Transcribed by Kirsten Roussel
As we posed to take a snap with the promotional poster from KSHMR’s late night set at Big Night Live, a voice echoed down the stairs by the coat room. “What are you weirdos doing?” shouted KSHMR, with humour in his tone. Three hours earlier fellow Berklee DJ/Producer Jay Prakash and I had sat down to chat with the top 100 listed DJ (five years running in the top 20), producer and entrepreneur, Niles Hollowell-Dhar, better known as KSHMR. After, we snapped a selfie with the man himself, so our rushed enthusiasm to snag one last (albeit fake!) selfie was simply testament to the overwhelmingly awesome evening we’d had. Weirdos? Definitely.
He launched his label ‘Dharma Worldwide’ in 2017 which boasts a fantastic collection of weekly releases, tutorials regarding production, plus sound packs, templates and the golden opportunity to submit your own music for the chance to release on his label. Something you don’t want to miss out on.
Read on to hear the ins and outs of our backstage interview!
Do you have a way of searching for or organising your songs on the fly during your DJ sets?
Well, DJing isn’t a huge part of what I do. I’m mainly a producer, so by the time I actually get on stage, I know in what order I’m going to play everything. I have the option to change something on the fly if I want to, but it’s very organized. I’m just playing track to track and mixing in tracks I already know are in the right key and work well together. When it comes to producing, I’m extremely organized. All my samples, my projects and everything else are meticulously organized, because there’s so much to juggle.
How do you stay so organized?
When it comes to organizing my projects and samples, it’s just like you might expect. The projects are sorted by the artist I’m collaborating with, or if they’re my own songs, they’re sorted by numbers, for example, KSHMR 9, KSHMR 11, etc. With other things, I try to organise by category so that the compressors go with compressors, but also so it fits with things I may not always look at. I use it to train my brain to open things it might not normally open. I try to organize things in such a way that attracts my eye to try new thing out. For instance, if I get another special plug-in, and I know I want to use it later on, then I know that my routine will be to open up what I’m used to using. So I’ll put it in the same area to trick my brain into thinking ‘Oh, why don’t I use that one?’ and not forget about using it.
What’s the story behind the lights and production elements of your set?
Before KSHMR, I was in this group called The Cataracs, which was a huge learning process. We started out with nothing, I mean, we were just in our bedrooms. We started putting shows together, planning visuals and such, and then The Cataracs disbanded. Then I had the idea to start KSHMR, and I wanted things to be different. I had a good idea of what worked and what didn’t work, so for the first year of KSHMR, I didn’t play any shows or put my face out. I didn’t want there to be any confusion with The Cataracs, and in that time, I really carefully prepared the world around KSHMR. Before I performed, I wanted to make sure a lot of music had been dropped so when I did perform, it would all be original music. I wouldn’t just be playing with other people's hits. Having all that time not performing meant that when I did go to perform, it was something special that was a reflection of what I wanted to be done with KSHMR: to bring a new world and the idea of having a storyline.
So now I have this animated story, which I think is part and parcel of the whole picture of being cinematic in my story-telling. At the beginning of the show, there’s the beginning of the story, and then the final song is intertwined with the climax of the story, so, in my opinion, it’s a really strong reason to make you want to stick around from beginning to end. That idea really stuck with me, so I decided to go out on a limb and try to execute it the best I could.
Was there something that inspired your desire to story-tell?
The whole idea of storytelling through music is what inspired me. I wanted the videos to tell a story, I wanted the music to feel like a story, and with the show, I felt like I would be doing myself a disservice to not have anything special. And the first idea that came to me was storytelling. When you have some kind of vision that’s even just one track, that can blossom into a lot of ideas later. Especially in terms of what you say no to. Like, no - I don’t want just a cool logo that moves around. It should live up to the music. And the music started from a storytelling idea, so everything snowballed after that point.
How did you get into music in the first place?
Back in the day, I was a huge nerd. I was on the computer, making little games in flash, and I needed music to go with them. So I would take loops and use them for my games, and then I’d put two loops over each other and I think, ‘Wow, now I’ve made a song!’ After that, I started to get curious, and downloaded Sony Acid to start putting loops together. That was the basis of it at first, and then I got really into hip-hop, and started producing that almost exclusively. Then people would come over to my house in high school and I’d produce for them. I rapped back then too. Having a lot of guys stand over my shoulder while I made beats taught me how to make things and get them sounding enjoyable to an audience really quickly.
Do you have a specific place that you start when writing music?
Every time you think you have it figured out, you have to reinvent, but oftentimes, you start with a sound that perks your ear up. Hopefully, you can write a melody with it, because if you don’t have melody, you don’t have much. So you try to write an interesting melody, and in some cases, it doesn’t have to be super remarkable, but you can add a beat to get a finished product. The best can be more of a stylistic thing, whilst the melody can be modest. A lot of Drake’s beats are like that. There’s barely a melody, and instead it’s almost like an improv over a beat. In EDM, the melody is everything because you don’t have a rapper or a singer to give you the hook. You are the hook. That’s where you end up spending a lot of your time in EDM, (on melody) because it has to hold down the entire song.
What’s your advice for aspiring DJs and producers?
My advice would be to not worry about DJing, as I don’t think it’s the most important thing. I think that you should really focus on producing as DJing is your way of performing your music. In terms of producing, I think it helps a lot to study what’s out there and try to emulate it. When you get good at emulating and trying out different styles, then you how you want to do it for yourself.
Try to tell your story. At first, it’s really hard to have the confidence to want to do anything different, but if you keep working on it long enough, you’ll just get so bored of copying others that you’ll start to step into your own sound. Then you can start to think about what’s out there right now and what’s missing, and what could you add that no one’s ever seen. That’s the best place to start, I think. Look at music now, and think about what people would really like but they’re just not getting.
How do you #getinthegroove?
Buckling down, working hard, and showing up at every opportunity. Then you score a couple of touch-downs, and you know what it feels like to score a touch-down, and your confidence goes up. Then you can start behaving like someone with confidence. At first, it’s a lot of being hungry and not saying no to anything. In the long run, that’s not a great game plan, but in the beginning, just to get your chops, say yes to everything. There will always be people better than you, but if you just stay on the treadmill, opportunities will come to you.
Follow KSHMR HERE