A cornerstone of the Rekids stable since day one, Toby Tobias has carved a reputation for being at the forefront of pioneering dance music and championing the unformulaic with his unique modern disco-infused sounds. Heading up two labels (Tracky Bottoms and LateNightAudio), remixing the who’s who of house and techno and gathering support from everyone from Robert Owens to Wolf & Lamb, it’s all too clear to see Tobias’ talent and commitment to electronic music. We chatted to him exclusively about his studio approaches and production tips.
What is the prognosis for the music industry: terminal decline or steady recovery?
Lets be positive here – I know its hard, but there is so much good music coming out of London, I’m excited to be part of it albeit in a very small way. And people are always coming up with new ways of selling and marketing their music. There’s some very creative minds out there which is great.
Does the industry these days dictate that artists need to be both creative artists and businessmen in equal measure?
Yes I think so, unfortunately! Personally I’m not much too at the business part, but I am adapting. There’s a certain amount of self-promotion you are meant to put in, although I’d rather let the music do the talking.
As an international touring artist who can regularly find themselves on different continents in the same week, how do you strike a balance between your touring schedule and time in the studio?
I find it quite easy. At the minute I’m just concentrating on working in the studio – I’m in the process of finishing two albums and loads of other stuff so right now I’ll do the odd gig every other weekend or cram a load of gigs into one weekend and then take a few weekends off.
Who’s currently rocking your world as a producer and why?
Actress. I just admire his style – it’s kind of organic electronic and not really that dancefloor-friendly, but very aurally pleasing. That’s not to say the doesn’t have a few that would rock a dancefloor! I’m also enjoying Kassem Mosse. He’s similar style to Actress – quite percussive with really big low-end and organic sounds that means his music has a life of its own.
On the disco side my good friend Marcus Marr is super talented and has already released some very accomplished productions and I’m excited to hear what he has coming up. He’s kind of like a white Maurice Fulton, who incidentally, it’s no secret, is someone I often look to for inspiration be it DJing or production.
Some other names tickling my fancy are Conforce, Legowelt, Bicep, Floating Points, Dam Funk, The Rhythm Oddysey, Caribou/Daphni, Four Tet, Mock and Toof, Todd Terje, Lone and Deep Space Orchestra (who have a new EP out now on Tracky Bottoms) ☺
What one piece of kit or plug-in can you not live without?
My Yamaha DX21.
When building a track how do you normally work? Do you start with the drums and build from that?
I usually start with a sample then work around it with drums, bass, chords and so forth. Then I’ll usually bin the sample and use what’s left as the basis of the track.
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?
No – loops are boring used as is. I’ll take a loop then mess it up somehow – either cut it up, reverse it or I said previously just get rid of it completely after I’ve built other elements around it.
Sampling is my thing. I started as a spotty teenager making beats on a Roland S 50 sampler then progressed to an Akai s950. Now I use a software sampler but in the same way I used to use those babies.
I also record vocals and live instruments. I’ve just started learning to play the drums which will be interesting and I’ve got loads of sounds that I’ve recorded on my iphone that I’m going to use on my next album for Rekids.
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?
Referencing is so important! Take the track out and play it in the car and listen on your iPhone too. I’m a firm believer in that it doesn’t really matter about the monitors you use as long as you know how get your mix sounding good in a club.
What are the biggest barriers new producers face?
The fact that there’s so much music and so many producers these days – many of whom have really raised the quality bar.
If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you started out in music, what would it be?
Learn an instrument and stick to it. learnt jazz guitar to quite a good level but sadly didn’t keep up the practice due to moves and various other things.
What do you find hardest to get right when making a track?
Finishing it! Sometimes you could tweak for ever – learning to know when a track is finished is quite a skill.
More from Toby Tobias on Rekids