It's interview time — this time with music producer Nils Hoffmann.
Check out: Nils Hoffmann Production Pack - Melodic Techno.
Nils Hoffmann is the Berlin-based producer who took the scene with his debut full-length album Once in a Blue Moon.
He's on the major labels like Anjunadeep, Lochmann and Poesie Records and does frequent collaborations with artists like Ben Böhmer and Tinlicker.
Nils also fills dancefloors around the world with his punchy, high-energy live sets.
We got together with Nils for an interview to ask him about his production secrets, favorite VST plugins and much more.
Let's dive in!
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. For an easy start: Can you describe your music in three words?
"Melodic, punchy, and emotional."
You have great success now with over 1,2 Million monthly listeners on Spotify. When did you start making music?
"I started producing my own music around 2010 but played many instruments before that.
As a child, I had drum and piano lessons and tried other instruments like cello for one year.
But the problem is, when you only practice something for a year, you don’t become that good."
What DAW did you start with, and what do you use now?
Picture of a recent Magix Music Maker version.
"I started with Magix Music Maker. It's like a simple DAW where you only work with loops.
I don't know how it is nowadays, but before, you had different styles like RnB, techno, and rock.
Then you had a couple of drum loops from each style and could combine them with melodies and different sounds. It was very fun to get started.
After that, I moved on to Ableton Live and have been using it since."
What’s your workflow? How do you usually start a new track?
"My starting process now often begins with the vocals. I get sent a lot of vocal demos.
So, it usually involves choosing the vocal track and getting the stems.
I then add a matching bassline for the harmonic foundation, add the chords, and take it from there.
If it’s an instrumental track, my process quite similar.
I first try to find a bassline that is kind of conclusive – with some nice tension and release. Then I stack the chords and create different chord layers.
For example, if it’s a C minor chord, I layer it by putting C notes in different octaves.
Or, I add a ninth to the chords. Basically, trying to make the chords as interesting as I can.
To create the melody for the chords, I go to my synthesizer or keyboard and play something that feels nice with the chords."
What are your favorite VST plugins?
"My favorite synth plugin is Serum.
For effect plugins, it’s probably Universal Audio plugins.
Everything they have is amazing, but my favorite is Thermionic Culture Vulture.
It’s like a saturator with three kinds of distortion. Yeah, they’re amazing."
What’s the secret behind your powerful basslines? Do you use hardware gear or plugins?
"For the bass, I mostly use the Korg MS-20, Diva, and Serum.
My basslines are usually sub-basses.
For the most part, I use Diva and Serum as fillers before recording the final bassline with the MS-20, which I do very quickly.
Often, it’s just a simple sine wave with a little noise on it – and that’s it.
The original sound from the MS-20 is already very noisy. So, I often try to EQ the noise first before pushing the sound further.
There aren’t any secrets, but equalization is very important – and I always tune my kicks seven steps (fifth) above or below the root note of the song."
"Then I do equalization where the tone of the kick is, boost 1-2 dB, and cut the same in the bass.
I then compress and sidechain the bassline to the kick.
I then send the bass and the kick to a separate return channel for some glue compression, usually with an SSL compressor, at minus 3 or 4 dB, or even less.
Then the compressed kick and bass is mixed with the original.
The volume is very important – I look where the kick peaks and where the bassline peaks.
Usually, my basslines peak 12 dB higher than my kick drums. That way, you can take 1 dB off or more or automate it.
If you want your bass to be louder at certain parts of the track, you can easily do it."
Is music theory important for you in the process?
"Music theory is very important for me. I tune all my drums to the song's key, on the root note or seven steps (fifth) above.
So, for drum tuning, music theory is very important.
But it’s also important for chords to get the foundation right.
I sometimes look stuff up, like which chord progressions work or to discover what is even possible."
Your album ”Once in a Blue Moon” is incredible. What's the story behind it?
"The story behind the album is to make it exactly how I wanted it to be – because it’s my debut album.
I worked for three years until I felt that the album is exactly how I imagined it.
That’s why it’s called Once in a Blue Moon – I've produced music for 8 years and never released an album until now.
But now I feel like I’m hooked on albums. I’m actually working on a new one right now. It’s a time-consuming process, but I like it very much."
(editors note: Listen to the fantastic album on Spotify here.)
Are you a perfectionist?
"Yes, but not in general – only in music.
When I mix my songs, I can easily sit for 18 hours.
I don't really have a process to combat perfectionism. I just send my music when I'm happy with the result. What matters is making the music perfect for me.
Of course, it’s possible that I don’t think it sounds perfect in two years – but what matters is that I think that at the time.
I also send my music to different people, like other producer friends, my team and ask for their opinion."
Is it true you included original samples from your album in your new PML Production Pack?
All the samples in my production pack are from original tracks and from the album.
For example, basically every drum sound from the album is in the pack – in their original state."
Check out the Nils Hoffmann Production Pack - Melodic Techno.
Awesome! What are you working on now?
"Basically, all my time goes into my main project – the new album. I also do lots of songwriting sessions, but it’s mostly music production for the album now.
All the songs are ready, and I will try to finish them in the next few weeks.
The first single will be out soon, and the full release will come in time. Maybe even in a few months."
What's your best advice for producers who want to become as successful as you?
"The most important thing is that you need to be motivated to get better. I think that the more you learn, the better you get.
So, try to learn as much as you can – read something, watch something, and take tutorials."
It was an honor speaking with Nils Hoffmann for this interview and we're thrilled to have him onboard with us at Production Music Live.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to make myself a coffee and listen to Once in a Blue Moon again...
Read our previous interview with Janus Rasmussen here.
Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.