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InDepth Interview with Mark Digital about Islands EP

For the 20th release, Soluna Music is going to make a resounding statement with Washington D.C. native Mark Digital, whose emerging talents Soluna will proudly showcase. Looking to expand their musical frame of reference, this spectacular EP perfectly imbues change, especially as we transition into Summer. And Digital’s stellar debut is destined to initiate an explosive Summer. 

We are glad that Mark has accepted our invite for an indepth interview that you can read right here. Thanks to Jerry Chiu at Soluna headquarters for arranging this must read interview.

Dimitri: When did you start your involvement with electronic dance music and which music style you are more affiliated with and why?

Mark Digital: I started listening to dance music in 2015.  I don't know if I should be embarrassed or not, but I saw a YouTube video of a young dude making music on his computer in 2015. Everyone in my house was sick with the stomach flu and I was just surfing YouTube.  I was like wow that is cool what that guy is making on his computer. I think I might be able to do that! Turns out that dude was Martin Garrix talking about his track "Animals".  Back then I didn't know genres.  It was all techno to me at that point hahaha. But now I guess I affiliate myself with progressive house and trance, especially with Above and Beyond Group Therapy.  I started checking out EDM podcasts, and I think Jason Ross had a podcast way back when, and then he said he was going to Group Therapy, so then I checked out that podcast and have been listening to that for 3 years straight! Then of course also checking out Anjunabeats Worldwide and Anjunadeep PODcast, Jaytech Music Podcast, Kayu and Albert Euphonic Sessions, JES Unleash the Beat, and of course quite a bit of ASOT.  Just love all of this music so much and I don't care what the genre is as long as I like it that is all that matters to me.

Dimitri: Did you had the opportunity to attend any kind of music production course or are u completely self taught? Do you consider that is essential for any artist to complete any production course?

Mark Digital: I struggled since 2015 to make good beats.  I also had a sort of knack for catchy hooks and melodies, I mean that is what I am. I have these sounds and hooks going through my head all day long.  But compared to the really big producers who've been doing this for years, my tracks where so weak.  I definitely sought out help in the form of mixing my first track that got released - Static Collision on Progressive House Worldwide (thanks Jaytech - check him out on Soundbetter.com if you want a super-pro mix on a track) and the did a few months on Sonic Academy subscription, and recently taking lessons from Johnny Yono (everyone contact Johnny for lessons, he is the best and has really taught me more than web-tutorials - if you want his contact info just hit me up at markdigitalofficial@gmail.com).  I think it is great if people can do it by themselves, and I definitely am self-taught, but am always striving for more out of my music, my ideas. I want to produce the highest quality, catchiest, emotional, worldwide progressive house and trance music that DJs love to play and people love to dance to in their favorite club, and maybe buy my tracks and support my passion!

Dimitri: In which label was your first ever release and how did you manage to attract the attention of the label?

Mark Digital: This was really cool. So I was writing all these tracks and was listening to these podcasts and Jaytech had a producer podcast. And he was talking to a producer friend and he was plugging his services for his Soundbetter service where he takes your track and mixes it. So I signed up to do that with him and he mixed it perfectly (so good) and he also told me he liked the proggy vibes and I could probably send it to Progressive House Worldwide and Pineapple Digital (two labels that I guess he is on their promo list).  It was then I realised I guess I am a progressive house producer hahah. And so I sent the demo to both labels but PHW got to me first so I went with them. And what was cool was they also checked out my Soundcloud page and listed to some other tracks I did, and they liked a track called 722 that they made the B-side to my first EP.  So that was awesome and actually 722 was one of my biggest releases since it was that happy sunny melodic progressive house style that we all know and love so much :)

Dimitri: Please pick for us your Top 5 tracks that you have produced and you consider them as being highly important for the progress of your career indifferent if they were commercially successful.

Mark Digital: Hahah. This is a tough one. But here they are.  The best is still yet to come! 

1) Static Collision (Supported by JES)

2) 722

 3) Crystal Rain (Supported by Tom Fall!) 

4) As the Sun Sets (Supported by Din3nsion)

5) Moving Stars Across the Sky (Supported by Tempo Giusto!).  My goal is to write incredible tracks that get global support in everyone major dance radio show and that DJs want to play in their sets to give their crowds and amazing experience at the club!

Dimitri: Let's focus on your latest release. Please tell us from where did you got the inspiration for the track?

Mark Digital: So the latest release "Islands" includes 4 tracks. Islands, Land of Time, Cozmos, and Meme.  The inspiration was welling up inside since I was so inspired by the lessons I was taking with Johnny Yono and going to see Spencer Brown when he came to town at Soundcheck DC, plus by the changing weather in the area! I am a sucker for sunshine and love to infuse my tunes with sunny proggy vibes and also try to etch a piece of my heart and soul into each track that I make. I love a melody that sticks with you that is memorable and emotional and that stays with the listener even after the track is over. There is so much awesome music out there that I listen to and I hope to make the listener and club goer feel the same way I do when I am vibing to this music!

Dimitri: How long it took you to produce it and was an easy or difficult process?If you have faced any difficulties please tell us about them and how did you resolved them?

Mark Digital: I usually have to write like 3 or 4 tracks before I write a really good one, and the process is never ending. It's a constant struggle to not only write beats and melodies, but also to produce them!  Not only are you the artist in electronic music, you are the band, the manager, the producer, the mix engineer, everything!  While digital platforms make it easier than ever to get ideas out and flow down in your digital audio workstation (DAW for the uninitiated), it's still a huge undertaking that takes years of dedication and many hours to master!  I have found that my ability to write melodies is relatively simple compared to the complexities of mastering the art of mixing all of the elements together and finding the write samples or soundsets that work together.  That is where learning from masters (Johnny Yono, tutorials, etc) really comes into play.  If I could I would do this 24 hours a day and just make music non-stop!

Dimitri: Which was the biggest challenge that you faced during the production of this superb track?

Mark Digital: I guess what I always run into is finding a suitable label to release with. I always get so excited when I write a new track and I just want to release it and I want the world to hear it and love it. Then reality sets in when I start listening to l a Rolo Green track (Penrith anyone?) and I'm like Oh crap that guys is a progressive house genius. Back to the drawing board :) lol.  So there is always that self doubt and that urge to produce better and bigger tracks that resonate with people who are in the scene.  It's a tough business because the tracks have to hit with the listener but also with the DJ, and the DJ has discriminating taste and quickly sorts out the wheat from the chaff.  So I know I need to keep improving my game to get to the next level, and that is my biggest challenge, trying to stay relevant in a scene with unbelievable talent! It's so much easier to be a fan than a producer, because then you can just enjoy the music and dance instead of living with a constant need to improve :) But it's a journey and one that I love to be on so I wouldn't change anything (except of course if I could have a multi-million dollar recording studio with all the toys, I'd take that hahah)

Dimitri: Can you describe to us the steps that you went through the production of this track and of any other track?

Mark Digital: So when I write tracks I am usually in a certain mindset of the track I want to create.  I usually sit down in front of Ableton and try to find a nice kick sample and key.  Then when I've settled in on the key of the track, then I'm like what BPM should the track be in, am I feeling trancey or am I feeling prog housey? That decides the BPM.  Then I start getting a bass going against the kick and maybe a highhat and a snare. And then I'm like well that sounds like shit, let's tweak some of the notes here. I slap on my favorite synth (Sylenth1) and start messing around.  I'll get a groove and if I'm very lucky, a hook line.  I can build on a simple musical idea if it's strong enough.  Take Islands for example, I had a completely different chord progression in mind when I started writing that track, but then that rhythm just popped out of nowhere. Then I started building on it and found a really cool vocal sample that I chopped and applied a nice trance gate too, warped and pitched in different ways, and it turned out super emotional with some really nice ambience.

Dimitri: When the track finished did the label accepted it as it was produced or did the label recommend you to do some changes or fix certain things?

Mark Digital: So with Soluna, those guys were super awesome to work with.  I think they just ask for one track, Land of Time, to be tweaked a bit with more of a DJ intro and outtro, since I think I started right with the bass but then added 8 bars of kick so easier for DJ mixing.  

Dimitri: Is this track an original composition or is it based on a template from another track produced from you or another producer?

Mark Digital: All the tracks I do start with a blank sheet in my DAW.  I probably could be more efficient if I had a template or recycled some projects, but the way I work, I feel like each track takes a small piece of my soul, so that each track should start out naked like when you are first born, and grow from there, you know? You start with nothing, and then you develop and progress into something bigger and better and keep going until of course it ends. The great thing with music is you can relive that birth and rebirth over and over again each time you listen to a track. It's timeless in that way, a memorial to how you are feeling and where you are in life.  And when you hear your favorite track 5 or 10 years later, you can look back at the first time you heard it and remember something special about yourself. That is what I want to give the listener, something special they can remember, they can feel.

Dimitri: Is the quality of this track higher than your previous one? If yes in what ways this track sounds better than your previous one?

Mark Digital: I sure as hell hope so! Yes of course I would love to say that my tracks get better over time! That is human nature I think, to progress and not regress, though sometime that is inevitable.  I just think some of the tracks like Cozmos and Meme have more club oriented feel to them, more groove and heavy feelings, then some of my past tracks. I think that Land of Time and Islands may be a bit more melodic, but also have that emotional edge to them that gets you feeling nostalgic and uplifted.  That is what I am aiming for, an experience, a story, when I write music, that takes you to a place outside of the mundane day to day and into a fantasy or a place where you can be yourself away from responsibility and just let yourself go and trip out on some groovy prog house!

Dimitri: Do you have any friends or relatives that you send them the track before sending it to a label or if you are DJ did you test it in your gigs? If yes did you have to do any alterations as a result of the crowd reaction?

Mark Digital: Hahah I wish I was a DJ! That is what is missing in my life for sure. I would love to rock a club and at the end have some fan get me bottle service and party!  But yeah I send tracks to friends of mine and my family, just to see if they like them and what the reaction is. All of my friends and family are 100% not into electronic music, so if I can get one of them to dig a track (honestly without feeling guilty by saying they like it just cuz it's mine ahhahah) then I think I am on to something. I probably am making my kids pretty sick of music because I am always playing it for them, but I am happy to expose them to progressive house and trance so they don't just listen to Imagine Dragons or pop music in general and see that there is other music out there!

Dimitri: Please describe to us the studio that you have produced the Island EP? What is your favourite hardware and software set up? Do you have in mind any new gear that you wish to get in order to raise the quality of your production?

Mark Digital: Yeah so my set up is Ableton for my DAW on an HP machine.  I use Sylenth1 predominately, and Spire, ACE, Massive for VSTs. I have KRKs for my speakers and Audio-Technica ATH-M50x for my headphones (lots of headphones so I don't wake up the kids when I produce into the wee hours of the morning).  I have a Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 audio interface and a midi-controller Novation 25 key keyboard.  So mostly all "in the box" and not really any outboard synths or analogue gear.  I would love to experiment with outboard synths and drum machines but they are hard to come by and the software these days is sound pretty damn good, but I might splurge and get some analogue gear in the future.  It's fun to build the studio little by little especially since music production is a fairly expensive undertaking!

Dimitri: Do you master the track yourself or the mastering is task for the record label? Do you understand mastering as being essential?

Mark Digital: I usually don't master the tracks myself, but mastering is essential for the final product.  If you've ever seen unmastered audio and compare it to mastered audio, you can see how much post-production matters to a track! Of course, the mix is the most important thing to get right prior to sending off to mastering, but mastering really makes all the elements pop and brings the volume and body of the track up to industry standard volume etc. For demos that I send out to labels, I usually just slap on an Ozone Elements plug in that brings the levels up a bit and maybe adds a bit of color to the track, but then I strip everything off the master when I send to the label to get mastered, and hope they get the best master out of their engineer so that the release is on par with the big guys!

Dimitri: There is a growing trend of vinyl coming back for good. Would you like to see this track released on vinyl or any other of your future tracks? Do you prefer digital files or vinyl?

Mark Digital: I would love for my tracks to be on vinyl, what? How fucking cool would it be if a label had the cash to press vinyl and there was a market of vinyl DJs that would buy 5000 copies of a record and spin in underground clubs?  That sounds like a dream come true and it used to be this way back in the day. Now it's all USB or laptop DJs which is cool as well, but have you heard a vinyl crackle? You can't beat that sound. Put the needle on the record as they say.

Dimitri: Are there any plans for additional remixes EP?

Mark Digital: Currently no remixes included since the EP already has 4 original tracks, but Soluna has reached out for a remix pack so I better get to work on that!  If you seen them, tell them I am busy working to get that over to them :)

Dimitri: Do you have any future releases planned and when will be released?

Mark Digital: As for the future, I am currently working on more tracks and hopefully will get more to market soon! I have about 6 or 10 tracks signed to other labels that haven't told me a release date yet, but those should come out this year I hope.  It's funny because I feel like I am producing better tracks now, and some of the older tracks I produce might come out after some of the better tracks I am producing. So when I mentioned regression earlier, I guess that is a form of regression, when my older stuff comes out after my newer stuff :)

Dimitri: Are you DJ as well?

Mark Digital: Hoping my DJ days are not too far off in the future!

Dimitri: Do you produce a radio show/podcast as well? Please tell us here all the details about it. If you don't have one please tell us why you don't think is important for your career.

Mark Digital: Yeah I am not sure economically what the benefit is of having a PODcast, but I am all for having one! This question has definitely put the idea in my mind, so maybe having a PODcast is a good idea to express my musical tastes to others and also showcase some of my own music mixed with my favorite DJs.  

Dimitri: Best piece of advice you got in relation to your career so far and best tip you learnt recently to make your tracks better.

Mark Digital: OK so got great tips from some of the big guys.  First was Spencer Brown. He used to take questions via Facebook, and would check out tracks. His best advice to me was to add movement to my drums.  Then Jaytech gave me this great advice, simple, but so true "Keep writing Hits". Makes sense right? Why would you not want to write a hit?  Ok and thirdly, Johnny Yono..He said ....well if you want to know what he says sign up for lessons from him because you will learn more than I can express in words! 

Dimitri: Please give us here your tips or more elaborated advice for any new artists who may read this interview and wish to get involved with the electronic music industry.

Mark Digital: Along with the tips above, I am also open for any beginner producer questions! Just send me an email and I'll give you an answer to any questions you have.  But I guess other advice I can give is keep learning, be true to yourself, love the music you make, find a name that is easy to remember and pronounce hahah, and enjoy the process.  This music, any music, is about passion and emotion, and how you can affect your fans in a positive way.  Try to put your soul into what you do, and make sure that comes through in your tracks!

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