KSHMR on Storytelling, Personality and Ethos in EDM

We all know how the typical EDM producer’s career goes. He starts with a few productions of his own, posts them to Soundcloud, and listeners take notice. Shopping around a single leads to an endorsement from a few major names – plus a lower-level record deal – and soon, the DJ gigs and festival appearances follow.

And, while this is a major change from just a few decades ago, not everyone has followed this arch. Take KSHMR. The Berkeley, Calif.-based DJ and producer born Niles Hollowell-Dhar got attention as part of The Cataracs close to a decade ago. The name might not sound as familiar now, but think back to the dance-pop crossover period from 2009 through 2012. KSHMR, along with David Singer-Vine, added the familiar beats to Far East Movement’s “Like a G6,” Dev’s “Bass Down Low,” and, eventually, Selena Gomez’s solo debut album <em>Stars Dance</em>.

As a solo artist himself, KSHMR has been signed to Spinnin’ Records – although, recently, he started his own imprint, Dharma. Off to a rapid start, Dharma’s already released tracks by such prominent producers as Mike Williams, Uberjakd, Krunk!, and Timmy Trumpet, in addition to KSHMR’s own works. Yet, before Dharma took off, Hollowell-Dhar had significant success as a solo artist, scoring major collaborations with R3hab, Tiesto, Bassjackers, Hardwell, and Firebeatz and putting out Beatport-charting songs going back to 2015. 

While all of this looks expected on the surface, KSHMR has taken the less-predictable path with producer masterclasses and even DJing with a small orchestra. As he finishes yet another year in the DJ Maj Top 20, we had a chance to ask him about his amazing career thus far and his plans for the future.

You’ve got a brand new track out now, “Magic.” Tell us about the process behind this song.

I first started this song years ago with Adrian Lux. We tried so many different things on the production because we loved the vocal. Ultimately, we couldn’t figure it out together. Over the span of two or three years, I tried a bunch of stuff on my own. Adrian and I were more or less out of communication during that time but he gave his blessing for me to release it and I know he is working on a remix and I’m looking forward to it!

You’re also going to be on the road through the end of 2018 with The Giant Tour. What can we expect from you during your shows?

The shows are this incredible display of storytelling mixed with my songs but instead of just playing the songs at random each song gets its own gravity for how it plays a role in the narration. The show and narration climax with my song Toca which finishes the set musically in regards to the story begin told in spectacular fashion.

KSHMR on Storytelling

In terms of playing live music, you’ve DJ’d with a live orchestra. What was that experience like – both in terms of rehearsing and the final performance?

It was great, my music has had a cinematic quality and to translate that for live musicians was rewarding and very smooth. Luckily all the musicians we’ve had have been incredibly talented, it’s just been a matter of rehearsing with them. With the help of our music director, Kevin Hastings, we’ve had a lot of success with the live show. I wish we could do them more often. the only thing stopping us is how cost prohibitive it is to go from 1 performer to 9 but I look forward to doing many more in the future.

Lots of DJs start their own labels, and you recently started Dharma. Why did you decide to launch your own label, and what’s your vision for it?

The idea was to take all the songs that people were sending me that I really loved but didn’t have the time to invest in collaborating on. So I can showcase these without being as involved.  Luckily, we’ve had some amazing submissions. I want Dharma to be a platform for producers to learn and build and be part of a community that gives them the tools they need by offering sample packs, tutorials, and templates in the future.

KSHMR on Storytelling

What new releases can we expect from Dharma?

Lots of new exciting submissions from talent that people are going to be very impressed by.

Along with performing, you’re known for giving fairly in-depth production masterclasses. What tips do you have for aspiring producers?

I think the principal thing I try to teach people is to zero in on their story. Where I think people find the most success, after emulating their inspirations, is in refining what it is they are bringing to the table that doesn’t exist yet. It’s tempting to be swayed by what’s already popular in the scene. Where I’ve found success is in some ways seeing what the antithesis to the scene can be and filling that space. I don’t say that to be contrived, I don’t think someone should engineer a personality but think what’s unique about yourself. It’s more difficult, that road is less traveled so it’s hard to gauge that this new unique style you’re trying will amount to anything but you have to accept you aren’t going to initially master something that is brand new. You have to believe in the vision of something that hasn’t been constructed yet.

KSHMR on Storytelling

As far as your own music is concerned, what are you using now, in terms of gear and software?

Gear is pretty simple. I’ve got my MacBook, it hooks up to a monitor and Adam S3H for speakers. I use the Apollo which allows you access to the UAD plugins. I think just about everything people need is in the box these days.

Your career has changed and evolved, from your days with the Cataracs to your current solo efforts. How has your approach to production and your musical style changed over this period?

I’m very grateful for having entered the EDM sphere. Whereas in the pop world you’re always thinking about the mass audience and if what you’re making has the quality of a hit, in dance music, I think more in terms of what qualities are going to stay true to my personality and the personality of my fans. I think if you play your cards right, you wind up with fans you can relate to. In the pop scene, I’ve found people have a hard time relating to fans and at times they were making music wondering the whole time what do these people like? In Dance music, I’ve found if you can offer personality and an ethos to your work, you will find a loyal fan base.

KSHMR on Storytelling

In terms of the future, where would you like your career to go?

I’d like to find a way to get the same audience on my more musical work, (like Lion Across The Field and the Paradesi EP) that I’ve got with the dance floor tracks like Secrets and Power and the tracks that I’m known for playing live. I’d love to see a bigger spotlight on those more musical songs and be able to dedicate more of my time and creativity to those songs.

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Ivan Yaskey is a Philly-born EDM and synthpop enthusiast and interviewer who recently relocated to beautiful Boston, MA.

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