Ash is known for fusing middle eastern sounds with deep house. A style that is reminiscent of his broad range of influences and stacks up millions of streams. Hailing from Cairo, Ash is currently based in Paris.
Here’s an in-depth interview about his upraise as an artist, the pros and cons of streaming services and much more. Enjoy!
What made you get into making music? What was your biggest influence when starting out?
My brother used to play the piano which made me want to learn too, so I started taking courses when I was 7 years old. Growing up with the electronic music generation and influence around, I decided to start DJing at the age of 12. I always felt like DJing wasn’t enough for me, that I wasn’t really using my instruments, so I decided to start producing to incorporate my instruments into songs. I was really influenced by Armin Van Buuren’s melodies at that time.
You released your first original track LOST in 2012. In regards of how you produce and release music, what would you say changed the most since then?
I think my mixing and mastering improved a lot since Lost. To be honest, when I released it I didn’t even know I had to mix and master before releasing anything. I just created tracks, exported them and uploaded them on Soundcloud. Sometimes I would even just release a 1 minute demo of an unfinished project. Lost is still one of my personal favorite in terms of melody though. But I think what changed most is the quality of the mix and master and of course in terms of how I release, Spotify changed everything. Now releasing became more professional, I don’t just release random demos and unfinished songs.
Could you sum up some personal milestones in your artist development?
My first milestone ever was when people at my high school started acknowledging my music and listening to it, I felt so happy and proud but I wanted to reach more people of course. Then I started getting thousands of plays on Soundcloud and it felt so crazy, I was like “wow, people I don’t even know are listening to my music”. But, while there are milestones, I learned that you can never be too comfortable with what you get and you always have to work harder. I remember when my first track got like 50,000 plays on Soundcloud, I really felt like that was it, that I made it. So I got stuck in this mindset for a while and I couldn’t really produce anything.
I would get so sad when my next release would reach only 2 or 3k plays. At this point, I knew that I should never feel too comfortable with my milestones and that I needed to work harder and get much more. When I reached a million people, it meant the world to me, but then I needed to reach 10 million, then a 100 million. In my artist development, every step of the journey will always be a milestone.
Indie vs. Major vs. DIY – how do you currently exploit your music?
DIY. I released all my tracks independently – in 2019 the internet is trying to help artists a lot in becoming more independent. I remember when I once just searched on Google “How to release your songs on Spotify” and I found this website called Distrokid, I didn’t know what a distributor was or anything, I just created an account and uploaded all my songs. A week later I had a page on Spotify, iTunes and all digital stores, I couldn’t believe it was that easy. I always thought I needed a label to be on Digital stores.
The thing is, I didn’t have any money to invest in promo or anything like that, so I had to just wait till my tracks magically started getting discovered. And they did, my track Mosaique got into a few Viral 50 on Spotify and this is when it all started.
Your tracks stack up millions of streams on streaming services. How do you feel about the evolution of digital music streaming services? Are there any PROs and CONs that you’d like to mention.
It feels amazing of course. I can’t even believe that many people in the world are listening to my music. There are PROs of course, digital music streaming services helped a lot in helping my music reach more people around the world. Youtube has always been great for music videos and all, but then we saw a wave of Music promotional channels like Majestic, TheSoundYouNeed, Palmtherapy Sounds that helped a lot musicians reach more people.
But while there are PROs you also have CONS, it became much more difficult to build your brand. It’s like people would know Mosaique, but who’s Ash? So you have to work hard to let people know who the artist behind this music is. Quality control and copyrights are also very difficult now because of how easy it became to release music. Like sometimes I would find someone releasing my songs under another artist name and selling them on iTunes.
Part of your style is a fusion of middle eastern sounds and electronic music. If you think about how Reggaeton & Dancehall influenced music is dominating the worldwide charts right now, do you think this could happen with middle eastern music as well?
That’s exactly what I usually compare my music style to. At some point I felt like middle eastern influenced music would never make it in the international charts because I used to listen to all the “hits” they always had a westernized sound to them, then I realized that I was completely wrong when Reggaeton started to dominate the charts. The fact that Reggaeton & Dancehall would dominate the charts gave me more confidence to incorporate middle eastern sounds into my music and believe that one day it could also dominate the worldwide charts.
I also want to spread a message of unity between the west and the middle-east and there’s no better way to do it than by using the international language, music.
Name your top 3 software tools for engaging in musical content. Why do you like them?
Ableton is amazing, well because it’s Ableton. I have been using it for 8 years now and I’m still learning new stuff everyday, other ways of creating, shaping and editing the sounds. Especially the fact that their factory instruments are so simple and neat that you could design any sound you want.
Max for Live is great because you can use it to build instruments and be more creative with Ableton. I personally download Max for Live devices from the online library and it has a lot of different devices that push me into being more creative. For example, there’s this device called “Granulator” by Robert Henke, I can literally just record one note on my guitar put it on Granulator, then play with it to create crazy ambient sounds.
EastWest is great for all the Orchestral & Ethnic instruments like Trumpets, Trombones, Violins, Oud and Qanun. The sounds are incredibly realistic.
Do you like collaboration with others? How would you describe the perfect form of musical collaboration?
I love collaborations, I made so many friends through collaborations. I sent a message to my friend Patrick (MOUNT) once on Soundcloud like 4 years ago to ask if he would be interested in a collaboration and he answered, then he came to Egypt, we met there, we played together in an event there, then I went to see him in Vienna last year to work on some music together and I had the best time ever there (and ate a lot of Schnitzel…a lot!). It’s just crazy how with just a message on Soundcloud and through music you can make such good friends.
The perfect form of musical collaboration is definitely with friends, because it doesn’t feel like we’re “working” on something we’re just having fun doing what we love, music. You also get to mix a lot of different genres and complete each others ideas. For example, I’m collaborating with my friend Imad (whom I also met online) and I know my music is very chill and always lacking some Bass, that’s where his style complements mine, he creates these strong basses and melodies that would make our track sound more complete and “dancy”.
Do you have some insights on running a smooth live show?
I use the Ableton Push 2. I think it’s great for performing live with Ableton. My live show is usually with the Guitar, Electronic Drums, Saxophone and Keyboard, it’s more of a live instruments set than a pure Ableton Live Set, so the goal is be able to play all the different instruments without having to change patches and effects every time I have to use one of the instruments.
To be able to do that and run it as smoothly as possible I use something called ClyphX, it allows me to Automate everything. So for example, when I play a certain track, I know that the guitar will be ready with the right effect for it, the keyboard will have the right patch, and the drums will have the right sounds on it. Then it switches for the next track. It’s great because you can just focus on playing all the different instruments.
How important are data insights for your (strategic) decisions?
Very important. Data helps me understand how fans react to my music and then know exactly which direction to take with my releases. For example, when I post a video with an artwork and my track on Youtube, it would get a certain amount of plays, but when I post a video of myself playing the track, it would get much more views. That helped me decide to make more videos of me playing and not just releasing simple artworks. Now, data insights on how my tracks are performing on every platform are even more important. If I know that my tracks are performing better on Youtube and Spotify than Soundcloud, I will focus my promotion on Youtube and Spotify more than anything else.
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