Slovenian techno legend Uroš Umek, known by most as Umek, imparted some of the wisest and most experienced insight on music that we’ve ever heard. We had the opportunity to connect with him at EDCNY, asking him some of your most poignant questions on production and the music industry. Without further ado, here’s a look into the mind of Uroš Umek.
If you could sit across from eighteen-year-old Uroš right now, with all the current knowledge of music you have, what advice would you give your younger self?
Believe it or not, I’d rather listen to my younger self. I’m sure 18-year-old Uroš Umek could teach me a thing or two at my 39 years of age. I don’t know what kind of advice I’d get from him, but I admire this kid, his focus and determination to follow his dream and make it true. Sometimes when I’m in a studio I’m trying to empathize that state of mind. I’m intrigued with the output of that kid but I just can’t recapture those emotions, feelings, mindset and state of knowledge, or even better, the lack of it, again. I’m trying to remember how and what I was thinking about at the time when I produced my early tracks. I’d like to revive those moments, as I don’t feel that’s me from 20 years ago but some totally different person.
On the other hand I can imagine that teenager would be very surprised where his music has taken him. At that time I was purist, I was totally into dark, underground techno sound. I could not imagine in my wildest dreams that I’d one day produce music with proper vocal lines and that I’d play at the main stages of the biggest festivals—along guys such as Hardwell or Blasterjaxx.
Tell us about yourself. What makes you stand out?
Forget about my music; I’ve got 125 kilos (275 lbs) and 195 centimeters (6’5″). It’s hard not to notice me even when I’m in a crowd.
What software did you start out on?
Screen Tracker , an 8-bit program on my first PC. Ancient stuff. That was affordable to me at first as it was for free. Next step was buying proper studio hardware until at one point (some decades ago) I decided to go completely digital.
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.
First I’d go to YouTube and find a decent tutorial or course to learn about producing music. At some point I’d get a pop up add from YouTube advising me to buy Logic, which I’d follow. The next advice I’d get from YouTube would probably be which plugins to use with a link to another tutorial to learn how to use them. And so on. Maybe it sounds a bit bizarre, but yes, I’d probably start producing music with a help of YouTube. In my case this path was a bit longer, I found about Logic after years of trying out other software and hardware machinery. But today we have this semi-god in form of YouTube where you can find most of the information and advices you need to start doing more or less anything you desire. YouTube knows everything, from how to cook porridge to building your personal airplane.
Take us through your creative process. Do you have any rituals?
No, not really. I just go to my studio whenever I feel like it—that’s most of the days as I still enjoy doing this very much—and start working on something. I usually don’t have a particular idea or plan what I’d like to do and I’m not sure that any particular thing influences my workflow. At least I’m not aware of anything. I just gather thoughts and I try to imagine feelings I want to create on the dance floor and I start working.
What’s your favorite sample pack? Do you synthesize your own sounds?
I do both. Less than a year ago I released an extensive sample pack Loops From Behind The Iron Curtain, which was a Loopmasters bestseller. But absolutely, I work with bought samples as well. I buy most of the stuff on Loopmasters and Soundstosample. These two have so extensive libraries you don’t really need to check any other shop.
Do you need to be in the studio to produce?
No, not any more, at least not for the whole process. Though I like working in the studio and I have my own in the basement of my house. I’ve quite mastered producing music on my laptop and headphones between traveling from one gig to another, but I still do the final mix and mastering in a proper studio as no headphones can show the same sound picture as a decent studio monitors. I can’t say studio monitors will always help you do things the best but at least they give you better confidence you’ve chosen the right tools. Making a transition from working in a studio exclusively for over a decade to producing music on a laptop was not easy at all. I needed couple of years to become comfortable doing it on the go. The most of the problem was getting used to the noises of airplane and other stuff in the background.
What have been your top three musical accomplishments?
It’s interesting how different people see different moments in my career as my accomplishments. Some would say Gatex or Lanicor are my key breakthrough releases, I’m not sure I can agree with that. I find some of my other releases much better and crucial. There are pools, awards, performances at various major festivals and clubs as well … but those are all my children and single steps in my long career that make who I am today, so it’s quite hard for me to pick one or three as highlights. Maybe the greatest accomplishment of all is the fact I’m still here, still evolving in what I do and that I still love to do this, especially producing music and deejaying with the same passion as when I was kid with this megalomaniac idea to become a world known DJ—just based on passion to music and being intrigued with the whole electronic music culture.
What genres define you?
Now I play a blend of techno, tech-house and I even put a pure house track now and then in my sets. Again this is very subjective; techno purists consider me a commercial artist, while most of the mainstream crowd say I’m a techno guy. I’ve definitely grown to what I become today from techno background. Not only musically, the whole techno attitude suits me. I am a bit of a rebel (yes, still!), I’m very future oriented, always on a look out for new technologies and everything new, very prone to experimenting and trying new things as well as following my own vision of music.
What are your favorite plugins to use?
I love to use almost everything that is produced by Native Instruments. Waves plugins are also outstanding. On top of that I often to work with Valhalla reverbs, I use Nugen for stereo picture and Cytomic Glue compressor. And many more of course, but those mentioned above are essential.
Do you have any advice on promoting music?
The weird thing today is that there are so many options available to promote music but in the end there is only couple of them really giving proper results. That’s mostly because everybody who produces music uses the same tools and strategies, so in the end most of them don’t give results. I’m coming from an era when there were actually only couple of possibilities and it was hard to break trough, so this is actually the opposite situation, but after all that—it’s still hard to stand out in a way that key people and audience notice your production.
At one point, couple of years ago, I’ve had a feeling you can push trough just everything you want if you use the right approach. But now there’s so much crap floating around that the channels are clogged and nobody really wants to listen to promos any more. And nobody reads DJ quotes on particular track as they used to. In the past you could sell music based on a good endorsement quote by a stand out DJ. That doesn’t work any more.
But nonetheless, it seems that good music finds the way to the top. It takes a while, but in the end good music prevails. We’ve made the whole circle and now we’re stuck with the same problem again. I get so much crappy music I’ve got saturated with it and I rather go to Beatport to check what’s new as there’s at least some filter and I can avoid listening to at least some of this crap. But as I said—good track will find its way to the playlists. So produce good music and then try to figure it out how to be heard.
What’s your favorite set you’ve ever played?
Allow me to be a little narcissistic; I’m pretty satisfied with most of my sets. Though they are quite different sounding, they fit in the framework of my fingerprint sound. If you listen to my set from Beyond Wonderland and Ultra Music Festival, both played in March, you’ll notice they’re quite different. Although they’re showcasing two variations of my style, I think they’re both quite good. And they showcase my eclecticism.