Sam Feldt Talks Years & Years, Branding, Dinosaurs [Interview]
The modern explosion of electronic music, largely stemming from the United States and moving globally to Asia, South America and Africa has made stars quickly of Djs and producers who had been toiling for meager to no wages in their bedrooms making tracks and DJing their local bars. 2015 has also seen the flattening of electronic music as more fans start to spread out beyond a few select sounds and a diversification beyond a few select subgenres. One of the more popular in the past 12-24 months has been melodic house or tropical house, with artists like Robin Schulz, EDX, Kygo, Felix Jaehn, Thomas Jack and Sam Feldt all helping to bring that sound to a wider audience.
On the outside looking in, Feldt's rise to prominence as a world touring DJ, producer with tracks signed to the largest independent dance label in the world Spinnin' Records and Universal, as well as performing as festivals like Electric Zoo, Mysteryland, TomorrowWorld and Dreambeach has been meteoric. But upon further examination there has been a lot of work over the past several years to get things where they are today.
He started making music under a different moniker and has been DJing since he was around 11 or 12. He went to school for marketing and started his own web design company, which he uses the lessons learned from those experiences today with building his brand as an artist.
We had a chance to catch up with Feldt after his set at Electric Zoo to go back to dive a little deeper into his beginnings, discuss the battle of producing on the road, how educational and vocational background still is helping today and dinosaurs. Read on to learn more about the Dutchman.
Music Times: Your first gig was when you were twelve, correct?
Sam Feldt: Around that time yeah, I was like 11 or 12.
MT: What was the gig? Who'd you do it for?
SF: I don't remember specifically my first because I was doing a lot of different parties. It was a lot of children's parties for like my friends. When they had a birthday I would come set up, bring my speakers and play for some of my friends. I don't know which the first one was but they were all the same basically.
MT: When did you decide to change from your previous moniker to Sam Feldt?
SF: That was around two years ago. So yeah between the Drive in Show and starting off DJing again I think around five years. So when I was 17 I started off again under a different name playing like electro house, commercial EDM stuff. Went really well played a lot cool of gigs but after a while I just found that I wasn't feeling it anymore. I really liked the fact that I could DJ and make people dance but I didn't really feel the music I was playing. So that's when I thought, I was going to try start up something else on the side and it was Sam Feldt. I didn't expect to ever get a gig as Sam Feldt or sign the track. it was just like my personal thing that ended up getting bigger than what I am before.
MT: Since you started as a DJ was it difficult moving to producing?
SF: At the beginning it was because I wasn't feeling the music that I was playing so I also really didn't like producing it. So when I switched to Sam Feldt it became a lot easier because when your heart is into it and you really feel the music that you're making and playing it's also a lot of fun and when something is fun something becomes easy. And I didn't have a lot of experience and I made my first track "Alien" with Fruity Loops. I sent it to Spinnin' Records after half a year, but I thought Spinnin' would never sign me because it was my first real track and it's also not EDM. So then a friend of mine convinced me to send it over and they really liked it so that's how I got signed.
MT: How many tracks did you make before you had your first signed track?
SF: I cannot give you the track number but I think I started amateur producing around 30. I used to do a lot of hardstyle, hardcore, jumpstyle, which were pretty popular back then. So there were all these songs but I just never really got around to finishing a track or really got to that level where I want to release it. Maybe even fifty projects.
MT: You have two collabs with The Him. What's made that so special?
SF: Well I stumbled upon The Him through the remix for Dotan, who is not known here, but is a really big folk singer in Holland and also in Belgium. So they made a remix of a popular track of his called "Home" and I just heard it on SoundCloud and I was like "oh this is unique this is cool with strong piano chords I want to work with this guy." I just send him a message and we ended up meeting the week after. We got into the studio and the first collab "Midnight Hearts" did really well. Then we ended up doing another one.
MT: I guess so you've done a lot of remixes lately is there a reason why you've been doing more remixes than originals?
SF: There's one reason and that is that once you get a track signed to a big label like "Show Me Love" is signed to Universal right now, they kind of restrict what you can and cannot release and how fast you do it. You can't go to a radio station and say "Hey Sam Feldt has a hit called 'Show Me Love,'" but also one week later he has another one and another one. They're going to be confused and not play any of them. So you have to spread it out have at least half a year between all your singles. But it doesn't count for remixes. I can still put out remixes because it's just for the club, SoundCloud or Spotify. I'm not aiming for the radio with these remixes that's how I can still put out new music without being limited to this strict release schedule.
MT: How many requests do you get?
SF: To be honest I don't know because it all goes through my management and they filter a lot so I only get the best ones they think I should do. I think around management approved ones I get two a month. A lot of times I choose one so I try to do/finish one track and one remix per month. Especially when I'm back home I try to do that when you're on tour it's sometimes hard.
MT: Do you struggle producing on the road?
SF: Yeah, it's a b*tch. You're not in the mood, you're tired, you don't sleep, your ears are ringing, and you're in an airplane. I can't think of a worse situation to be in to produce music. So yeah like a lot of my tracks get produced back home. Sometimes I work on ideas when in the hotel room when I have a couple days off, but still I finish them back home.
MT: Where do you get the inspiration for the speeches in your mixes that you have on SoundCloud?
SF: The music is mostly from just browsing and just finding a lot of great artists. I always try to find a quote or a speech that is kind of relevant to what I'm going through or maybe someone else in my close environment is going through. There is a reason behind the speeches and quotes I choose. I just think if they can be helpful for me or someone else in that moment they can be helpful for more people and that's why I put them.
MT: You owned your own web design company, what did you learn from that that you can apply to now?
SF: I think the same thing as with my education. I finished my university degree in marketing and sales and I think it's really important when you're an artist, your brand is really important. So to be able to you know visually design your own brand instead of someone else doing it then it enables you to make sure that everything you put out is exactly what you want to put out. Not only in terms of style but also kind of feelings you want to express with your brand. That's kind of what I've learned and I'm really glad I'm able to do it myself.
MT: How are you shaping your own brand now?
SF: It's mostly on a subconscious level because I'm not thinking about my brand every day. Sam Feldt just started off as my personal thing. I really like this music it's not like I'm doing it for this brand. I really like the speeches it's just genuine like otherwise I would have continued with my other alias. So I think it just shapes itself like at the moment of course it's important to have a recognizable logo with your websites and socials.
MT: You gave tours of a dinosaur museum when you were younger.
SF: Yeah that is true.
MT: What is your favorite dinosaur?
SF: That's a good one. If you would have asked me that back then I would easily be able to answer that question. I really don't know. I can think of one and name it, but I don't have a favorite dinosaur anymore. I think that just went away over the years.
MT: What do you have coming up?
SF: I just released my track with The Him called "Drive You Home." It's going to be released on iTunes and Spotify through Universal, so it's going to be pushed through the radio so you're going to hear that a lot. I finished two remixes for Years and Years for their new single "Shine" and "Eyes Closed." It's going to be a remix EP or something. I just did a new track with Jasmine Thompson I play it in my live set. It's a bit more up tempo but she has a really cool voice and it's a bit clubbier. I'm just working on a lot of new stuff that you know could take a couple more months to get released. So I'm going to make you happy with some stuff that's going to come out really soon.