In Conversation with Markus Schulz to Further Understand His Unique Creative Process

The new album form Markus Schulz featured two opposing sides to his musical personae and we couldn't resist asking him about it
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The new album form Markus Schulz featured two opposing sides to his musical personae and we couldn't resist asking him about it

"When you think about it, how many stories are being developed and shared in various locations around the globe on a daily basis? And with the album being built around songs based on life stories, it became the most appropriate and poignant slogan to use." - Markus Schulz 

Watch The World, the two-disc album from Markus Schulz, was finally released last week. Initial singles, 'Love Me Like You Never Did' and 'Summer Dream' were released in the US a few weeks prior. Sounds like the regular process for a release, but for Markus Schulz his creative approach goes way back, simply beginning with a paper and a pen. These songs did not originate behind a mixing board and studio, but instead began with a songwriting camp that his management launched in Los Angeles and Bucharest at the end of 2014. The timeline for the release then went forward with acoustic versions birthed from the raw collaboration's with the songwriters, Schulz with support from Ferry Corsten. Instead of the trance style originating from a single catchy phrase, it was an extra ingredient to already written stories; opposite of how the releases were developed in years past. Markus's youth-inspired passion played an integral part of WTW.  The focus of acoustic guitar strums replaced his well-known trance anthem flyaway sirens and synthesizers. If you ask us, this was a brilliant evolution.

With this immersive story in mind, we jumped at the chance to ask Markus about producing the new music. He opens up about the next chapter in his career, how inspiring the new creative process was, and what we can expect from him in the future. He's been a major player in the dance music realm for many years, but he continues to push the boundaries of creativity and hasn't lost a single step.

Watch the World is now out and I think it's a brilliant touch to release acoustic versions alongside the dance tracks. The acoustic versions I assume were produced first and then you produced the clubbier ones, or…? 

That's very kind of you to say, thank you. With the exception of 'Destiny and Fears', the acoustic versions that appear on the second disc of the album were produced prior to the original, disc one versions. This was mostly prompted through the creation of 'Facedown'.

Because of the story involved in 'Facedown' - where it's two people who have screwed up in their lives to the point where they have nothing but each other, and their plea is for each of them to stick with the other through this difficult time, coming out on the other side intact. The radio edit, a more acoustic driven version with basic percussion, was deliberately the interpretation I wanted people to listen to first - to listen closely to the words and understand the story, and of course, the big club version with the trance riffs would be the one you would hear me play in my live sets.

Following on from that, and because people appreciated the value in the story, it became more apparent to me that writing the song with a basic guitar melody was the best way forward to complete the Watch the World album. So that was how the "acoustic disc" so to speak became a reality, and of course, it made sense to go back and do Destiny in that style.

How did you select Watch the World as the title for this release? What does it mean to you?

The decision for that came quite late in the album process when I had a relatively strong idea of how the tracklist would shape up. Ideally, I wanted to name the album after one of the track titles. And in analyzing the names, I had to determine which would best paint an overall portrait of what the album is about.

From that perspective, the words "Watch the World" took on greater meaning. When you think about it, how many stories are being developed and shared in various locations around the globe on a daily basis? And with the album being built around songs based on life stories, it became the most appropriate and poignant slogan to use.

From what I understand, the creative process was a bit unconventional. What was the best part of this process and what was the most challenging part of launching these camps?

That's right; the camps were kindly arranged by my management. There were four in total - three in Los Angeles and one in Bucharest.

What I have always strived to achieve with every album is provide a platform for new singers to be showcased, and it's a passion for me to seek out new talent and share ideas with them. Having such a rich array of talent to work with through the writing camps was a blessing for me. I am also a believer that being able to work with a fellow collaborator in person is so advantageous because it means that if I sang a lyric line or technique needs to be changed, it can be done on the spot in the studio, rather than having to wait back and forth while working remotely.

The only challenge I found during the camps was managing my time, because when you get deeply into the songwriting and creating process, you certainly lose track of your hours, and you have to be conscious of your normal weekly responsibilities such as working on the Global DJ Broadcast radio show or doing immediate press for upcoming gigs.

Are there any singles that you and your fellow songwriter wrote that were performed by other singers? Or were all the songwriters also the vocalists as well?

I have to give huge credit to Adina Butar for her guidance and assistance throughout the entire album process. It was because of her encouragement in helping me find the words inside me that I didn't know I was capable of. She was there throughout all of the writing camps and always willing to help if either the vocalist or I was stuck on a particular lyric line.

Generally throughout the whole album, the singer you hear featured was involved in the writing process for that particular song. Although I must give a mention to good friend Ferry Corsten, because one of the camps he was there also working on material for his recent Hello World series, and he provided some input into the writing for 'Summer Dream' and 'Rewind'.

Will you have songwriting camps for your next albums? Is this the new Markus Schulz?

I think so. It's an exciting new adventure for me, that's for sure. However, I will never lose sight of the fact that I'll always be eager to compliment whatever vocal projects you hear with the big melodic and touching instrumentals.

How was the initial reception of the US released / Coachella-inspired, Summer Dream and Love Me Like You Never Did? Tell us something unique about working with these songwriters and the ideas of the song?

Both of those are special songs to me, and both Ethan Thompson and Mia Koo are incredible people to work with. A random fact about Mia Koo - she provides one of the voices for the current incarnation of My Little Pony! I am not making that up. She was doing various voices and impressions and had us all cracking up in the studio.

Ferry and I met Ethan during our week together at the camp, and both of us immediately found a rapport with him. If you follow Ferry's recent work, you'll know that he sang on 'Heart's Beating Faster', from the final Hello World EP.

As soon as I heard his voice, my vision for writing with him was to come up with something euphoric, something that would be the closing track of the night. Whether it is a festival while fireworks light up the sky overhead or a club where the confetti flies during the last song of the night, I wanted this track to be the casting call for that moment. I'm really happy with how it turned out.

And 'Summer Dream'; it was written in that same week, in between playing the epic Coachella festival on successive weekends for the very first time, with Ferry as New World Punx. The idea was that you and your best friend are in the car driving to one of the big festivals of the season - whether it's Electric Daisy Carnival or Ultra or Electronic Family, and no matter what is going on in your lives, you can escape with happiness with one of these events. Hence the line of "above the clouds, it's a perfect view". I wrote it the day before leaving for Coachella last year, and I was in a van with Ferry, playing the demo off my phone. It summed up the journey perfectly.

Were there any specific themes/styles through the creative songwriting and musical process that kept coming back for you? Is there a style that you particularly like now?

I feel like there was an enhancement on my end with the production side of things. 

Nowadays, because of all the travel involved with touring, you want your production setup to be as simple as possible. Typically, on the road, I have a separate laptop with Logic and Ableton on it. Ableton is good for carving out loops and rough ideas, and Logic helps me get creative with the sounds and effects. In fact, nearly all of the tracks on Scream and Scream 2 were produced this way.

However, with the production of Watch the World, I consciously wanted to utilize more organic instruments like guitars. Even if you don't hear it in the mix, there's a guitar buried there, or a piano that's buried in there because it just brings out a frequency that I feel is missing or has been missing in a lot of productions lately. It just warms it up so nice. From a production standpoint, this was the biggest aspect which I have taken appreciation from.

What is the most valuable thing you learned about yourself throughout this album process and will it change you as an artist forever?

What I have learned through this album process, in particular, is that if you have written a song that is great, then whatever music you surround it with, it will also sound great. That really hit home with me above everything else, and exploring that side with the acoustic versions was a very valuable experience.

And you know, I think sometimes taking a step back and evaluating your life and career can help. Things get so unbelievably crazy on the road that you're just at it day after day, and almost in a hypnotic routine. But having afforded myself the opportunity to reflect after the previous album, and remembering the interests I had as a youth, is what made me attempt writing creatively again, through the art of songwriting. It's quite a therapeutic feeling.

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