Studio Talk with Daniel Solar (Dikso)

Daniel Solar Interview

So ladies and gentlemen we are in a privileged position today, to be able to share some thoughts with a guy who I think is one of the most talented producers at the moment.  Since our previous production interview with the brilliant KRL, I have been lining up and working on a string of interviews.  I have been trying to nail Dan down to quiz him about his studio time, and finally we managed to get it done. I Hope you find this as interesting and enlightening as I did.

Dikso has a really loose set of records which all seem to work so well together, effortlessly cool and all tied together under the loose idea of great party music. What are your views on the importance of having an artistic narrative? a reason for releasing records of a certain type? and what do you see is “dikso’s” unifying idea?

To be honest, there is no actual narrative idea behind the whole thing at all. The unifying idea behind Dikso is me and Andi releasing music we like. That’s pretty much the whole story and I think that the most unique way to run a label. Just do what you like and don’t think too much about it.

As an artist you have a very distinctive sound. How has your own sound developed over the years? As your music has evolved over the years, have you actively had a path of progression in mind or have you just followed what you were enjoying at the time?

I’m glad people think that I have a distinctive sound. I always had the feeling that my music is somehow a little incoherent. But a lot of people told me over the years that they always recognize my production. Often by only hearing a few seconds. Over the years I made quite a lot different productions in different genres. it’s just because I like so much different things. In fact when I started releasing music I always had the feeling that I have to do a specific sound to be successful. When i moved to Berlin I kind of reinvented myself musically.  As for today, I only make music that I like and that I want to make.

With so many people making music nowadays its important to stand out in terms of quality and professionalism, what checks do you have in place for your own music? Do you rely on the opinions of others? How important is quality to you? Any advice for people just getting in the game?

I think it is definitely a good thing. Making music is so easy and cheap nowadays. It kind of liberates the market. I don’t even think that there are quality issues because of all the new people making music. Thing is, I think that it’s up to the labels to keep a certain quality level, and a lot of labels fail on this challenge. Especially, but not only, digital labels. I mean, if your releasing vinyl and you make 3 or 4 bad records, your probably not doing a fifths one. If your running a digital label you can keep on releasing bullshit literally forever.

How do you like to work in the studio? Alone? With friends? How do you start to build up a track, and what is the most important thing for you to get down first?

I prefer working alone actually. The funny think about that is, that i really like to work with others. But not at the same time and place. I just need to have time to do things, that I wouldn’t do with another person sitting next to me. I sometimes take a lot of time mixing or even just choosing drum sounds. Sometimes things go fast, sometimes not. But i always feel a little pushed if someone else sits next to me. When most of the work is done and its about final arrangement decisions and stuff like that, i really like to meet and do them together, but not for the handwork. Of course there are exceptions from time to time. I’ve been in the studio with Alex Niggemann a few times recently and it was quite productive. So I guess exceptions prove that rule …

I always start with a bass drum. I think most people do that. It does not necessarily have to be the final one, but just that I have a central element and I can start to build the track around it. Pretty much like a metronome. After that it depends a bit. either I already have an idea before I start or I just start playing around a bit until I have a specific idea. Actually both leads nowhere sometimes, but I guess that is a common problem with creative work and it’s not only limited to music. To come back to your question, I think the idea is always the most important thing of a track. The idea does not necessarily have to be unique or innovative or anything like that, but I certainly hate tracks that obviously don’t contain an idea at all and only exist for the purpose of existence.

Can you tell us a little bit about your studio?, which sequencer, which plugins are your go to plugins? Do you work with any hardware? What’s the next thing you want to add to your studio and why?

I’m using Ableton Live for a while now. I think most people nowadays either use Ableton or Logic. As I’m certainly not on a mac, Logic is not an alternative for me. I used to use FL Studio before. It’s a good sequencer and I think its totally underrated. From a creative point of view, it features great usability and I’m still missing a lot of its features when I use Ableton. Anyway, Live got much better over the last years and it feels more recent to me than FL Studio. I’m really into freeware plugins. That is one of the reasons why I’m on a Windows machine. There is a huge community building free stuff. Obviously not everything is good, but there are a lot of gems. On the synth side, I’m using Minimogue and Lazy Snake and a lot for example. They have been in my setup for some time now, and you can hear them in a lot of my productions. On the effect side, there is Voxengo Span or Bionic Delay, as well as the Kjärhus Classic series to name a few. Of course i use some commercial plugins as well. I love Spectrasonics Trilogy on basses. And its fairly cheap for what you get. Or Sonnox EQ and Limiter, which are not as cheap, but sound awesome.

Thing is, I really believe that good music is not a matter of money, the best sequencer or high end plugins. If you listen to older house stuff from the 90s and compare it to today’s sound quality, you have to admit that most (even cheap) productions sound better (in terms of cleaner, tighter) today. I’m not talking about songwriting or anything, but about the pure quality of the production. We have so much possibilities to shape the sound, that we all tend to overuse that. I’m a perfect example for that, as I’m really struggling with myself to keep a channel completely dry. But sometimes its just better to do less. I’ve been asked this hardware question a few times now. And the answer is still no, but for totally undogmatic reasons. I just haven’t decided what to buy. I’m really a fan of software, but mainly for usability reasons in the production process. i want everything to be fast and easy, so i can play around with little effort. I think a hardware synthesizer does improve usability in terms of creating a sound, but its worse as you have to record everything back into the DAW and stuff. I will give it a try once i decided which synthesizer to buy. The new Arturia Minibrute looks awesome for example. Besides a hardware synth there’s not much planed at the moment. I’m pretty much a purist.

Getting a great sound takes a lot of work, and a lot of listening to music. What music inspires your mixes? Do you have any tracks or cd’s you look up to in terms of the production and sound? any reference music you could recommend to people?

I don’t have anything like that. I’m listening a lot to different music in my studio setup and through my monitors, so i have a pretty good idea how they sound and how a track should sound on my setup. I do some A/B-ing from time to time though. Most of the time i already do the rough mix while I’m writing the song. And at the point where i want or need to compare it to another production i always have a pretty good idea what the track is going to be in the end. So i look into my music folder and search something that i would consider pretty similar.

What are your views on mastering? A lot of youngsters today are jumping head on and mastering there own, partly down to the expense and cost of professional mastering, and partly down to a burgeoning group of home producers working on home PCs and not in studios or around other music people. Would you master you own work? How important do you consider mastering in the big picture of creating a record?

I think mastering is a really important part of the production process and its often carelessly neglected nowadays. A lot of labels don’t do mastering anymore and a lot of producers don’t even now how to export a proper file for mastering anymore. I can’t understand that people are trying to save money on the mastering, as it improves sound quality a lot, if its done professionally. Everybody is trying to stand out with colored vinyls, expensive full cover artworks and whatever, but in the end they are trying to save money on the most important parts.

In fact i think I’m not too bad at mastering, although I wouldn’t want to call myself a professional. I did the mastering for disk 002 and 003 for example. But it costs me a lot time and nerves to do that. So i would always prefer to pay someone else to do it. Especially for my own productions, as i don’t really have enough distance to my own tracks to know what i should improve. But yes, i would master my own work, if the label would not master it otherwise. That is not to be taken as an offer, though!

If there was one bit of advice, that you could give to improve most of the music you hear nowadays, what would that tip be? 

If you are on Ableton, please pay more attention the the stretch modes! It certainly does make a huge difference. In fact that’s the main reason, why people consider Abletons sound quality to be inferior. I always go nuts when I hear a good song that Is totally destroyed by stretch modes. No its not possible to stretch 140 BPM to 110 at a adequate sound quality. And no, you should not stretch pads and vocals in beat mode.

What’s next for you? Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming releases, and any notable points in there production? have you worked or planning to work with any exciting people or on any exciting projects?

I’ve been in the studio with Huxley and (as mentioned before) Alex Niggemann recently and I’m really happy with the results. I don’t really like to talk to much about upcoming stuff before its actually released. But there are a few releases to come which i am very excited about.

Dikso was vinyl only for a long while, and it was only recently you went digital.  You have a strong base of fans and I am sure people would like to hear a little more about what is coming next for Dikso?

We have really short planning terms, as we want to be able to react as fast as possible. And I certainly don’t like if tracks lie around too long before they get released. Only thing i can tell is that we just sent our tenth release to pressing and it will be another part of our Super Sound Single series. Plus there will be the digital version of our Remix EP soon, which will feature a few bonus tracks that haven’t been released on the vinyl.

Any closing words for people working to improve there own music?

I think theres not much people that actually profit from better sequencers or plug ins or ever better hardware converters, signal chains or mixers or whatever. The most important part of a song is still the idea and the songwriting. A great song which does not sound good is still a good song, while a bad song that sounds awesome is still bad.

Thanks Daniel, up soon we have Greymatter.

Written By

Co-owner at NoDoughMusic & Mastering Engineer