In this interview, we delve into the world of Electronic music production with Astara. From his unexpected journey into the realm of music production to his favorite tools and creative process, Astara shares his insights and experiences that have shaped his unique approach to crafting Electronic music. Learn more about the story behind his passion for music, his studio essentials, and the elements he believes are important in creating powerful tracks.
Hello Astara! How are you?
I’m doing great! Putting the finishing touches on a few more songs before we reach the end of 2023. Excited for the new year, and happy to be here with you today!
Can you tell us about your journey into Electronic Music production? Why did you decide to pursue a career as a Producer?
I started on this path by accident. I ran cross country in high school, and I always listened to up-tempo music to keep myself engaged during the distance runs I did over the summers. Being from New York and knowing a little bit about its Dance music history, I looked for mixes from legendary (now shuttered) performance venues such as Studio 54, Limelight, and Palladium. There was something about the idea of hearing a sound in a place that no longer existed that captivated me. It gave me a sense of nostalgia for something I could never truly feel. I was also very interested in the downtown culture, which I was very much shut off from as a kid. Of course, I didn’t know of the pitfalls of that scene—as there were plenty. But something about the energy there was enticing to me. I found it alluring.
Before long, running became an excuse to listen to music, and my high school athletic performance may have suffered for that, but out of it came a transfer of passions I was happy to make. I went from running, to binging Richie Hawtin, Kenny Dope, and Martinez Brothers sets, and finally to trying my hand at making my own Dance records at music production schools and DJ academies in downtown NYC.
At a certain point, I was leaving high school classes to head to my second school, Dubspot, which was a production school with a fantastic staff of teachers, in lower Manhattan. My music was nothing to write home about, but in those early stages, the quality of your music is really the least of your concerns: it’s about immersing yourself in an environment and a community of artists who can help you see the scene for what it is, and help you grow into a better musician.
What are your top three essential pieces of equipment?
I wish I could tell you I carry a saxophone or something super interesting, but unfortunately, I keep things very, very simple. I prefer a flexible workflow. My top three are: a solid soundcard like the Apollo Twin Duo or the wonderful Motu M2. Then it’s a Mac of some kind with Logic, and finally a two-terabyte Lacie Rugged Thunderbolt (external drive). Musicians… we always seem to max out our HDs too fast!
What is your favourite DAW?
I’ve shown my hand already on this one! Logic Pro X.
Can you walk us through your usual production process? How do you approach starting a new track?
I have spent enough time in the studio that I am very confident I can make a solid drum groove and a decent bassline, but these elements must serve a greater purpose in the track. So, I always start with the hook: that could be a melodic motif or a chorus. In my experience, the song hinges on the hook. So, starting from that point, I will work until I am very happy with it, and then build out the rest of the song. The final stage, usually is a stressful one for most producers, but for me, I always enjoy it: it’s a phase I call “sonic painting.” At that final point, I just fill in the gaps and make the entire production richer and expansive with sound design and ear candy. As you can probably tell, the hardest phase for me is the very beginning! This approach may seem to disincentivize creating new songs, but to be honest writing a song is a challenge for all of us one way or another, so there’s no getting around the difficulty. I say, I might as well frontload it.
Which plugins and effects are your favourites?
I’m not a big plugin guy, as I have learned having too many tools at your disposal can lead to overwhelm. So, the ones I choose are truly important to me. To that end, I like to work with U-He’s Diva, which is a digital synth that imparts a beautiful analogue sound. It’s the best digital synth I’ve worked with in that regard. I’m also a fan of Vital Audio’s eponymous synth ‘Vital.’ It’s just a very intuitive interface to use and I always create great sounds with it. Lastly, I’d give SoundToys a shout-out here. They’ve always made great plugins, from their ‘Little Plate’ reverb to ‘Little Alterboy’ and their distortion unit ‘Decapitator.’ You can’t go wrong with their plugin suite!
Did you receive any production advice when you were starting out that remains important in your process?
Absolutely. That would be “Strike while the iron’s hot.” That’s something I live by. I think a lot of tasks require activation energy, so for example, if you have a project you’re really excited about and you have the ability to finish it in one day, you should just push through and finish it. It’s very hard to jump into a project that you started months ago and get back into that creative space. I think creativity thrives off of forward momentum—always see things out when you have the opportunity to do so!
What are you hoping to add to your production/studio set-up next?
I am no singer, but I do some broadcasting on my YouTube channel and socials, so I am always eager to add new mics that will capture the voice beautifully. I am interested in adding the Neumann TLM 107 and the Warm Audio WA-14 to my collection. They are both condensers that have a really flattering, rich tone.
In your opinion, which elements would you say are most important when building the foundation of a powerful track?
Good question. This will be different for everyone, but for me, it’s the vocal. In my work, I always try to get a solid vocal melody and a decent narrative with the lyrics. I have heard brilliant instrumentals over the years, but there is often a ceiling to a song until it has that vocal. That’s where you’ll find the X-factor as well. And by the same token, I have heard some incredible vocalists breathe new life into underwhelming instrumentals. If you look at the biggest names in Dance music of the past 20 years, you will realize almost all of them have managed to release songs with transcendent vocals.
Lastly, what keeps you inspired? How do you stay motivated to produce music?
I am inspired by other artists—particularly visual artists and orchestral musicians. Recently, I attended a concert with a string quartet at the Parthenon in Nashville, and I have also discovered the beautiful paintings of Russian artist and philosopher Nicholas Roerich. There is such a depth of artistry in our world that one person can only scratch the surface in a lifetime. These sorts of experiences and explorations inspire me and keep me motivated!
As we finish this interview with Astara, we thank him for his time sharing a glimpse into his music production journey, creative process, and the elements he values in crafting powerful tracks. His commitment to producing captivating music and the inspiration he draws from diverse sources highlight the dedication and passion that drive his musical projects. We look forward to Astara’s continued growth and upcoming releases and projects, make sure to follow him across social media to remain updated on his latest releases and news.