Who are you and what do you do? How long have you been a working musician?
My name is Eelke Kleijn and I work as a producer and DJ. I write electronic music for people to enjoy on the dancefloor, but I also do things like music for TV, ads and movie trailers. I started writing music when I was 16 and have been doing this full time for the past 9 years now.
What is your educational background? Are there any schools, courses, or books you recommend?
I learned to play the piano when I was 12 and applied for the conservatory when I was 18 but unfortunately never made it through the entry exam. After that I decided to do something completely else and got a bachelor in psychology. I’ve never used that for anything however, and while studying most of my time was actually spent learning production techniques and writing music. One book that I have read that I can really recommend is Bob Katz’ guide to mastering audio (Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science). Even if you are only involved in producing music and not in mastering, it features many useful tips and tricks that’ll learn you why it is best to do something a certain way.
What hardware are you using?
I still use a lot of hardware synthesizers. One of my favourites is the Clavia Nord Rack 2X. I love the bass this thing is able to produce. Compared to many of my softsynths where I often have to push the low-end somewhat, the Nord Rack needs cutting more than anything else; it just produces massive basslines. And I like that it just sounds good, doesn’t need much work. Add some effects on top and the sound will stay upright in the mix no matter what. Another synth I use much nowadays is the Waldorf MicroWave XT. I really love the depth of the sounds that come out of it. If I’m looking for something a little bit less ‘standard’ I always turn to Waldorf. The wavetable offers a lot of quirky, weird sounds that develop over time and stay interesting, perfect for soundscapes and the like! I also use the UAD-2 plugin card with a lot of their dedicated plugins. It’s by far the best sounding card out there. The plugins are miles ahead of competition in terms of sound quality and analogue emulations for me.
What software are you using?
As a sequencer I use Cubase. I’ve tried many different sequencers but always end up coming back. I’ve used it since VST 3.7 and know all the ins and outs, it just works for me. My most used plugins include Native Instruments Battery, Spectrasonics Omnisphere and the East West libraries. Battery is just one of a kind; I’ve used it since the first version 10 years ago and I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything that works better with drums. Especially since version 3, it’s also perfect to twist, mash up and destroy individual sounds as well. I even go as far as to run some of my synth lines through it to use overdrive, LFO and low-fi functionalities. Omnisphere is a master of all trades. It takes a sample player much further by combining it with synthesis and really advanced sound mangling options. I have the entire Spectraonics line including Trillian, and it’s really handy to be able to access all samples from a single program. I also really like the multi MIDI setup where you can play 8 sounds at a time. Some of my arrangements feature 2 Omnisphere instances for a total of 16 sounds. The East West libraries are really important for me for TV and film music. I run them on a different computers that is connected with ADAT to my main DAW. The orchestral and brass sounds are some of the best out there, but very importantly, they also sound good in the mix. Some other libraries can sound a bit too classical and that often doesn’t work for pop or trailer music.
What would be your dream setup?
My dream setup is one that always works, no matter what. Nowadays with all the software and complicated controllers and touch screen stuff that is out there, sometimes producers have to be half an IT guy as well just to get the whole thing to play nice together. This is one of the biggest drawbacks of the modern era for me. I know in the old days analogue stuff also had its share of problems and maintenance issues, but nowadays it just seems like a single software update can mess up your entire system. I’d love to have something that is just maintenance free and does exactly what you want it to!
Can you describe your creative process? Is there a particular routine or schedule you stick to?
Usually I sort of know what kind of track I want to make. I might have a listen at tracks that I really enjoy and listen especially to some elements in there, such as drums or basslines. Often I then start out by doing some drums and a bassline first. Generally I will add a few synth lines and keep them in MIDI so I can change everything with a few clicks. I notice that adding synth lines helps to get me inspired. Even though a certain synthline or melody might sound predictable, they often inspire me to write additional lines that I might not have come up with otherwise. The original lines sometimes even disappear from the track again leaving behind only the inspired ones. Once I have a good 30-second loop or so going I often start to think about the arrangement of the track.
Where do you shop for and discover music?
I get a lot of the music that I play out in my DJ sets on promo nowadays. The stuff I don’t get on promo, I buy off sites like Beatport and Whatpeopleplay, those are my 2 favourites. Discovering new music in general is what I use Spotify for. For me it is the best invention of the 21st century, period!
Any highlights from your latest musical discoveries?
I just discovered Little Dragon through Spotify. Lovely music to listen to at home or in my car.
What’s brewing in your studio?
I’m always working on 10 things at a time, right now is no different! Some are nearly finished while others are just a small loop that I still need to do something with. The most interesting one right now is a new TV commercial for an international perfume brand. The most interesting thing about this one is that it needed to sound really electronically over the top. It’s basically hard hitting drums with a massive bassline. For the bassline I went all overboard, having a Trillian stereo SAW sound (with 2 parts panned hard left and right) run through 6 different plugins before feeding it into a bus compressor together with the kick drum. I used a lot of my UAD plugins on this one, including the Moog Filter (one of my favorites!), Studer A800, Fatso and Trident EQ.
Any production tips & tricks you’d like to share?
The best advice that I can give people, especially those that are mixing digitally, is to prevent bus clipping. When working on a track for instance, I set the volume of my bass drum at -10dB peak volume. The other elements then usually go into the -10 to -20 range, it depends a bit on the type of sound and the compression used if any. By mixing like this, and adding volume later on in the process I’ve never ever had to turn down a master channel because it’s hitting over 0dB. And more importantly, you prevent bus clipping and distortion. I’m not sure if this is the reason why a lot of my music sounds really clean, people have asked me that question, but I personally think it has a lot to do with it. Something else that I always do is take out sub from every channel accept bass, kickdrum and anything else you want bass in such as maybe vocals. The rest can easily get a HPF cut at 100 or 150Hz. Helps to clean up the bottom end tremendously. One more tip that I can share is to use distortion creatively as your friend. For instance, if you have a hi-hat with a lot of attack, I often add a bit of distortion to tame the peak signal. It will sound louder, but you will see a reduction in peak volume by up to 10dB sometimes! Stuff like this that you can already treat while mixing prevents you from having to limit like crazy while bringing the track up to volume afterwards.