A star of the Greek electronic music scene, Mihalis Safras has built a formidable reputation as a purveyor of high quality tech house bombs on labels such as Great Stuff, Soma and Trapez, as well as his own Material Series imprint. On the back of his recently launched Material Series samples on S2S we caught up with him for his thoughts on the industry, his choice production kit and how he makes his music.
What is the prognosis for the music industry: terminal decline or steady recovery?
I strongly believe that recovery is the only way to go and sooner or later the music industry, and especially the dance music scene, will bounce back more than people seem to think. I look at developments in some areas, such as the proliferation of new music making and DJing gear, and that makes me think things are going to take off again very soon.
Does the industry these days dictate that artists need to be both creative artists and businessmen in equal measure?
It’s a path that you have to walk I think. Being both an artist as well as a label owner, for example, creates a more prolific image and helps spread your sounds and productions further. 99% of all key players have their own label. So in a way yes, it’s as if the music industry dictates artists should be djs/label owners/producers and so on all at once. It just hope that soon it won’t mean that producers must be club owners as well [laughs].
Who’s currently rocking your world as a producer and why?
In a world of 7 Billion people you can imagine that there are a lot of great newcomers who I love, but if we are talking about already established names then I would say that Maceo Plex / Maetrik is a top gun. He can produce whatever he likes from Techno to House with such an easiness that gets every track into charts. There’s also that the legend called Mark Broom is a producer that’s like a fine wine.
What one piece of kit or plug-in can you not live without?
I cant live without my latest purchase: Dave Smith eVolver! PHAT!
When building a track how do you normally work? Do you start with the drums and build from that?
I have a specific way to work. This starts by listening to samples every single day. This can be drums, synths, riffs, vox, anything. I put vinyls on and search for loops that I might be interested in, DJ Shadow style. When something catches my ear I immediately open Ableton Live and fire up the MPC. Then hopefully the magic happens and everything seems to come together.
Do you prefer to use loops or one-shots? Do you use samples or sound design from scratch, or a mix of both? Do you like to record your own sounds?
For me there are no rules. Sometimes I can find single shot samples and work them into my own loop, other times it can be that I use a loop directly from a vinyl and work with that or other times it’ll be a loop from a sample pack – that is why I love Sounds To Sample.
In my studio I have a Shure x300 Mic where I record my own vocals which I then heavily process with effects.
Any advice on monitoring? Quiet? Loud? Do you prefer flat and boring speakers, headphones or big, phat and chunky monitors? Do you reference on multiple systems?
I always remember Carl Craig’s reply on the same question. It doesn’t matter which monitors you might use. It doesn’t matter how you use them or if they are passive or whatever. All that matters to me is that you are familiar with the sound coming out of your speakers. For the record, I produce with Genelecs but sometimes I can even produce on my HiFi speakers.
What are the biggest barriers new producers face?
The biggest barriers for new producers today are to do with the development of the technology. Technology now means that most of people can have the tools to produce music. That means massively increased competition. My own label Material receives more that 15 demos every single day. Standing out from the competition is tougher than ever.
What three pieces of kit / software could you not mix without?
Mainly I use Ableton Live. I think I’m like a bird with one wing if you remove my Live 8 and my VST bank! I love the Rocket VST, it’s getting a lot of use lately.
If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you started out in music, what would it be?
If we are talking in general and not only production-wise then I think that I would suggest that to build a hardworking team you can trust around you. Behind artists there is a lot of work that is being done by the agents and managers.