The moment Weijun Chen puts his pencil to a piece of staff paper, he allows inspiration to overtake him. From the outside, watching him sketch notes onto a piece of paper, it may not seem like the most glamorous job, but when an orchestra is performing his music that he spent so long crafting, he feels truly alive.
Chen is a classical composer, writing music for symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles, instrumentalists, and singers, which is then performed at grand concert halls and music festivals all over the world. He is a renowned composer, best known for Three Earlier Songs, Watercolors, and Canoe, to name a few.
“I write every single note on the page, from vague ideas, sketches, to complete scores. In terms of the writing process itself, I am quite old-fashioned. I always start with pencil and staff paper, and eventually move to the computer during the engraving and mock-up stages. Once the piece is finished, I work closely with the musicians to bring the music to life. Often times, some of my works were written for a specific soloist or group of musicians, so the collaboration process starts during the writing stage. I also enjoy collaborating with artists from other disciplines, as my music often draws influence from poetry and visual arts,” said Chen.
Chen has seen much success throughout his career, but he believes the highlight came when he wrote the orchestral version of his piece Dancer. Already a success as a chamber piece, Chen decided to rework Dancer for an orchestra after being awarded the Jacob Druckman Prize by the Aspen Music Festival in 2015 with an invitation to the 2016 festival to premiere new work.
“I believe that writing for orchestra is a composer’s highest calling, and there is no better feeling than hearing your music performed by a large orchestra at a premier classical music festival in the beautiful mountains of Colorado,” said Chen.
Despite the title’s implications of continual movement and activity, Danceropens with somber stillness, a single chord that then gradually collapses under slowly descending scalar lines. As the glacial motion rises again through chromatic dissonances, gentle clusters form periodically, producing alternating moments of tension and relaxation. Then, after building in intensity, scale fragments and rapid turn figures cascade through the orchestra, initiating the swirling, dancing central section. This culminates in a growling climax and a grand pause, leading into the concluding slow section.
“When I was drafting this final slow section in February 2016, I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of American composer Steven Stucky’s passing. Stucky was the director of composition at the Aspen Music Festival where this piece later received its premiere. The last section unmistakably became an elegy, in memory of my beloved mentor,” said Chen.
Chen decided to create an orchestral version of Dancer after the success of the original chamber piece for several reasons. Musically, when he was working on the chamber version, he realized that the intended soundscape, in particular the overlapping scale lines, would have great potential written for an orchestra. When the opportunity arrived from the Aspen Music Festival in 2016, he jumped on it immediately.
The orchestral version of Dancer is both an expansion and a reduction. By expansion, the ensemble got bigger by ten-fold, and Chen was able to fully take advantage of the color palate of an orchestra. Dovetailing techniques are used extensively in the piece, as Chen threads the scale materials across the entire orchestra. By reduction, he deleted a large portion of music from the chamber version, specifically the Spanish-dance-influenced melodic section, as he felt that the materials were out of focus and not as compelling.
“It was simply amazing to see how my music came alive in the hands of seventy incredibly talented young orchestral musicians, under the baton of Maestro Jackson. It was also immensely gratifying to hear the transformative improvements from one rehearsal to another, and the premiere performance was deeply moving,” said Chen.
After its premiere at the 2016 Aspen Music Festival, the performance received a brief mention in The Aspen Times. The reviewer, Harvey Steiman, stated that “Dancer explored resonant harmonies and sonorities and reflected fine command of orchestration and form.” The piece was also a finalist in the 2017-18 The American Prize in Composition, Orchestra Music.
“I felt extremely grateful. As composers, we completely rely on others (i.e., the musicians) to bring our wildest imaginations to life. It is even more true in an orchestral setting, simply due to the sheer number of players and moving parts. This piece would not exist without the support and dedication from the music festival, Maestro Jackson, and the amazing musicians of the Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra,” said Chen.
On top of its success, Dancer has deep meaning for Chen. The greatest reward, for the composer, was honoring his mentor and friend.
“It was impossible not to think of Steve when I was at the premiere in Aspen. I was honored to share this piece with many of his colleagues, friends, and students in the audience. I miss him dearly, and I hope that the success of the premiere would make him proud,” he concluded.
With the infinite possibilities that music offers, no two days are the same for Jordan Oorebeek, an immensely talented and sought-after recording engineer, mix engineer, and producer in Canada. Every day has the same ultimate goal; make excellent art, but the unending variables of songs, personalities, studios, instruments, gear and glitches makes every day have its own unique challenges and rewards. He is constantly trying to put a moving puzzle together, and sometimes, he does not even know what it is supposed to look like until he takes a step back. When he has that “ah-ha!” moment, that adrenaline rush is why he loves what he does so much.
Oorebeek is known for his work with many prominent musicians in Canada, including Chris Buck Band, Wes Mack, George Canyon, and many more. He has made a significant mark in Canada’s country music scene, with many of his projects being nominated for CCMAs, and he was awarded with the 2018 British Columbia Country Music Association Recording Professional of the Year Award. For Oorebeek, however, it isn’t about awards or recognition; he simply just enjoys what he does.
“I love to create contrast and dynamics in my productions. I often employ bold transitions between a softly sung pre chorus with just an acoustic guitar, into a full band chorus with the singer belting out. I believe it’s this kind of contrast that we as humans love in every great story. Creating dynamic highs and lows in songs helps to mimic the emotional experience in life that makes us connect with music so deeply. My productions are more often than not very “hi-fi” and polished in nature, but I’ve also worked on many projects where a stripped down more raw and vulnerable approach was what the song needed. I know a lot of producers who really impart ‘their’ sound to a record, but that’s not really my style. My role as a producer is to be a creative liaison for the artist’s vision. I think it’s important to know when to stay out of the way and when to guide,” said Oorebeek.
Oorebeek’s success is not limited to the country music genre and has worked with many artists spanning across genres from electro-pop to rock. He recently collaborated with pop singer Jordan Waller on his newest album. Oorebeek loves mixing pop/dance songs, so when he first heard Waller’s music, he was really looking forward to working in this style. Waller’s music, although very pop driven, had elements of real drums, acoustic guitar and electric guitar, and Oorebeek loved that.
Before he starts mixing, Oorebeek always listens to the rough mix. It gives him cues and insight into what the producer’s vision is for the song. He finds it is a way of learning about the artist without them actually being there. When he began working on Waller’s music, he once again started in such a way. Then he began mixing.
A mix can make or break a great song, so when Oorebeek was mixing Waller’s music, he was always focusing on what elements in the mix were essential to bring forward. Which synths had a rhythm to them that gave him a feeling? What was the relationship between the kick and snare that made him want to move? How dark should the vocal be to match the tone of the lyric? He kept these questions in mind as he worked and paid close attention to all the elements in the tracks, making choices based on his experience.
“I always impart a bit of myself into every mix based on my personal taste. I think that’s the reason I was approached to mix these songs. I loved being creative with the use of effects in Jordan’s mixes,” said Oorebeek.
“This Feeling” was Waller’s first release and also his first single to chart. Oorebeek is extremely proud to have been a part of the success. Oorebeek worked on several more singles for Waller, whose debut album was released in February of this year.
“It’s always special when a debut single is received well right out the gate, especially as an unsigned, independent artist. You can never really predict how radio is going to receive a song, but while working on “This Feeling” I felt there was something special about it. It’s great when that gut feeling I get is affirmed by commercial success,” he concluded.
While the frontman in a band usually gets most, if not all, of the media’s attention, the bands we love would not be what they are without the integral contributions of the rest of the members. When it comes to the guitar stylings and overall musical contributions of Israeli musician Agam Timor, his are ones that deserve exponential recognition.
You may know Timor as the lead guitarist for the Barns Courtney band, whom he’s been touring the globe with for the past year. Signed to Capitol Records, the band has skyrocketed to international acclaim in recent years with sold out shows and several of their singles topping the charts.
“After so many gigs together, almost every night, it creates a really warm environment, like a family,” says Timor.
Timor’s rhythmic fluidity, precision on the guitar, and mesmerizing stage presence have proven to be a powerful addition to the Barns Courtney band, just as they have for a long list of other bands over the years. While Timor’s talent has helped bring him into the spotlight, his success didn’t just happen overnight. It’s the result of years of dedication and an inexhaustible passion for what he does.
Growing up in Tel Aviv, Israel, Timor discovered his love for music at the budding age of 6. Quickly picking up the violin, piano and saxophone, his passion for music grew, but it was upon discovering his connection with guitar that he found his true love.
“Since I was 12 I never put the guitar down,” admits Timor. “I immediately fell in love with it.”
Most Israeli citizens living in Israel serve in the military at some point in their lives, and while Timor is no different, he served the country in a rather unique capacity. During his three year military service he was the guitarist and arranger for Israel’s military band.
Timor says, “I enjoyed the fact that although people from different places can be very different, love different things and going through different experiences in life before joining the army . They can still go through a similar experience while watching the show, at the end of the day, people want to feel something. They want to feel the energy and forget about the tough day they had on the base”
After completing his military service Timor was free to take his musicianship to new heights and it wasn’t long before he became a national sensation in Israel. He would go onto share stages with some of the country’s most idolized talents, including singer and actress Ruthi Navon, Momi Levi and Moran Mazor, who competed in Israel’s Eurovision Song Contest, Chen Aharoni, who appeared on The X Factor UK, The X Factor Israel and Kokhav Nolad (Israel’s version of American Idol), vocalist Meital De Razon, and many more. Timor would also go on to perform as the house guitarist on the hit series The X Factor Israel, in the hit musical “Mary Lou,” as well as on Sports Channel 5 Israel, where he played the morning show hosted by Slutzki and Dominguez. Timor actually played the morning show on more than one occasion, often being called in to play a few songs each time with a new rising artist, and then chatting with the hosts on air about life and music.
“I assume that any musician that keeps practicing and listening to music eventually would play great. The difference between being a professional and an amateur is pretty much the attitude and the amount of dedication one has to the project, always aim higher and keep evolving your craft,” says Timor.
Though there is definitely substantial truth in the age old saying ‘practice makes perfect,’ few will make it quite as far as Timor has over the span of his short life no matter how much they practice. At age 26, he has already proven himself to be among the world’s top guitarists. With his virtuosic talent, it’s not surprising that Timor was accepted to the Berklee College of Music, one of the most competitive music schools out there. Not only was he accepted, but he was given a scholarship, a rare award that few receive, and in 2018 he went on to graduate Summa Cum Laude.
While Timor’s strength and versatility as a guitarist has led him to be tapped to play with a pretty long list of heavy hitters in the music industry, it’s not the spotlight that drives him to perform. Behind the scenes, he is a powerhouse when it comes to writing and arranging music, and he’s used his talents in that area to create music for other artists over the years. In 2014 he worked alongside legendary producer Luis Lahav on the album for artist Or Colenberg.
“For this project I recorded all the guitars and arranged the album with my colleagues Amit Shtriker and Tom Lahav. I will never forget this project and how much we felt involved in the recorded music,” recalls Timor. “The most incredible thing is to add your own personal taste to someone else’s music and watch it become something whole.”
Another project that Timor holds dear to his heart was when he recorded the album Beit-Aba with the artist Doron Raphaeli, the founder of the popular music group Tararam.
“We spent days in the studio working on this album, I especially remember the day when we recorded the guitar solo for ‘Aguim’ that it was so late at night and Doron fell asleep in the control room while the engineer and I finished recording the song.”
With a plethora of cultural influences and experience playing diverse genres such as pop, funk, r&b, blues-rock, gospel, middle-eastern, fusion and jazz, Timor brings the full-package to the table as both a guitarist and arranger.
“When I work with artists, I first try to understand their character and what I can add from my perspective that would complement their music. When I succeed in doing that I feel that’s when the artist is being satisfied the most. Add your flavor to the same field.”
Last year Timor made another huge mark in the Israeli music industry when he was tapped to compose the intro for Omer Adam’s show, which was the first concert to be performed at the Sammy Ofer Stadium and was a sold out success. Having competed on the series Kokhav Nolad, and releasing four hit albums over the last few years, Omer Adam is arguably one of Israel’s most famous contemporary artists.
Timor admits, “I got amazing comments about the musical intro to his show and how much it enhanced Omer’s character as an artist.”
Though playing in shows such as the celebrated Israeli musical “Mary Lou” have led Agam Timor to become a celebrity in Israel, and his role in the Barns Courtney Band has led him to play in front of hundreds of thousands of fans across the globe, what Timor enjoys most is the simple art of creating music.
Guiding his life and career by the famous quote, “Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life,” Timor is an inimitable pro at doing what he loves and doing it in a big way.
Documentaries about music and musicians are extremely popular. A recent production of this ilk presents a very unique approach on the idea. Bali: Beats of Paradise explores two different artists from different cultures at divergent stages of their career. While the artists are featured, the true story is about a little explored form of music. Filmmaker Livi Zheng (along with EPs His Excellency Ambassador Umar Hadi, Indonesian Ambassador to Korea and Julia Gouw, ranked among the “25 Most Powerful Women in Banking” five times by American Banker Magazine) crafted this documentary which shows the collaboration of Grammy Award-winning vocalist Judith Hill (20 Feet from Stardom) and composer Nyoman Wenten as they collaborate on a new project which fuses contemporary music with traditional Indonesian Gamelan music.
Wenten has spent four decades as a purveyor and champion of Indonesian Gamelan music. Hill’s search for unique sounds peaked her interest in Gamelan. This film documents their exploration and fusion of funk and Gamelan in Hill’s work, present prominently in the “Queen of the Hill” music video. Bali: Beats of Paradise expertly displays the passing of the torch among artists of different generations while also communicating the search for new inspiration, sometimes found in preexisting sources. Gamelan may be this regions classical music but its inherent sounds and sights are dramatically different than what most of the world is accustomed to.
The subtext here is that the cultural identity of Indonesia is rich and relatively unexplored by the West. The sights and sounds of this documentary serve as a vacation to a visually and audibly stimulating other world. Zheng notes, “Most people will never have the chance to experience the beautiful, vibrant scenery Bali is famous for, said Zheng. “When I traveled to Bali to make this film, the most important thing was to capture the culture and traditions of everyday life – including Balinese ceremonies. Whether filled with joy or sorrow, each one is always accompanied by the traditional sounds of Gamelan.”
Bali: Beats of Paradise world premieres November 7th in Beverly Hills at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and opens on November 16th in Los Angeles and New York.
You may know him as the unmistakably fierce drummer from the Californian rock band Sick Mystic, but Zhenya Prokopenko is also a world class producer and songwriter, with 25 years of experience recording, performing and touring. One of the biggest and most in-demand musicians in Russia and Ukraine, it’s hard to believe that he could have had a very different career path had the fates not stepped in.
He was born in Belgorod, Russia in 1983, and despite excelling in his percussion classes at school, Zhenya Prokopenko didn’t choose to be a drummer – drumming chose him. At the tender age of 11, he had a date with destiny and unwittingly joined a neighbourhood band on the premise that he would simply remain “devoted” to the band. The rest, as they say, is history…
“They didn’t have a drummer yet. No one in the band was a decent musician, so requirements for me were minimal, just agree and be devoted,” Prokopenko recalled. “But we were all so inspired by the idea of our own band that everyone started taking lessons in order to play their instruments. We started to practice and rehearse regularly playing cover songs of our favorite bands and composing our own music.”
Rocking out to cover songs in the dank and unglamorous surroundings of a garage are where all the greats start – and Prokopenko followed in the footsteps of some of the greatest musicians of all.Having gone on to play with some of the best known acts within the two countries, including Quest Pistols, 4POST, Libido, Velvet and Lera Lera, lovers of pop rock music throughout Russia and Ukraine will immediately recognize him as one of today’s great drummers.
Music was always prevalent in the Prokopenko household. While his parents were more into pop music, the moment he discovered the spine-tingling riffs of Metallica, his true passion for rock music came out giving him a direction in which to build his own skill.
He says, “As I got older I was introduced to hard rock and heavy metal music. I remember the moment when I listened to the CD ‘And Justice For All’ by Metallica and realized that was my kind of music as it had lots of power, energy and a strong vibes.”
With undeniable passion for rock music, Prokopenko worked hard to perfect his skill on the drums at an early age, which has endowed him with a powerful, punchy, and solid groove based playing style.
“Drums were my first and the only true love. Of course as I was training and growing as a musician I learned other instruments, but drums for me are forever and ever,” Prokopenko admits.
“The first thing you hear when you listen to any modern track is a drum beat. You just can’t miss it. It’s powerful, loud and beautiful to me. When I was young I was always attracted to the magic a drummer creates. It was absolutely incredible to me how they play. I was much more interested in the drummer than the frontman.”
Regardless of his intentions to blend into the background however, the spotlight seems to have followed him, and the recognition too. As the drummer of a number of celebrated bands over the past two decades, Prokopenko has accrued an illustrious reputation as a sought after drummer. In 2009 he was chosen to be the drummer for the band Lera Lera, the solo project from famous actress and singer Valeria Kozlova, who become an teen icon as a member of the massively popular Russian pop rock bands Ranetki and 5sta Family.
“When we were creating the project Lera Lera, we had been looking for musicians who would be able to be a star along with the frontman. Zhenya fully met the criteria,” said Lera Lera tour manager Yuri Fedorov. “Filigree precision and very spectacular technique of musicianship, the whole appearance and unique charisma made him a special part of the show. He’s like Tommy Lee or Kate Moon in that sense.”
With Prokopenko by her side, Kozlova was named Singer of the Year by RU.TV in 2010, and in 2011 Lera Lera was awarded the Gold Bravo Statue. At the same time Prokopenko was also serving as a key member of the band Velvet, a pop rock act that would go on to earn major celebrity status in Russia. Spending 27 weeks on the Russian Radio charts where it held onto the No.1 spot with a firm grip, the song ‘Forgive’ would earn them a Golden Gramophone Award, as well as a Best Song Award nomination at the MUZ TV Awards. The awards continued to roll in for Prokopenko.
Not one to stay idle, Prokopenko added another act to his name when he joined the band 4POST in 2011. Maintaining a recognizable position in the spotlight, while playing with 4POST Prokopenko and the band were nominated for Best New Band at the RU.TV Awards and Best Pop Rock Band at the Real Music Box Awards. Quickly becoming celebrities on a global scale, 4POST proved to be a tough contender in the national qualifying competition to represent Russia in the Eurovision Song Contest where they earned 6th place, and InStyle magazine would later award them a Royal People Award for the work organizing charity concerts for the youth in Russia.
One career highlight Prokopenko has under his belt, that few others in the world can claim, is having the honor of playing at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi with his drum show Drum Cast alongside Russian celebrity Mitya Fomin. Fast forward to 2018 and Propenko is now devoting all of his time and energy into his new project in the states, the alternative rock band Sick Mystic.
Based in Los Angeles, California, Sick Mystic sprung up in 2016 with the promise of delivering original music and excellent sound, and they have definitely not disappointed their growing fanbase. The band may be new to the music scene, but what they lack in history they make up for with their unrivalled potential and drive – and it hasn’t gone unnoticed either as their promo tracks have already received a lot of positive feedback. To top it off, their social media interest is growing by the second, ‘Music Connection’ magazine has raved about the band, and they will even get their chance to shine on the Frosty, Heidi and Frank show on 95.5 KLOS. But perhaps most excitingly of all, Sick Mystic is releasing a brand new album, and they’re currently planning their US tour for next year. Needless to say 2019 is going to be huge for Sick Mystic and Zhenya Prokopenko, so keep your ears tuned to the music.
It takes far more than music alone to keep the music industry running like the finely-tuned machine it is. Anyone with dreams of graduating from garage demos to packed stadiums needs the support of somebody with the connections and know-how necessary to make that dream a reality. For those lucky musicians whose sounds and skills have earned them her discerning confidence, management coordinator Daria Khovanova has been an invaluable lifeline in a highly competitive business.
Long before she worked her way up the ranks to her position as management coordinator, Khovanova knew her path in life would lead her to the industry. Born and raised in Moscow, she began training in piano and music theory when she was only six. As a teenager she was glued to MTV and VH1, which led in part to her lifelong love of American and British music. The local bands weren’t her style, so Khovanova set out to explore the scene out west.
“I was never inspired by the music industry back home, in Russia. There were no bands I was excited about. Most of them came from abroad,” she recalled. “So I started travelling to Europe early on to go to shows and music festivals. While also seeking out any book I could find in the vein of ‘How To Make It In The Music Industry.’”
The worldly experience she gained from her travels proved invaluable. She began establishing and growing her professional network, discovered countless new artists and influences, and built the foundation for her future career. Before long, she landed a life-changing position that gave her an opportunity to get some hands-on experience working in the field she loved.
“I managed to secure an intern position at Monotone. It’s a management company run by Ian Montone, and it has a pretty amazing artist roster including Jack White, The Kills, LCD Soundsystem, The Shins, and Vampire Weekend,” she said.
With a myriad of illustrious clients that includes legendary 12-time Grammy-winner Jack White, Monotone is exceptionally discerning in who it hires. Luck played no part in the decision to offer Khovanova the internship; even then, in her earliest days, it was clear to anyone in the know she had an innate gift for navigating the ins and outs of the labyrinthian music industry. Her natural aptitude for finding, fostering and cultivating talent is what’s enabled her to rise to the top of her field.
During her time at Monotone she discovered her talents and passions made her perfect for the role she now fills. As a management coordinator, there’s very little Khovanova doesn’t do for her clients. Khovanova is there at every step of her clients’ careers, watching like a hawk and constantly ready for any opportunity or obstacle that might arise.
“As an artist’s management coordinator you wear many hats, and that’s what I enjoy most. There’s never a dull moment,” explained Khovanova. “I realized a long time ago that working in music I didn’t want to be stuck in the office. Maintaining personal contact with the artists is of great importance to me, and it’s something I think the artists appreciate also… It’s important to be in it together, share adventures together and grow a bond.”
That level of personal involvement in the creative process requires a delicate balance. Khovanova never veers in the direction of being either controlling or detached; her finely-honed talents enable her to find the perfect middle ground where her clients are never interfered with nor neglected, but given exactly what they need to thrive. That philosophy, and Khovanova’s unbounded passion, are a large part of what her clients consider when they choose her as their ally.
Years spent immersed in the music scene of Western Europe, followed by her experience at Monotone, made Khovanova a formidable figure in her field. Through skill and sheer perseverance she earned the trust and partnership of Los Angeles rock band Allah-Las. Active for a decade in the L.A. scene, Allah-Las have become headliner darlings of the indie music scene in both the U.S. and Europe. After a long friendship between Khovanova and the band, she became their management coordinator in 2017.
“We met at SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, through mutual Angeleno friends who are now based in Berlin. We stayed in touch and crossed paths many times in Europe and Russia,” she recalled. “[It’s my job to] secure endorsement deals, take part in merchandise development and production, manage touring and advancing shows, book flights and accommodations and make sure everything runs smoothly on the road.”
It’s virtually impossible to name an aspect of the band’s day-to-day schedule that Khovanova isn’t personally involved in. She’s the wizard behind the curtain, and everything she does as the band’s management coordinator revolves around her longtime love of the music they make.
“Their music is timeless, not affected by trends or new technologies. They like to record the tried-and-tested, old-fashioned way, which I think is very appealing,” she described. “Well, they take you in and you become part of a family. There is a certain magic in being on the road with a close-knit group of best friends… They always manage to put a smile on your face somehow. There’s never a dull moment.”
The camaraderie between the band members and Khovanova is invaluable when it comes time to plan and manage the band’s innumerable events. That was especially true when the Allah-Las headed to Texas to play the Marfa Myths festival. Khovanova handled nearly everything for the trip, ensuring it was an epic show for band and fans alike.
“[My job included] liaising with festival organizers and the record label, Mexican Summer, in preparation for the festival, negotiating set length, order of appearance, financial compensation, and more,” Khovanova said, describing the details of her unbelievably packed agenda. “I also did scheduling, handled the van rental, seeking out and booking the best accommodation options within close proximity to the venue, arranging advance shows, renting backline if needed, hiring and flying out the sound person the band trusts for the show, handling guest lists, and often settlement at the end of the night.”
Handling the Allah-Las’ show at the iconic Marfa Myths festival speaks volumes to Khovanova’s abilities as their management coordinator. The festival has become a renowned showcase for artists, filmmakers and musicians at the forefront of the industry. Many of those who’ve shared their work at Marfa Myths, like Allah-Las, already have huge followings internationally. Others are receiving their first major exposure before going on to become household names. For a band like Allah-Las, nailing the perfect set at Marfa Myths meant a chance to gain thousands of new fans and an immeasurable boost in publicity. Thanks to Khovanova’s tireless work, the show went off without a hitch, further cementing her already stellar reputation.
Khovanova is extensively involved in groups and projects in addition to her work specifically with Allah-Las. She is a key member of Reverberation Radio, a creative collective of musicians who discover, create, and curate the best new tracks and deep cuts from artists around the country and internationally.
“Reverberation Radio is a close-knit group of record collectors who create weekly mixes of largely forgotten tracks drawing from decades of strange pop and instrumentals,” Khovanova described. “All members of Allah-Las are part of the collective and regular contributors to weekly mixes that come out each Wednesday.”
Working with what is essentially a think tank of musicians, Khovanova’s role is to ensure Reverberation Radio receives every possible opportunity to grow its brand and reach. By coordinating with artists, venues and event planners, she is constantly hard at work finding new ways to expand Reverberation Radio’s presence in the digital media landscape. Because of the close ties between Khovanova, the Allah-Las’ band members and the collective, she is uniquely qualified to bridge the needs of both groups. And with the westward move of a legendary East Coast venue, the popularity of Reverberation Radio exploded.
“There would often be Reverberation Radio DJ’s at the Allah-Las’ shows to ensure the right atmosphere. Lately though, with the opening of Zebulon – the legendary Brooklyn venue that relocated to LA in 2017 – the musical landscape has changed,” she described. “The Reverberation Radio dance party grew from playing smaller bars to being the most popular dance party to go to…, often with lines of people forming outside trying to get in. No one expected that kind of success, and it’s become a monthly event.”
That venue, Zebulon, is another example of a huge success that is covered in Khovanova’s fingerprints. In the time since it opened in L.A., it’s become one of the premiere Saturday night spots for the city’s young and trendy to dance, drink and discover new artists. Working hand-in-hand with Reverberation Radio, Khovanova has a key role in making the club what it is.
“I also work at Zebulon, where Reverberation Radio have a monthly dance night which has become the successful and well-attended ‘Party at Zebulon.’ Zebulon has become a new centerpiece to the nightlife in L.A. for people looking for a higher quality of music and art,” she said. “I do social media, marketing and some booking at the venue.”
The full list of duties she performs for Zebulon is seemingly endless. In a nutshell, she is responsible for all communication between the venue and Reverberation Radio. It’s a big task with bigger stakes for both the venue and the collective. Her results, however, speak for themselves. With the immense growth of popularity of both Zebulon and Reverberation Radio, the groups’ success hinges on the talents of Khovanova. Just as she’s done for Allah-Las, she’s guided both the collective and the venue along the path to becoming hugely influential forces in the industry. Through her constant networking, negotiating and coordinating, both have prospered and expanded their audiences exponentially.
What Daria Khovanova does best is organically develop mutually-beneficial relationships between musicians, venues, and the groups that promote both. The music industry is a complex network made up of thousands of tiny pieces all moving independently of one another. What Khovanova does is bring order to the chaos. With personal experience in every part of the process, an unrivaled talent for finding and making the connections her clients need, and a vast understanding of how the industry works from top-to-bottom, she is by far the most valuable asset her clients have.
Dragi Ivanov has long been known as a producer aware of how to tailor his skills to a musician’s needs, while bringing his own sense of practical artistry to any track he produces.
As the producer of Terrell Hines’ hit song ‘$3.99 (model1)’ Ivanov’s seasoned skill as a recording engineer proved imperative to capturing the song’s crisp sound quality. His ability to expertly wear many hats was reflected in how he wrote, produced, recorded and mixed the song for one of music’s most promising artists today.
Hines, who is also in the hugely popular band Wake Child, attested to the critical role Ivanov played in shaping the song’s sound from its inception and how they both wanted to create something that was compelling from the get-go.
Hines says, “As creatives we were pushing the envelope, so we started gathering our ideas and organizing them and Dragi produced, mixed and mastered…3.99.”
Hines further points to the collaborative nature of the song-making process, and the respect Ivanov grants the artists he works with and to the listeners of their music.
“We both love music and are intrigued by sound so we wanted to see if we could get music out in a way not normal to the ears but relatable to the ears spreading positive informative messages to society.”
Ivanov echoes Hines’ assertion that each of the cognoscenti wished to make a song that was edgy and create a new standard of music.
“Both of us always wanted to push the envelope and just create something that is crazy and innovative,” Ivanov explains. “We just wanted to make something that we hadn’t done before and that was exciting for us, we didn’t set out to do anything specific we just wanted to see what we can do and how well we can do it.”
It’s clear that Ivanov achieved his goal of producing a song that was edgy and compelling in a really subversive way, a rarity in a crowded market where every other producer is trying to push musicians to make a statement.
With Ivanov though, he’s the real deal. Combined with Hines’ writing, with it’s biblical references that are simultaneously respectful of spirituality but not condescendingly preachy to a listener, the producer and artist break new ground. The result is an edgy and compelling rap track that offers an incisive social commentary on the way unbridled greed has compromised the moral fabric of humanity, detailing the extreme lengths people go to for things worth $3.99. Listening to the song itself on an instinctual level leaves a listener conscious of a darkness, an effect countered with hip beats that get the body moving in a manner reminiscent of Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ but with an even more potent punch.
Elaborating on the uniqueness of Ivanov’s approach, highlighting how the man is as interested in the process of making the music as the end result, Hines says, “Working with Dragi is therapeutic,” Hines astutely claims. “He can form any color and structure through music. When it comes to music and just sound in general he definitely has his own unique aesthetic.”
Adding his crucial creative input and mastery as a producer into the mix, Ivanov played a key role in the song’s composition, of course bouncing the ideas back and forth with Hines while producing, recording and mixing the song. He explains, “Everything you hear from the drums and bass, to the synths and the pads as well as the guitar parts and the way the whole song sounds is what I did. I created all the interesting sound design elements such as the clicky percussion parts, 808 bass, the menacing synthesizers, sound effects and vocal effects and treatment is what I did as part of the production process.”
The uniqueness of Ivanov’s skills as a music producer are reflected in the imaginative ways Hines describes Ivanov’s approach, pointing to a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that effectively highlights the Macedonian native’s creative magic.
For instance, the song invokes Black church and gospel music style through the use of organs and tambourines, grounding it in a sense of history that is both culturally specific, and universally resonant.
In a more obvious reflection of Ivanov’s significant success within his field, it also helps to understand that the musicians Ivanov works with always enjoy a loyal and fervent fan base, ensuring that his songs reaches huge numbers of ardent listeners around the world. That, and his producing skills have equally come to be known within the industry as a secret weapon which can make an artist’s career.
Hines additionally points to the adaptability of Ivanov’s specialized skill-set as a producer who can jump between genres while also maintaining the artist’s sensibility and integrity.
“Dragi understands music from many different perspectives. He also knows what he is doing on the production side whether it is production or mastering, which I could trust him to execute every time creatively and professionally.”
The most obvious manifestation of Ivanov’s versatility is in the work he’s done with the band Wake Child. The incredibly popular Californian group, frequently known for invoking psychedelic 60s sounds with their own unique millennial bent, clearly owe some of their success to the producing prowess of Ivanov.
For the track ‘Hangup Blues,’ Ivanov talks about how he and the band “wanted to make a seemingly Lo-Fi sounding record but also have it be epic.”
The product is a filmic and moving track which has received over 60,000 streams on online and been promoted by multiple blogs and Spotify playlists. It’s clear that fans of Wake Child and Ivanov recognize how the song manages to expertly use vocals and guitars in a symbiotic manner that builds towards a rough and tumble crescendo that grabs a listener by the collar and pulls them into a collective, and at once, individual experience.
In essence, it proves how Ivanov – who produced, recorded and mixed the song for Wake Child – tells a story with music in a way that only the most celebrated and iconic music producers are able.
He speaks with authority with the how the song is constructed, indicative of how Ivanov is deeply connected to helping produce music that tells a story and effects emotional change within a listener.
“The song starts very small with only a Rhodes piano and vocals it eventually builds up to the first chorus which is very interesting because the relationships between the instruments change in a way that the chorus feels a lot bigger than the actual verse.”
The humble manner with which Ivanov explains how his personable nature lends him an advantage when dealing with different musicians is equally interesting and endearing.
“Another thing is [because I’m an] introvert I don’t necessarily talk too much and I am very sensitive to situations that I know how to stay away or step in when I need to and that way I am able to meet people feel comfortable in the studio and give their best performance.”
“Hangup Blues” consequently manages to be romantic and solemn at the same, echoing a deeply felt sense of love that is truly poetic. When the song hits a beat change half-way through, it shifts a listener into an aural experience that really affecting.
Producing the song itself represented a significant challenge, which Ivanov embraced with gusto
“This project was different because it was the first project where I had to produce a full band,” Ivanov clarifies.
“[I] usually work with only an artist and my job is to create the music behind the artist, whereas with this project I had to learn how to step away from being a the musician and focus on more technical and managerial side of things.”
In closing remarks, Ivanov adeptly sums up the authentic approach to his work that highlights his genuine and specialized creative spirit.
“For me I would say is that I want the music to be exciting and feel effortless.”
Nothing is more exciting for a music fan than getting tickets to see your favorite artist live in concert. The feeling of your body vibrating to the bass of a beloved song in a giant arena is simply euphoric. However, when enjoying the experience, it is easy to forget how many people it took to make the concert so incredible. Not only is there the talent, dancers, and band that one can see, there are also many that have worked tirelessly behind-the-scenes. Rupa Rathod is one of those people. As an industry leading motion graphics designer, the intricate visuals displayed on the giant screens of the show are her masterpieces.
Having worked with several iconic musicians, such as Shania Twain and Kylie Minogue, Rathod’s work has been seen and appreciated on a global scale. She loves what she does, not only working alongside some of the world’s biggest stars, but also being able to merge her passions for music and design.
“Everything catches my eye; shapes, colors, photography, art and perspective, they’re all influences. I’m constantly working out how to turn anything I see into something graphical, abstract and moving. I’m very practical and hands on so my interest in design and art have always been very much a part of who I am,” said Rathod.
Two years ago, Rathod saw great success with her work on the “Wild, Wild World Tour” for the popular band Bastille. The global tour allowed the motion graphics artist to work closely with award-winning Creative Director, Rob Sinclair, band management, and the band themselves to create and produce the screen content with LA based production company and studio, Blink.
“I developed a good working relationship with the band. It’s the notion that you understand their world and so you have their trust on something so important to them. It’s what grounds me the most during these projects and what I aspire to always have with artists and bands,” Rathod described.
Loosely set in a slightly playful dystopian world, the vision for the tour visuals was very specific but also required a lot of collaborative development. The brief for this tour was the notion that big brother was watching and controlling you, set in a future where the whole world was ruled by a fictional corporation, World Wide Communications. Rathod’s understanding of Sinclair and the band’s vision was trusted by the entire design team instantly.
“It’s unusual for a tour, especially with an indie band to have such a strong narrative, so I was sold from the moment I read the concept. In my mind, there was no end to the amount of scenarios that could be created in this dystopian world. I was completely submerged in this environment and pitching my designs, having them approved and then being able to develop all the ideas into real working visuals was hugely rewarding,” said Rathod.
On a tour such as Bastille’s, the set design is always the beginning of the process. Rathod and her team began producing strong concepts and inspirational references. Once the setlist was completed, Rathod got to work.
As Producer, her role was to develop the initial brief, and oversee and direct the team of animators and visual artists. This involved digging a bit deeper into the references and going back with an initial design. Once her approach was approved, she collaborated Blink’s team of motion graphics artists to bring the visuals to life.
As she is so hands on when it comes to the visual aspect of the production, Rathod is ideally placed to see the project through the final stages of rehearsals. For her, it all comes together when she gets into a production rehearsal with the full band, lighting and all departments working together. As a creator of visual content, her job isn’t just to make great visuals, it’s to create content that’s cohesive with a huge live concert spectacle. Some of the best video moments in the show were not conceived until this rehearsal block, so a big part of Rathod’s job was turning ideas around sometimes overnight to test them on screen the next day. This also allowed her to form a good relationship with the band.
“I worked with Rupa on the “Wild World” world tour across 2016 and 2017, where she was in charge of creating all the video content for our live show. Her creative abilities are second to none and to be able to interact with her on an artistic level was a hugely fulfilling experience. We hope to use her again and again during the next touring cycles. She is without doubt one of the best in the industry at what she does, quite apart from being one of the nicest,” said Dan Smith, the lead singer of Bastille.
Rathod stayed on this tour for the first few shows, which allowed two weeks to tweak and change content prior to the band’s first big night at the O2 in London. Seeing the fans’ responses from her work made the entire experience even more worth it.
“The reaction from fans as well as reviews acknowledged the visuals I produced and was a welcome recognition of how important the visuals are to the overall concert experience. It’s a completely multi-sensory experience and seeing it through from start to finish is always the most rewarding part. It’s always such a priceless moment when you see it go live, a feeling that I don’t think will ever leave me,” she concluded.
To stay up-to-date with Rathod’s work at Blink Inc., check out their website.
Top Photo: Rupa Rathod, Tom Colbourne and Steve Price working on Bastille Tour
We recently had a chance to catch up with Norwegian music producer Peder Etholm-Idsoee, and rock and roll power duo David Stewart Jr (vocals, bass, guitar) and Chava (drums, live loops) of the band Migrant Motel, for an interview on their collaboration and upcoming releases.
As a producer Peder draws upon a wide range of skills to help shape and co-create projects with the bands and artists he produces. A highly trained multi-instrumentalist and brilliant songwriter who’s known for his work on a lengthy repertoire of hits, such as Nico Farias’ single ‘Que Los Mares No Se Enteren,’ which took home the Song of the Year Award from the 2015 Latin Billboard Awards, Peder’s passion for experimentation and innovation has been key in the success of many artists.
As much as Peder brings a diverse range of influences into his work as a producer, so do the guys of Migrant Motel. With David Stewart Jr. coming from Peru, and Chava hailing from Mexico, they’re collaboration emits a heavy rock and roll sound that is made even more intriguing by the modern synths, musical arrangement and various cultural influences.
Released last year, Migrant Motel’s album “Volume One,” which Peder produced, offers everything from hard-hitting power ballads and wailing guitar solos through songs such as ‘Snapshot’ to more jazz and blues driven songs like ‘Bottleman.’ Likened to a modern version of Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way,’ their powerful single ‘New Religion’ appears on top Spotify rock playlists, such as Dirty Rock and New Noise. A strong and compelling first album that brings in elements of the old and the new, “Volume One” showcases the band’s musical range and magnetic energy, not to mention their potent lyrics.
While some artists can strike it big on their own, most artists who ‘make it,’ whether they’re in the art or music industry, having a visionary backing them like producer Peder Etholm-Idsoe. Someone who sees the bigger picture and acts as a force to ground, inspire and fuel the creative collaboration, makes a world of difference in an artist’s career, and that’s exactly what we see through this collaboration.
Thanks for joining us guys!
First, Peder can you tell us what you feel makes a great producer?
PE: The ability to be as versatile as possible. Always be open to new genres and experiment as much as possible outside of your own comfort zone of genres. It is easy to make the decisions that you are used to and you know come easy for you, which works of course for a while, but at one point you will plateau your own development and that’s a huge point with music for me, it is always developing.
When did you guys first start working together?
PE: We started or collaboration a little over two years ago now. I saw them play at a club back in Boston, Massachusetts and decided to approach them after their set to word my enthusiasm about the band, and that I would love to collab with them.
How did you know you were the right fit for one another as artist and producer?
MM: After working on one song, “Blue,” we realized the chemistry and final product was unlike anything we’d ever done before. We immediately signed him on for a full album and dove into work.
PE: I truly enjoyed the experience after the first song we did together. Working with raw talent like these guys is always a pleasure for a producer.
Would you say Peder had a pretty strong role in shaping the direction of ‘Volume One’?
MM: Absolutely! Without his help, I don’t think we would have the success that we’re having right now. He was quintessential in the development of our sound, look and vibe.
When did you guys sign with InGrooves and how did that come about?
MM: Our manager Marya Meyer knew of InGrooves for a while and when it was time to choose a distribution method, they seemed like an obvious choice. We met a few times and really enjoyed their energy and enthusiasm for our work, so we signed off on a 3 year deal with them. It’s been a great add to the team.
I hear you have some music videos coming out for two songs off the debut album ‘Volume One’– can you tell us about those?
MM: We have re-releases planned for “Bourbon” and “Physical,” a couple very fun videos for each. There’s still a lot of life in this album that we wanna make sure to explore before moving on to new material.
What other projects do you have planned for the coming months?
MM: We have 3 brand new singles already plotted out with Peder, all of which we are extremely excited about. We can’t wait to share and give more details in the coming months.
As their producer, what was the collaboration like on the new songs?
PE: One word. Fun! Since we are so used to too working together it makes the creative process really fluid. And we trust each other when someone wants to “take a risk” with a musical decision, because 99% of the time it really works out.
Can you guys tell us a little bit about the music videos you have coming out for these songs?
MM: It’ll be a wide range since the 3 songs are vastly different. One may or may not include some very RuPaul inspired themes however! We are working with Christian Klein, a cinematographer based in LA, and his team, and are in the midst of pre-production now.
When are they expected drop?
MM: Sometime mid winter
Peder, how do you fit into the mix when it comes to ideas and the process of creating the music videos for Migrant Motel?
PE: The guys usually bounces ideas during our sessions about music video ideas which makes the whole product really well thought out. It makes the whole project really coherent.
How has working with Peder changed the game for you guys as a band since you first began working together?
MM: Thanks to Peder’s contributions in a technical and artist aspect, we’ve reached almost half a million streams on Spotify, opened for bands like Journey and Cafe Tacuba, and are preparing to tour internationally this year. Working with Peder has ABSOLUTELY changed the game for us.
Why do you enjoy working together?
MM: Peder’s ability to be creative and artistic within his production is something I haven’t seen from anyone else. His fluidity on a technical level is astounding but, above all, the care and passion he brings to each second of every song is what we look for in a great producer.
PE: The natural talent and passion the guys are bringing to the table is a really amazing motivator to “bring your best” to every session, which makes the whole process really fun every time. Also that David and Chava are some of the nicest and caring people you will meet doesn’t hurt either.
Make sure to checkout Migrant Motel’s social media page to stay up to date with their new releases:
From being the songwriter on a long list of hit songs to producing tracks for well-known international artists, music producer Jason Strong has become a sought after force behind the scenes.
Tapped to work with artists on major labels such as Capitol Records, some of Strong’s most recognizable work includes producing the song ‘Que Los Mares No Se Enteren’ by Nico Farias, which earned the coveted award for Best Song of the Year from the 2015 Latin Billboard Music Awards and placed No. 1 on the Itunes Charts in Guatemala, and Capital Records’ artist Naïka’s hit single ‘Ride,’ which has been streamed nearly four million times on Spotify and placed No. 2 on the platform’s popular Global Viral & US Viral Chart. He’s also been a songwriter behind a plethora of tracks that have garnered viral fame, such as ‘Wrong’ by Far Out ft. Emilia Ali, Lauren Carnahan’s ‘Criminal,’ ‘No Conversion’ from Thoreau ft. MNYS, and many more.
So how did a 20-something from Johannesburg, South Africa make it in one of the world’s most competitive industries?
The powerful position Strong finds himself in today comes from a combination of the creativity, innovation and skill that he brings to the table, but even more valuable is his talent for producing and writing tracks that defy genre-imposed limits.
“I think the success of a producer in a day and age where technology drives such rapid changes in creative possibilities is determined by their ability to adapt,” says Strong. “My intention is to continually learn from different styles and take from different musical words to create a blend of elements that makes for something unique and interesting. I will however, always focus on making music that is accessible to the masses, i.e. popular music.”
Strong, who began playing music in his youth, earned extensive praise for his skill as a guitarist and songwriter back home in South Africa where he was named the winner of the VIEBZ Music Competition, as well as the First Prize winner for National Eisteddfod Academy in the Best Contemporary Instrumentalist category. Forming the band Vacant Sun, Strong found himself playing alongside South Africa’s most recognizable groups, including Crash Car Burn, DJ Roger Goode, Graeme Watkins Project and others. However, upon earning a scholarship as a songwriter and guitarist to attend Berklee School of Music in the states, his dream school, leaving the world of local fame behind was a no brainer. And it was there that he first discovered his love for working as a music producer for other artists.
“Sitting down with an unproduced song leaves an endless realm of possibilities. The idea that I could dig into that creation and make it into a million different versions to appeal to a million different types of people, all within the comfort of my bedroom was insane to me. I’ve also just always loved sound and having the tools at my fingertips to manipulate sound into the crazy things I imagine in my head, and having the ability to do that got me obsessed.”
Though the numerous songs he’s written and produced for popular artists around the world have gained major attention, the interesting thing when looking at all of his works combined is just how different each one is from the others.
Strong says,“I like to think my journey thus far is unique in that I come from a diverse musical background and have experienced and lived through different cultures with different interests and diverse forms of art, which all influence who I am today and what my taste is.”
‘Que Los Mares No Se Entheren,’ the award-winning song Strong produced alongside longtime collaborator Peder Etholm-Idsoee for Nico Farias, sticks out clearly from the rest with its blend of a classic Latin vibe and an old-school British sound.
With layered instruments reminiscent of popular tracks by The Beatles, the working process Strong and Etholm-Idsoee enlisted as producers, for Strong at least, was quite different than most of his previously produced tracks.
He explains, “I usually program drums electronically as most music does nowadays, but on Nico’s project every instrument was live and played by musicians simultaneously. We would record live drums with over 20 mics on the drum kit playing at the same time as the bass guitar into a recording console in a big studio.”
The success of the song not only speaks to Strong’s astonishing talent as a music producer, but even more vital, to his ability to adapt to the needs of the artists he produces for, which often means taking an alternative approach to the process than one is used to– but that’s how new pathways are created, and it’s one of the reasons he stands out.
“My goal is always to make something that is the perfect combination of familiar and unfamiliar. Unique and unfamiliar enough to catch the listener’s attention, but familiar enough to keep the listener engaged. I love sound and am always hitting the most random objects to see if there’s any sound I can record that will make listeners go ‘woah what was that?’ I think many producers are scared of thinking outside the box, but I try to live outside the box.”
Despite having achieved a rare level of success as a music producer, Strong continues to expand on his already impressive repertoire of work. One of his newest forays is into the world of film and television. Strong’s original composition ‘Loaded’ will be featured in the first episode of the highly anticipated premiere of the FOX Sports series “Phenoms,” which airs May 25 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.
Strong admits, “I’ve done a lot of sync work for social media platforms but in the realm of television this is my first, of many to come.”
A five-part global sports documentary series “Phenoms” depicts the journey of the world’s greatest soccer players as they prepare to represent their respective countries in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Created by award-winning storytellers including Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, Leo Pearlman, David Brooks and more, “Phenoms” gives viewers behind-the-scenes access to iconic players such as Dele Alli, Davinson Sanchez, Marco Asensio, Paulo Dybala, Gabriel Jesus, Ousmane Dembele, Adrien Rabiot, Leon Goretzka, Corentin Tolisso, Hirving Lozano and Marquinhos.
About the composition featured in the first episode, Strong says, “I aimed for something that was uptempo and danceable, with big and aggressive sounds to echo the high energy that you would experience when watching a great soccer game in a stadium.”
Much of what makes audiences remember scenes from a film or television series comes from the level of emotional attachment they develop from a combination of striking visuals and the music synced up to the unfolding story. Just as the music is key in eliciting emotional responses within viewers and effectively drawing them deeper into the story, it is vital for the composer to know when to hold back.
“Composing for film is humbling in that you have to learn to take a step back and let the visuals do the work. My job is to enhance a very sense stimulating experience, and to over stimulate multiple senses for the viewer is detrimental,” explains Strong.
“Knowing how to keep things simple and find ways to enhance the visual experience is key. This is similar to pop music in that I have to leave space for the song and vocals to speak, but at least in that case it’s only one sense being stimulated and the listener’s attention is less easily diverged.”
Approaching every project with intention, Jason Strong’s knowledge of how much to give and to hold back when it comes to the music he produces for other artists, as well as taking into account the medium the music is being used for is one of the reasons he’s been so successful at his craft as a producer. Make sure to keep your eyes and ears peeled for his work in the premiere episode of “Phenoms” on May 25. He also produced the album for Capital Records artist Naïka, which is due out later this year.
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