Nicky Romero catapulted to success in 2012 after the thumping electro-house melodies of "Toulouse" turned a generation of EDM fans on to this imaginative producer. Romero went on to collaborate with the late Avicii on the astronomically successful "I Could Be The One", scoring a No 1 in the UK, Poland and Hungary, before storming the charts in virtually every other European country.
Fast track to 2021, and Nicky Romero is a veritable EDM superstar, making annual appearances in DJ Mag's poll of the world's top 100 DJs and continuing to record and release neon-bright big-room house and EDM. Following the release of his latest single, Acid Is My DNA, we caught up with Romero to hear about his approach to music production and advice for music makers, while taking a look around his impressive Dutch studio space. Aspiring EDM producers, take note.
How and when did you first get into making music?
“I’ve been into music since I was a little kid. My dad used to play the drums, and that’s how I started as well. It basically all started in my bedroom where I was sitting nearly every day to make music. Some people said that I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I think I might have proved them wrong [laughs].”
What gear were you using when you started?
“Just FL Studio with basic monitor speakers, especially in the beginning of making music, the gear you have doesn't really matter. As long as you have a DAW that you feel comfortable with. More gear just makes it complicated, and it’s just about putting in hours to develop your skill set.”
How does that compare to now - could you talk us through your current studio set-up?
“Now my studio has all the equipment I love. I just bought new speakers (PMC XBD-MB2) and I absolutely love them. Also I have a wide range of hardware synthesizers which I use a lot in my alter ego Monocule for deeper sounds!”
How has your approach to music-making changed over the years - what have you learnt from spending over a decade as a successful EDM artist?
“Go with the flow! Make the music you feel that day or week and don’t try to push your creativity in a different direction as the outcome will not be what you are looking for.”
“Besides that I always try to lay down the fundamentals of the song, and make sure all the ingredients (melodies, chords, arrangement etc) are in there and worry about the sound design and mix at a later stage.”
Could you talk us through five of your most used plugins - what’s great about them, what you use them for, etc…
Kickstart: “My own plugin, it’s just so easy to use for sidechaining and the results are great! We are currently working on Kickstart 2 which will have some new features that are going to make a huge difference.”
UAD: “This is a piece of software that runs on a hardware device which gives it a little more power, there are a lot of A-brands’ hardware pieces (Moog, Neve, Manley, Avalon etc) that they have recreated into software and they sound incredible. My go to bundle from there would be the Precision bundle, as it’s great for mastering!”
Fabfilter: “Just really high-quality plugins, the Pro-Q 3 Equalizer is just my go to EQ, sounds really clean and has some really handy visual features.”
Mastering The Mix Reference: “This is a great tool when you are mixing and mastering your song, you can quickly import audio files from your favorite artist to A/B with your song and compare sound-wise, you can also see where the difference is frequency-wise.”
What DAW are you using, and why did you choose it?
Are there one or two pieces of gear - instruments, synths, effects - that were fundamental to the making of your latest track?
“For my latest track Acid Is My DNA, which is more of a techy club track, I used my hardware synthesizers to get that real acid sound! Also in the mixing stage I used the Crane Song STC-8 to get that tight low end that really gets the club shaking!”
Could you talk us through a few influences - musical or otherwise - behind this latest track?
“Acid Is My DNA is inspired by one of my older tracks, Generation 303. I wanted to combine a more tech house feeling with a little touch of acid.”
Did you mix and master the song yourself?
“I always make a mix/master myself to test out the records in the club, for me this is the best way to feel if the track is there where I want it to be. Once I feel it’s right, I send over the stems to Niels from Instigate Studios to do the final mix and master!”
How do you usually start a track?
“Usually I have a melody in my head that I try to work out further on the piano, make the melody catchy and create chords around it. But it can be a little bit different every time, sometimes we have a vocal we can play around with and build the track around it!”
Conversely, how do you know when something’s finished?
“You never know really, but I always test out my records in the clubs. There I have a good feeling if the track has the right energy, if the arrangement is telling the story and not losing energy. Once it works well in the clubs I know it's finished for release.”
Have you undertaken any production work for other artists this year?
“I've been focused on my own productions either as Nicky Romero or my alias with deeper sounds, Monocule.”
If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
“Michael Jackson, for me he is one of a kind, and in a league of his own. Such an entertainer with his dance moves and stage appearances. His music was magical and continues to set boundaries for artists to this day.”
What are your top three pieces of advice for young producers trying to make it in 2021?
“When you’re still not sure about your own sound, just go ahead and produce a whole bunch of tracks. Compare them with each other and try to note all pros and cons. Imitating others will not work out if you’re in this stage of your career. You’ll have to put a lot of effort in trying to find your sound, so you can move on and produce your tracks.”
“Don’t be afraid to ignore the ‘standard’ producer rules. There are so many songs where the normal music theory hasn’t been used, but absolutely blows the roof off in a club.”
“Don’t push yourself if you’re stuck with a project. Just go ahead and do something else because pushing yourself will never get you the result you wanted.”
What’s next for you now that the new single has been released?
“A lot. We’ve got lots of music in the making, and it’s also very exciting for me to create new types of sounds under my alias Monocule. I’m also super happy to be able to tour again and can’t wait to play at stages like Ultra Miami in March! Protocol Recordings’ ten-year anniversary is coming up next year as well so it’s for sure you can expect some special things.”