At the Controls is a series of interviews conducted last year 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.
Of all our At the Controls producers, Dennis Waakop Reijers is perhaps the one engaged in the most traditional type of star/silent-partner relationship. Reijers is a name unknown to many, except for the most diligent trance fans, but, alongside Hans-Willem Mallon, over the past 15 years he has been the dominant voice in the musical output of the juggernaut that is Tiesto.
The Dutch superstar has openly dubbed Reijers and his other expert studio collaborators as “the band,” and it has been a mutually beneficial situation that has encompassed well-received albums, stadium-filling anthems, and well-known remixes. In his first interview, Reijers offers a refreshing view of what it’s like to be at the controls of one of the world’s biggest electronic music stars.
How did you first come to work with Tiesto?
I worked alone on my own music, then I met a business partner who worked in a music equipment store and Tiesto was a customer there. He introduced me to Tiesto and then Tiesto asked us to do some remixes for him.
You worked on a number of productions with Tiesto and Hans Willem Mallon. What would you say are the best attributes that each of these guys contributes to the process?
First off, Hans Willem Mallon introduced me to Tiesto and guided me along the way. The latter wasn’t in my own interest most of the time, unfortunately, but the introduction was of great value to me. Tiesto has a great ear for music and arrangements, and great ideas for tracks as well. This, together with his feedback on my production work, has played an important role in quite a few productions for him.
Tiesto has been quite open about referring to you and other producer-engineers as “the band.” What is it like being behind the scenes of one of the most high-profile artists in electronic music?
When I thought about this in the past, I would think that I hadn’t built anything for myself. But as it turned out it is just a matter of my track record out there. I don’t mind being behind the scenes of artists, as this is what you do as a producer, as long as the artist is open about the contribution of the producer to his music and career.
He’s undertaken a number of collaborations in 2011 with well-known producers: Hardwell, Mark Knight, High Contrast, etc. Are you still working together?
I have actually played an important role in the production of the Mark Knight and High Contrast collaborations. Tiesto and I haven’t parted ways, and are currently working on some big projects together. However, we both wish to do projects with other artists and producers. I think it’s good and healthy to do so.
What are you currently using in your studio?
I currently have a mixed set-up, meaning I use both hard- and software. For my main DAW software, I’ve been using a couple of different programs over the years from Logic to Nuendo and Ableton Live, which I currently use. I use a lot of third-party soft-synths and plugins as well, ranging from Arturia to Native Instruments and Waves to Slate Digital, and the UAD DSP-based plugins as well. I have several hardware synthesizers in the studio, such as the Korg Oasys and Kronos (I am a Korg fan and have been using their workstations since I started to produce music), a Moog Voyager, Alesis Andromeda, SCI Pro One, and the Roland Jupiter 8. For monitoring, I have a Dynaudio AIR 6 5.1 speaker setup, which is used to create a stereo image. I also use Sennheiser HD650 headphones, especially when working on my laptop (MacBook Pro). I basically have three workspace setups: the main setup is based around a PC workstation with the Dynaudio set and focused on full production. The second one is a Mac Pro with just the Korg Oasys and is used as a creative music workspace (I just focus on music, layering, or beats; everything I record by playing different layers). And the last one is my MacBook as a mobile setup.
How would describe your own production signature?
Almost every production I’ve done is focused on musicality and towards the artist. More specifically, I have always paid much attention to detail, especially to bass and balance. I put a lot of time and effort into productions because I strive for the highest quality in them; I’ve noticed that some artists are able to be successful with less quality, but I want to keep quality part of my production essentials.
Do you have any production heroes or a favorite piece of music that you aspire to?
An early ‘90s favorite is The Prodigy. Liam Howlett was a major influence on me, and tracks such as “Outta Space” and “No Good” are legendary. Moby also inspired me, and Quincy Jones.
What is the one piece of equipment in your studio that is the most valuable to you?
Hard to say as it’s always a combination. I do love my Jupiter 8 and also the Korg Workstations. For mixing, I love the Optimizer, which in combination with the near-fields creates a very good image of the audio coming out of the workstation. And I would have to say both my ears and eyes are invaluable when it comes to production.
What proportion of time do you spend collaborating as opposed to working on solo material?
Most of the time I am working alone. Even if the project is a collaboration, I still spend quite an amount of the total time alone in the studio. When working alone, music production is a more unconscious process, which is very important for me. You can read about it in Quincy’s bio!
In your own words, how would you describe the difference between producing for another artist and “ghost writing”?
When ghost writing, the credits tend to go to the artist or producer you are ghost writing for. When producing for another artist, the credits go at least partly to you as a producer. Ghost writing can be financially interesting though.
Are there any tracks that you secretly wish you had kept for yourself?
My goal is always to make the artist a better artist through my production. I am not an artist myself, therefore I want all the best productions to go to good artists. Some tracks do not get the attention they should have gotten and aren’t used to their potential. This is something I hope to improve in the present and future.
What would you say your proudest production moment is?
There are several. From the “Silence” remix I produced for Tiesto, which was a big success in a lot of countries, to Tiesto’s live opening in the GelreDome, using “Adagio For Strings.” Of course, also the first time I heard my own production on radio.
What’s been the biggest learning curve or problem for you to overcome as a producer?
Every time that you think you cannot improve, you come to a halt and need to go back to the drawing board. And learning to be open to criticism, but not being dependent on it, is quite a steep learning curve.
What advice would you give to aspiring producers?
Be inspired by both yourself and others. If you do copy, make sure there’s enough room left for your own influences. Above all, it’s music, so make sure to inspire listeners. Because music is one of the most important inspirations in life, period!
Do you think we will ever see a solo Dennis Waakop Reijers release?
My main goal is to reach as many people as possible with the productions I do, therefore I will not rule anything out. But my main focus is on doing productions for other artists to make them better artists and help their careers. I am working on a few collaborations, though, so you can definitely expect music from me. Because I love music!
**Sample 10 of Dennis Waakop Reijers’ productions on his At The Controls chart.