January 13, 2012 by DJ Elroy
My search for the Next Big Thing continues, and this month I’ve found up-and-coming producer Alan Hadgis out of Columbus, Ohio. Is there even a scene there?
The underground club scene inColumbusis exploding. You know it’s the biggest city in Ohio? It’s not NY or LA but we’ve still had a bunch of musicians and filmmakers and such here for a while now. Years ago we started seeing some of the big names in dance coming in, such as Tiesto, Above & Beyond, Bad Boy Bill, Paul Van Dyke, and people on that level. Recently new players like Avicii, Skrillex, Porter Robinson, Helicopter Showdown and more have come in to play at the popular venues to sell-out crowds. As more popular EDM producers come through Columbus, more and more smaller venues around the city are hosting EDM nights with local DJs and producers playing to a growing number of fans — both the jaded diehards and newcomers to EDM alike. Recently, students at the Ohio State University have even formed a campus organization called the Electronic Music Club (EMC) to get together on a regular basis and discuss latest trends in music, set up events at venues in the area, and even lead production workshops to teach techniques to people wanting to create their own music. Columbus is rapidly growing to support the EDM industry and our DJs and producers are getting signed to labels and touring around the country. It’s pretty exciting!
Sounds like the way things used to be here. What I call “The Good Ol’ Days”. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, right? Take me back to the beginning…
Well, I started out as a DJ at my college for parties and various events, but quickly got bored playing other peoples’ tracks. I joined a few online music forums and watched a ridiculous amount of tutorials on YouTube. It was a learning process, let me tell you, but after what seemed like forever I finally got Ableton Live to make a sound that wasn’t painful to the ear. A few more months of practice and learning went by and then it clicked. Now I’m finally getting my head wrapped around this thing and my creativity is pouring out. I’m finally working on producing my own music. Once I have my first EP done and some other projects under my belt I’ll get back into the DJ game and start playing out.
So how long have you been in the game?
As a DJ? I started my sophomore year in college. And I’ve only been into production for about a year. I was traveling around the world for a while, doing internships and studying, so I didn’t get the chance to dedicate too much time to the music until recently. Besides, production is not cheap! I had to spend a lot of time working to buy the equipment.
Well, I haven’t got too much in the way of hardware other than my Macbook and some Sony MDR 7506 monitors. I’m also using my dad’s old Korg synth from the 80s, but it’s just being used as a controller for now, bangin’ out chords and whatnot. I have some standby plug-ins with Ableton that I use for pretty much everything: Arturia’s Minimoog synth, Waves IR-1 Reverb plug, and Sugarbyets WOW filter. Oh, can’t forget Reason! I love the rack-style feel of it and it allows for a lot of customization, but unfortunately no third party support. The rewire capability is amazing, and I just picked up Miroslav’s String refills for Reason that I’m having a good time composing with. Still on my wishlist: A monome. Do I have any knowledge of how I’d use it? Nope. Is that going to stop me from blowing book money for the next school year on it? No way.
How did you make the transition from DJing to Producing?
You know I’ve always loved playing music for parties and everything — really anywhere people were getting together. I had a good knack for feeling out the atmosphere of the room and the crowd and then guiding it through the night with music. I started DJing house parties for friends and got such an enthusiastic response I decided to do more parties and various events around campus and was suddenly getting paid for it. I was still a young college kid then, and the scene revolved around Top 40 and hip-hop. But college is all about meeting new people, and I fell in with a group of kids that introduced me to the EDM scene. I caught the tail-end of the trance wave and the start of the whole electro-house thing. The first live show I saw was Tiesto on his Kaleidoscope tour. It blew me away! The lights, the music, the crowd. Everything! From that point on I started really listening to a lot of different EDM music.
After spending about eight months learning the ropes with DJing and blending and mixing songs together (and getting more involved in the scene as a whole), I felt I had a lot of new ideas that just couldn’t be expressed thru DJing alone. It was fun, but it was too restrictive. So I took some time off and turned to production. Again I studied what I wanted to do, watching tutorials online and reading books and articles. And of course, like the best musicians, I listened to the music. I started out copying sounds from some of my favorite artists, bringing some of their influence to my own projects. I still use a lot of different artists to inspire my tracks. One thing I’ve carried with me since my musical beginning is the idea that to become great yourself, you need to learn from the greats. Once you learn the rules of the game, you can break them and create something new.
And what are your goals as a producer?
My short-term goal is to really find my voice, you know? I want to make it come through in my tracks. I think one of the challenges of upcoming artists is finding your own style. It’s hard because there’s that temptation to follow the current trends and ‘copy’ other artists. When you’re learning the ropes it seems like there are endless possibilities, and you just keep playing around with things, trying out different techniques. Instead of trying to define a style for myself, I just keep making new sounds, and then hopefully my own style will manifest itself somewhere along the road. I am not producing for any reason except for myself; I almost feel I HAVE to.
Long-term I’m probably the same as everyone. I’d like to define myself and really come out with more new and interesting tracks; somewhere there will be a place for my music in the EDM scene where I can make people happy. As every DJ, producer, and artist knows, the best feeling is people telling you that your music made them feel great. If I can make music that makes me happy, and makes other people happy, I’ll know I’ve done well. Of course, being compensated somehow to do what I love is a realistic goal too!
Describe your music style and studio mixes/productions in one paragraph:
As I’m still testing the waters right now and experimenting with different sounds, I feel that my original productions have a pretty varied style, ranging from hip hop/funky laid-back grooves to up-tempo melodic progressive house to ambient slower chorales. One thing that comes through a lot of my productions, and also the music I listen to every day, is melodic harmonies and progressions. I’ve always tried to make music an evolving, ever-changing experience by using chords and progressions. I like to jam out to with everything from in-your-face electro to raucous dubstep, and while sometimes I like the more single-note musical lines that put you in a trance-like state, listening to music that takes you through major, minor, suspended, and tri tone chords really bring out an emotional reaction in me. I like that ride of being pulled through that range of feelings and emotions. With every project I start I try to think about the mood of the track — how I want the verses and bridges to bring the listener to a climax, and then drop into the choruses by using harmony and leading tones.
Who or what motivated you to start producing? Do you have a mentor?
I have to say my father was a huge influence. He’s a music educator at the local high school (which I also attended) and has been my teacher both in school and at home. I’ve grown up playing violin, trumpet, piano, even bass in marching bands, concert bands, jazz bands, etc, and it was my dad that encouraged all of it, giving me early violin lessons starting in first grade and trumpet lessons when I was in the fourth grade. He always challenged me to become better and made sure I was a well rounded individual, both in music and all other areas of life. The biggest thing he taught me is that music must be balanced, and it’s not always WHAT you say but HOW you say it. Some of the greatest music is built on very basic ideas, but phrased incredibly well, with efficient use of space. It’s not always about how many effects or notes you can cram into a 4 bar loop; it’s about whether there SHOULD be sound there or not. Whether it’s minimal techno, or ‘omni-tempo maximalist’ electronica, there has to be balance, and not noise just for the sake of ‘louder is better’.
Do you think the dance music scene is changing for the better? Why?
This topic could probably take up a couple theses from grad students in music history, but in short, I think in terms of the ‘scene’: yes. It’s better because of the amazing new technology we’ve got to create and perform music with. There’s more opportunity for people to express themselves, and it’s easier than ever. There are so many people new to EDM, especially here in theUS. They’re listening to and learning about more EDM artists, and even the pop stars are collaborating with the big names in electronica. I don’t like to enter into the ‘pop music is bad’ and ‘this type of music was better before it went mainstream’ discussions; if you just look at the scene as an evolving organism, producing new and different combinations of styles, you can appreciate how individuals shape the way for the future. The only time I’ll ever be able to say the EDM scene is going downhill is when the music stops being made. Until then, there will always be music for every person to like, and finding music that makes you happy is all that matters.
Where do you hang out online? Forums/blogs/fav sites?
I used to hang out quite a bit at DJForums.com. Those guys were really helpful, and with the mix of producers, DJs, and music enthusiasts, you could get a really balanced and helpful viewpoint on any topic. Gearslutz and Future Producers are great forums too, although I’m less active with them.
What do you do when you’re not pimpin’ beats? School? Dayjob? Hobbies?
I’m working on finishing up my business degree with a specialization in… film! I love films and the inspiration I get from them. It’s great to appreciate a different kind of art. I’m working to get into the business side of it though, not so much the directing/editing/creative side. I’m interested in the production process and networking that goes on in the industry, and bringing an idea from a pile of papers to a full length visual experience.
Best advice you’ve heard?
“Just do it!” Too many times I’ve had ambitions or ideas but never really followed through with them, you know? Sometimes you’re your own worst enemy when it comes to actually DOING something, like making music. It’s easy to get wrapped up in thinking about it, learning about it, talking about it, debating various points about it, whatever… But in the end, JUST DO IT. The key for me was to realize a way bigger percentage than I thought of becoming good at something was not all fun and ‘inspiration’, but rather it’s more routine with a huge amount of boring work that is required to lay the foundation for success. So now when it gets difficult to move forward, I just remember to shut off my brain and just git ‘r done!
And before we look at some of your music, what’s your next big project?
I’ll be working in the coming weeks and months to put together my first EP/album which will showcase all the work I’ve been doing lately. I want it to symbolize who I am as a musician. It will be made up of tracks specifically designed to work well with each other; context is important! I’m pretty excited about it. Check this vid out for a taste and stay tuned:
And a few other things here. Check it!
“I Will Find Her” (Orig)
This track started off as a harder-hitting electro idea, but after I started working on chord progressions it just ended up more uplifting than I’d originally intended. Sometimes you mold sounds and instruments to fit your idea for a track, and sometimes the track takes YOU in a different direction. I think the latter is one of the more gratifying situations in music — finding something new about yourself and the music that you didn’t expect; something you didn’t know was there. The synths are a bit hard hitting than what you’d expect on a typical ‘uplifting’ song, but I think the juxtaposition between the hard synths and resonant piano brings out an interesting flavor. I kind of envisioned this track being about a young man setting out to find his soulmate which he’d been separated from by forces outside his control. He never gives up, he keeps looking, and knows in the end he’ll succeed and be with his true love despite the trials.
“99 dB” (Jay-Z vs. Torro Torro/Billy The Gent)
I remember that I was with my friends chillin’ at our apartment one night when somebody asked me if I’d heard “Moombahton” before. I hadn’t, but the first thing he played for me was Torro Torro/Billy the Gents remix of Autoerotique’s “Turn Up the Volume”. I hadn’t quite heard anything like it before, and loved the beat right away. To me the track was just asking for a hip-hop acapella laid down on it, but I didn’t know which one. The vibe had this swag to it, and it had a driving rhythm that I wanted to compliment with vocals. I was looking for something with angst, something with a story. I didn’t go very far before I cam across “99 Problems” by Jay-Z; I knew this was what I needed. Every time I’d heard the song I could always see it with a harder/darker groove (although the original is still amazing in its own context). This mashup happened when I threw it on the turntable and played them together. It seemed to work, so I opened Ableton and went to work arranging it.
“Ikariotiko” (Alan Hadgis Sigma Remix)
A big part of my life is my ethnic heritage. My father’s side is Greek and I was raised in a Greek Orthodox Church and was very active in the culture growing up. During my fourth year of college I travelled to Rhodes, Greece, to study abroad and kind of get in touch with my roots. After seeing the motherland and interacting with the people, I felt even more connected than ever to my family and my roots. Greek-Americans hold on to tradition very tightly, and some of the best times I had were with my Greek circle of friends at the culture dances held every year in Columbus, OH for Greeks all over the region. At these dances we have a live Greek band playing famous fold songs, and one of our favorites is the beautiful “Ikariotiko”. The song tells of the singer’s yearning for his lost love and homeland (the island of Ikaria). “I want to tell her that I love her / And one day I’ll marry her / In Ikaria / One sweet night / We will burn it up with the violins” — it really conveys the emotion and beauty of the Greek language. There have been remixes of this song, but none of them really transform it into something more uptempo with a big beat while retaining the Greek roots, violins, guitar, and bouzouki. I’d really like to do something with this!