Interview with Hardwell
We sat down and talked with Hardwell over a coffee in Toronto, Canada in late April. Talking about growing up within the music business, having your own record label, Revealed Recordings, and constantly touring since the age of 14 years old.
Tell me what you've been up to lately?
Actually a lot of stuff I have going on in the studio right now. I am working on a new track with Tiesto as we speak. During the tour we're working like in hotel rooms on record and working on some new Hardwell remixes and some original stuff so yeah a lot of touring. There is a lot of stuff going on.
Been keeping really busy. How is it working with Tiesto in Hotel rooms versus being in an actual studio?
It's actually totally different because we're both touring that much and there's no opportunity to make music so ever second we have we decide to make music and try to work something out.
You started DJ'ing at the age of 13, how did you get into it so young?
Actually in Holland we have on MTV in the evening a dance program. They filmed a lot of DJ's and parties. When I was young, I was like "Wow, I want to be the DJ, I want to play the music" and I was obsessed because it looked so big, the vinyl's and all the stuff. Actually I was always into music. I was six years old when I started to play the piano and so yeah. Music has always been there in my life as I grew up. The DJ'ing was really fascinating for me. I wanted to do this when I saw it on MTV. I told my parents and I started playing little parties for friends, and getting money so I could buy my first vinyl. I bought my first vinyl and went from there.
Did your parents get you into music and influence you?
My parents were into music but not into making music. Just listening all day. When I was young I can't remember one day without music playing in the house.
When you started out, what kind of music were you spinning?
More Trancey. I was really fascinated by Tiesto, Armin van Buuren and Ferry Corsten.
They were like your idols as a child and now you're playing with them?
Yeah, I saw them on TV, it was actually quite funny. I started playing because of Tiesto and now we're working together and touring together. I think it's like a dream come true.
At what age did you start getting a lot of attention towards your music? How did it feel?
I was 14 years old when I got my first record deal in Holland. I released my first compilation, so in Holland it started quite early. I think two or three years my records were becoming bigger outside of Holland. Then I've been touring two or three years outside of Holland.
Is it common in Holland to start DJ'ing at such a young age? Or were you an exception.
No, I was an exception. Now days I think because there are so many young producers, especially in Holland. We inspire a lot of kids to make music and play music and it's so easy now days to download the cracked program and just figure it out. How we make beats and stuff. You can check tutorials on YouTube. It's really cool actually.
Did your experience with music at a young help shape you to become who you are now?
Yeah I think so, especially because when I started playing records in Holland, the Dutch sound really started to get on and just getting evolved, evolved and now a day's it's so big. You see the biggest American rock stars and producers are influenced by the Dutch sound. If you take Chuckie and Afrojack it's unbelievable they're working with the biggest stars right now.
You've done work with them?
Yeah, yeah. It was really cool working with them. Afrojack is a really cool story. I signed his first record on my label when he was also a young kid. He's still young. We're actually the same age. When he was 16 he came to me because I was playing in clubs and gave me his CD. He was like "Hey Hardwell, can you listen to my track please?" If you look at him now, he's so big.
Because I was very young when I was 14, I signed my first record deal. When I signed the record deal, I also worked at the record company at the time, just to gain experience about business and what's going on, contracts, and producing. So for me it was a big dream as a kid walking around a professional record company. That's why Afrojack gave me his first CD and I signed it. So yeah that was really cool.
Have you developed a friendship with Afrojack since then?
Holland is so small. We see each other like every week. So it's like all DJ's know each other like Chuckie, Afrojack, Laidback Luke. Now days everybody is touring so much that we only have contact by cell phone or e-mail.
The past 5 years you have built a very envious discography. What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment with all your releases and everything?
Umm, it has to be Zero76 because of Tiesto and all of that stuff. It was so big now worldwide, it was my first number 1 hit on Beatport for two weeks. So it's like wow. Actually I can still go like, it's a dream, don't know how to describe it, it's just wonderful you know? That so many people appreciated your music.
Was that the first track you ever did with Tiesto?
Yeah, it was the first track. Actually, I did a remix of Lethal Industry for his Tiesto - Magikal Journey (The Hits Collection 1998-2008 - Remixed) album. Were he only had remixes of his best tracks and I did a remix for that and later we just got in touch by e-mail. And that's how Zero76 was born.
Do you feel that it's necessary to first be a successful producer before you can become a successful DJ?
It really helps, yeah. Actually when you make records and people like your music, you get booked because people know your music and they know what to expect. If you're only a DJ there are so many DJ's these days and they book you because of your music. So it's really necessary to make good music and start producing.
A lot of people call their selves a DJ but don't produce music, and then there are artists like you who produce music and are DJ's. Do you think there's a difference between whether or not you can call yourself a DJ?
Yeah, DJ is like if you play records on the radio your also a DJ, you don't have to be a club DJ, it's like DJ is so big the name. That everybody is a DJ. If you play with your I-pod you're a DJ because you're shuffling music you know? So that's cool actually. But a producer is more like... I know a lot of kids making music but in another way they're not mastering it themselves, so they are not an engineer. You have so many different names of things you can do. If I look to myself, I'm making my music by myself, I'm mastering all my stuff by myself, remixing all by myself, DJ'ing by myself. I think then you can call yourself a DJ/producer if you're doing all the stuff by yourself and you have to make a lot of hours in the studio to become what you are, you know? So I think that's really important.
What are some things in your eyes that make you unique compared to other artists?
I think I make music with a different twist. More like people call it the "Hardwell Sound" or the "Hardwell Twist." It's like it's not "Dutchy" "Trancy" "Progressive" "Techy" it's between all those genres, it's out of the box, it's like what people call "next level" Its new, it's refreshing. I always when I'm in the studio I try to make something new that people have never heard before. So that's what I'm trying to do, and I think quite unique.
It seems like now a days a lot of successful producers will follow up with starting a label. Do you think this is a necessary step to get recognition on a larger level, or is it a preferred route to get your own creative outlet that you manage?
It's not because that it's become more about getting more recognition. It's because of, the reason I started my label is because of, and I'm like literally in the club every day. So I see exactly what the crowd wants, I see exactly what the crowd needs with music and instead of the biggest, if you look to the biggest record companies in the world they've got an A&R manger. It's like an old guy who's never been in the club, or like maybe 10 years ago and he's telling me what I have to change in my records, you know? That was my biggest problem; I was like "come on man." An A&R is telling me what I have to change in my record to become a major hit. I don't make major hits, I make music that my fans will want me too. They want the "Hardwell sound" and I don't need one A&R to tell me to "change this, change that." If I wanted to change it I already did it. So yeah, for me it was like a creative outlet making music that I really want to make and just release it whenever I want to. Instead of making a release schedule because of the record company has so many record deals.
Have you ever taken any big risks in your career?
Not really actually, maybe sometimes when I'm in the studio I'm trying to just flirting with a bit of commercial twist but you know because of a lot of people are so really purest in the trance music, they don't get it sometimes when I do remixes for Flo Rida, for example Kelly Rowland. Some people are like "Wow, don't get commercial, don't become the new Guetta." With all the respects, you know? They want me to be pure and make really good progressive records, instead of making commercial club records. So for me sometimes that's a big risk. But actually, I make music, I really love to make music, and in the end it's all the same Hardwell stuff.
At what age was your first tour?
My first tour I was 14, when I did my first tour in Holland, together with Chuckie. I was 14 and we played at the biggest clubs in Holland. It was because when I signed the record deal, I released mix compilation and that mix compilation ended up in the number one spot in the Dutch album charts, so because of that we did the whole tour and that's how it all started for me in Holland.
Are there any smaller up and coming artists that you have your name on?
Yeah! Really in Holland we have so many up and coming DJ's and producers. It's actually unbelievable! But also with my label that's a good one to get back to that question. It's good because now I have my own label its good for me to sign new artists because bigger record companies don't want to take the risk to release stuff from unknown names, and I'm like if the track is good, and is working on the dance floor, why shouldn't you release it? So names like Jordy Lishious, he's just been picked up by Deadmau5, Deadmau5 is playing his tracks. JoeySuki is another guy, also from Holland; he's making really big tracks at the moment. Nicky Romero, Franky Rizardo, is big. Yeah, a lot of new upcoming guys!
Are you a mentor to any of the smaller upcoming artists?
Yeah, like JoeySuki! Not like mentor, but more like they call me when they are working on a record and are like "Hey Hardwell, what do you think about this?' and "What should I change?" or "How's the mastering on this?" "Can you play it this weekend just to check it out, and how the crowd reacts to it?"
How do you feel being an inspiration to the next generation of artists coming up?
It's really cool! That's the best thing; I think you can do, inspiring other people. It's really cool because I'm pretty young myself. I started so early, in Holland I'm not with the generation of DJ's my own age! They are just now coming up, so I'm like one generation earlier. I've played for crowds that are now like 30 years of age. So it's a bit different, but it's really cool if you can inspire people, I think that's the most wonderful thing you can do!
Clearly you've been in the pro-circuit for a while now, and how do you feel about describing yourself as the "new kid on the block" in house music, but you've been doing it since you were 13 years old?
Yeah, I understand that, it's actually in my autobiography that line, "there's a new kid on the block and he's here to stay." It's more like I'm here to stay, you know? I've been here like 10 years in Holland; I headlined all the festivals and big events for years now. For me it's just like I'm just starting abroad now for the past 2 years, so yeah, if you look to Canada and the United States...there is a new kid! And that's Hardwell! People don't know I've already been working in the industry for 10 years, so yeah, I am the new kid for those guys.
You're playing Sensation in Prague along some of the world's best artists, what are your thoughts on playing this event and being so young compared to the other artists?
When ID&T called me about the gig and wanted me to play at Sensation, it was like wow! I have no words for that you know? I think it's one of the biggest accomplishments you can get as a DJ, to play at Sensation, the world's leading dance event. They also call it that! Sensation is the biggest, not even the biggest but the best show, the best crowd, it's amazing! I'm going to be playing prime time. I thought maybe I was going to have to warm up, but I'm playing prime time, and it's so cool! I'm playing with Sharam, Fedde le Grand, AN21 & Max Vangeli, Joris Voorn, it's so big! I think when you start out as a DJ; Sensation is one of those gigs that are like a dream, that you will work towards if you are a DJ, you have to play there. It's one of the biggest things you can do as a DJ. I'm really happy with that! I hope one day to play, of course, Sensation in Amsterdam cause that's the only festival I haven't played at in Holland!
What direction do you see dance music headed in the future?
Now days if you look to the dance music, everyday is getting bigger, bigger, bigger, and bigger! If you look at 2 years ago, the whole United States was into the Urban, and Hip-Hop stuff. Now Swedish House Mafia is one of the biggest acts, and David Guetta, it's unbelievable! I'm not talking in a commercial way, I'm talking about, and I don't think David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia are commercial. I think the crowds are getting more into house music. So I think house music overall is getting more main stream, instead of the DJ's becoming more mainstream. It's so cool to work with DJ's like...if you look to DJ's like Swedish House Mafia their working with Pharrell Williams, and Wolfgang Gartner just released a record with Will.I.am. So there are no boundaries anymore!
How important is it to have a good management team? And could you tell me a bit about your management team and what they do for you?
I think it's good to work with people that you really can trust. It's really important that you can trust your people and your all working on the same mission. That you don't work with a record company or label manager who doesn't feel the same passion as you with the music. For my team I've got a Label Manager, a General Manager who's dealing with all the contracts and remix deals, and I have a bookings agency. So yeah, that's the whole management team around me!
How long have you know your management team for?
Actually, since I started! My General Manager is the one who signed and gave me my first record deal! So we are still together! They share the same passion as me, and one of the most important things that they have always believed in me! Even when I was 14! They still believe in me and still support me! It's so great to be working with such a great team! In the end we do all the work together. I can make music, but if the manager is not doing his job right then it's not getting on iTunes and Beatport. All the stuff you have to do it takes a team to make it successful!
You said you had a unique twist to your music, "The Hardwell Twist" How would you describe it?
It's out of the box, if you have to pick one genre its progressive, because of the breaks, I'm using big synths. It's also a bit trancey maybe... in the beats it has a more techy twist, and a bit of a techno twist. You can still hear that I'm a Dutch producer because sometimes you can hear a bleepy beat. Like Laidback Luke, you know? It's not Dirty Dutch Music, or whatever you call it, Dutch House music. But I get my influence from there and just flow with all those genres and making one big record!
How do you feel about being a label head and having your own label?
You're feeling free. That's the best description that I can give. Nobody is telling me can you make that kind of music, can you do that, can you do this! You know, I'm working on music; I'm getting together with my label manager. Also he just e-mailed me a track that he just picked up from a demo and said "Have you heard this?" and I said "No." Because I'm touring and I'm really busy! So he signed a record for the label and that's cool you know! We really work together, we share the same thoughts about music, and we have the same ideas. He's my label manager and also one of my best friends, so he's really great to work with! We're more friends than colleges.
How did your music career at such a young age affect your studies?
No! My parents wouldn't let me stop my school! So I started touring at 14, so I had to take the same class 2 years in a row, because I failed! So I had to do the exam twice! So I finished school, and after high school I went to the Rock Academy. It's like dance, rock-bandish-school, and I did one year, then decided to start my label. It was a good experience, but I had to go and move on so I could focus on my music, instead of reading books on how I have to mix my tracks!
Do you feel that people view you differently now that you've made a name for yourself?
I think my friends still see me as the guy Robbert. But when becoming a DJ people know your music, and a lot of people are going to pay attention to you because of your music and that you're a DJ! Before they didn't know me, it's crazy! But it comes with the job; I have to deal with it! You get to meet a lot of people which is really cool! Some people act cool but you know some people are really back stabbers, so you really have to deal with that! The bigger you are, the more people want a piece of you, you know?
Do you have any special surprises you can let us in on?
Not really…actually I play all my stuff in my sets. If I made a record the day before, I will play it to test it out! The records I'm working on with Tiesto I'm not playing them because you never know if people are going to be recording them, and because of his management, we can't deal with that! So we have to wait till it's finished, the record deals signed, and all that stuff. Then we can play the record, but for now I just finished the follow up for Encoded, and I don't have the final name for the track. The track is there but I'm just playing it out, and testing it out on the crowds, which has been good! So I think I may release that before the summer, in June or July.
Are you stilling using Logic Pro on your Macbook apogee duet and access virus?
Yup I'm still using it. Actually I've been using logic for three years now I guess, before I worked on windows with Cubase. So Yeah, I switched not that long ago. The access virus is working so well. It's unbelievable. The sounds are so big! The stereo widening is so good! Even if you scroll through the presets, everything already sounds big and cool. I just bought a universal audio card and SSL compressor, so it's a bit more hardware. Just to get that warmth in the mix. I'm thinking about buying the native instruments machine. The drum computer. The only thing for now that I really want to have.
Would you integrate that into your live DJ set? Or use that mainly for production?
I think mainly for production because I'm not playing with my Macbook or Tractor so it's a bit difficult. I just playing with CD's and the new pioneer CDJ's.
How do you feel with using digital plug-ins when a lot of producers have their feet stuck in the analogue world?
Yeah, I think it's an endless discussion. If you look at Wolfgang Gartner, he's the best example. He's making music only with digital plug-ins and it sounds so analogue. Just because he really knows how to use his digital plug-ins. With the plug-ins nowadays you can compare them to analogue. I think, but I can't say for sure, some digital plug-ins sound better than the original analogue. Because its digital. You know? Digital is always better than analogue. In a way of mastering. Actually I'm only using digital stuff, except the SSL compressor.
Thank you for taking the time to sit down with us!
Yeah! No problem, it was a really good interview! I really enjoyed it! Sometimes I have interviews, especially lately, and it was like "Okay, Hardwell How you doing?" "Yeah, I'm fine" "How's working with Tiesto?" "Yeah, it's good!" "Yeah, alright, how is he? Do you know when his upcoming album is going to be released?" "I don't know! Ask him!" They ask me all kinds of stuff about Tiesto.
Hardwells Manager Robbert adds: One interview they asked "Miami week Ultra Festival, what are you going to be playing there?" "I'm not playing there..." "Oh shit!..."
Find out more