Check out the video above to watch our In The Studio with Eddie Thoneick. Eddie explains the making of his tracks Stronger and Live Your Live, made in collaboration with superstar DJ Erick Morillo. Then read below for some highlights from our interview with Eddie at his studio in March 2011.
He rose to fame in 2006, when his rework of the classic Love Sensation with Kurd Maverick became a club smash. Since then, he's remixed huge names, played enormous, sell-out worldwide DJ sets. You might know him as the collaborator alongside Erick Morrillo and Shawnee Taylor for their hooky House anthems, Live Your Life and Stronger.
The German-born producer isn't your average DJ turned producer though – he's a classically- trained musician, playing piano, jazz guitar, drums and has been known to lay down his own vocals. With a studio based in the attic of his Düsseldorf apartment, Thoneick produces mainly in-the-box using a selection of virtual instruments with Cubase at the heart of the setup. We were kindly invited over to find out more about his production methods and spend the day in Eddie's studio.
It was with a raised eyebrow FM learned that Eddie Thoneick is still a practicing dentist and hasn't yet committed seven days a week to his role in music, despite his success and continued work alongside Dance music mogul Erick Morillo. Could Eddie Thoneick really be in Germany taking out your wisdom teeth the Monday morning after a sell-out DJ set in front of thousands of people? Alongside discovering his studio secrets and production techniques it was time to get to the root of it all...
You're quite the piano player – are we right in thinking this was one of the reasons you didn't end up a full-time dentist?
"Well, I wasn't thinking about being a dentist when I was four [laughs]. I had piano lessons from the age of four to the age of 16, but I quit because I got a new teacher who was from the Church and made me play all these boring Folk music songs. The most important thing that got me into production was the DJing. When I was 14 and 15 House music had just started to grow in Germany, but was still underground.
"I still practise dentistry two days a week. In fact, when Love Sensation came out, I was still doing my dentistry exams."
"I went to a club and saw the DJ playing and everyone dancing to the music and I just knew that I wanted to have a go at that. So I managed to get hold of some turntables from a friend of mine and practised. I started to enter DJ contests and won a few and began to play often in the local area. After a while I got an Atari ST, MIDI keyboard and an Akai sampler."
Was it easier to make your first tracks because of your musical knowledge?
"Yeah, because I had the musical background I knew about harmony and arrangement, but it took about six years before I really started to focus on actual ideas. At first I had so many ideas and just tried to put them all into the same track, which obviously never works."
Were you in bands?
When did the production ideas turn in to something you thought was working?
"Around 2002 I started to work with Egoïste Records in Switzerland and DJ Antoine and he wanted some remixes. So I was doing about five or six remixes a year for him. It was during the time of the funky bassline stuff like Kid Crème and Junior Jack style. Then I had the idea of doing a version of Love Sensation because I was a collector of all this stuff."
What was that like, when everything fell in to place?
"I was hoping for it to all work out like this, but when I look at where I am now, I could have never imagined getting this far."
Were you still studying?
"Yes, in fact when Love Sensation came out, I was still doing my dentistry exams."
What kept you pushing with the studies, because most people would have considered the amount of success you'd had with Love Sensation to be the start of something big. Were you still worried it wasn't going to work out?
"Well I was objective because I've seen a few DJs rise pretty fast and seem like they were going to have a long career, before fading away pretty fast. Then they end up in a regular job because they didn't have any education. So the dentistry was just my backup. I will always make and write music, but you don't always know if that guarantees a living."
"I always start with beats and getting a good loop going before reaching for the piano and working up ideas for melodies and chords that way."
Are you still practising as a dentist?
"Yes I am, I actually still do two days a week. It's a family-owned practice so I can do the part-time work. I'm really professional though, this isn't a joke, there's no House music playing, I'm wearing whites and it's all very serious. I actually specialised in aesthetics..." [At this point, Eddie takes a look at my teeth and recommends some procedures, before getting back on topic...]
Anyway... Have you always used Cubase and did you learn to mix with it?
"I learned on Cubase with the Atari, but I switched to PC after about a year. At this time I wasn't educated in mixing, I guess I just referred to other tracks and tried to make something that sounded like that, but I really had no idea how they did it."
Do you think you'll ever go back to more hardware?
"I've been working with ATB's engineer from time-to-time and learning some tricks from him. He told me that with all the plug-ins and software I have right now, there is no need to reinvest in any expensive hardware. I know some people swear by the sound of analogue and of hardware in general, claiming it's warmer, but at the end of the day, the general music consumer doesn't hear it. That said, when I get to the position of building my own house, I'll probably invest in a proper vocal booth and some sort of small studio setup for proper recording of pianos and real instruments."
What about for vocals?
"Balancing up things like the vocal is getting easier because the vocals that are delivered for remixes are definitely produced better."
What would your advice be for people who are learning to mix?
"Everybody goes through that phase where you don't really know what you are doing with mixing. I had the same and it was really a fluke that I got it right for Love Sensation. One tip would be just to keep things simple and listen as you work so you really train your ears from the start of the track."
What about arrangements?
"Again keep things simple and use the formula."
Do you think that arrangement formula will ever change for the big House tracks?
"Well, it's been like that for a long time and it works. Even the Pop songs have a similar arrangement and the radio mixes of Dance tracks also follow this Pop arrangement. It's all about creating a climax for the people in the club. But those moments can be dangerous, as the breakdown can turn from the part when everyone's hands are in the air to the part when people just stop dancing."
Who did you take your inspiration from with the big breakdown arrangements?
"I'm a climax guy so I think Axwell is probably up there as one of the best producers ever. He's the guy that really brought that Swedish sound to where it is now. He's always made these big anthemic tracks – tracks for the ladies and that's what it's all about, right?" [laughs]
Is it worth giving tracks away for free?
"Well that's what a lot of people like Avici did – getting known for bootlegs and getting people's attention that way can be worth it. I think it's a mixed bag with the internet, because it is such a huge promotional tool too. I release my bootlegs online after a month or so after I've used them, recently my bootleg of Sweet Dreams and Sweet Disposition got picked up by everybody, so it's a great platform to get your name out.
"Be careful though, because it could also ruin your chances of getting the track released. Realistically though, it's usually better to get known and raise your DJ fees rather than earn 100 Euros from selling a record."
Is it depressing earning so little selling a record you spent so much time working on?
"It's only depressing if you don't see an eventual rise in your DJing fee."
Is that up to your management to decide?
"Yeah, something like that..."
So your management works very closely with you?
"Yeah, but they know everything anyway. Even when I go to the toilet." [laughs]
Any tips to breakthrough?
"It's more difficult that ever for new people to rise. Everyone can get the software, there are tons of young nerds that are able to spend time trying all of the freeware and software that is out there. There are endless possibilities now, most of it for free and this means there is more music than ever, even though most of it is crap. To rise up above all this crap is very difficult."
If you do manage to rise up then how do you keep that going?
"You always have to be working on the next thing. It would be easy to have a successful record and then ride it with DJing and not get the next record ready. The producing and studio side is much more import than DJing because you have to get tracks out that the people like to get your DJ bookings. Most big DJs don't produce themselves, but I'm pleased that I can make my own records and play them out in the club, testing them to see crowd reactions. You don't earn so much from the Dance music releases unless you cross over like the Swedish House Mafia or David Guetta, though it took both of those acts a long time to get where they are now. But I'm sure their DJ fees are huge because of it.
"Back in the day it was the other way around because people had to buy the vinyl to get the record. Now, because everything is ripped online that income has changed. For me, the balance is there with the overall income."
What about the balance in your life?
"It's pretty rough to be honest, I have no balance at the moment. It's important to have trust in your manager and the people around you. For instance, the social networking side of things is very important to let the people know what you're up to, but I'm working seven days a week, including travelling when DJing, the dental practice, radio shows et cetera. I love it, but the problem is that all the stress of that is leaving me with writers block in the studio. It drives me crazy."
What's your process for writing, when you do get the chance?
"I always start with beats and getting a good loop going before reaching for the piano and working up ideas for melodies and chords that way. I like to find what works musically before I start changing any of the sounds. I love searching for synth sounds and getting new libraries for my plug-ins and finding the sound that is close before tweaking it to work with the track."
Is it hard to just listen to music and enjoy it the more work you take on?
"I'm actually a really big Indie and Alternative guy so I don't really listen to Electronic music in the car on in my spare time. I really love The National at the moment and The Editors, I go to gigs when I can and this type of music was really my first love. So if I'm at home, I'll generally be listening to this type of Indie Rock."