In the world of music production, the last few years have been something of a golden age for tutorial and process videos. The combination of democratized video production tools and the growth of YouTube as a platform have, in many ways, opened up the door to learning how all manner of music is made — particularly electronic music, the creation of which has often simmered behind the walls of mysterious bedroom producers and deliberately private creators.
Canadian musician, video producer, and YouTube personality Andrew Huang is something of a bright, gleaming antidote to all that obfuscation. Huang has been at the crest of this new wave of video creation and sharing, having amassed a huge following for the consistently entertaining, informative and inspiring videos he churns out on a rather mind-bogglingly regular basis. His videos flit between theory, technical knowledge and musical absurdity – for instance, making a beat with the sounds of a piano dropped from 20 feet is every bit as compelling as say, a recent video that effortlessly breaks down the notorious complexity of FM synthesis. He’s the kind of rare music producer whose ability to teach and explain is evenly matched by his chops and experience.
So — it’s 2018 and you’ve got well over a million subscribers to your YouTube channel. How’d you get here?
Well, let me take you all the way back to 2004. I still remember this moment clear as day, when I was chatting — on MSN Messenger, to make this sound real 2004 — with a buddy of mine, and I had this brain wave that felt like it would be life-changing…and it proved to be. I remember typing to him, in the midst of whatever conversation we were having, “I’m going to use the Internet as a place to solicit musical ideas from people, and then I’m going to create those pieces of music, inspired or influenced by suggestions from whoever’s out there in this primitive Internet.” It seemed like a really fun, potentially new sort of thing to do in those days of, you know, Live Journal and Hotmail.
I actually started in lieu of getting a summer job. I had eBay auctions where anyone who won the auction would dictate the kind of music they’d like me to make, and so I was ending up doing a lot of songs for people’s weddings…personal theme songs was a popular one, too, which is kind of fun.
I made a website around this concept, and I started doing songs for free if I thought the idea would make for an entertaining piece of music. Those songs were getting shared around; this was before Facebook or Twitter, but I was building up a little bit of an online audience, at the peak maybe like a few thousand visitors a day. Eventually it led to commercial work, which became my bread and butter for the next few years.
I was always also interested in creating music videos, and so that was sort of why I started on YouTube; I found that there was this really incredible community on YouTube of just all kinds of different people creating stuff that they were interested in. That’s obviously grown and changed a lot over the years, and become a lot more business-y in many ways, but probably in 2010 I kind of pivoted to make YouTube the main platform where I wanted to do things. I stopped playing in any bands, and just focused on making videos with my music.
How did that end up transforming into what you do now?
The last two years I’ve become more of a personality rather than a musician on the platform, and doing things like tutorials or product reviews — which, I have to say, I didn’t picture myself being. But it was just kind of following what I felt was interesting.
I started down the path of creating more process based videos because of a few songs that I was working on, where I really felt like, however much I believed in these songs, the really interesting thing about them was this behind-the-scenes stuff: either how I came up with a sound, or what the composition was like. I’m just someone who’s always experimenting with music, so I find these weird things that I end up trying — like writing a song that has 300,000 notes. You know, all these little kinds of creative challenges which I can talk about that might be a new way for a lot of people to think about music. It opens up the appeal of my videos beyond what my music would do. People who maybe don’t even like anything about my music can still learn something, or be entertained by some kind of philosophical waxing about production or composition or whatever. Or just like the tutorial-type, really nitty-gritty breaking down of exactly how I created something — which, until I started doing it, I didn’t realize how much that kind of content was lacking.
I was recognized at a party one time and this guy told me he wasn’t a musician, but he said he watched my channel because I just show a song being made, and he’d never seen that before. And I was thinking, yeah that’s so kind of wacky that it’s novel — out of the centuries of music making, all these parts of the process aren’t really open to a lay person. And when you see a musician being interviewed, they’re like, “Oh, yeah I just really wanted to try something new, and I took like a little bit of rock influences for my new album” — that’s as deep as they go. It’s kind of fun to bring people right into the creative process.
Sometimes when I do my videos, I’m filming myself without knowing what I’m about to do. That’s the pinnacle of it for me, just completely creating in the moment and seeing what’s going to happen.
I also do love the idea that I can make music more accessible, and I’m thinking about when I was starting out and listening to to whatever new artist and genres I was discovering — especially electronic genres where it’s even less clear how sounds are being made — and I wish I was able to have access to the kind of creative information in them. I think I did a Twitter poll at one point where about 50 percent of the people who responded were musicians, and the other were not. Which was surprising for me, because I thought it would lean more towards musicians.
How are you so fast? You’ve gotten pretty prolific with the amount of both music and video productions you release.
There was a lot of a lot of time earlier on in what I’ll call my “career”, where it was very music-focused. I’ll credit that that song-by-suggestion project with developing a lot of these skills in me. I was turning around all these pieces of music to have content from my website, but at the same time I was taking every commission that came in. There were months where I’d be producing a song every two days, either to deliver to a client or to put on my site. And so that really sharpens a lot of skills as far as getting proficient at different genres and instruments and making decisions quickly. So I think that’s something that’s carried over into everything else that I’m doing.
Also, when I look at how I work compared to a lot of other people who I’ve collaborated with over the years … I just do things faster [laughs]. So that’s part of it. And also just being really deliberate about where I’m spending my time; I think it’s easy to kind of get bogged down, but I’m pretty good at really breaking down into the individual steps that need to happen, and kind of pivoting quickly from one to the next.
I was shooting with a buddy of mine recently, and we were getting our shot set up with the camera and the tripod and all the lighting, and I’m ready to go, and my friend’s like, “Man do you want to just like like go for a walk get a coffee or something? I feel like we’re in this technical setting up-zone and I need to reset and get into the creative space.” Whereas I was like ready to go right there.
Do you have help, or is it still all just you?
As far as my team goes, it’s a team of three. My wife handles all of the business side of things — so any inquiries that come in, or if we’re doing a bigger kind of shoot, she sort of acts as a producer. And I’ve also hired her brother actually part-time to do some editing and shooting, and kind of whatever I need video-wise — he’s really got a handle on that.
Now that you’re learning and demoing so much new gear, do you find it a bit overwhelming?
There is always the excitement and inspiration that comes with seeing what a new piece of equipment has to offer. And as much as I’ve featured tons of different equipment on my channel in the past couple of years, I’m also fairly selective about what I use. There’s so much out there that I could review something new with every video. There’s definitely things that I say no to when when companies want a video about a product.
Having access to different sounds and different methods of working is a really great thing. And then also there’s the whole element of working portably, which I’m interested in purely because they’re smaller and battery-operated. Modular is kind of its own can of worms, where it’s really in its own within my overall musical passion. It’s super cool and something that’s just going to expand and be fun forever.
In about 2014 I completely stopped buying new gear, and I was like, “You know what, I’ve got my MIDI controller and audio interface, I’ve got a handful of plug-ins that I know really well, my guitar, — and I only used those things for a few years. I was really focused on crafting songs at this time, and really not being able to afford like analog synthesizers [laughs]. So that was an interesting period for me where I almost felt like, “Man I’m good. I can just like make music and not worry about the gear.”
I got excited about analog stuff once I was able to afford it, or once companies were willing to send me stuff, and modular is obviously much more fun in hardware than in software. The workflow and the appeal of different instruments kind of shifts and changes every once in a while.
Have there been any hardware or software instruments that have stuck with you over the years?
I have the Komplete Kontrol, which I’ve been using almost since the first version came out, because for me it just felt like the perfect kind of large format MIDI controller. And because I was already using so many Native Instruments plug-ins, I felt like the integration would be great for me…which it has been. I was big into Reaktor for a little while — that was the way that I would scratch my modular edge. I still love the Reaktor User Library, because you just find amazing creations there that rival any “professionally”-released software instruments. I use Massive a lot, and I use Guitar Rig on all my guitar stuff. I think it sounds great — I don’t even own an amp anymore. And I have a Maschine — I like it for kind of starting tracks, and then import everything over to Ableton for finer tweaking.
But yeah, Massive and Reaktor have been a part of my workflow ever since I got my hands on them years and years ago, and Ableton has been the centerpiece of most of what I’ve done, so that’s something that’s probably never going away. And, I, kind of feel that this may be waning a bit as other portable fun devices are getting on my radar, but the OP-1 one has been a really cool, almost all-in-one portable tool, which is just a real joy to use.
What does the near future look like for you?
I do have plans that I can’t talk too much about, in terms of ways that my content will kind of develop in the next year or two. But just getting getting a little more cinematic in some ways, I think trying some some new things with the platform itself that will be interesting — exploring the type of video that I’m doing even more, to encompass more ways of creating. I know that sounds really vague, but yeah, I have different ways that I’m planning to expand what my videos look like.
Something else I’m really excited about is very preliminary, but I’m potentially going to work on a piece of hardware or possibly an app, and I’m talking to a couple of different potential partners about that. Some tools that I think don’t exactly exist out there, and I’m just thinking about what would really be perfect for my workflow. But also just thinking about what what could be an accessible kind of thing for my audience to work with, whether it’s an app or their first sampler or their first MIDI controller.
In terms of my video interests it’s been really enjoyable to develop a secondary set of skills. Another passion in my life is enjoying playing with framing and lighting and storytelling, even in a much different way than what happens through music. I have a lot of musical training, but I have zero video training, so it’s nice to be able to explore creative process these kind of from from different contexts or different different frames of mind; it’s fun you know you’re doing a video thing, and you’re like, “I have no idea if this is proper or if I’m breaking some rules or if I’m doing something completely inefficiently.” But you can kind of just go for it.
photo credits: Phil Kim – ICON Motion