At The Controls is a new series that peeks under the curtain of electronic music production, to highlight the behind-the-scenes people whose contributions have had a lasting impact across the dance music landscape.
Tobias Freund is a pillar of Berlin techno. Alongside his house-leaning releases as tobias. and darker tones as Pink Elln, he has undertaken a range of acclaimed collaborations through his lengthy career: modern classical fusions with Max Loderbauer as nsi., sweeping soundscapes with Ricardo Villalobos for Odd Machine, and open-ended improvisation for the outfit formed with Atom TM.
He is also a renowned and multifaceted production figure, with more than two decades of experience covering mixing, mastering, composition, and engineering. From his early experiences in the 1990s, learning the ropes with pop-tastic groups like No Mercy and La Bouche, through to his recent work with Bpitch Control‘s Ellen Allien and Aerea Negrot, Tobias Freund walks us through his life at the controls.
First up, can you please describe your current studio?
My main “instrument” is my analog mixing desk from adt-audio, and I have a lot of outboard gear like Eventide, AMS, and analog tape echoes. The desk is connected through a Lynx Studio Aurora 16 AD converter with a Mac. I work with Logic Audio. I use drum machines from Roland, Korg, and Electro-Harmonix, synthesizers from Roland, Korg, Waldorf, and Akai, and my favorite plugin synth is the Korg M1 and the Logic ES1.
How would describe your own production signature?
That’s actually hard to say; people I worked with could probably describe it better. If I work on a production like Ellen Allien’s latest album, I like to enhance the artist’s capabilities rather than putting on an artificial touch that doesn’t suit the artist. I like to point out personality even if it is simple, not perfect, or primitive. These are the attributes that make a production and an artist unique. I also work a lot on mixing productions for customers; people send me their individual tracks for a song. Very often there are too many elements in it and frequencies that overlap, so the challenge is to clean them up without making the song sterile. A certain roughness combined with audiophile accuracy is my goal.
Do you have any production heroes or a favorite piece of music that you aspire to?
Along with many others, I admire the productions of Conny Plank, David Dunningham, Adrian Sherwood, and Brian Eno. All of them are able to work on different kinds of musical genres, from rock/pop to experimental music and to disco. They are excellent sound engineers and use their studio knowledge in a unique way.
What’s the one piece of equipment in your studio that is most valued to you?
Definitely my AMS harmonizer. I used the unit while I was working as a sound engineer for Frank Farian a lot and learned to love it.
What proportion of time do you spend collaborating as opposed to working on solo material?
This changes from time to time. Since I finished my album for Ostgut Ton last year, I didn’t do any collaborations apart from some mixing jobs. I share my studio with my nsi. partner Max Loderbauer, and we have two separate rooms, but they are connected through a window, a sync, and some audio cables. So it can happen that he is working on something that fits perfectly to the stuff I am working on, so this means we are kind of in a constant collaboration process even if we work on our solo stuff.
In your own words, how would you describe the difference between producing for another artist and “ghost writing”?
I am not interested in “ghost writing.” I think if you work together with someone, both parties have to be equal and share all in- and output. I don’t like the attitude of people who sell something they didn’t do. I keep on asking myself, why can’t they just name it as it is and not pretend to be a producer? I don’t mind if I work with someone on a production for his or her project, but I at least should be credited as either producer or co-writer. I am not interested in fake anymore. I think after Milli Vanilli, we should have learned something.
You were involved with various pop-dance acts in the 1990s including Milli Vanilli. How did you get your start, and what did those experiences eventually teach you?
My job in the studio included all works from the beginning to the end of a production, and beside my job as an engineer, I constantly worked at home on my own musical experiments. I digested the experiences in the studio til I quit my job 10 years ago and just worked on my own music and productions.
What would you say are the main differences between shaping sound for pop music compared to electronic music?
For me there is no difference; a song has to be “honest” in the first place, no matter if it’s pop or techno. But of course technically there are things you should know. Acoustic music needs more attention to dynamics and frequencies, and electronic music is basically already leveled, but also needs work on the frequencies.
You’ve recently worked with Bpitch Control artists Ellen Allien and Aerea Negrot. What are the best attributes that each of these artists have contributed to the project that you worked on together?
When I listened to the first demos of Daniella (Aerea Negrot), I instantly knew that I had to help her with her production. I haven’t heard something so unique and fresh for a long time. All the music was already there, it just needed some little tweaks and a mixdown. She is one of the best artists I ever worked with—precise, accurate, and dedicated. The production with Ellen was very special, too. It is always surprising how the element of a voice changes the atmosphere of a song. Ellen understood how to provide that special element and turn the song into a song that suits her best.
What would you say is your proudest production moment?
Well, I am actually not proud of my music; I am proud of my girlfriend, my friends, and my family. There are certain songs I did that I like more than others, and this is a matter of coincidence, when things come together in the right time.
What’s been the biggest learning curve or problem for you to overcome as a producer?
I was working on a remix—and I consider myself an artist, musician, and producer—and the guy I did the remix for liked it a lot but asked me to change the sound of the snare drum. That’s not a big deal, but I do things on purpose and somehow it would be the same if you ask a painter to change the color of something in his picture. So the learning curve is not to take things personally, stay relaxed, and belief in yourself.
**Click here to sample the At The Controls: Tobias Freund chart featuring 10 tracks from his production discography.