gradually our tastes developed—with electro house, prog, tech house, and techno all becoming more appealing the more we listened. I loved the idea of being able to create your own music on a computer, so I thought I’d give it a go.
What software did you start out on?
I started on Ableton Live 5 and have continued to use it since, although I’ve upgraded along the way and run the latest version now. I’ve tried switching to Logic but I just can’t find my flow (yet!). I find it really easy to just throw ideas into Ableton and play around with things. Determined to give Logic X another go at some point soon.
If you were a new producer today, with no music knowledge or following, outline your schedule and tools you would use in your first year to have the biggest impact on the music industry.
That’s a tough one, as I don’t think there’s any set way of going about things. I believe the stand-out artists in this industry have just done things their way with what’s available to them at the time. I think Madeon is a great example of that. His “Pop Culture” video of him getting creative with some samples of tracks he liked, and a Novation Launchpad has now been viewed nearly 30-million times. He’s had a slew of popular releases and world tours, and he’s only 20.
The real key is just to be as unique as you can be, which is sometimes easier said than done. Focus on crafting your own sound and try not to copy others.
With regard to equipment, you’d need a computer, some kind of DAW software, a set of speakers or headphones, and a head full of ideas. I really like the saying “It’s the ear, not the gear”. I read somewhere that Justice were using Garageband to write their music, and Liam Howlett produced The Prodigy’s ‘Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned‘ using solely PropellerHead’s Reason software on his Macbook. So long as you have the creativity and willingness to explore, you can achieve great things with even the simplest tools.
Take us through your creative process. Do you have any rituals?
It usually depends on the kind of track I have in mind to write. Sometimes I’ll get an idea of a melody and some chords in my head and I’ll write that down, coming back to the drums later on. Other times I’ll just write a beat and see what happens. My biggest weakness at the moment is when I’m trying to write more percussive/techy tracks, I find it difficult to resist the temptation of adding some melody or something in there. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that “less is more,” otherwise tracks can become overcrowded with too much going on.
What’s your favorite sample pack? Do you synthesize your own sounds?
I don’t synthesise my own sounds per-se, but I still occasionally use samples from recordings and electro-acoustic compositions I made during my time at university.
Do you need to be in the studio to produce?
Not particularly. It’s nice to have a good pair of speakers to listen to, and I like using an iMac, but I’m equally happy on a Macbook with a pair of headphones.
I paid a visit to Fehrplay in New York recently. He has some incredible studio monitors which really show your mixdowns in their true light, so I ask him for feedback every now and again!
Who are your biggest influences?
I would be lying if I didn’t say Eric Prydz. Along with Sasha & Digweed, they’re the only guys I’ve continued to follow since I started listening to dance music just over ten years ago. Despite listening to tons of other DJs and producers I think they’ve been the most consistent for me and my tastes throughout that time.
As I have a classical background, I think a lot of that has influenced me and the way I put things together in some way. Any of Ravel, Chopin, and Rachmaninoff’s music for piano I find really interesting.
What have been your top three musical accomplishments?
3. When I was 15 I had a couple of solo performances on piano at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. It wasn’t dance music but it’s still pretty special to me!
What genres define you?
I’ve tended to just put “melodic electronic” on most of my tracks on Soundcloud, although I guess you could call it “progressive house” in its most modern sense.
At the moment though I’m focusing on making more tech-house influenced tracks under an alias, with some melodic ideas in there. I feel like that’s where my heart lies and that’s what I should make the most of.
What are your favorite plugins to use?
Do you have any advice on promoting music?
Never, ever send out unfinished tracks to people. It’s taken me a long time to stop breaking that rule, but it’s really important. Sending multiple versions of tracks to people and/or record labels is just a bad thing to do.
A few years ago I had a release on Pete Tong’s Bedroom Bedlam label which came about from sitting up all night individually sending the track to every relevant MySpace friend I had. So it goes to show that sometimes putting the effort in to reach out to people does pay off!
Now though I think SoundCloud is really all you need. Upload finished tracks there, keep them private, send the SoundCloud link to labels/DJs, and see what happens.
Stay focused, have confidence in your music, and know your audience.
What producers have impressed you the most in the last year?
Fehrplay and Jeremy Olander have had some great releases in the past year. I always enjoy listening to their music because they’ve crafted their own sound so well.
In a slightly different style, and one I’m going more towards myself – Paul C & Paolo Martini have been consistently putting out excellent originals and remixes.
What’s your favorite set you’ve ever played?
It’s hard to name just one, but in the past year I’ve had a couple that were really special.
Last summer I played the opening set in the Pryda arena at Creamfields, and the day after I played after Eric Prydz and Deadmau5 at the SW4 after-party.
Warming up for Jeremy Olander at his Lo-fi event last week in Stockholm was an amazing experience too.