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Sugarstarr Interview

It’s a pleasure to introduce Sugarstarr! With massive chart topping releases on the following record labels such as Spinnin’, Ministry Of Sound, Positiva, Defected, Universal, Subliminal, One Love, Southern Fried or Toolroom and intense touring worldwide lately, we catch up with Matthias to discuss his favorite production methods, plug-ins and today’s house music scene!

Tell us more about yourself. When & how did you started to produce your music.

I was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. Started DJing in the late 80s – I was influenced by Funk, Soul & Hip Hop / R&B scene. Soon after that, I quickly got inspired by the underground house movement because of the energy and that ‘funky‘ feel in it. It took me a few years, until I felt that it’s finally time for me to start producing my own records, DJing only – wasn’t enough for me anymore.
 
I started to make my own music with a friend and the results were quite good. But I still felt that is not what I’d actually like to come out with. Back in 1998 I met Syke and that was “musical love at the first sight”. We started our project called Syke’n’Sugarstarr and had a string of successful releases within our 15 years in music business together. As a DJ duo, we’ve been touring a lot while playing our records in over 80 countries worldwide. It was a brilliant time for us, but unfortunately – back in 2013, due to different taste in ever-changing music and the sound, we decided to split up. Syke started with his new EDM project ‘SESA’, while I was following my funky / tech house roots as Sugarstarr.

Let’s talk about your equipment. What’s your studio set-up? What is your preferred gear of choice or are you primarily working in the box?

Back in the days, when I was still a part of Syke’n’Sugarstarr – we were always looking for that special extra that could help us to bring the music to the next level.
 
My partner started collecting vintage gear like a Mitec Console, synths like Juno 106, Jupiter 8, Emu sampler etc. As well as all these rhythm and drum-machines like Linn Drum, Roland’s 909, 808, 606 and the others. But, to be honest – we never used these classic pieces properly in our production process, so we decided to switch our working space and go inside the box instead.
 
Also, I do have a lot of producer friends and I’m talking about some really talented producers with fully equipped studio & hottest shit around them, but non of them are using the analog stuff for their productions anymore. They also prefer to work inside the box. Sometimes it feels that people are only using all that studio gear for impressive Instagram or Facebook poser rather than as a real production tool into their studios :-).
 
At the moment, a decent room with a proper sound insulation, portable and mobile studio is my way to go. High-end Macbook Pro, a simple MIDI keyboard and a handy audio interface like UAD Apollo Twin MKII is enough for me. I also own a pair of Adam P11A studio speakers and I still trust them to this day. That’s it.
 
How do you normally start your new project?
 
That depends on the momentum and my mood. Sometimes the sound of a guitar or bass could give me an impulse, sometimes I could take the sample or a loop from my well sorted library and kick off the things from there.
 
To be honest, I guess I’m the most unconventional and maverick producer in the world… :-). I always force the fluke to get results by accident. That’s why I love working with Ableton Live. If I would work with Logic or Cubase instead, I’d always have that feeling – “I have to plan my music in prior and concept every detail“. In my opinion – that’s killing creativity, also a chance to come up with something fresh and completely unexpected.
 
I think that there are too many discussions around technical part of music production nowadays, of course I do care about it as well, but I’m always following my instincts and ears to decide what’s good and what’s not.
 
In the end what really matters is the idea of the record, a hook or that wicked and simple melody. I remember that Armand Van Helden’s track called “My, My, My” – it sounded so distorted for me at that time, but after constantly hearing the track over and over again, I realized why people loved it – it’s the hook-line and the idea how it all developed and came up together.
 
One piece of kit or plug-in you can’t live without? Why?
 
I’ve never been a sophisticated nerd in terms of collecting high-end or vintage outboard equipment. The most important things for me – to have a good sounding studio room, a reliable pair of speakers or headphones and of course – two healthy ears, hopefully for the next two decades…
 
On the other hand, I’m trusting some good plug-ins that really suit with my workflow, but I’m not collecting hundreds of them. I still love what I already have, and I’ve never been a truffle-pig searching for the latest piece of gear.
 
To be honest, with Ableton’s Suite entire range of instruments and FX, you can definitely achieve really good results, and you could make whole production without touching any other third-party plug-in. Really cool!
 
But, for sure – I do have my 3rd party favorites as well. Brainworx’ XL2 for example, or the Soundtoys 5 Bundle for brilliant FX’s, saturation and enhancements. I love having SPL plug-ins on board due to their tightness as well.
 
Cableguys have a superb range of Shaper Tools, same with Xfer’s LFO Tool.
 

What’s the best production advice you’ve ever received?

Do not follow discussion about which of the way could be right or which way might be wrong.
 
Learning music production basics are surely necessary, but other than that – it’s about breaking up beaten paths, and testing things out in an uncommon way.
 
Instead of listening what others are saying – find your own style, even if it’s taking longer – try to be unique. And once again, don’t be afraid of what others could say or think about your music in a negative way. You’re producing the music for yourself, and for your soul. If your listeners will discover and love your music one day, because of the fact you’re sounding unique – that’s the point you really wanna strive for.
 
The world needs diversity in music. Nobody likes hearing the same thing over and over again.
 

Sugarstarr Production & Productivity Tips

Mixing – Group, name and color-code all the elements correctly that belong together. Working in stems-mode from the beginning, optimizes your workflow as well as it lets you render the final audio files more easily for a stem mastering or preparation for example. Soundwise, I could only say – sky is the limit. Just try not to let grooves and phases collide anywhere in your mix. Be open and feel free with your personal flow.

Mastering – Send your tracks to a real pro mastering studio engineer. I’m working with various studios depending on the individual tracks and projects I run.

Productivity – Build your own personal templates for your basic set-ups and keep your sound library in shape. The quicker you can reach what you’re looking for – the better.
Use only the good sounding pieces of music. This also includes high quality sound libraries (from Bingoshakerz, Sample Magic, etc.). And if you’re sampling in a classic way – try to grab your material directly from vinyl. You can also rip/cut some material from other WAV’s, but make sure your sounds stands out from the others and bring that “WOW” feeling to the people.
 
Don’t put yourself under the pressure to get that next Top 10 hit record. Many “artists” in these days trying to sound exactly like their idols, just to get that another piece of success-cake. Same with sampling and covering. Why they are always ripping or sampling Michael Jackson or any other big name or using that main lead or synth which has been used in so many other records already? Why? Hm, well, but I’m leaving this up to you.
 
My quick tip – try something BRAND NEW instead of just sticking with that “Wanna Be a Hit DJ” master plan :-).
 

Sugarstarr TOP 3:

Compressors

Plugin Alliance – Vertigo VSC-2

Ableton – Glue Compressor

U-He – Presswerk

EQ

Brainworx – BX Digital V3

Ableton – EQ Eight

UAD – Pultec Passive EQ

Synths

Ableton – Operator

Native Instruments – Monark

Korg – M1

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