An abandoned hotel is a great location for a horror movie - or a music studio if you're Todiefor.
From efficient minimalist studios to elaborate labs that could double as music history museums; in GEAR TALK, we visit some of Belgium's most exciting beatmakers in their natural habitat. How do these people make music? And which tools do they use to make their next anthem? In every video, we uncover the producer's go-to tools and most-priced piece of equipment. This time, we visit Todiefor.
A huge business hotel in the city centre might not be the most obvious location for a studio (The Overlook Hotel, anyone?) – but Todiefor is not your average producer. The Brussels-based musician is known for his bass-heavy approach to dance music, making bopping house and hip hop tunes for his solo project or for huge artists like Roméo Elvis, Alkpote or The Magician. Today, he takes us behind the scenes and gives us an extensive peek into his workflow, his studio and his gear.
How did you end up with a studio in an abandoned hotel? And doesn’t this place give you eery vibes?
“I used to have a studio in Anderlecht, but during the first lockdown, it became difficult to keep working there. In the same period, a friend who works at a hotel in the city centre approached me. He offered me to pick a room and turn it into a temporary studio since the hotel had closed down because of the pandemic. I thought he was joking, but I knew I had to take this opportunity immediately when I saw the place with my own eyes. It's so quiet here; no one bothers me. I've been here for almost a year now”.
I’m alone in this huge 150-room hotel, getting around with a flashlight.
“I admit that there have been moments I was a bit scared in the first few months. After all, the electricity is shut down, so I’m all alone in this huge 150-room hotel, getting around with a flashlight”.
What’s your routine? What’s your modus operandi?
“I'm here almost every day. I'm a morning person, so I'll get in by 9 AM and leave by 6 PM. In this way, I try to make my workflow resemble a normal workday. Long night sessions are not my thing. I mostly work alone. After all, this room is tiny, and it's not very comfortable to work with several people here. When I do collaborations with rappers or vocalists, I first make a solid groundwork of my tracks, before meeting them elsewhere”.
“I don't have a secret hit-making formula, but I keep myself inspired by listening to a lot of new music every day. Sometimes I’m doing something completely different when an idea hits me, and I’ll sing in the notes on my phone before I use it in this studio. Sound recording needs to be fast for me. I always use the microphone on my phone, because I can't be bothered to set up a mic and test everything. By the time that setup is ready, my idea has already faded away”.
Tell us a bit more about the gear you use.
“The centre-piece of my equipment is my Macbook Pro, which is linked to a monitor. I’ve often considered buying a proper iMac desktop station, but I love to be able to move around and pop up my laptop to work on ideas instantly. Using it with a huge widescreen and the Ableton Push controller allows me to have a more comprehensive overview and control of my Ableton DAWs, the music production software I use”.
I usually have the framework of the track in 20 minutes. But then I need about a full year to finish the details.
“I use the classic Rokit 8 studio monitors, the oldest two pieces of equipment in this studio (I bought them about six years ago). I would recommend these to anyone who wants to start building their home studio. They are great value for money”.
“I’m pretty obsessed with my Prophet REV2 at the moment. It’s an amazing analogue synth with excellent filters I can use independently without a computer. In the scene, the Prophet brand is known for its stellar synths that became popular throughout the 80s. This one, the REV2, is a remake of the legendary discontinued Prophet 5. I bought this one at the beginning of the first lockdown. I wanted a breeze of fresh air in my studio, and since I never owned an analogue synth before, this was going to be the one. It has a lot of classic 80s sounds, which I’m currently very much into”.
On what criteria do you decide which synth to buy?
“It took me a long time to make a decision when I was looking for a synth. There are plenty of different offers on the market, like the Korg products. The REV2 is not even the best synth in the Prophet catalogue; the Prophet 6, for example, is more advanced, but it's a lot more expensive too. The REV2 is a lot more versatile, and there are a lot of presets I like. After all, I'm not the kind of producer that splits hairs on every little detail. As soon as this machine makes a sound I like, I will use it without too much further tweaking”.
Now that I have more experience working with other artists, I have a more balanced approach in the studio.
What kind of producer are you? The one who churns out ten tracks a week or the one who tweaks his EQ's until the end of his days?
“I can be both, but I’m mostly the second one. That’s because I’m a perfectionist. In about 20 minutes, I often have the framework of the track. But it's the part that comes after I spend most of my time on. Sometimes I'm tweaking details I know nobody will ever notice, but when I have a certain idea, I cannot ignore it. I usually need about a full year to deliver a finished track. Sometimes my manager calls me to tell me I should leave it and move on (laughs). I know it's a problem I struggle with”.
As a producer who often makes music for other people, how do you divide your creative time between those projects and the ones of your own?
“I have been making music for about ten years now, but until recently, I exclusively worked on my own. Since about three years, I evenly divided my studio time for myself and others. I did many advertising commissions for brands like Sephora, Uber and Voo, and I also worked on the soundtrack of a French movie called Ibiza. While this was going on, I also collaborated with artists like Vegedream, Roméo Elvis, Orelsan, Lorenzo, and The Magician. Now that I’ve experienced working with others, I have a more balanced approach. Both ways have their benefits”.
I rarely listen back to my productions once they're out.
Why does that track stand out?
“Because I can still stand to listen to it after it’s released (laughs). I know that sounds weird, but it's a good sign when I can listen back to something I made without thinking I should have done a better job. Similarly, I love the collaboration on the Lorenzo track ‘Je vous déteste tous’. We made that track in under 30 minutes, just playing around without having any idea in mind. Even months after the release, I still think it’s a great production. That’s rare for me (laughs)”.
Imagine money doesn’t matter. What would be the piece of studio hardware on top of your wishlist?
I would get myself a nice new pair of high-end speakers. That said, I don’t think it would fit this tiny studio. I also wouldn’t want to overflow my studio with gear.