For the past 20 years, Armin van Buuren has been making a living doing what he loves most in the world — creating new music and commanding an entire dance floor into enjoying it with him. So when he reached the two decade long milestone in his career, the DJ decided it was time to pay it forward and give back to future generations.
Van Buuren recently teamed up with online education platform MasterClass and is offering aspiring DJs and producers access to some of his most coveted tricks of the trade. “I’ve learned a lot over 20 years and I’m ready to share the knowledge with people,” he tells Billboard. The class is currently available for pre-registration at masterclass.com/avb.
We caught up with van Buuren to discuss the secrets that he will be revealing in his MasterClass. He also gave us a few teasers from his upcoming curriculum including his best tips for aspiring DJs and advice on how to use social media to boost your profile as an artist.
What inspired you to be a part of Masterclass?
A couple of years ago, I started with an idea called The Demo Drop, which is now called the Armada Talent Experience. There is so much young talent out there and I wanted to meet them. So the way to do that was to organize a gathering where we would listen to their demos. I would give them a brief half hour class and the reactions were overwhelming. We had 300 people showing up and everyone was raving about how they enjoyed it and how informative it was. Then, to have the opportunity to work with Masterclass, it felt like a 1+1 is 3 situation. I always wanted to show people a little bit more. I’ve been a DJ for 20 years and there is so much to say about DJing and producing and how to be an artist in 2017. It is a very different time than 20 years ago. I think some people still have the idea of it’s a guy pushing play but there is much more to it. There are so many people who aspire to be successful DJs and I think it’s important to share the knowledge with the younger crowd.
What will people learn in your class?
Production, performance, and how to present yourself and raise your profile via tools like social media. The main focus is on production, producing a dance track, learning skills about the DAW that you can use, the techniques that I use for having an impact on the dance floor. Also vocal recording, how I approach building a DJ set, and what things you can take into account when you play a big festival. We’ve got all bases covered on being a modern EDM DJ throughout at least 20 different chapters. You also get to look in my actual sessions. There is a track called “Be in the Moment” and I’m going to show how I built the track, what the idea behind it is, which VSTs I used, how I mastered it. It’s a pretty complex project so it’s going to be interesting to show people. A lot of people ask me where do I get my inspiration from, where do you find great melodies, how do I come with melodies or how do you start a dance track? I’m building a track from scratch for people to watch so they can observe that process, from conception to creation.
Give us a teaser on that subject. What is an example of how you may find your inspiration to start a new track?
For my Masterclass, I took Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1. I guess you didn’t see that one coming but I am a pianist. I have piano lessons every week. You don’t have to have piano lessons to make a dance track obviously but for this particular track we made, I got two chords that I really loved from his original composition. And obviously you can’t really copy his melody and arrangement. You can listen to the chorus that he used and if you use it a very different way or your move it around or you add some notes to it, then you can all of a sudden make a brand new track from a chord that was played like 200 years ago. That’s just to show you one of the tricks that I use to inspire melodies and to get a basic structure for a dance track going.
What is your biggest big piece of advice for aspiring DJs and producers these days?
Well the quickest way to become a famous DJ is making your own tracks. The DJ and the producer used to be very different people. But nowadays I can’t think of a single artist that is not is producing their own tracks. So it has become an integral part of your development of a DJ. You have to make your own tracks. So the quickest way to the top would be to make a great sounding EDM record that other DJs start playing as well. That’s how you get noticed.
I also think it’s really important to find your own style as an artist. I’m touching on that in my class. You can copy me but then you’ll be a copy of Armin van Buuren. It’s very important to develop your own sound and you have to start with what you like. If you stand in front of a crowd and you are selling your music to a crowd, you have to believe it. People are not stupid. They will see if something is genuine. So make something that you actually like and you actually want to play. I’m always trying to make the set exciting for myself as well because if you don’t and you just play a standard set of what anybody else expects you to play, then the crowd immediately notices if you are not having fun yourself. It’s all about sharing that part with other people. The best starting point would be to always stay close to your heart and actually ask yourself am I actually liking this track that I am playing at the moment? Is it a great track for me?
How do you recommend that new artists go about promoting themselves and getting their music to the masses?
If you want to be a successful DJ, selling a lot of tickets and a lot of albums, people need to be able to find you. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start blogging every day but it is important that you develop a strategy for yourself. I’m not saying you have to do exactly what I do but I’m saying think about what all the options are. You can be a very obscure underground guy but still you would want your dance floor to be quite full. So ask yourself what do I want to achieve? Do I want to achieve winning a Grammy? Do I want to achieve having a number 1 hit? Do I want to sell my tickets? Or is my ultimate goal to get a spot on a techno festival? So that’s where you start. And then you look at the demographic of where is that crowd? Where can I find that particular crowd? Are they on Facebook? Are they on Instagram? Do they just go on websites? Should I maybe hit up a promoter to help me out? There are several ways you can go. There is no right way and it’s not a black and white thing. But it’s really important that you think about a strategy for yourself.
What’s next for you?
I have a side act; I’m producing an album for these guys called Gaia, which is purely instrumental music, which is very exciting. I’m also doing a lot of songwriting at the moment for other people so that’s a fairly new thing for myself. The technological possibilities are going so fast. There are so many new plugins and new gadgets to make new sounds so I’m investing a lot of time in my production skills and in my songwriting skills. I’m working on a new artist album as we speak and pretty soon the celebrations of episode 850 of my radio show. I started it as a weekly video radio broadcast. And I’m doing that on Facebook and YouTube and that really helped. People seemed to really like that. So I’m investing a lot of time and also connecting with my fans that way. The funny thing is if you play a track on the air, people actually talk back to you via social media. And that is a great thing. And to celebrate episode 850 in February, we’ll do a massive event. Also we’ll be doing something during Miami Music Week next year. So lots to talk about. I’m not done yet!