Like a ‘tidal’, the wave of popularity over the past couple of years has shifted towards services such as Spotify and iTunes, leaving many in this day and age to question the use or even the user experience of good ol’ Soundcloud. The way I see it there’s a latent feature Soundcloud retains that can’t be replicated in the same vein…and that’s the sense of stimulating novelty. On other platforms it’s almost as if we’re spoon fed and the joy of ‘digital crate digging’ is deprived from us in some sense.
For any music nerd, overjoyed is the standard response after we’ve spent hours on Soundcloud to finally find that one artist worth exploring their entire discography, especially if they’re not well known. For me this artist was Elénne, an electronic producer from Germany elegantly meshing acoustic and electronic elements in his art to inspire an upsurge of countless emotions. With over six millions plays in total, it’s clear that his dedication has paid off. Although, what I found to be surprising about this producer me is the juxtaposition between his internet presence and his real life situation. He’s garnered millions of listeners although he’s so far off the radar. Elénne doesn’t reside in a major city but rather in a remote village distant from the urban jungle. In our conversation, Elenne and we discuss the myth about ‘10,000 hours’, his musical style and much more.
At which point in your life did you know that you not only want to produce music, but also put in the hours to make a career out of it?
There was a particular moment during my time at university (I was a design student). I didn’t hand in a project in time because I was working on music over the weekend. The lecturer insisted upon knowing the reason for my lack of enthusiasm in regards to his class. I told him the truth but he was not pleased about it. He said I couldn’t do both – I should either commit to design or music. He was basically saying there’s no way I could be successful in multiple disciplines.
I dropped out a year later in order to try exactly that. Not because I wanted to prove him wrong but rather because I realized I could never abandon either one of those art forms. I HAVE to figure out a way to make it work and university was not the right environment to do so.
Your track “Between Us” has grossed over four million plays on Spotify, and when it comes to the amount of plays I’m sure that’s among your prized milestones. Although putting aside the milestones regarding features and plays, what are some of the more personal achievements you’ve had ever since you’ve started as Elénne?
I think the greatest honor a producer can get is when other producers argue about how a particular sound has been made. One of my tracks was subject of such a discussion and I enjoyed reading all the theories about how I supposedly created that synth sound. I chimed in with the right answer but nobody believed me. It reminded me of Charlie Chaplin when he lost in a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest.
You started a weekly podcast called Knecht to King and some of the advice you share on there is golden! What inspired you to start with a project like that?
The main inspiration for that project was Gary Vaynerchuk (CEO of Vaynermedia).
He knows a fair bit about branding and the current trends in human behaviour. It appears that our world is slowly shifting towards audio. Podcast consumption is at an all time high and it would be foolish to miss out on that opportunity. An artist’s personal brand is just as important if not more important than the music. We like to connect with people and their stories. Podcasting is a great way to tell your story.
Knecht (= “fool” in German) to King is my personal documentation of my daily struggle as [a person] working in the creative field. People in similar situations might resonate with it so there’s a secondary benefit. Also it will be dope to point to Episode 1 once my project blows up.
‘French Toast’ was the name of your debut EP. The name comes across as somewhat quirky by virtue of amount of flare and technical ability displayed on there. What is it about ‘French Toast’ that you thought encapsulated the mood and sound of your project?
This project was never meant to end up as an EP in the first place. It consists of 8 tracks which were released separately as singles during the period from 2012-2015 with no relation to each other.
I re-released it as an album and jokingly called it “French Toast” because I recycled old material and sold it as new just like when you try to rescue old bread by covering it in eggs and fry it (aka. French Toast). I also thought it was a clever name for an Elènne project because of the common misconception that both Elènne and French Toast are from France.
On the subject of EP’s, what are your thoughts concerning the future and relevance of EP’s and Albums in a time where the release of many singles seem to be more effective for artists?
I love the current climate. [It] really forces artists to step up their game. I think there is and will always be a place for EP’s and albums – [it] just needs to be the right project and the right time in your career. In order for EP’s and albums to have an impact, they need to be well crafted and thought out.
When you’re just starting out there might not be enough substance to your brand yet to carry a long play format. Dropping singles regularly is great to figure out who you are, taste different genres, styles and audiences.
Would you say there’s a definitive ‘Elénne sound’, and if so which elements in your music seem to have a continuous presence?
There are things I do consistently not because of my artistic genius but rather mere ignorance. The way I mix and arrange is always similar because I never learned another way. I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time and just stick to what worked in the past. I guess you could call that “style” but I realized that’s kind of pathetic. That’s why I’ve been working on developing an actual style since about 2 years. I haven’t released anything yet but I think I will be able to get a signature Elènne sound within the next decade.
On one of the episodes in your podcast, you mentioned that you don’t believe in the “10,000 hours”. Why do you think it doesn’t necessarily apply to music, and which other “strategy” would you recommend for growth in music apart from that?
Let me clarify, 10.000 hours is a good start, however it’s not a guarantee for success.
Just making music doesn’t cut it. There are many talented musicians, why don’t they make it? Artists often lack basic knowledge of the business and colateral subjects like branding, marketing, leadership…I want to give them tools or at least present my perspective on these things and how I deal with them as a dude trying to figure it out.
Like I mentioned before, my podcast documents my struggles with these issues and hopefully sheds light on the darkness of the game. I believe that if an idiot like me successfully navigates through all of this, it will be inspiring for a lot of people. Right now I’m a Knecht myself but I think I can make it work.
A strategy I would recommend is to work on yourself as a person. It seems to translate well into your craft.
How do you deal with emotions such as loneliness when you’re going through stages of isolation for production purposes?
Thank god I’m good with being alone. I’m in good company when I’m by myself…so loneliness doesn’t hit me that often. When it does it’s usually because I’m overworked anyway and my brain tells me to take a break. I text my friends, look at cute animals on Twitter or get some rest. It also helps to re-calibrate and think about what I’m asking for: I want to make a living doing creative work that serves no real purpose outside of entertainment. My work doesn’t solve any problems. So I’m asking for a lot. Of course it’s hard. Being a music producer should come with significant sacrifices.
What do you like and what don’t you like about the music scene in Germany?
I’m completely isolated from the German music scene at the moment. I live in a remote village near the Swiss border on the other side of where it’s all happening. Our capital Berlin seems to be the ‘hotspot’ for artists. It’s like the LA of Germany. People move there to become someone special. I lived there for a while but didn’t like some aspects of the culture, especially as an aspiring artist. It’s easy to be an artist in Berlin. You just claim that you are and the fact that you reside there is evidence enough. It’s easy to feel special and it tends to make people complacent which is toxic to art in my opinion. It’s not all bad, though; there is something special about German fans. At first they’re a little hesitant to show support but when they do, they go nuts and are incredibly loyal.
Okay, so A) One artist/band you’d party with. B) One artist you’d like to have a D.M.C (deep meaningful conversation) with and C) One artist you’d like to spend the week with in the studio.
A) Guns n’ Roses, no doubt. Axl Rose definitely looks like he knows how to party. B) Alex Grey. I absolutely love the way he thinks and his relationship to art. His work really speaks to me. C) I’d love to spend a week with Joe Bonamassa. I want his enthusiasm about his craft to rub off on me.