Flume: ARIA producer of the year 2013

Inspiration matters more than gear to fast-rising star Flume
Inspiration matters more than gear to fast-rising star Flume (Image credit: Wilk)

PRODUCTION EXPO 2013: With a worldwide hit album, countless floor-filling remixes and Australia's prodigious ARIA Producer of The Year 2013 award to his name, who better than Harley Edward Streten, aka Flume, to shed light on the advantages of portable music production and keeping it all in the box.

What initially attracted you to producing music?

"I guess music's always something that's interested me, especially electronic music. The story of me getting a basic production disc in my cereal box when I was younger is all over the internet. I think I've told that ten times already today!

"Music became my hobby from an early age. I guess I just got lucky as, within the last couple of years, it's actually become something I can support myself with and make a comfortable living off."

Were you always Flume?

"I've always made music but I didn't really put it up anywhere, other than some bits and pieces on MySpace. It was never really anything serious. I was writing a lot of music but I was never quite happy with it until a little further down the track when I did some dance tracks for Ministry of Sound.

"Flume was initially my side project for my weirder stuff, but as it happens that was the one that took off right after Sleepless [released August 2011] came out."

Listen to Flume's Sleepless featuring Jezzabell Doran:

How do you start a new track?

"I like to have a concept before I start writing. Often I do go in blind and try and write something, but sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't. If I already have an idea, that's usually when the best stuff happens; if I've heard a track and maybe they [artist] did something I've never heard down before, I'll try and emulate that and do something new with it.

"I have an EP coming out soon with my friend, Chet Faker, and we tried having concepts for each song. Oo one of them, the idea was to make all drum samples lo-fi and dodgy-sounding. The bass guitar was just the cheapest, tiniest bass we could find and the vocals we recorded through a $30 microphone we got free with a VCR player.

"The track has an indie/lo-fi vibe then, near the end, it builds into a hi-fi sound sample with the biggest kick drums I have and this huge synth. [faker's] vocals open up and he sings at the end too. That contrast was the concept we aimed for. I usually like to have some idea in mind before I write a song."

What studio tools do you use?

"I don't have much hardware stuff as I try to keep everything inside the box. Now I've moved into my new studio, I'm going to be buying some bits of kit but I generally like to be self-sufficient to the point where I can travel around the world with my laptop.

"I like being able to do that, and the more hardware equipment I buy the more I find I need to be in a studio to write. Because I'm on the road so much, it kinda makes sense to keep it simple with just the laptop. It doesn't really matter what I have - it's the inspiration that matters.

"I use Sylenth, one compressor, Ableton Live and its basic effects. I like to keep it super simple. It's actually pretty boring but it works for me and it keeps me making music."

"When staying in hostels, I would sleep with my laptop - I was afraid someone was going to steal it!"

What can you tell us about writing and producing on your laptop?

"I think it's still better to have all the quality hardware outboard but I'm trying not to let myself get comfortable with all that grand equipment around me. I know a lot of people who find it very difficult to write music unless they're in their studio surrounded by gear. I prefer to be in my studio but I like that I can work on music outside of it too.

"That's where I wrote most of the album: in cafes, pubs and hostels all around the world. When I was staying in hostels, I would sleep with my laptop in my pillowcase because I was afraid someone was going to steal it! I'd go travelling and live in hostels, so I'd do my adventuring for the day then, when it got dark, I'd retreat to a pub or café and just write music with my headphones on."

Do you have any tips for budding producers/remixers?

"I'd probably say, don't make the mistake of thinking you need heaps of equipment. A lot of people say they can't produce without awesome monitors, and maybe do a remix they don't like and blame it on having shitty monitors, but it's a poor workman that blames his tools.

"You don't really need jack shit; you just need to learn how to use Ableton Live or whatever DAW you feel comfortable on. I think all the DAWs are good. There isn't one that's ultimately superior to the others. Whatever you know and whatever works for you is what you should use."

What would you consider to be your biggest strength as a producer?

"I think probably the fact that I'm good with melodies. I think that's what it takes to really cross over. Everyone loves melody and it's such an important part of music. A lot of producers don't really know how chords work or how to write a good melody and that's a massive disadvantage.

"I've always loved melody and it's something I have a good ear for. A lot of producers I know have incredible technical ability but not so much musical ability. It's important to have a balance and all the best producers that I know are the ones who have the best balance."

"If I can't make a song better, I won't touch it"

What about when starting a remix?

"Well, I like vocals and manipulating vocals a lot. Vocals usually carry the melody, so anything that has melody I'll get my hands on. My rule of thumb is that I never, ever want to touch anything that I either can't make better or can't take to a new place. If I can't make a song better, in my eyes, I won't touch it. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

"If it's an awesome song and I can hear it in a completely different context, that's another reason to do a remix. For example, I thought the Disclosure track, You & Me, was really great but I could see a way of flipping it on its head and hearing it in a different way."

Finally, tell us about the bonus material on the forthcoming Deluxe Edition of your debut album...

"Well, I think it's pretty important to try and get kids into music production and to realise that you don't have to have a big fancy studio. On the bonus disc of the Deluxe Edition of the album, I've put some stems and tutorials to give away some of my tips and to try and de-mystify what I do.

"The stems are there to let people see how the music looks and maybe get them into putting a track together. Back in the day, if an artist I liked had done that I'd have been all over it!"

The Deluxe Edition of Flume's self-titled debut is available digitally from November 12. The physical edition is out December 9 on Transgressive Records.