This is the story of No Mana, the twenty-two-year-old producer from Los Angeles. No Mana is one of the mau5trap community’s newest examples of the intersection of inspiration and dedication at an early age, culminating in a self-taught producer making waves alongside familiar faces. This interview is aimed at inspiring those bedroom producers out there, reminding you that focus on self-teaching and experimentation is still as effective as ever.
What was your most pivotal moment—whether it be inspiration from an artist, event, or pure self discovery—in deciding you wanted to pursue production?
There’s honestly so many moments that have fueled my drive to pursue production. I think the most primary pivotal moment was when my friend Nicholas asked if he wanted to dick around in FL Studio and make dubstep together as a collaborative project in 2012. We ended up screwing around with this synth called Massive and recorded whatever sounded cool. There were a handful of friends that were into this before I was, and I would come to them for help. This went on pretty consistently every week until I realized I felt most comfortable doing this solo, as did he. I can name off other factors, such as my digitally-creative abilities and my love for music and electronic music scene. The “rave” culture really did attract me as well. I used to attend once in a while, having experiences of a lifetime. I try to now make music that reflects my happiness of that time.
Who were your top three biggest musical inspirations when you first started producing?
When I first started producing? I feel like I’m gonna name off pretty common influences here, but here goes nothing. I’m gonna start with Skrillex. I think he’s the one to blame for my curiosity of how the fuck he made those sounds before I even touched any sort of audio software. When I started producing, I wanted to learn how to do that. He was more of a technical inspiration though. When it comes to inspiration that is musical, deadmau5 is the second artist to name. His music was there for me in very dynamic times of my life way before I created any sort of music—break ups, celebrations, long car rides, whatever. I can connect to his music more emotionally than most of my other influences. Thirdly, and probably the most unique inspiration I have, is Culprate. I praise him for his innovation and quality. I think he was the producer I studied most during my first two years of learning how to produce music. Although I may have some pretty surfaced artists as influences, they have brought me to obscure artists as well that are too many to name but are just as equally influential—which is probably why I put bigger, more-known artists first when I try and name off my main influences.
Did you have any background in music or music theory?
To be honest, not as much as I should have. Well, I did play a few instruments during high school. I was playing the viola in an orchestra class and was a rhythm guitar in my friend’s rock band—nothing I considered too serious (especially when gauging to what I’m doing now). Music theory wasn’t my strongest point either, probably because I never saw music as a systematic thing. I haven’t learned enough theory to say it actually helps me or not. For now, I just write what sounds right to me, and it’s brought me to good places.
What were the first three steps you took in learning how to produce the best you could?
Not necessarily steps, but more like tips—and this can be applied to every creative software I’ve learned, let alone most things that are just creative. Firstly, I mess around with everything. I figured out what things do and took note in my head what this notch, parameter, or fader does. From this, I knew what parameter (or mix of) gave me what result, and worked with what I knew. There is no correct way to do this just like most if not all things creative. If there’s an error or something technical isn’t working, I’ll use Google to fix something I did. But no tutorials on the creative aspect. I learn best when I set my own bars and workflow. Secondly, I analyze other people’s works. I listen, watch, or look at artwork. In my head, I pick apart every little detail and hypothesize how they made it. Then, I can apply this to my first tip so I can confirm that is how they made that thing. Thirdly, repeat. Kind of obvious, but I did it every day when I had time in the summer to do it.
What was your most important learning resource? Did you focus more on experimental trial and error, tutorials, having a mentor, or a combination?
It was all through trial and error and self taught via experimentation. No resources, no tutorials, no mentor. I mean, I probably asked one or two questions on how to install the software but that’s it honestly. I believed that as long as I had the tools, I would have everything I needed to learn what I wanted to learn from this. That’s just me though, I know I have a very independent personality. Others may find it easier to have a mentor, or have resources available to them online. People have various ways of learning.
Tell us about the day, week, or month of your early career where you felt like you hit your learning stride and started making the most progress.
It’s been a constant learning process, and that’s a good thing. Sometimes after a track, I would feel like I have reached a bar where I would write every future production of this quality. But each song is an improvement after another. I think as long as I am learning at a decent pace and I don’t hit that ceiling where I feel like I have learned everything, things will stay interesting and I’ll continue to stay motivated and innovative. I could continue to write music under sufficient-but-static knowledge for consistency’s sake, but it would be more boring for me than it would be fulfilling. What I’m trying to say is that I’m more prolific in quantity when I am learning, not when I have stopped learning due to sufficient knowledge. I’ll be honest—I think I was more prolific a few years ago when I was capable of making a track per day, because that was the stage when I was learning the most. Not all of them were quality though, which is the difference between now and then.
Describe the first time you realized, “wow, this is starting to come together; I’m on track to becoming a full time producer and DJ.”
The path was always there since I started, it just has been convoluted in the earlier stages. When I started releasing music on small labels and gained fanbases and internet friends, that’s when I realized that I’m never going to stop doing this regardless if I continue my school and work life. When I started working with my first manager, that’s when I realized that I should probably drop everything and focus doing music because it wasn’t until then that hobby has become my purpose. Obviously I had to think this path through logically, feasibly and realistically, but as this purpose becomes solidified in time it becomes safer to say that that’s what it is to me.
What hardware and plugins are you using with Ableton?
I use mostly the native plugins. There’s so much I can do with those. If not, I’m probably using some Xfer plugins like Dimension Expander (something I can’t replicate yet with native plugins without phasing issues—I’ll figure it out eventually I guess) and Serum. Kontakt is a must for orchestral stuff, and iZotope for mastering and to get in depth with equalizers and compressors. I don’t have any hardware yet other than my MIDI controllers. I hope I can build some modulars soon.
How would you describe your arrangement and composition process?
It’s on the spot. I usually write main lines first, and then details later. I write one section and try to get it as full-sounding as I want it to be first, that way I have better leverage to write the rest of the track based on the strength and composition of that one section. I rarely have a draft or specific layout prior to putting it down to record. When I do, it’s probably lyrics, or very, very vague ideas (like how a track is supposed to feel); otherwise it doesn’t change my workflow.
Do you mix and master yourself? If so, are you self-taught in that, too?
Yes and yes. I think that has to do more with ear training, rather than production. Equalizing and compressing is one thing, but training my ear to notice the most subtle nuances in a body of sound is another.
Tell us about the greatest set of music you’ve ever seen or heard in your life.
Probably when I saw Lido at The Echo in Los Angeles. He’s a musical genius and has an amazing live presence. I think that’s the night where I came closest to crying because of music and I barely even had a drink.
Tell us about the greatest set you’ve ever played.
Although I haven’t had much live experience yet (even now) compared to the average DJ out there, there’s a few I can think of. But I think my opening for deadmau5 in the Allentown State Fair was the most emotional for me. It was the first time in my life I did anything in front of any party of people for longer than 20 minutes. I didn’t think the first time would be for 45 minutes in front of an amazing crowd of 3,000 people, let alone as an opening for a very revered artist.
What are some cities, clubs, or festivals you aspire to play?
I’d love to play at EDC Las Vegas and HARD Day of the Dead just because I’ve been in those crowds as an attendee, and were probably my favorite moments of my life as a former festival-goer. Los Angeles, San Fransisco and Toronto have been really fun for me, so I hope to come back to those locations more often. Eventually I want to hit outside the U.S., such as Australia, Asia and Europe.
If you could sit across from your 18 year old self right now, what advice would you give yourself?
Well first thing’s first—the issue of space-time travel and the capabilities of humanly manipulating this third dimension has kept me up at night ever since I reached an age to be conscious of time, so I’m gonna go ahead and confirm that with my past self for the sake of my sleeping hours. Also, I’d probably show my past self my discography and the music of today just so I’m ahead of the industry by 4 years and tell him to start making music right now because I didn’t take it seriously until I was 19 or 20. But to be honest, there’s not a lot of things I would really want to tell myself, because I couldn’t be any more thankful for the things I have now based on how things panned out in the past.