The life of an artist (both aspiring and professional) looks fun and glamorous from the outside. However, this glamorous environment that artists are exposed to is rife with temptations and distractions. If you don’t give importance to the right priorities, you can easily get lost in the noise. DJ and producer Who is Hush knows all too well what it means to come down from a high. Overcoming personal struggles and temptations, Who is Hush realized something had to give in order for his career to move forward. With 20 plus years in the music industry, he’s faced personal demons that often also chase many other industry members. He comes clean in kicking bad habits to regain focus and control of his life.
The intensity and the energy were unreal. I bought a tape of the performance and listened to it on repeat. Something about the energy made me feel alive.
The moment Who is Hush fell in love with the underground
Thank you for taking the time to chat with 6AM to dive deeper into its ArtistMap program. Tell us about your journey in the electronic music industry, and why a career in music?
Music for me has been a long journey. Bare with me and we’ll get to the present. It started back in Minneapolis in 1999 [when] I got my first taste of the underground scene at a hardcore show: DJ Tron vs Delta 9. It blew my mind. The intensity and the energy were unreal. I bought a tape of the performance and listened to it on repeat. Something about the energy made me feel alive. I started exploring the underground warehouse scene in Minneapolis hitting up techno parties and listening to local legends. I started producing on Logic, I think version 4 at the time, when it was Emagic and Windows only. [I also] bought an Akai S2000 rack mount sampler and started experimenting with production.
Even if it’s an off day, and you just sit in the studio and look at the gear and it feels right, music will be a part of your life until your last day.
Pursuing your passion and purpose
After a couple of years of being a party kid, I fell into my addictive tendencies. I had sold all my gear for drugs and spent the next 4 years in a pretty dark place. I stopped socializing, going to parties, and [lost] touch with most of my friends and family. Eventually, I hit rock bottom living in my shitty Honda Civic and trying not to freeze in the Midwest winter. This chapter of life made me realize that you have full control of your outcome, and, you also have full control of letting yourself go.
Eventually, after some medical events that left no other options, I went clean and got back into trying to adapt to “normal society.” [Moving] to Los Angeles to leave the past behind, I got a job and [took online college courses], but something was always missing. I realized that music production needed to be a part of my life and without that, it didn’t feel right. I decided to dedicate one year to 100 percent learning music. I bought as many courses as I could from places like Mac Pro Video and Lynda learning sound design, logic, recording, and all that. So the decision was made, one year, all music.
That year changed everything. The first seven to eight months were the most intense education I’ve ever done. I treated it like a full-time job with no weekends [because] I knew that if I didn’t make the most of the time all I had was myself to blame. They were 8-12 hour days, watching videos, following along step-by-step. [Basically,] learning everything I could. At the time, online remix contests had just started popping up, and [since] I was making music in every genre I could I started entering them all. I didn’t get anywhere in any of them until this trance remix for a DJ in Ibiza. After submitting, he sent some feedback on a few changes, and eventually picked my track as the winner. The prize was backstage at his next show which happened to be at Club Amnesia in Ibiza. It was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. I bought my own ticket and flew over, landing at the airport and going straight to Club Amnesia for the anniversary of Cream standing next to guys like Paul Van Dyke, John O’Callaghan, and other legends. I was on the island for about a week, and it made me realize that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
After a couple of years of being a party kid, I fell into my addictive tendencies. I had sold all my gear for drugs and spent the next 4 years in a pretty dark place. I stopped socializing, going to parties, and [lost] touch with most of my friends and family. Eventually, I hit rock bottom living in my shitty Honda Civic….This chapter of life made me realize that you have full control of your outcome, and, you also have full control of letting yourself go.
Sobering lessons, hitting rock bottom to find yourself
Through that trip, I had met some DJs that needed help with production, so I started ghost producing. It was a steady source of income but created some bad habits. First, I was never exploring my own sound, I got so busy producing for other people I never took the time to explore my own music. Also, I got comfortable behind the scenes. It was safe, and you never had your name attached to anything, so your ego would never be hurt. This safety is dangerous because you get a little jaded as you see all these other people taking credit for tracks that you spent your creative energy on. Also, there were several times [I got] burned. The artist would take the track and never follow up on payment or promises. Lesson on that, always get paid upfront if you are giving your artistry for someone else’s prosperity.
After getting burned a few times it was time to start releasing my own music. The problem was I had been making so many genres I had no idea what, I, as an artist wanted to sound like. Honestly, the creative process was always more important to me than the final product.
I started releasing deep house because it was the thing at the time, and I was making a lot for clients so I had a lot of tracks laying around. It went great, hitting Top 100 tracks of 2015 on Traxsource. Then, one of the singers I was working with introduced me to a guy that needed some synths for a few songs. I did some production on a couple of tracks, not really thinking anything of it. But, turns out those tracks were for a producer that was being scouted by a major UK publishing company called Global. They loved the tracks, signed him, and then reached to me and offered a one-year publishing deal.
Always get paid upfront if you are giving your artistry for someone else’s prosperity.
Lessons on ghost producing
The next year felt like [I] was right back [to when I was] dedicated to learning music, except this time, [I] was applying all that learning. We worked six to seven days a week usually writing and producing songs for five to six different artists that the label was developing. We had an inflatable mattress in the vocal booth and would work in shifts to make deadlines. 12 hours on, then sleep, while the other would work away. It was an amazing experience. [We] won a Spotify plaque for one song that hit 7 million streams and just like that it all ended.
There was some sort of money issue, and they completely shut down the U.S. division [within a week’s timing]. Only a few of the hundreds of songs we had produced were released. It was pretty surreal to go from planning on buying a house with your contract renewal bonus and having a two room studio fully furnished to moving all your gear into a studio apartment and starting from zero.
Another lesson that turned into an amazing opportunity. Soon after I got a job teaching at Icon Collective in North Hollywood. I taught there for [almost two] years, and it also changed my life. Being surrounded by so many like-minded people, all full of energy and optimism, really helped me overcome a lot of the bitterness that had accumulated from ghost production and the publishing deal falling apart. I think I learned just as much from the students as I taught them, if not more.
We worked six to seven days a week usually writing and producing songs for five to six different artists that the label was developing. We had an inflatable mattress in the vocal booth and would work in shifts to make deadlines. 12 hours on, then sleep, while the other would work away.
Relentless and motivated, do what it takes
While teaching, I also started freelance beta testing for Pioneer DJ which eventually turned into working as the Product Planning Manager for a few years. Leaving Icon was a hard decision, and about a year and a half ago, I left Pioneer to go back to full-time music production but then was eventually approached by InMusic where I’m currently working with Denon DJ and Akai.
I never really intended to have a life of working involved in music. Honestly, I’ve battled a lot of years with self-sabotaging behavior, but I know that the years where I wasn’t involved with music (producing, DJing, and creating) didn’t feel right. Even if it’s an off day and you just sit in the studio and look at the gear and it feels right, music will be a part of your life until your last day.
What is it about techno that gets your heart pumping?
Even when I was producing all the other genres, techno was always what I listened to for pleasure. I would go by myself to shows, just to feel the intensity because it reminded me of my very first experience. Who Is Hush started at the very beginning of January 2019. I had been developing it for about a year, got booked under another project to play the Storyland Festival in Santa Marta, Colombia, and said “F*ck it, looks like its time to commit.” From years of working in pop music, my other projects were motivated by what was popular at the time, and I never really just listened to my heart. A lot of my past productions are around 128bpm, but a lot of the upcoming albums are getting into 135-140. Techno is that intensity, that raw primal energy, and also the genre that I can build a hybrid rig. DJing with live synths and drums machines, improvising and giving the crowd more.
A lot of people have asked about the mask and the anonymity. Originally, it was a representation of what warehouse parties gave to me when I first discovered them. Getting lost in the crowd as a faceless person in a sea of people. I would go to parties to escape myself and escape the outside world. The goal was to have several hundred masks handed out at shows, allowing people to become faceless and lose their sense of self. Release insecurities and dance to the music without judgment, but this may have to change post-COVID. The issue with covering your face during a performance is the lack of eye contact with the crowd. The whole reason we DJ [is for] the connection with the people, the experience we share together. When your face is hidden, those moments don’t happen. At the core of why we DJ is for all of us in the room to connect with the music we love. I’m not sure I’ll always remain faceless… time will tell.
I loved interacting with other artists I would meet as we spoke the same language, but after every nerd out session, going back to sit at a 9-5 office setting felt wrong.
Balancing lifestyles between full-time artist or 9-5 office setting
You’re very familiar with the equipment many DJs use, and you’ve even taught them how to use their equipment including Maceo Plex. Knowing how to use gear is one thing, but being able to teach about it is another. How did working with Pioneer and Denon come about and were you already DJing/producing at the time?
Teaching the gear comes from the love of teaching I was lucky to experience at Icon Collective. At Pioneer I had the pleasure of working on the design of the CDJ-3000, V-10 mixer, Toraiz SP16, and a bunch of other products. Part of that work was getting feedback from artists and getting them trained on new features. It was an amazing experience but sitting in an office didn’t feel right. I loved interacting with other artists I would meet as we spoke the same language, but after every nerd out session, going back to sit at a 9-5 office setting felt wrong.
Denon came about after I had left Pioneer to go back to full-time producing. Denon, part of InMusic, is a better fit for a creative mindset. You have the ability to create unique product concepts since InMusic is 16 different companies that all share technologies. Everyone there has a creative mindset and shared vision of [making] amazing music technology for the industry. I think this shows with the Denon SC6000 player.
While at both jobs, I’ve always stayed really active with production making sure to never lose focus on the whole reason this journey started: musical creativity. This is where scheduling comes heavily into play. Figuring out when the best time of day for your creativity. For me, it’s super early in the morning before my head is filled with other things to do. I’m usually up at 5:00 a.m., slam some espresso, throw on headphones and fire up the studio. I get a solid three hours [of work in] before the rest of life happens.
For me, this way, even if the rest of the day is chaos, I was still able to get my fix. [Whether] getting a few steps closer to finishing a track or exploring a new piece of gear. At night, I’ll schedule in the things that are more administrative, organizing sounds, going through some presets and marking favorited for future sparks of inspiration, or organizing sessions. Each Ableton session is color-coded, organized, labeled, etc. But always done at night, when the mind is a bit fried so no morning creative energy is wasted on administrative shit.
So much of success is all the little tiny steps that may seem insignificant at the time, but all lead up to mastery.
Creating your success path
Is there a tip or two that changed your DJing or production skills that many may not know?
That’s a tough one to answer because so much of success is all the little tiny steps that may seem insignificant at the time, but all lead up to mastery. For DJing, learn the gear as much as you can, but your music knowledge and song selection are the most important. For this, organizing is key. I’ve struggled with ADHD my whole life, and it forced the creation of organizing out of necessity. I know, as creatives, a lot of times things are sporadic. We get into a flow state, but we also need to balance that with taking time on the other side of the brain and organizing. Make your playlists, come up with a folder structure that makes sense. A tagging system that allows you to look at a list of tracks and know the vibe and energy. So when hundreds or thousands of people are staring at you, and your heart is racing, you’re not adding pressure on yourself because you’ve prepared for that [moment] and know exactly how to find that perfect track for that moment.
You really don’t need expensive gear, as long as you know your gear. […] At the end of the day, the only real essential you need is your creativity, how much can you get out of what you got?
Learn to maximize the gear you have.
Know your music inside and out
It’s been said you don’t need the most expensive equipment to make good music. For you, what are studio essentials?
You really don’t need expensive gear, as long as you know your gear. I’ve worked my way up over the years, with a lot of different gear, so currently, in my studio, the staple is the speakers, HEDD Type 20’s. I just know them in and out and they translate perfectly. For gear, that changes constantly. Sometimes a full track is started and completed fully on hardware, with either the Akai Force or MPC as sequencers with whichever synth is inspiring at the moment. Other times the track might be all vsts in Ableton while on the road traveling. At the end of the day, the only real essential you need is your creativity, how much can you get out of what you got?
If you don’t have a lot of disposable funds but have GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), before you drop a lot of cash on a new piece of gear, write yourself a letter explaining why you need it. Take a few days and read it. If it still makes sense, pull the trigger.
Tips before buying
What’s a good way for artists to slowly build their studio?
The best way is to really learn to maximize the gear you have. A lot of us, myself included, have fallen into the “I need more and more.” I buy more vsts, collect more sample packs, browse all the presets for hours looking for a specific sound instead of taking the time to learn how to make that sound from scratch. I’ve heard amazing techno and platinum pop tracks all made with the basic stock plugins, and full songs made from a single synth. Remember, limitation will always force innovation. If you’re stuck, just work with one thing, and see what you can make with it.
A higher price doesn’t necessarily make a product the best option, right? What are important considerations an artist should take before dropping money on new equipment?
Buy gear that fills a necessary hole in your list. Have a go-to bass synth, a go-to poly synth, and don’t go overboard with getting more. If you don’t have a lot of disposable funds but have GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), before you drop a lot of cash on a new piece of gear, write yourself a letter explaining why you need it. Take a few days and read it. If it still makes sense, pull the trigger. I’ve had a lot of times I impulsively went to bid on some old synth on Ebay, wrote a letter of why I thought I needed it, then reading it back realized I can already accomplish all that with the things I have.
Never getting personally attached to any part of a track always helps get the best results in a collaboration. It can be hard to put the ego aside sometimes, but at the end of the day, the music belongs to the listener, and your job as the producer is to do whatever is needed for the best outcome, even if it means not using something you spent hours on because the other person has a better angle.
No room for ego in collaborations, music is meant to be shared
Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with, or perhaps someone who is inspiring you right now?
There’s a lot of people that inspire me, especially the artists that are producing hard and fast tracks. SNTS, Perc, and I Hate Models, all those guys have always pushed the boundaries. For collabs, I’m always open to working with others. When you get multiple aspects of a project, usually you are able to get results you wouldn’t have imagined before. Never getting personally attached to any part of a track always helps get the best results in a collaboration. It can be hard to put the ego aside sometimes, but at the end of the day, the music belongs to the listener, and your job as the producer is to do whatever is needed for the best outcome. Even if it means not using something you spent hours on because the other person has a better angle.
Are there any projects coming up you’re particularly excited about, or anything you’re looking to achieve this year?
This year is purely focused on production, releases, and building a hybrid live rig. The goal is to finish three to four tracks a month. I recently tore apart the studio and rewired everything up, using about 70 percent hardware and 30 percent software, so the workflow is really fast. When an idea comes up, everything is up and ready to go. Just hit play and jam. Instead of EPs, the goal is to focus more on albums. I have a pretty detailed mind-map of all the labels I want to release on, and what it will take to get there. This year is focused on Suara, Hex Recordings, Terminal M, 1605, and a few others.
This pandemic has really been an eye-opener, for myself and a lot of others. When you take away all the crowds, all the dreams of fame, fortune and travel, you are forced to ask yourself, “With all the temptations gone, is this truly what I want to dedicate my life to?” if the answer is yes, quit f*ckin around and get to work.
Are you in it to be seen or for the love of the scene?
Anything else you’d like to share?
This pandemic has really been an eye-opener, for myself and a lot of others. When you take away all the crowds, all the dreams of fame, fortune and travel, you are forced to ask yourself, “With all the temptations gone, is this truly what I want to dedicate my life to?” if the answer is yes, quit f*ckin around and get to work. Start by reading “Turning Pro” by Steven Pressfield, and start setting deadlines. If you don’t have a clear view of the shoreline, you will spend your whole life treading water. Get to work and be prepared for all the resistance, both external and internal, that will try and prevent your path. When something scares the living shit out of you, like releasing music and being judged or DJing in front of people and f*cking up, that means you’re on the right path. The stronger the fear, the more necessary it is to overcome it.