Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Interview: Infrasonic Recordings artist Andy Tau

Andy Tau is a Trance producer and A&R for Infrasonic Recordings. He makes Trance that he likes in his spare time while balancing his work as a studio producer and mastering engineer.

We are extremely pleased that Andy accepted the challenge to reply to our interview and you can enjoy his great answers right here and right now while you listen his latest single 'Lost Without You' featuring the beautiful singer Katherine Amy. 

Interview is written and conducted by Dimitri Kechagias, Music Journalists and radio host at 1mix Radio.

Dimitri: Firstly it would be great to go back in time and let us know if you are from a family that has any connection with arts and particularly music?

Andy: My family aren't particularly musical no, but my mum used to listen to a lot of disco records around the house so I grew up on that. I was lucky enough to get really into music around the time that rave was kicking off in the UK, I was only young but it made a lasting impression. My friends older brother made me a tape of compilation called The Ultimate Rave and that was me hooked. 

Dimitri: Were your family supportive in your decision to get into the competitive and ruthless world of the EDM industry?

Andy: At first definitely not. I had recently finished an Environmental Sciences degree and was working in finance, so the decision to sack it all off and try and become a musician did not make any sense to them (and why would it? It seemed pretty bonkers to everyone that I told). However as I progressed and they could see some evidence of my early successes (Radio 1 plays, financial success) they came around to the idea and have been incredibly supportive ever since! One thing I will say is that although you are right in saying that it is competitive, if you surround yourself with the right people and you support them and they support you then it makes life a lot easier. I've always tried to help people out where I can and the people who reciprocate are the ones I make a point of working with again and again. Mik and Sean at Infrasonic are the perfect example, they are really good people and that's why Infrasonic has been my home for the last 8 years. 

Dimitri: Is it possible to pick the Top 5 artists/DJs that have inspired and influence your music productions and DJ style?

Andy: No, definitely not possible! I would say it's more about individual tracks and nights out that have had more impact. For example, I went to an amazing techno night with Ben Klock and Marcel Dettman DJing and since then have focused heavily on quite industrial sounding techno! Early in my career Gatecrasher shaped my music to a huge degree, it was an incredibly exciting club that I think is probably unmatched in the trance world to this day (in my experience anyway, I'm definitely willing to be convinced otherwise though!). Nowadays I am much more focused on other genres of electronic music, I have a label called Superlifter where I release breaks, ambient, house and chillout tracks, I also produce a lot of house, tech house and techno as studio engineer and release techno and tech house under different aliases. 

As far as trance is concerned I am pretty disillusioned with the current sound, it's just not for me anymore (I'm getting old!), it's more focused on being really heavy (EDM influence), or the same kick drum in every uplifting track, psy trance variations (which is fine in itself, apart from it not having significantly evolved for 20 years) and of course with Armin's dominance everyone wants to have their track played on his show, so we get an immense number of demos from producers who make tunes they think Armin might like and not necessarily what they like. Saying that though, there are some amazing labels and artist out there, Perfecto Black, Saturate, Afterglow all do the deeper sound I love, but really I look beyond what you'd arguably call trance to find the trance I like, a lot of it is labelled as techno now!

Dimitri: Have you attended any music school or workshop to learn how to produce EDM or are you 100% self-taught?

Andy: Yes I taught myself, mainly through experimentation and trial and error but also a lot of info from Music Tech magazine and Future Music, they have great tutorials. I also sat in on a few studio sessions from great producers and that helped me immensely. I have considered going to school to study the business side in more detail as that's something I'm also self taught in, I can definitely see the merit of learning that properly. Trial and error from a business point of view isn't quite so much fun as trial and error in the studio!

Dimitri: What is your opinion about YOUTUBE music composition tutorials that some producers release?

Andy: I think it's great as long as the info they are giving is good. Generally as long as everyone is sharing their experience and knowledge that means the overall quality of music will improve as a result and that means that everyone is a winner!

I have toyed with the idea of doing a short video series of tips but haven't got around to it yet! There's so many things to do and not enough time to do them. 

Dimitri: You are closely associated with Infrasonic recordings. Is it possible to tell us your exact connection with them and your opinion about the label and its huge expansion with many strong sublabels?

Andy: I met Mik back in 2007 after he signed my track The Path (which I'm currently working on an update of by the way), he booked me for a gig up in Newcastle and we just immediately got on like a house on fire. After a previous A&R passed over what turned out to be the biggest track of 2008 and which I said he should have signed immediately he offered me the job as Infra Progressive A&R and I obviously accepted. We signed up some spectacular tunes over the last few years, stuff that was unconventional but we loved for the music. I A&R for the other labels now as well, mainly in an advisory capacity though, I also do all the mastering for the group (as well as another 15 labels). 

Regarding the sub labels; we were getting so much good music coming in that we didn't have enough capacity to release it all and Mik made the decision to add a couple of labels to the group so we could expand organically and also make each label more focused, I think it's been a great success, our fans know what to expect from the labels and it's made life easier for DJs, prog djs download the prog stuff and uplifting the uplifting, it's a win win!

Dimitri: The majority of your fans don’t know that you are not only a Trance producer but you produce all sorts of music. Is it possible to tell us the styles of music you are involved in, and under which aliases you work? Please give us a short comment about each style and what elements of its style attract you most?

Andy: Yes that's right, I touched on it briefly earlier above but yes I produce a huge range of music now under different aliases and also as a studio engineer and producer for many artists and DJs. I'd like to make the distinction between what I do and what a ghost producer does though, I work with people collaboratively in the studio, often with people who are accomplished producers already, I don't do tracks to order (although I have tried in the past when money was tight) as the most fun part of studio work is working with people!

Anyway, yes my main focus is now on house and techno and I produce those styles far more prolifically than I produce trance. 5 days a week is dedicated to that and 1 to trance, for many reasons but mainly I think my tastes have changed significantly. There's a huge gulf in the size of the respective sub sections of the industry with house and trance. Trance is very niche (in the UK at least, and definitely in London) whereas house and techno are almost ubiquitous, that saturation has led to me following those sounds a lot more. However I still love trance and on my free days I always end up sitting down and writing a trance track. 

Other music I love writing is chillout and breaks, I write under a couple of aliases but my favourite one is Superlifter, check out a track called Hearts by Superlifter, I think it's one of the best tracks I've made and it's 110bpm chilled breaks. 

I also write breaks and drum and bass when I'm in the mood and plenty of stuff in between. If you check out my label Superlifter or have a look on my soundcloud you can always find different sounds that I've worked on. A lot of this side of my catalogue has ended up being used on TV and films so I guess you could say there's a cinematic quality to some of the stuff I've made. 

Dimitri: Do you still act as an A&R for a record label? If yes, what kind of criteria did you have in mind when you choose the tracks for the label?

Andy: Yes I am still A&R for Infrasonic, along with Mik, Sean, Danny and Bojan. We make a pretty good team I think and for us to sign the track we all have to like it. The 3 things that are important are the music itself, there has to be some sort of hook, second, production has to be really good and third the track needs to be arranged well. If a track is 2 out of 3 often we'll work to get it 3 out of 3. For me though the hook is definitely the important part, something memorable is so vital as there's so many tracks out there that are well produced and arranged well!

Dimitri: How many demos do you receive each week? Do you have time to reply to each artist, and can you give some advice on how they can send their demo and make a good impression?

Andy: It varies a lot, to be honest I stopped checking my Infrasonic email a couple of years ago as it got out there and I was getting hundreds of demos of which 99% were pretty terrible! Now most of the tracks I sign are either artists I love and have searched out, or are referred by friends and other artists on the label. Often though people get in touch through facebook as I'm pretty easy to find on there, and I've signed numerous artists from there. I also do a lot of mastering for up and coming artists through AMPM.audio and we have signed quite a few tracks that I have mastered, because I've had the chance to properly listen to them and get them sounding great. I generally reply to everyone that emails me, about whatever it is they are emailing about (although it's taken me a couple of years to do this interview!) and the best way to make a good impression is to be friendly and efficient, so a nice soundcloud link for a quick listen, with a download link and a short bio/discography so I know who you are and what you've been up to. 

Dimitri: Can you please pick from your Infrasonic releases your personal Top 3 and give us a short comment about each of them including making of, reactions?

Andy: Very difficult question! I love The Path, I wrote it after an incredible trip to Colombia and it still brings back great memories. That and it was also my 1st proper release on Infrasonic with some amazing remixes and I have a vinyl of it up on my wall.

I think my recent favourite is Last Light, the riff still gets me every time I listen to it, but it was completely overlooked by 99% of DJs, Gareth Emery played it and that was about it. Often that's the way though and it's those tracks that you can think of as the hidden gems, I'm sure every producer has music like it that they felt were their best but nobody buys them and barely anyone listens, but years later when you're searching for tracks you'll stumble across them and get a buzz, like we used to get searching for vinyls!

I think the 3rd would have to be Departures. It's been my biggest trance tune to this day, everyone played it, the remixes on it are just amazing, particularly the Yuri Kane one and the original was even included in a film recently (called American Hero). When I wrote it I subconsciously/accidentally recreated the riff from Stoneface & Terminal - Venus (a very common thing to do by the way!) which is one of my all time favourite trance tunes, sent it the label and one of the remixers pointed out how similar it was. I rewrote the chords to what it is today and somehow ended up making it better which was a relief!

Dimitri: Can you pick your all time personal Top 3 non-Trance tracks that you have produced and give a short comment about each of them?

Andy: Another tough one! Probably Superlifter - Hearts is my favourite. I was really sick with cancer a few years ago and I wrote that tune the 2 year anniversary of getting the all clear from the doctors.

I also love my collaboration with Sophie Tusnelda, called Stay Asleep, she just has an amazing voice, so ethereal and beautiful and I love the juxtaposition of the tough, techy drums and (early) dubstep influenced bassline. 

Thirdly I think Shaman that I've released very recently under my real name is one of my best. I found an amazing vocal and it's just a really unique track with unique samples. 

Dimitri: Which track in your career was produced really quickly and which track took the longest to finish?

Andy: Trilucid - Tonic For My Mind took about an 90 minutes to make and is one of my best. Everything just came together perfectly and quickly. 

Tau - Mahayana was made in 2008, signed in 2009 and reworked and released in 2015!

Dimitri: Can you describe the process of building a track from scratch? Is it the same process and steps with every kind of music you are involved with?

Andy: The beginning is usually the same, I start a new project and work on the basic beat which usually shapes the direction the track is going. Then I'll get a decent bassline in and work around that. For some reason that route works for me in terms of inspiration. Obviously sometimes things are very different, if it's a vocal track obviously things get built around that and I also have a project that I open up when I am feeling inspired and write riffs and chord sequences. 

But it usually goes, beat, bass, riff, vocals/hook, arrangement, fx, master. 

Dimitri: What is your opinion about ghost producers and have any contacted you to buy a track for another DJs to put their name on it?

Andy: I know it's a very prickly and controversial subject but ghost producers are a fact of the industry and here to stay. It used to be the case that I could make decent money from music sales but not so much now, so I work as a producer for and with many artists, collaboratively, in my studio. As I mentioned earlier, I have tried my hand at ghost producing, but I found it incredibly unrewarding from a creative perspective and felt quite cynical writing music for people who I'd never met or spoken to. 

I couldn't say exactly what percentage of tracks you see in the top 100 are written by a ghost producer or engineer but I'd hazard a guess that it's two thirds. That being the case, does it really matter? I don't think so, producers are happy as they get paid to write music and artists are happy because they release music that gets them gigs, and of course the fans win as well because they get an incredibly high standard of music, higher than it's ever been before.

Dimitri: Tell us your current studio set up including software and hardware that you use most in your productions?

Andy: The full list is pretty massive, but my favourite gear at the moment is definitely Cubase 8.5, it's incredibly accomplished with a great feature set and workflow. My trusty Samson Rubicon r6a monitors are making way slowly for some new Eve Audio monitors that are awesome. I have some nice new Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro headphones that are great and go nicely with the HD280 Pro Sennheisers I've had for about 10 years. Steinberg have an awesome synth called Retrologue that has a really fat analogue sound, I love the Izotope Ozone bundle, it's amazingly powerful. Er what else, Spire is ace and Sylenth is still there in my setup after many years. I love Voxengo Span for visual feedback when my ears are tired and I have a delay called KarmaFX deelay that's free and brilliant. Oh and I recently got a PS4 as well, which is useful for winding down!

Dimitri: Can you recall the technological advancements in music production which make you excited? 

Andy: Hmm, there's a few things that I can't live without now, the chord track in Cubase is so awesome and Variaudio, which is a lot like Melodyne, is truly incredibly and has completely revolutionised the way I produce. Multitonal pitch correct so you can pitch correct harmonised vocals/piano chords etc would make me incredibly happy!

Dimitri: Which sounds you believe are mostly over used in Trance music these days? Do you prefer the neo progressive groovy sound or the more uplifting euphoric one? Which style is the easier and less complex to produce?

Andy: I think trance is a difficult genre to innovate in if I'm honest. The production quality is incredibly high across the genre, the fans are vocal about what they want and quite tribal and the DJs generally very consistent with their sound, so deviating too far from the norm means your tracks could get overlooked. Because of that, evolution rather than revolution is how things change, nothing wrong with that of course, but what it means is when a sound comes in that is succesful it tends to be done and redone until it's either assimilated or discarded. It's not exclusively to trance of course, but arguable is more pronounced. 

I like prog trance and also really deep proggy stuff by labels like Life & Death, artists like Stephan Bodzin and Ame, those sounds are really simple compared to say uplifting trance and arguably that's why they have broader appeal. I do sometimes go back and make an uplifting track, I find it quite nostalgic as I used to release 140bpm uplifting tracks for years about 8 years ago! Our direction for Trilucid is more in the prog house, Prydz, Grum direction though and I love the simplicity of that sound too, a big lead and pretty simple percussion and such like are standard. So I think my answer is the simpler, proggy sounds are my preference to write. 

Dimitri: Do you produce based on pre-existing sound libraries or do you like to produce your own sounds and samples? Is there a particular sound that is closely associated with your name?

Andy: I do both, I produce my own soundbanks, I have a few that will be available later this year, and I make sample packs for a couple of different websites, but I also love using sample packs as it introduces sounds that I wouldn't otherwise make and is very convenient. Observing how others have made sounds really helps to understand synths much better too. 

I don't think I have a specific sound, I tend to move my style around quite a lot depending on my mood at the time!

Dimitri: Would you like to choose your best DJ set so far? In which club and country have you met the most expressive and up for it crowd?

Andy: I don't DJ anymore, I realised that I don't enjoy it much and when I was sick I made a vow that when I was better I'd focus on what I love, I'd rather be dancing than DJing! But my friend Hilton, who is the other half of Trilucid, plays for us at Ministry of Sound where we have a residency. The sound system and the club are absolutely amazing there. I also loved playing Agenda in Manchester where I met Phil Taylor, who produces music as Philthy Chit, they just threw a great party and we have been great friends ever since! 

Dimitri: One of my favorite questions to all the DJs is that one about self-reflection and self-criticism. Out of 10 with what score do you rate the various elements of your DJ performances and why?

Andy: Back when I did DJ, I was always quite nervous before my sets, but got into them after a few beers. I would say my track selection was an 8, technical ability a 5 (I can mix and that's about it!), ability to look like I was doing much a 2, engagement with the crowd a 7 ( depending on how many beers I'd often go and have a dance with everyone on the dancefloor!)

Dimitri: Are you active and passionate user of Facebook/Twitter and other social networks? Do you spend a lot of time interacting with your fans and do you see this as vital element in your career or as a waste of time?

Andy: I use facebook a lot for work, it's really useful and if people reach out to me I almost always take the time to reply, same goes for Soundcloud. I don't use Twitter, I just never got into it but I know it's an incredibly powerful promo tool. I'm honestly not that great at the whole social media side of things, I think it's vital to use it well and regularly to build your career and I just haven't done it anywhere near enough. 

Dimitri: Final question should be about the tracks and remixes that are currently out and the ones we should expect from you in the near future?

Andy: I've just done a new collab with Katherine Amy that is awesome, another collab with Sean Mathews and Max Millian that I absolutely love and I'm working on a rework of The Path and another of Departures. On other stuff I've just released a couple of tunes, one called Too High For Too Long with my mate Brett Gould and another called Shaman with 2 amazing remixes from Rene Amesz and Dennis Cruz. 

I also put out 1 release a month on Superlifter and have a couple of tracks forthcoming on ZeroThree. Also check out Trilucid - Harmony on Perfect Black with Philthy Chit that's just out. That one has been doing well in the Beatport prog house chart. Finally is my current track with Katherine Amy called Lost Without You that I think is at 35 in the trance chart. 

Dimitri: Many thanks for your time replying to this interview 

Andy: Thank you for interviewing me and a huge thanks for your support over the last few years! All the best!

You can read here Andy Tau interview about his mastering service.

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