Name: ATB aka André Tanneberger
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current Release: ATB's new single "Like That", featuring Ben Samama, is available via Virgin.
If you enjoyed this interview with ATB and would like to stay up to date on his work, visit his official website for more information and updates. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
What was your first studio like?
I had my first studio in my childhood room in my parents' apartment. Back then I didn't have much space and if I wanted to work with someone else in the same room, you had to sit behind each other.
From my savings I bought a Commodore Amiga 500, the DAW Notator and I had 2 synthesizers, speakers and a mixer. That's how I started in the early 90s.
How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I got my first record deal in 1993. My brother knew someone who knew a producer who was already successful at that time (Thomas Kukula, project "Red 5"). My demo tape ended up with him, he liked it and we finished the song together in his studio. I invested the advance completely in new equipment, because it was my biggest dream to make music.
With growing success of my music, I have also always increased my equipment. The computers became faster and faster, I had more and more synthesizers and a really big studio with a huge console and a lot of outboard equipment like the Lexicon LX-480 and so on. At some point, even faster computers and virtual instruments and plugins made me move in the other direction. Today I work with a MacBook Pro, Presonus Studio One, many different plugins. Therefore, I have a studio actually downsized and my big mixer is in the basement.
Very important to me in my studio is the ambiance. I need a workplace that gives me a studio feeling. I couldn't work with just a laptop on my lap. My Presonus Faderport One is indispensable for me. Thanks to it, I have direct access to the channel just the way I did in the past with my mixer and can work with it much better than with the mouse. I also have 3 large displays so that I can see all the windows at the same time and do not have to constantly switch between windows. A fast workflow increases creativity.
The digital studio promises endless possibilities at every step of the process. What is it that you actually need from these potentials and how do go about you selecting it? How do you keep control over the wealth of options at the production stage?
That is a very good point.
There are plugins and possibilities in abundance. Here I make sure that I choose my favorites per category such as synthesizer, equalizer, compressor, reverb and delay from all the plugins that are available to me. I work with those. Sometimes an EQ is better suited for the quick processing of a single track, sometimes the other more for mastering. This way I have a selection of my favorite plugins and probably only use 10% of the ones I own. This way I keep the overview.
In the past, you didn't have 30 different reverb machines, but maybe only two. But you knew them so well that you could get the maximum out of them.
As far as new technologies are concerned, the increasingly detailed processing of audio material is something that makes the workflow much easier and also offers unimagined creative possibilities. Mostly I use tools that simply save time, like Melodyn, Re-Voice Pro. The integration of Melodyne into Studio One, for example, has been a huge help.
A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?
As mentioned in one of the previous questions: I don't get into a creative mood when I'm sitting in the kitchen with my laptop and headphones. I need the studio feeling! But it doesn't have to be a 100sqm control room, because that would be too uncomfortable again. I am currently building new studios with two friends. I have precise ideas about how they should be. Inspiring, with a great view, a really good sound and you just have to feel comfortable there.
How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? Using a recent piece as an example, how do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?
I see studio-technology primarily as a tool. The music is created in my head, not in the computer. I only transport my ideas from my head into the computer. And for that I need equipment that offers me that quickly, intuitively and qualitatively at the highest level. And if the tools I work with also catapult my creativity into unimagined realms, then that's even better.
For example, my last single YOUR LOVE (9PM) with Topic and A7S is a remake of my 90s hit "9PM (tilll I come). For the guitar sound I seriously turned on the original synthesizer from Kurzweil again, first had to renew the memory battery so that he can store the sounds at all. It was a total flashback to the old days. The fan of the device makes more noise than my entire studio.
And on the other hand, I've been working with all the modern technology, sending topic files back and forth via the cloud, editing vocals Alex wrote in a Zoom session with us. Of course it's all much faster than 20 years ago and that helped a lot with creativity here as well.
Despite the aforementioned near endless possibilities, many productions seem to follow conventional paths. How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?
For me, no explicit technology has emerged to achieve that element of surprise. I often try to do things differently than others and have always tried to create my own style. It's a mixture of my melodies and sounds that I use that just end up sounding like ATB.
For example, in the late 90's the pitchbend guitar became my trademark. Later on plucksounds and my way of writing melodies. And I like to work with unique voices that make a song even more distinctive and recognizable.
Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.
Sometimes I'll be working on a track, looking for a sound, and I'll play in something that I think is incredibly cool. But it doesn't fit the song I'm working on. There is the possibility in various DAWs to drag the recorded sound into the archive, so to speak. The midi or audio file including all plug-ins and settings. Then I have various subcategories such as basses, plucks, pads, chords, etc. to which I can then later access in another song again comfortably.
I always wished for that in the past, and nowadays it's almost standard.
Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?
On days when I'm not particularly creative, I sometimes get inspiration from a Chorder app. But that's also the only thing that comes into play now and then in the compositional process. Otherwise, I get inspired by sounds like back in the days the 9PM Guitar or sometimes vocals. The rest happens on its own. I just play in different melodies or harmonies and that's how I bring a song to life.
But a sound has to have something of its own. That's why the equipment is important here.
How important is it for you that you personally create or participate in the creation of every element of a piece – from sound synthesis via rhythm programming to mixing?
That is really very important for me. I often get to hear from fans that they always recognize my songs directly. That's probably the mixture of sounds, harmonies, melodies, but also the overall sound. And that's why I always want to be part of all the processes.
Only when it comes to lyrics I like to let native speakers do it. There I have thematic ideas that I bring in, but otherwise I like to let other songwriters do it. You have to know what you can do particularly well, but also what you can't do so well.
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Definitely, developments in technology have changed the way I make music. Especially the processing of audio material has evolved a lot, hardware has been replaced by software, and more possibilities always mean change. I no longer sit in front of a mixing console, but in front of several monitors.
The keyboard and mouse are now the number 1 tools of the trade, but in the end, like 25 years ago, a cursor runs from left to right across the screen (laughs).
To some, the advent of AI and 'intelligent' composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative process. Do you feel as though technology can develop a form of creativity itself? Is there possibly a sense of co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
In today's world, where people communicate less and less face to face due to digitalization and especially due to Corona, the tendency should actually go the other way. It will be the case that tools will be able to contribute more and more to compositions, but a real studio session with great conversations and a meal with a good bottle of wine afterwards, no AI can give me that.
Do you personally see a potential for deeper forms of Artificial Intelligence in your music?
I do believe that AI will accelerate and optimize some processes in the future. But I have developed my own sound over the years and many things happen intuitively and don't follow any rules.
I said 20 years ago that I would still like to make music in 20 years. And I say the same thing today ... I prefer to do the job myself.
What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?
I think the acceleration of the workflow can still be optimized. For example, online platforms like Splice could run in sync with my song in the DAW without loading the samples. So you could notice much faster if a loop fits with my song.
And a tool would certainly be worth another invention: when I write a song, I already have all the ingredients in my head and "only" have to record it and implement it in the computer, arrange, mix and master it. If a tool could take these steps away from me, I would certainly make a lot more music (laughs).