INTERVIEW: Markus Schulz (2012)
German producer/DJ Markus Schulz recently released ‘Scream,’ an incredible artist album which masterfully blends energetic production with top-flight vocals and anthemic trance. One of the hardest working DJs in the business, with a highly successful record label Coldharbour, his weekly radio show Global DJ, and an insane touring schedule, he is loved by his fans and consistently ranked in the top 10 of DJ Polls. When you listen to ‘Scream,’ you will definitely hear why…
DJ Ron Slomowicz: What is the inspiration for this new album with so many vocals on it?
Markus Schulz: If you really study it, the last album had 14 tracks on it and 9 were vocals and 5 were instrumentals. I work with a lot of vocalists, but I usually make 20 tracks and choose the best 13-14 and release those. On this album we made 23 tracks and decided to release all of them, because nowadays physical CDs are not that important and on iTunes you can put as many tracks as you want. We only have 12 vocals and 11 instrumentals on this one, there are actually more instrumentals, but it is a better balance. The quantity of the vocals is higher, but at the same time, quantities of the tracks are higher. It is a little bit misleading but at the same time I think that people realize this is a Markus Schulz album and not a Dakota album. At the beginning of my last album Do You Dream, people were also talking about how there were a lot of vocals on it.
RS: Very cool. How do you choose the singers for your tracks?
Markus Schulz: I listened to a lot of singers when I was working on this. I enjoy discovering new singers, people would message me on Facebook, or I would even go to karaoke bars and would sit and listen. There is a really cool Karaoke place here in Miami that has live bands; they have a full brass section and everything. The quality of singers that go to those places is a lot higher. I have done everything to try and discover new singers. At the same time, there are also some established singers on the album like Jaren and Aruna, It is always nice to work with singers like them as well.
RS: Did you find Adina or Seri through Karoke?
Markus Schulz: No, Adina messaged me and sent me some tracks. I fell in love with her voice right away, it’s beautiful. We started working together in the studio right away and she was actually one of the first singers that I was working with. We had such an amazing connection when we were working, she is not just a singer and songwriter, but also very smart with production. She was involved indirectly with the productions as well. I would send my track to her and she would give me her opinion. I was very stubborn at first and would disagree with her, but after a couple days I would come to agree and make the changes that she suggested. Adina was a very cool and important part of this album. I met Seri through her management company, which I’ve had a long standing relationship with. When they sent me “Love Rain Down” I loved it, it was amazing and a lot of fun to work on.
RS: Do you ever find it more challenging to work with a male vocalist as opposed to a female vocalist?
Markus Schulz: No, not really, I always approach it the same way. With that being said, when I got the demo for “Until It’s Gone” I thought it was a great pop song but I wondered what I could do with it since it was pop. It was amazing and you just don’t let a track like that get away. Trevor is an amazing singer and I was blown away by his voice. The biggest challenge for me was taking a song that was a lot more pop and commercial than what I am used to and making it fit the Markus Schulz brand- then turning it into something that I could play in my live sets. I think that is the most important thing about this album is that I wanted to make sure that I could play every single track in my live sets.
RS: I was going to ask you about that, what is in your head when you are working on a track?
Markus Schulz: I look at it as if there was a track that made it big and went on the radio as a big pop hit and I never played it in my live sets, all these fans that heard it on the radio would come to my live set and not hear the track. It makes no sense to do it that way; every single track that is on the album is something that I will play on my live sets.
RS: When you collaborate with a vocalist do you usually write the track and they write the lyrics to it, or do they write the vocals first?
Markus Schulz: It goes both ways, a couple of times I have sent them a track and they add some vocals to it and I go back and redo the track to match the vocal a little better. Sometime they re-sing the vocal in order to match the new track; we just go back and forth with each other until we are all very comfortable and feel that everything matches perfectly.
RS: Now with the Trevor track did you get the vocals first and then build the track around it?
Markus Schulz: With the Trevor track I had sent him the music bed and from there he wrote the vocals. I thought that the music didn’t match the vocals and that it was a little too much so I redid a new music bed and we went back and forth a few times. To get the right atmosphere in a song like that is a little more challenging. It took me almost a year before I got the right vibe and mood for that song.
RS: Is there a story behind the lyrics to “Until It’s Gone?”
Markus Schulz: You would have to ask the singer regarding the lyrics, but the whole process of making the song was a balance between the music, theme, and lyrics. It is very important to me to have powerful lyrics, like “Until its Gone,” but my most important role is to make sure that the themes and vocals are around it. I can tell you what the meaning behind the themes are and what I was thinking, but I couldn’t answer for Trevor’s lyrics. For the tracks with Adina, we wrote both the lyrics and the music together so there would be more meaning behind those lyrics.
RS: Whose idea was it to reboot “Loops and Tings?”
Markus Schulz: Actually, Ferry and I got in the studio together with no real expectations; we just went in to have some fun. We are both kind of at the same stage in our careers and both so tired of the politics and drama that happens in the scene. We had been playing at gigs together and had always gotten along really well and decided to get in the studio together. When we got in the studio we started coming up with ideas, we were dancing around the studio and laughing and had such a good time, I think that comes through in the production. We remade an old track that we were talking about and made it with no real expectations besides just having fun. We wanted to make a track that we could both play our live sets and both play together during our back-to-back sets.
RS: Speaking about your great collaborations, why didn’t the “Go” track with Dennis Sheppard make it on the album?
Markus Schulz: It is on there, it is on the digital album.
RS: Oh, okay I totally missed that; I saw 19 tracks and didn’t see it in there.
Markus Schulz: It is a total of 23 tracks with 19 on the physical CD but a total of 23.
RS: Okay, that answers the question. I wanted to ask you what the difference was between a Dakota track and a Markus Schulz track.
Markus Schulz: The Dakota tracks are more for the clubs, they are instrumental and a lot deeper, more for the elitist fans. The Markus Schulz albums are more about expanding and working with singers and songwriters, none of the Dakota tracks have vocals on them. The thing is that as an artist I want to be able to make different things, not just instrumental tracks and superserve the same audience. As an artist I want to grow, try different things, and expand my fanbase. At the same time, I am true to my sound, everything that is on my album is something that I will and am playing in my live sets. The main difference between the Dakota and the Markus Schulz album is the thought process going into it and that Dakota album is more instrumental and more for the elitists.
RS: Speaking about playing the tracks, next Saturday you are going to be doing a gig for the Best Buy Theater in New York, what do you have planned for your new live shows?
Markus Schulz: We are taking the album and making it into an experience. I am still going to add an afterparty type of atmosphere to my DJ sets, but in the middle I think there is going to be the album showcase and turning it into a live experience. Right now I am working on turning it into a live experience by doing remixes and big room reconstruction, and doing some special effects in the music for the live sets.
RS: When you DJ live are you using CD or laptop?
Markus Schulz: I am playing off of USB now. I am still using the CDJs, but everything is on a USB hard drive.
RS: Are you using an outboard gear like a keyboard to add to what you are playing live?
Markus Schulz: I believe in perfecting everything in the studio before I play it live. I like to focus on the connection with the audience and I find that if there is a laptop up there you can get lost in the technology and the connection with the audience disappears. I am one of the believers in editing everything on the computers and when you are live give the audience your full attention.
RS: I just saw that you are in the top 10 for America’s Best DJ and you were in the top 10 for DJ Mag the last couple of years, how important do you think these DJ Polls and DJ Mag are?
Markus Schulz: It’s not the critic’s voice or the other DJs’ voices that matter; it’s what the fans represent. I think that it’s very important to hear what the fans think; I think that people dismiss that sometimes. It is the one time a year that fans can voice their choices and opinions, people that cheat the system are taking away from the fans. If it’s done right and honest, the poll is very important since it’s the fans voice and not the promoters, critics or DJs.
RS: I was going to ask you what you thought about all the scandals but you kind of answered that already.
Markus Schulz: It is kind of sad; they take the fans’ voice out of it by cheating.
RS: How many nights of the year do you think you are on the road touring?
Markus Schulz: I do between 150-175 shows a year, so I am usually on the road over 200 nights a year.
RS: Is it difficult being married and being on the road like that?
Markus Schulz: My family supports me 100%. My father was musician and it is in my blood, so having the support of my whole family is great.
RS: What’s next on Coldharbour?
Markus Schulz: Coldharbour is moving along, the label is an outlet for me to discover new talent and give new artists the spotlight. I have achieved more than I could ever dream of in my life and if I am able to help other artists achieve their dream that is my goal. That is really what Coldharbour is for; it is an outlet for them to be heard. We have some great artists signed to Coldharbour, guys like Khomha, Mr. Pit, Grube & Hovsepian, and those guys are on a slope up and I love supporting them.
RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
Markus Schulz: I want to thank them all of all of their support, what they’ve helped me achieve has been incredible and I want to thank them for it. I can’t wait to see them at a live gig somewhere this year.
RS: If someone wants to follow you, what is the best way?
Markus Schulz: Twitter.com/markusschulz, Facebook/MarkusSchulz, I am pretty active on all of the social media sites. You can message me and keep up with me on social media.
Interview conducted September 2012.