Futurephonic started it’s project life with the slogan ”The creative home for Psychedelic Trance Producers” and has inspired many amateur or professional producers by preparing private lessons with many psytrance geniuses such as Tristan, Day Din, Sonic Species, Headroom and Brainiac. Here’s our exclusive interview with the masterminds Alex Story and Sam Morgan behind Futurephonic!
Alex: After co-producing Sonic Species’ debut album ‘Unleash the Beat’, I departed the project to pursue other musical ambitions, which brought me back home to London. I come from a family of teachers, and I felt motivated to pass on the skills that I’d fostered as a Psytrance artist, particularly in sound design and arrangement. Around the time I was starting to take on private students, I was working shifts in a pub in Stoke Newington, alongside my buddy Sam Morgan.
Sam: Yeah that’s right. I had just started teaching music production at a college in London while working at the pub in Stoke Newington, and was actually Alex’s manager at the time haha!
We’d also known each other through the underground party scene in the early 2000’s. We were talking at work one day about how we both enjoyed teaching. I really wanted to get out of the pub, and we both saw an opportunity to connect international artists with developing students, something that we hadn’t seen done before. Not long after that we scheduled our first live Masterclass and it all evolved from there.
Alex: You ask if we’re frightened of teaching a high-production genre like Psytrance. On the contrary! There’s a lot of magic in the production of Psytrance, but like any academic endeavour it can be disassembled and put back into shape in front of a student, as long as the teacher is properly equipped with the skills and experience. I’m fascinated by the mechanics behind music production, and I’m as keen to learn as I am to educate.
We believe it’s crucial to discern between two truths: there are things that you can learn from others, and there are things that you cannot. You can learn how phase relationships affect a kick and bass, and you can observe how the masters make arrangements click into place. On the other hand, our music is a curation of our own personal experiences. That is artistry, and it’s a lonely, solitary and profound pursuit. You can say, “look at the quality of Astrix’s music. I’ll surely never be that great.” But he has not seen the things that you have seen. Only you have. You have an equally interesting story to tell – you just need to put more hours in at the studio.
Don’t go hard on yourself if it seems to be taking forever – it really just does take a while. I was chatting to a mate yesterday who spent the entire day on a new bass technique, just for fun. From morning to night. It’s an obsessive’s game.
Sam: I agree with this. The challenge of developing as an artist is the thing that has always motivated me. Given enough time and practice anyone can learn the technical complexities of producing Psytrance, or any genre for that matter. I’ve always been fascinated with what’s behind the music, the mental and emotional game you need to learn to play if you want to be successful as an artist. In this way I guess you could say I find all genres of music equally scary – or non scary!
Alex: Above all other things, we seek Masterclass hosts who have the ability and eagerness to share what they know. We work with folks who will put everything they know on the table, and put it on ourselves to ask the right questions to sort through it all. The artists we’ve worked with already feel safe in the knowledge that, while their technique can be mimicked, their artistry cannot.
Sam: We’ve been fortunate to make masterclasses some truly great artists. There is always the temptation to work with a huge artist because of the “wow factor”, but I think most of the time we’ve managed to come back to what’s important, which is their ability to teach. I think it’s also important to have something about their personality which is engaging, and keeps the class flowing.
Alex: Our aspirations revealed themselves slowly but surely. I think a lot of businesses and organizations start that way; you go from ‘let’s just do a cool and hopefully unique thing’ to ‘wow – people actually really dig this. Now we need to make this look great’. I made our first ever trailer on Windows Movie Maker, now I’m a full-on Adobe geek.
I think people just appreciate the amount of time that goes into what we do. When I work, whether producing a Masterclass or making synth patches, I have this imaginary impossible-to-please customer in my head. I keep working until I feel like even they would be thrilled with what we’ve made. We listen to all the feedback, we really do. Thank you so much to those that give it!
Alex: I love finding out where our community’s at with their music. We use surveys and start conversations to keep tabs on what issues people are having, and every Masterclass starts with a dialogue about how we can answer these. We see Futurephonic as a community business, not a place where you ‘get what you’re given’.
I love just geeking out on production values too. Every time we film, we learn, and every time we sit down to make something, the overriding goal is to make something even better than the previous one. More and better lighting. More sliders. Deeper editing. Cooler graphics. I’m obsessed with the goal of seamless, immersive educational videos that combine pure educational value with visual thrills, as long as the latter doesn’t distract the former.
Alex: 100% Determination.
Self-belief? Yes, but no artist can rely on a permanent supply of that. I don’t know a single (great) artist who is totally confident all the time. You just have to stick your butt between a pair of speakers and learn the hell out of your tools.
If we’re talking about the path to commercial success, the artists who go on to get recognition are the ones who let their music obsession take over.
If you’re not prepared to make big sacrifices, music will always be a hobby. You may have to negotiate more time in your relationships. If you don’t have financial support (let’s be honest – many of the big names come from stable middle class families), you may have to be really broke for a while. You may need to finish tracks which you don’t want to, even though you have such a cool idea for the next one.
Speaking of tools, I think musicians must command focus, too. Whittle your software collection down to the essentials, and learn them inside out. The most powerful aspects of many VSTs aren’t the most obvious!
Sam: A willingness to embrace, and learn from, failure. I see so many people give up because they aren’t playing the long game. It’s completely unrealistic to compare your first few years of tracks to someone who’s been doing it for 25 years. It’s normal to put these expectations on yourself but you need to recognize that they aren’t going to serve you unless you know how to frame them in a way that works for you.
Look at the failures as an opportunity to grow. Ok so your track isn’t as good as producer X’s, take a step back, objectively work out one way you could improve on your next track and move forward with this in mind. You must learn to finish tracks through to completion, and notice your improvement over time otherwise you will burn out before you’ve given yourself a chance to grow.
I think people have gotten used to instant gratification, and they want everything yesterday.
Alex: Wait, there’s life outside the studio? Actually, to be really honest, I’m pushing myself to appreciate the world outside these four walls. A lot of people reading this will understand my plight: the modern musician needs to be a great writer, producer and performer both in the studio and on the stage. Behind the scenes, the hours are very, very long. We tend to beat ourselves up for not spending every last minute on it.
Outside Futurephonic hours, I’m working on my Frightful Ocean project, as well as a host of projects and collaborations as a musician and video editor, both in and out of the Psy scene. I’m blessed with a wonderful fiancé and great friends, in a world city (London) which I’m constantly rediscovering.
Sam: Haha at the moment it feels like there isn’t much else! Outside of Futurephonic I teach and coach developing producers. I don’t stick to any one genre as I have been fortunate to work with a wide range of artists over the years. Outside of teaching, I am working on my techno project. It’s coming along at the moment with a few releases here and there, and I am DJing in Melbourne a fair bit. I’m also working on a 6 speaker surround sound installation for the Burning Seed Festival here in Australia. I have never done anything like this before and having to put together 24 hours worth of music is definitely a challenge!
Outside of the studio, I like to get out to nature as much as I can. There is still so much to explore in this country so I am slowly making the most of it!
I’m always keen to hear what my buddy Vana (Rinkadink) is cooking up. He’s the definition of a true artist to me, always ahead of the curve, always in the lab doing weird experiments! I honestly wish more producers took his gutsy attitude towards music. He tends to be a favourite amongst my non-trance mates.
I discovered Modus recently, his production and sound design is so liquidy and immersive. Dual Resonance really came up on my radar too, the way he combines futuristic elements and a chugging wall-of-sound feel is really powerful to me.
There are some great producers who I’ve connected with through Futurephonic, from the emerging to the already internationally known, off the top of my head: Enablerz, PRO-Gram, Soulbound, Altered State, Xenoben, Nebula Meltdown… and too many others to name here!
Alex: The Psytrance scene declares itself to be a fully inclusive place, and I want so badly to believe that, but until more women feel like they can be taken seriously as producers, we still have work to do. With some great exceptions, the DJ booth still feels like a man’s place.
Come on guys – we have a huge role to play here. I think we as men need to be more welcoming, from the way we talk online, to the way women are represented in videos, to the party line-ups. Speak to women in the scene, and you’ll often hear that they don’t feel like their contributions are taken as seriously as men’s, that they’re still getting groped backstage, and that online sexism gets laughing emojis instead of angry ones.
I think waving the inclusivity flag, nice as it feels, comes with a lot of responsibility, and starts with taking a long, hard look at ourselves in the mirror. But I believe in our ability to live up to it!
As a man, I include myself in this problem. I recognize that we at Futurephonic are uniquely positioned to stoke the coals of change, but we’re still trying to figure out the best way. Anyone who would like to contribute ideas (especially women!) please get in touch directly.
Alex: I think there’s always room for one more on the tour bus. Keep working, keep pushing your unique message, keep being you. Somewhere there’s an empty seat backstage with your name on it – but you’ve got to fight to get there.
Be the guy/girl that everyone’s copying, not the other way around.
And one core belief of mine – never stop learning. Never stop asking questions.
Sam: Keep going! It’s going to be hard for a while, it’s going to seem like you aren’t making any progress and your music is likely going to suck for a while. That’s totally OK. Everyone starts from zero. Finish your tracks, learn how to get better each time and play the long game.
Oh and the final thing – Gear is so not important compared to commitment, time, and perseverance. If you are asking yourself the question “Hmm do I need gear x?” The answer is no, no you don’t. Use that money to buy yourself more time to practice.
Alex: I’m glad you asked! We’ve been a bit quiet for a couple months while working on our brand-new website and customer loyalty system. If you’ve been a regular supporter, you’re about to get some great rewards for it, and it makes us so happy to say a big thank-you to those who have stuck with us over the years!
Up next product-wise is a much-requested sound design Masterclass, which I’ll be doing myself. I’ll be going through my sample packs and serum presets, as well as showing some new ideas. I’m so pumped for it!
I just want to take this opportunity to say one last thank you to our Futurephonic community for making us what we are today. You guys and girls ROCK!
Alex and Sam
You can check out our new website and storefront at www.futurephonic.co.uk