Name: Farhan Rehman
Occupation: DJ, producer, radio host
Current Release: Farhan Rehman's "Disco Segway" is out September 3rd 2021 via Dynamite Disco Club.
Equipment Recommendations: Loopcloud. The boss rc 505 loop station.
If you enjoyed this interview with Farhan Rehman and would like to stay up to date on his work, visit his profiles on Facebook, Instagram, twitter, and Soundcloud.
What was your first studio like?
My first studio set up was fairly basic - an Acer laptop and Fruity loops 3.4 which, as well we all know, was later rebranded to FL studio.
I was aware of software like Acid Pro at that point of time but had no idea about the scale of possibilities that a laptop and software could offer until I stumbled upon it. As rudimentary as it was, a majority of my learning curve comes from it and I can speak on behalf of a lot of producers today that the simple step sequencer in Fruity Loops was a game changer at that time and popularised beat making and computer generated music for a lot of amateurs like myself.
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?
What I do is 100% in the box.
But having said that, with time my process of making music has become more intuitive and instrumental. So I always have my digital piano next to me while starting something which I also use to trigger MIDI, the feel of the weighted keys is something that makes it feel as real as playing on a piano - something I use to stay inspired .
So I’d say gear wise, it’s my Yamaha digital piano.
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?
The more time you spend on making music, over the course of months and years, you tend to have a peculiar selection of sounds a.k.a your signature sound. What we need is to keep our sound banks and other preferences handy so you can get going as soon creativity strikes. Because auditioning each and every sound can be time consuming and take away from the creative feeling.
The best way to keep control over them is maybe the stoic way. We have to be mindful and not overwhelm ourselves with a large number of VSTs that are out there in the market. It’s always better to stick to a few of your favourite plugins and learn to tweak them. This will help you with two things - One is that you know your plugins better, and the other is that you learn the art of layering. Depth is more important than breadth.
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?
While I’m completely dependent on the former, I’d love to be in a multi -room studio facility as it can be a haven to some really inspiring musical possibilities.
I would love to get like minded musicians together and record something or maybe even just jam with them! The scope of exchanging ideas, experiences and the joy of making music together is something that can't really be paralleled.
From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customised devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces? What role does the tactile element play in your production process?
For the kind of music that I’ve been making lately - i.e the soulful, funky house and disco stuff - I always begin with a nice groove or a hook and then harmonise it.
So for me the keys are a must, but I kinda like to do it the old school way. I want the feel of the weighted keys when I’m playing as it helps me express myself better. I then also improvise a top melody or maybe some nice bluesy lick on top of it. So at the moment my most essential instrument is my digital piano itself.
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 work with audio often so I like to start with a nice percussion loop, or a vocal hook or anything that’s catchy and then build around it. Of late I’ve been spending a lot of time on the new Loopcloud, where you can search sounds based on genre, instruments and key.
My recent track “Disco Segway” is an example, I wanted to make something that had the authenticity of the classic disco era so I found tremolo strings and worked my way around it. It helped me create a perception as though the track was recorded by an ensemble.
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.
One simple and obvious way is to hum your ideas into your phone. If I’m next to the piano, I would play out the hook that’s on my mind and record it. Then I verbally narrate the other details of the idea that’s in my head.
For example I’d say the bassline is an acid bassline that sounds a certain way from a reference track, and how the character of the kick is, which preset from my bank I could use for the lead. So the core of my idea is literally on an audio recording on my phone and then I just need to bring it together in my DAW.
In the future I want to take it a step further and transcribe it into a music sheet as well - ideas for taking my music and performing it live with a band.
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?
My core belief is that it’s the process of songwriting that makes music truly unique. How well is the vocal / melody harmonised? Is the hook catchy? How effective is the arrangement? Storytelling can be the ultimate form of bringing surprise to your music.
We can combine our art and create amazing possibilities with our weapons of choice. One popular example would be Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy”. There’s not a lot of complexity going on but all elements were used in a very clever way.
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?
That completely depends on the idea. Sometimes I would just throw in drums samples in Loop cloud and then play around with its audio editor to come up with something interesting. An inspiration then can also be triggered by a funky lead sound or an arpeggiated preset or triggering samples.
When outside the studio, sometimes inspiration can strike while watching a movie. In that case, I hum the idea in my phone’s recorder or if Im next to my piano, I play and record the hook that’s on my mind. This way I can go to the studio and have something to start with.
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?
I’m involved in every process except for mastering, which I will eventually get into. From a sound design point of view, most of the times I take a preset of my liking and then tweak or layer it.
The mix-down is something I love doing more than the process of making music sometimes. I absolutely love the art of EQ & Compression. But that said, it’s important to not dwell too much on the technical aspect, as it can take away from the joy of making music.
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Been using the new Loopcloud extensively to audition a lot of samples and make a basic groove out of it. It’s like a little DAW in itself where you can add effects like reverb, delay or compressor to each audio file while also edit it. It’s very handy and time saving.
But what’s really changed my approach in a profound sense is the concept of voicing. If we do it right we can get a lot more with a lot less.
To some, the advent of AI and 'intelligent' composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative provess. 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?
I think AI can be a great studio helper or an enabler in creativity. Just like how we have them integrated in our emails - predictive text, auto suggestions etc. They save time and help fix human errors. Similarly AI could be a useful assistant in fixing your harmony, spotting an inessential frequency that’s making your mix muddy.
I’m not too sure on co - authorship though. AI can be instrumental in creating abstract patterns of sounds for sure. But in the end, I’d rather want to hear the “Moon light Sonata” played by a Human than an AI.
Do you personally see a potential for deeper forms of Artifical Intelligence in your music?
I think that’s already happening. Where I want to see AI is in facilitating your creativity by taking care of the “menial” jobs of the production / mixing aspect.
One example would be what my friend Stalvart John mentioned to me - which is the Izotope Neutron Advanced. How that works essentially is like your little audio assistant that listens to your track and suggests settings for EQ, compression and helps you fix frequency buildup in your mix.
In a time where the artist has to keep up with the algorithm’s demands to putting music out more frequently, this comes across as a great time saving utility.
What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?
I personally want to see a tool that can make learning instruments a lot easier, especially for beginners. Knowing how to play an instrument even as an amateur can have massive impact on your creativity.