Dealing smiles on stages since early 2000’s. Raavn, a Slovak-born DJ and producer; also recognised as music business innovator, label boss (Dark Beauty) and mentor, who has developed several artists into established names in the industry. "Working full time in the music industry can be both a blessing as well as the easiest way to ruin a hobby you once loved" - Raavn.
What would you be doing today if not for this interview?
I’d be probably solving a random problem of some of my DJ kids, who are the people I am mentoring in their artist careers. Maybe I’d be stuck in some data, reading up on developments in the music industry, or baking pizza.
What music are you producing or DJ'ing
I produce melodic progressive house music, but it’s more like a blend of percussive groove with melodic motifs drowned mercilessly in pads.
What got you into this genre?
Most of my career was in trance music. As I grew older, I was slowing down all the way below 120 bpm and noticed there is a scene for that 🙂
What are the various equipment and gear you have in your studio to facilitate production?
My main mix at the moment is the Traktor Z2 because it has both MIDI mapping capabilities as well as a Digital Vinyl System built in - so it works both with my production and my DJ'ing workflow. I use an old Maschine MK1 for drum programming and Maschine Jam for sequencing/chords/simple workflows. I would also never get rid of my UNO analog synth because it can travel with me everywhere. For monitoring purposes I am stuck with a pair of beaten up Beyerdynamic 910’s and Sennheiser HD25’s until somebody buys a few of my body parts, so I can get a pair of Genelec speakers. There’s a Moog SUB 37 synth on its way but COVID is challenging logistics and delivery.
What is your methodology behind a set you play when you open for artists at clubs?
I always come prepared. I know my place in the lineup, my specific role for the evening, who is playing after me. I leave my ego behind. I come prepared with a plan. I have a series of tracks that I feel could be working. I come prepared to experiment. I don’t feel there’s creativity involved, necessarily. I feel it’s more of a dialogue between your audience and you as a DJ. Like, an exchange of opinions, that has to resolve somehow in the end.
Who is your inspiration?
My mom says I was always rambling about Paul van Dyk when I was younger, so I guess he’s my first music hero. Nowadays I respect him mostly because he was so close to death and yet managed to get back to a beautiful career. I absolutely respect Nifra. Not only because she is from my local trance generation, because for most part it is her journey from the down to earth teen raver to trance queen, who still remains the same down to earth smiley face. One of my DJ kids, Mierri, has a very similar story (I sure do hope she’s going to become next Melodic Techno queen soon), the inspiring part being that the mentoring relationship goes both ways. Next one is Nur Jaber, who completely changed my perspective on techno. Then Vangelis, who also treats music as a series of mathematical equations. Deadmau5, who has that zero bullshit personality. Jonas Saalbach and Guy J, possibly the purest souls in the music business nowadays. Oh, there are so many…! 🙂
Why did you choose this career?
Long story short, I was a teenager who met a girl at a bar. Her brother was a local DJ and I figured if I start to DJ it will be the easiest way to her heart (it was!). After we broke up, people still wanted me to DJ despite the fact I wasn’t that much motivated, it was a while later when I acquired the taste for attention that fueled the best years of my career. To me, music was becoming more and more fascinating from the point of physics and math and this is another reason which made me stick to it. Music is and always will be art. Be true to yourself and your motives whatever they might be. Dig deeper past your emotions, look for tangible goals.
What happens if your friends tell you they don’t feel any emotional connection to your music? How do you change your approach and how do you actually know you are doing it right? Emotions are a good servant, but they are the worst boss (they change your mind every minute).
Tell us, what does a typical day in the studio mean to you? What inspires your productions?
I almost tend to think there’s no such thing as inspiration. It’s an 80% grind and 20% experimentation for me. I’m bouncing around 2-3 projects plus the odd collab. I schedule very specific blocks of time to write basslines and basslines only, chords and melodies, mixdown sessions, arrangements sessions and so on. Having a system is a great advantage and is like having a friend. Of course I know producers who could do a full track in a couple of hours in one go - and it sometimes works and sometimes it does not. And more often than not, these producers are reinventing the same track over and over even if they start from scratch.
Who according to you are top 5 labels in your genre?
Sudbeat, Replug, The Soundgarden, Lost & Found and Perspectives Digital from top of my head.
What is the one attribute of this industry that is a bane?
Mismatch of expectations. The entry level to music has never been lower, so every morning there are hundreds of people who decide to do music for a living, they upload their first track the same day before dinner time, and by midnight they are already bitter on Reddit because nobody takes them seriously. So much unnecessary negativity.
And how is the support from industry peer's?
I cannot complain much. I get plays from industry legends like Airwave and Gai Barone, a couple of plays at festivals as well. My releases are regularly shared by genre curators, but I have to pitch my music to them, still, so there is much room for improvement.
Is the path ahead more struggling or does it get better from here?
Honestly, I cannot judge. But in the context of current world events it definitely will be very interesting to watch and experience. And it will be full of opportunities for new names. Right now is the best time to create strategies, to learn as much as you can, create new music and focus on quality. Invest in yourself and your future. In a new reality where half of the clubs of the world are not going to reopen, mediocrity isn’t going to cut it anymore. I am very lucky to work within the community of burners, where we reimagine reality every single day. Sometimes even twice per day 🙂 So as long as I’m having fun doing what I do, it will never be much of a struggle.
Not necessarily monetary, how have the rewards been so far in this career?
It can be easily summarized as great travels, great people and great experiences. I have to mention money as well here. There’s a cheesy line saying “find your passion and make it your income” and that’s only half true. Working full time in the music industry can be both a blessing as well as the easiest way to ruin a hobby you once loved. Consider this before you decide to leave your cozy desk job 🙂
How easy/difficult it is to release music in your genre?
In general, it is very achievable to sign a release with a decent label if you are not stupid about it. More often than not, it’s the artists themselves who are ruining their chances even before their work gets heard. For example, in the Dark Beauty demo inbox, we got about a 100 tracks this year. Only 2 submissions were not mass mails or tracks in a random genre that is not even remotely near to what we release. Only 2 people really knew what we were doing and actually got a chance to sign their track. Sadly enough, it’s also labels who would normally have very good potential, who mess up communicating with the artist they want to sign and I am totally guilty of this as well. Do your research, send tracks that are matching the label’s style and quality, submit it as if they were the only label you ever want to work with, and have a bit of luck. Even better, reach out to people on the label and who run the label with genuine interest, build a relationship with them and good things will happen.
What’s coming up for You down the road?
My original release schedule is pretty much set and full until the end of 2020 - it’s a refreshing change after not publishing anything for the past year. So I can think ahead now and do some more fun things like remixes. I am preparing a live set (with the poetic title Cold Hatred) that I’d love to have ready to rehearse by the end of the year. I hope that Amsterdam Dance Event will happen, so we can have a get-together with our group of music industry innovators yet again. Since Burning Man will be virtual this year, I’m thinking of concepts on how to participate. And I’m still appointed as the music lead of the Swedish regional burn called Urban Burn that has been moved to winter. As soon as the government regulations lift, we will start planning and hopefully executing the plans again. We’ll be launching a sample pack subscription on Dark Beauty in the coming weeks, looks like some of my DJ kids could have exciting material to share so there’s going to be some effort on promotion. With some music consulting sessions in between. Definitely not much room to get bored 🙂