Over the past few years, Markus Schulz has established himself as one of the leading lights within the dance community, defining a sound that marries populist trance anthems with some of the edgier sensibilities of progressive house.
Highly sought after internationally as a top-tier DJ, this past year saw him break into the coveted Top 10 portion of the annual DJ Mag Top 100 Poll. He also hosts his own weekly radio show, “Global DJ Broadcast”, heads up the progressive electronic label Coldharbour Recordings, maintains an active production schedule with remixes for other artists, and has just completed his third solo artist album entitled Do You Dream?.
Blogcritics managed to catch up with Markus and pick his brain about the dual roles of life on the stage versus life in the studio.
You’ve been doing a lot of promotion and touring with your new album in the past couple of months, and I was curious what you had going on currently. You’ve also been doing a lot of international stuff as well…
Yeah, that’s the thing about this album, it was released internationally on the same date, so I’m heavily touring all over the world promoting the album, and not just in the United States. The thing is right now in Europe it’s festival season, so I’m spending a lot of time in Europe playing all these massive, massive festivals that are going on over there.
Do you find that there’s much of a difference between the events that you’re doing in the U.S. versus abroad? We’re starting to get more electronic-focused festivals over here, just with what goes on at Winter Music Conference and then coming up with Electric Zoo. Is it more of a seasonal thing, when you’re in the States versus being abroad?
As far as the fans are concerned, it’s very similar. With the Internet, it’s really kind of made this a global community, and people travel all over the world to these major festivals. So I know that when I play at Electric Zoo and I look out in the audience, I’m sure there are tons of people there who have also traveled to Trance Energy or to Sensation White, so as far as the fans I think it’s very similar. As far as organization, I think that here in North America they are really working hard to catch up to the production that goes on in Europe and all the attention to detail that only comes when you’ve been doing these festivals for ten years in a row, and I think that the United States is doing a great job. The festivals that we have going on in Los Angeles – for example Together As One, and Monster Massive – those are really well done.
And last year was an amazing year for Electric Zoo, and I think that’s a long time coming to have a festival like that on the east coast, and in New York City. I think that’s another festival here in the United States we can be proud of. And then there’s Ultra in Miami, at the Winter Music Conference, which has been going on for over ten years, so you can kind of see where that festival is and what the possibilities are for festivals in the United States. That has been around for a while and it has grown to that; it didn’t just start off with five stages and the caliber of artists they have now. I can’t wait for ten years of Electric Zoo and seeing how it grows.
So you feel there’s some momentum with the development of these shows and the dedicated festivals that are going on.
Oh sure, and the cool thing about festivals is it’s a way to expand your fan-base. When you play at a festival, you’re not just playing for your fans like you do in a club. In a club, you play for your fans, and some of the regular clubbers come out, but when you’re playing a festival you’re also playing for Tiesto’s fans, and Eric Prydz’s fans and Dubfire’s fans… The fans really have an opportunity to sample different DJs, and different DJs have an opportunity to play for other people’s fans. It’s exactly what it means by a festival, to celebrate all different styles of dance music.
The different kinds of DJing that you do, from dedicated club gigs to festival appearances, and then your radio broadcasts as well, how do you approach tailoring to those different events, knowing that you may have a dedicated crowd here versus a mix of people for another?
Well, what has really happened for me as my career has evolved is that I kind of came along when trance was really just super saws and snare rolls, and I came along with a darker version of trance. Then as I grew and demand grew, I started getting booked in stadiums. At first, my sound was much more [for] internet radio shows and some of the smaller and darker clubs, but then you start getting booked to play at these festivals. All of a sudden you realize, and you learn very quickly, what it takes to play at a festival. I think that the way my sound has evolved is… When I play on radio shows or on my radio show, I’m able to have a lot more patience, play lots of hidden textures that maybe you only hear when you have headphones on.
When you play a club – a darker, cooler type club – you can loop tracks and loop bass lines and kind of draw out themes to make the moment last a little longer. And festivals are the exact opposite; you literally have ninety minutes to get right to the point and every track has to be foolproof. If you read the crowd wrong, unlike in a club, you don’t have time to correct it and save your set. In a club if you’re playing for four or five hours, and all of a sudden something doesn’t go down well, you’re able to recover and there’s plenty of time. But when you’re playing a festival, and you play something and it just kind of bombs, there’s not really much time to recover.
So I think the big thing for me when I started playing festivals was I started being a little bit more selective with the tracks that I play. I play a lot of foolproof hits, and then a lot of the tracks are edited in festival versions where it gets to the main hook-line a lot quicker. So I think that’s one of the big differences with playing a festival.
Does that progression in your performance career, from adjusting to play these different types of events, have any parallel with your production work? Do you find yourself tailoring your production work as your career progresses?
Oh of course. The festival sets and the big room sets have definitely affected my production, or inspired my production. And I think that’s very natural. When I first started getting popular, I was making tracks for putting into my radio show, and you don’t really worry about having that climax and having that moment for the crowd to just go crazy. You just kind of write really nice textures and melodies that people can kind of enjoy just listening to on the radio. Nowadays, I realize that I can’t exactly play a track like that at a festival in front of thirty thousand people, so my productions have definitely been influenced.
Your latest album, Do You Dream?, how do you feel that has grown from some of your earlier albums, just sonically?
I think that… The first artist album was just really heavy emotional baggage; you just have a lifetime of emotions that you put into your first artist album. And I think that’s true with every artist, their first artist album is just really getting a lot of things off your chest. The second artist album was like “Ok, I got it all off my chest, now let’s kind of have some fun.”
The third artist album, you really start to hit your stride, and you really start to understand the business side of it – what works and what doesn’t – as well start to carve out a particular sound that you’re known for, and I think that’s really what this third artist album has come to, it’s a really hyper-focused album of who Markus Schulz is as an artist. And all of the emotional baggage from the first album is gone, and all of the goofing around from the second album has been taken care of. Now it’s time, let’s really focus on crafting a “who I am as an artist” album.
How does that development play into who you pick to collaborate with, as far as songwriting and the vocalists that you use?
You know, I didn’t really… Well, the next logical step for me as an artist would have been to work with like a major pop artist. But that part didn’t really play into it for me, I still continue to kind of work within my circle of people because I enjoy and click with them. I really didn’t want to work with pop artists who come from a different side of things, and have different types of egos [to deal with]. My thing is I still want to have fun making artist albums, and not get too heavily involved in working with pop artists.
How has the new music been going over at these events you’ve been playing?
The response has been overwhelming! I mean I felt good about the artist album, but that’s what worried me, because any time I like something a lot of times it goes over people’s heads. But people really seem to identify with this album, it’s been a huge success for me in my DJ sets – both at the festivals and in the clubs – and I’m really pleased with everything that’s been going on.
With having to juggle so many things – the production work, and touring, and the radio show, as well as Coldharbour – I was curious as to your time-management tools, or the tricks that you use. What is your system like?
Yeah, I have a team! I have a PR agency that keeps me in line, I have management that keeps me in line, and also my booking agency. All three of them work well together, communicating with each other and I think that’s the most important thing is just having a team of people around you that really kind of… You know, when I first started it was just me, Markus Schulz. And now, six or seven years later, it’s not just me Markus Schulz, but Markus Schulz is almost like a brand. And I have a great team all around who are really working hard to make sure that the Markus Schulz brand is very well managed and has time to let me take a vacation when needed!
So what’s coming up next, what do you have in the near future that you’re excited about?
Well, we’re working on a DVD of the album. Each track on the album is recorded and filmed in a different city, and we’ll be releasing that DVD later on in the year. I think it’s really, really cool because the fans are really going to be able to see what it’s like to be on the road with me, and see how these tracks go over in clubs and in festivals.
Do you have anything else you would like to share or get out there?
I definitely want to thank everybody for their support, which is so humbling to me because I love this music, I love what I do, and I just feel so happy when people give me positive feedback on what I love to do in the first place.