What makes an amazing producer? Is it their technical know-how or their innate musicianship? Is it an ear for a hit or a knack for the commercial? Is it an ability to faithfully reproduce an artist’s sound or to steer them in a new direction? Do you need people skills or experience as a babysitter?
We met up for a chat with Raemon Lens in his garage studio just outside Amsterdam to get some insides on his dedication.
How did you get into music and for how long has it been your focus?
I was born in the Netherlands and have lived in Eden for most of my life. My mum is an American citizen and we moved to the United States when I was 12. There I studied and played basketball, focusing mostly on sports until college. From the age of 20, my focus shifted from sports to music, as I started at a school where they had a really good music programme. I’d been learning to play the piano since the age of 8, and at 15 I started playing with beats and sounds on my computer. So, the music programme at school really got my attention and totally shifted my focus towards music again.
We’re talking 1999, so the internet was still in its relative infancy: streaming music, YouTube and Spotify weren’t quite there yet! So, you couldn’t get inspiration from the internet as you do today! Back then you really had to work with your network, send out demo tapes and go to small venues playing your particular style of music to get new inspiration and connections. I moved back to the Netherlands in 2002. I attended the school of music and arts and got my Master’s degree in music productions and compositions. Meanwhile, I was working on my music and trying to define my style and sound. When I look back at my productions from that time, I can really see how far I’ve come. Back then I thought it was really good… I guess you’re always a work in progress...
What was it like at the beginning and how did you manage to make a living from music?
During my studies I would freelance for a production company that made music for advertising companies and commercial brands. That process introduced me to a new music media in which creativity and new ideas could be applied. At the same time, I became a father. I was 23 and didn't really have a steady job. Music wasn't paying the bills. With all these focus points - studying, raising a kid and working nights for companies – my dream career as a music producer would have to remain on hold for a while... Wow, those years were busy times. But eventually I found time to focus on my own thing again and start working with musicians.
What’s your music style and how would you describe it?
I would describe it as modern funk. If you listen to it, you can hear a lot of inspiration from the sounds of the 80s mixed with some Gfunk and Rap. I also like to mix in some house and dance sounds because it gives it a more modern feel. A good example of this sound is from an artist called “Bruno Mars” with his album 24K. He took a lot of the 80s funk sounds and mixed them to produce commercial hits that went worldwide. I really liked that album; it’s very much my direction.
I feel funk music has much more substance - and so much more soul - than the digital music you hear more and more of on the radio today. Funk has a timeless feel to it... it makes you feel good. I would describe my style in 4 words: smoothness, melody, harmony and rhythm. There’s a lot of emotion in this music: after a while it becomes a lifestyle, and you get a positive vibe listening to it - it really lifts you up on a high.
Where is your career heading from here?
I’m still perfecting my sound, but I don’t think you’re ever quite finished when it comes to music. It’s a constantly evolving process, which is what makes music such a great platform to work on. Ever-lasting creativity and a million possibilities - it’s really up to your own taste and creativity to create something unique that will grab people’s attention and express your emotions. In fact, it’s all about emotion: everything from the visuals to the audio effects that hit you when you’re least expecting it.
What has enabled you to succeed in terms of producing music?
My career as a producer has been wacky and not at all normal. I’ve never had a manager; nobody gets jobs for me. I’ve always trusted my intuition and have been open to new ideas. Working with other people allows you to evolve in new and interesting ways. You have to keep working on your network and surround yourself with people that can add something to your vision. In a creative business it’s important to have fun! But also, never work for free... it’s a very fine balance!
You’re only as relevant as your last piece of work!
Are there any artists that you draw inspiration from — if so, who and what sort of music?
In the 90s I was really into west coast hip hop. I liked smoother hip hop, R’n’B, soul samples such as Marvin Gay, the Doobie Brothers and Chris MacDonald - music that’s based on melody and chords. I listen to names from the 80s like Jimmy James, Michael Jackson's production team with Quincy Jones, groups like Fachief, Earth Wind and Fire, and Cool and the Gang. These are some of the people whose sounds really define my sound, and their music is still played on the radio. They produced timeless pieces at that time.
How do you promote your music? Do you use Amsterdam as a scene?
Well, with the internet it doesn't really matter where you are. You can be at any location. The audience will find your sound when you promote your ideas in the right places at venues or on streaming services on the internet. For instance, my music isn’t played in the Netherlands at all. But Americans love my music – as they also do in Asia and Brazil. Most of my songs are played there, as people are more into this smoothness that is my trademark. And I'm fine with that: the world’s getting smaller and you can get your work out to new places in new ways. This industry is really packed with great opportunities if you’re willing to put in some effort. You’ll find your audience and get your music out there.
Check out the funky sounds and beats of Raemon here
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