Our latest spotlight interview features Travis MacDonald. The Canadian producer has a brand new remix Daraspa ‘Sunlight Dreams’ out now on his Agara Music imprint. Please enjoy our interview with Travis below.
1. Hi Travis, thanks very much for joining us here! This is the first time I’ve interviewed you so let’s give our readers and your fans some background info. How old are you and how long have you been producing and Djing?
Travis: Hey there Mitch! Thanks very much for having me. I am honoured. Well I have been producing and djing since about 1998 with a different name back then. I stopped somewhere along the way for about 5 years because I did not enjoy the business side of it. Then a few years ago I started producing again under my own name as an experiment. Just making whatever kind of music I enjoy. It has worked out quite well but there just isn’t as many dj gigs as there was back then.
2. Where do your musical roots lie and when did you know you wanted to pursue electronic music seriously?
Travis: Well I grew up in L.A. and had always wanted to spin hiphop but the gear was expensive. It was only when I made the move back to Canada that everything happened. I bought some 1200’s and some hiphop records. Then around the same time I went to some big raves, got super messed up and everything changed. I immediately fell in love with progressive music. It felt as if it was meant for me. It was perfect! I just had never known that it existed. The emotions were so clearly explained through this kind of music and it was so artistic. The fact that you could take someone on a journey and tell a story with music and no words blew me away. Still does. I still play in that style when I dj.
3. So you’re based in Vancouver, which is one of the largest cities in Canada. How is the nightlife there? Are there clubs and events you can go to which offer good electronic music?
Travis: Well honestly I don’t really know anymore. I am old and don’t get out much but it’s funny you mention that because I am trying to find some local gigs. I know there are raves still but that’s not really my style of music. There must be something! There are a million clubs that play Pitbull and Lady Gaga with hammered 18 year olds!
4. How difficult was learning to produce for you in the beginning? Did you take any Audio Engineering programs or production courses to help you out or are you pretty much self-taught? And did anyone give any advice early on in your career that really helped?
Travis: No I didn’t really get any advice. I am self-taught mostly. In recent years I had some private courses by a couple of the biggest mastering engineers in the world. They master pop/rock music. But for producing, back in 1998 I used to use a lot of hardware. Hardware is a lot easier to learn with I think. I remember I was so blown away how the synths could produce such perfect sounds. I even used to take them apart and connect them to other synths. Spending a few days with Native Instruments Reaktor is always a good idea for beginners. Maybe read some books too.
5. What’s a normal day like for Travis MacDonald? Do you have a job outside of electronic music? And what do you like to do when you’re not working on production or mastering?
Travis: Well music is basically my life. I’ve even tried to get away from it a bit but I just cant. I also have a graphic design business so that is combined with my music stuff. I just do that when I have a free moment. A normal day for me is wake up at 7, make some coffee and sit down and see how many tracks I have received through the night to master. I kind of base my day around that because I love to do that and I like to get the masters back to the clients ASAP. During the morning I get my design work done and any stuff for the label. This is because my neighbours hate my music so I can’t master anything until about noon. Each day at about 2 or 3 I go to the gym or go for a bike ride with my dog. I have to get out of the studio at some point so that I don’t lose my mind. Sometimes in the evening I even get a chance to work on some original music or remixes. But rarely.
6. Your label Agara Music has one of the more broad music policies that I’ve come across. What do you look for when signing a new project and what advice to have for producers hoping to get signed to Agara?
Travis: I look at demos a bit differently I think. This is because I master all the music for Agara myself to make sure that it has a certain ‘style’ of mastering and sound. I am a total audiophile so things first of all have to sound really good or have the potential to sound really good. I think the next thing is that tracks have to be melodic for Agara. It could be house, techno, progressive, electronica or melodic techno. A track is mostly defined by some characteristic. Usually that is vocals…. or a distinct melody. Without those things it is just a loop. It needs to have some recognizable characteristic. The production has to sound modern but other then that, I don’t care much about style. People change genres all the time. I just think if you enjoy listening to something then you should listen to it. Music is meant to just connect with you and make you feel good. If it does that, then mission accomplished!
7. Your newest release is an EP from Roberto Traista, it’s certainly one of the more techno oriented projects that Agara has ever put out, it’s actually Robert’s second EP on the label, what is it about Robert’s music that you enjoy so much and tell us a bit about his new EP.
Travis: Well Robert is a great producer. He has a really timeless deeper techno sound that is just enjoyable to listen to. There is some space left in his tunes. It is not 100 tracks of strings and stuff. Just good basic percussion and very catchy simple melodies. His tracks can seem a bit minimal to some people but they’re not easy to make. Those darker sounds are hard to get right. His new EP “Sky Drops” has a few of his usual slower darker tunes and a couple of higher energy ones. It’s been doing great from the promos. There’s a bit of everything.
8. You have a radio show called ‘Agara Monthly’, how long has it been running, where and when can we hear and is the music you play on the show a good representation of what you might play in a club set?
Travis: Well internet radio shows seem a bit saturated now. Everyone has one. That’s great but it’s hard to be heard. I decided to just recently change the name of mine to Agara Monthly. This is because the name Agara is getting pretty well recognized and I want most of what I do to be based around Agara. It’s easier and works out well for the label’s artists and myself. For now it can be found on my soundcloud page. www.soundcloud .com/travismacdonald. The stuff I record for these is maybe what I’d play from 10-12 in a club. Or even in a daytime set. When I record in my studio I just play what comes naturally. Hit record, play for an hour. Then stop and upload. Lately it has been daytime sunshine music. What I’d normally play in a club in the middle of the night would be harder and darker. =)
9. Do you get a chance to play out much in Vancouver? If so where?
Travis: Not at all. I never have played much in Vancouver, I don’t really know why. Even 15 years ago when I gigged a lot across Canada, Vancouver was never big for me. I almost wish that I could play more here then anywhere. This is my home city and I would love to enjoy some good nights and music with my friends. Even just once a month or something would be nice. If any promoters in Vancouver are listening please message me. =)
10. So you’ve been producing for over 10 years, how has your studio changed in that time?
Travis: Well my studio has changed many times. I started with Impulse Trackers, then some hardware. Then sold most of the hardware when I moved one time. Then rebought analog gear because I didn’t know the mistake that I had made the first time I sold it. Now my studio is mostly software. Very minimal and clean. Great monitors, great soundcard. A clean signal chain. Works very efficiently for me.
11. You are also a mastering engineer, it seems like a very tedious activity, do you enjoy it and what percentage of all the mastering engineers out there do think are actually good at what they do?
Travis: It’s only tedious on the days when I do about 10-12 tracks. Then it’s actually a bit draining because you are focused all day. A lot of people think that it takes hours to master a song or something. When you do it everyday it becomes second nature. I spend about 20 minutes on a track. Partly because over the years my mastering chain has changed so many times. It is worth its weight in gold to me now. A song should not take to long to master. If you are spending to much time on it then you are getting attached to the song to much. Someone should know what the goal of a good master is. Not just loud. Clean shiny highs, some space in the mix etc. There are many things and those things should be clear to the engineer imedietly when they preview the premaster. Within 5 seconds I can tell what the premaster needs. I totally love it. I actually like the technical side of things (mastering and engineering) more then producing. Since I started I have been studying music theory and the physics of sound and all that good stuff. I think 100% of mastering engineers think that they are good at what they do haha. I tend to master a bit differently. I have never followed the ‘dance’ criteria. There are guys out there using Izotope Ozone and EQ and calling it a pro master. They just add some highs and limit it to 2 db. of dynamic range and call it a day. I use more “rock” standard mastering tools and do a lot more then making it loud. Most of the electronic tracks made solely in a computer lack life. You can tell right away. Even if they are loud they are dead and cold feeling. By using real tape saturation you can add harmonics and bring a dead song to life. It becomes more musical. More of an experience as if you are inside of the music. Not just listening to it in front of you. I try and create more of a 3d “experience” with my masters in addiction to making them loud. When you hear them on good monitors you can tell the difference for sure.
12. If you had to pick one track that solidified your love for electronic music early on what would it be?
Travis: Well there are a few and I think they did the same for many people. I can’t narrow it down to one. I hope you don’t mind me picking 4. 1) LSG – Netherworld, 2) Energy 52 – Café Del Mar, 3) Jam & Spoon – Stella, 4) Orbital – Halcyon On and On. Even thinking back to those times gives me the chills. It’s as if I have already visited heaven and came back. Those tunes still remind me of my journeys. I listen to them all the time. =)
13. What was your first and last DJ gig?
Travis: My first one was maybe around ’98. I was not the kind of person that was eager to get in front of a crowd 2 months after buying turntables. I practiced for years before. I was glad too because my first gig was at midnight in front of 3000 people. My last gig I don’t even remember. It’s been way to long haha…
14. What was the first and last record you purchased?
Travis: Oh I have no idea really but like a lot of guys I was at the local record store every Wednesday morning when they got the new shipment. Lined up with the other dudes. The owners would always do “secret stashes” for guys. “Here man I saved this for you” haha. I do still have a big closet full of vinyl. I’ll keep that forever.
15. What would you say is the highlight of your career thus far?
Travis: Well seeing the reaction over Agara Music is quite satisfying. Starting a label from scratch is basically impossible these days and when I started it at the start of 2013 I didn’t even think that it could get anywhere but it is. Slowly but it is definitely being more and more recognized. Everything that happens now is actually a highlight to me. I look at music differently then I did my first run around ’98. I knew that I had to learn to just enjoy it and have fun. And appreciate anything that comes my way. This interview is a nice highlight! I’ve met some very nice people in the past few years with similarities to me. It seems like a nice little family.
16. Tell us something about yourself that might surprise people?
Travis: Maybe that I have a little Yorkshire Terrier dog named Billie (Jean) who is my best friend. She is 9 and has taught me so many things. We hang out 24 hours a day and we’re both very glad that I work at home. People always say, “I could never picture you with this cute little dog”. I guess they don’t know me to well. =)
17. Who are some of the best undiscovered talents in your eyes?
Travis: Oh geez its so hard to keep up these days! I don’t even know a small percentage of the artists out there. I know I will think of some people a week after I answer this. One is my buddy Daraspa from Amsterdam. Some people are finding out about him but not enough. It amazes me how some amazing talent like Pat can have 500 followers on Soundcloud then some cloned EDM artists can have 30,000 haha. He is amazing producer and can put together a very well thoughtful dj set too. One other one that comes to mind is Hamed from Beat Syndrome. He has recently changed his sound a bit and gone deeper and darker. His dj sets must be heard. They’re so far beyond a lot of other stuff. He is a workaholic too and studies music and his collection like it’s his religion. I’ve never seen anyone work so hard on music and he still loves it. People like that I wish could be recognized more. They deserve respect.
18. Which producers consistently inspire you?
Travis: Well Eric Prydz I totally admire. Always have. I like his music a bit more a couple of years ago but that is just my personal taste. His creativity and production is so good. The melodies that he comes up with are gold. They’re not standard scales either. His dj sets are amazing too! When you listen to some of his tracks your like “oh I can do that, it doesn’t seem that complicated. But I’ve tried to replicate some of his tunes many times and got absolutely nowhere! They sounded like crap haha. Also Max Cooper is amazing. I love the fact that he just makes whatever he wants. And it is always good and inspiring.
19. What artist or track would you love to remix? and whom would you love to be remixed by?
Travis: London Grammar would be fun to remix. Love her voice. Sitting in the studio with her wouldn’t be half bad either. Love to be remixed by? Good question…I need to find a remixer for a new vocal tune I’m just finishing. =)
20. Record labels are a dime a dozen these days and the majority of people feel most of them are mediocre music factories. Which ones if any standout for you?
Travis: It’s true it is tough to stand out. I don’t even listen to a lot of promos I get anymore unless I have extra time. Lost & Found is good and Bedrock. I think there are a lot you just need to look hard. Sound Avenue is great too. I don’t know how Dom finds some of this progressive stuff! We also have some great stuff coming out of Canada….microCastle of course….Wide Angle Recordings. Both are always quality.
21. What would you say is the best mix compilation of all time?
Travis: No question….Involver. That’s the one cd I’d bring if stranded on a beach alone.
22. Current Favourites (you can list more than one per category if you like)
Food: Sushi, Steak, all food really.
TV Show: Rules of Engagement
Movie: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Video Game: None
Album: To many good ones
Track / Song: Orbital – Halcyon On and On
Producer / Band: The XX, Bat For Lashes, London Grammar
Record Label: Agara Music!
Nightclub: Privilege Ibiza. Maybe something smaller and darker for my gigs.
DJ: Would it be wrong to vote for myself? Haha I play the music I like in a way that I prefer…and Eric Prydz, Guy J, Henry Saiz, Guy Mantzur, MUUI, Max Cooper, Sasha
23. If the final DJ/live set of your career was next week what would your last track be?
Travis: I’m making a remake of Orbital’s “Halcyon On and On”…. I’d play that. I’ll give it away when it is done. =)
Robert Traista’s ‘Sky Drops’ EP is out now on Agara Music, you can purchase the release: here