In the studio with Elaine Katoy
Jaz from the RepostExchange Team
Nov. 16, 2022

DJ and producer Elaine Katoy is based in Berlin, having gained lots of experience playing in clubs around the world before settling down in the musical capital of Europe. From their self-taught beginnings, Elaine loves the versatility of Ableton Live 10 and her AKAI MPK mini input to draw those soundscapes in with feeling. Draw on her wealth of experience as we got to know Elaine Katoy in the studio!

How long have you been producing music and how did you learn? 

I could say I'm new to music, that I just magically hit the right note, or that I'm just incredibly talented, but that would be a lie. I've been making music for several decades now, under many names and in many different genres. I've also been a Djane in a wide variety of locations, from the youth club in the village to various broadcasts on radio stations and gigs in trendy clubs, to top locations in Paris or Ibiza. But honestly, what does that matter? It doesn't matter what you've done, what you've achieved, who you've met, or where you've been. At some point, all of these events are just memories. It is important what you do and what you will do. I learned everything auto-didactically and had many years to gain experience, fantastic moments as well as bad experiences. Now I'm based in Berlin in Germany, creating my music, and I’m more than curious about what’s to come next.

What DAW(s) do you use and why?

Having used everything from Logic Pro to Fruity Loops to Reason for decades, my answer is clear and obvious. My weapon of choice is undoubtedly Ableton Live 10. Like many musicians and producers originally from the hip-hop genre, my music was and is often sample based in many ways.

The seamless insertion and editing of audio material from a wide variety of sources and in a wide variety of formats is simply all that counts for me. And that's exactly where Ableton Live from the Berlin software company comes into play. Live's algorithm is simply fantastic and leaves nothing to be desired when it comes to processing my sounds and samples. In this way, I can do everything in one flow, from the inspiration to the idea to the finished piece. In addition, as with most programs of this type, there is the possibility of using an endless number of third party plugins, which is common nowadays. As a result, there are practically no limits to my sound. Simply fantastic!

What are your favourite pieces of gear and why?

Ten years ago I would certainly have answered without hesitation: “Of course. My Technics turntables and my record collection.” But, after losing all my equipment, which has been painful to this day, I had to go new and unconventional paths for my love of music. That's why the answer today is a bit more modest. I like my Traktor controllers Kontrol X1 (MK1 & MK2) and the Kontrol F1 from Native Instruments. Due to the relatively easy possibility of reprogramming the Kontrol F1, I currently use it as a four-channel mixer and therefore always have a solid set to play with in every situation. Even in the club, the controllers offer a perfect complement and a pleasant setting for a live act. However, my newest baby is the AKAI Professional MPK Mini mk3. It enables me to play more complex melodies and soundscapes directly instead of drawing them in note-by-note as before. A huge upgrade and an immense gain in terms of productivity and workflow.

What are your favourite software plugins and why?

While this may come as a surprise to some, most of the time I'm fine with the plugins that come with Ableton Live. Some finely tuned delay here, warm Rhodes there, a little vinyl dust and the sound of putting a needle on or taking a needle off the record... Sometimes that's all I need for me. However, there are some plugins that I have come to love over the years. Dubstation by Audio Damage or Lounge Lizard EP by Applied Acoustics Systems are just two of them.

How would you summarise your approach/workflow when creating a track?

I have exactly three types of creative processes. The first is the easiest. Switch on the devices, put on the headphones and just play around a bit. It is not uncommon for some great pieces to be created in this way. The second is the most beautiful for me. In such a case, the song usually appears as an almost finished picture in my mind's eye. I can see almost everything at this moment. My hands work intuitively and I just follow the flow of the zone. With pieces like this, I'm often stunned and surprised at how well everything fits together. Such songs are usually ready in a few hours to two days.

The third way is the most uncontrolled way of all. With these tracks, I start with an idea or an intention, and as the production progresses, that morphs into something completely new and mostly unexpected for me. And as chaotic as everything is, it often ends. These pieces go into my secret box and wait there for completion. This sometimes happens after months, after years, or sometimes not at all. But even in such cases, the results often serve as ideas for new, better, or more interesting works.

What resources do you use to improve your craft?

The motto is almost always: learning by doing wrong and getting better. I learned most about making music auto-didactically. I can't read sheet music, I found out about the triad or harmony theory in passing and even today I at least know where to find the note C. I can play the guitar lying on my lap only, and a piano with three to six fingers, but I'm great at playing the trumpet. I rely 100% on my hearing for my music. But that doesn't mean that I'm not interested in courses or similar things.

It's just never happened before. And if it had worked out in terms of time, it often depended on the finances. So I just try with a lot of care, my love for detail and devotion to the music, to always achieve a well-rounded and for me coherent result. If that is then also liked or even loved by others, what more could one wish for?

What is the last YouTube tutorial you watched that you would recommend to other Re-Ex members?

As I already said, I'm mostly self-taught. I don't know exactly why it is, but with YouTube or generally with tutorials it's always somehow strange for me. It's really very rare that I use a tutorial to solve a musical problem. Maybe it's the fear of doing something in a way that many use and thus a way of their own, of losing an individual result. I’m pretty sure there are plenty of good tutorials that can be helpful. Especially if you want to learn the basics of music production. But I could definitely recommend this mapping tutorial:

What knowledge or advice do you wish you'd learned earlier?

I wish I'd dealt with the fact that the music business isn't just about music, but about business as well. It doesn't matter how much you love your music, how confident you are in what you are doing, or how many people celebrate you because you will quickly lose out if you don't know business things like accounting, sales and the like. Anything that other people do for you are things that you may quickly lose track of. It is always advisable to know what works and how, so you can be sure to always create good conditions. It is also important to always connect. Contacts can make the difference between success and failure.

What challenges related to making music do you face and how do you overcome them?

My biggest challenges are creativity and quality. When I lack the necessary creativity, I do things that are good for me and not necessarily related to music. I cook myself something great, cuddle with my fiancee, watch a movie or play a game. Sometimes it's just good to get a little distance to see more clearly. When it comes to quality, I always try to live up to my expectations. I don't want my music to sound digital or standard, but warm and genuine. However, I never disregard the usual standards of the respective genre. It has to be a round thing. If it convinces me, then I take a little distance again and look at my work more critically than before. Then when I feel it, when it's round, I complete it with the cover artwork and bring the whole thing together into a coherent story. Then I'm satisfied and almost concentrate on the next project.

Can you share any killer tips or techniques?

I probably have endless, really good tips and, depending on the genre, almost as many techniques. For me, it's especially good not to listen to other artists' music before and during the creative process. In this way, I make sure that I am not unconsciously influenced in my work. Another really good tip is that I never completely finish my pieces. What do I mean by that? Quite simply, when a piece of mine is finished, then I have at least three or four tracks that I don't add. Sometimes it's harmonies, sometimes percussion. But there are always traces that would definitely enrich the song. That way I always have the opportunity to add that certain something to a very good song. That's particularly interesting when you're doing a live act or a remix of your own piece. This usually creates pleasant surprises for people who already love the piece. But of course, you can also just ask me if you need a good tip. I'm always happy to help if I can.

Do you try and get feedback or suggestions to improve your music? If so, how?

Of course. My fiancé is a great help to me in advance. She says what she thinks and feels. I couldn't wish for a better critic. Of course, my sisters and all the many people on SoundCloud are also a great help to me. But I often see at the latest from the comments of others on my music that I have achieved my goal for the respective song.

Which track are you most proud of and why?

It's really, really hard for me to choose one of my babies. When I release something, I stand behind it 100% and with heart and soul. I've made so much music and I love every single song. My current favourites are definitely my songs Mom, Là Tes Yeux and Autumn Leaves. I dedicated the song Mom to my mother. She passed away recently and that was my way of saying thank you. The song Là Tes Yeux is dedicated to my fiancee. I mean... my god, her eyes! Autumn Leaves is dedicated to autumn, of course. Such a beautifully colourful and cosy time before winter sets in. But like I said. As soon as I hear another song of mine, it immediately has my full love again!

Has RepostExchange affected the way you make music? If so, how?

RepostExchange hasn't changed the way I make music. But has it changed how I bring my music to people? Oh yeah! Absolutely and totally! Re-Ex has opened up avenues for me to reach potential fans and other good musicians that I would never have guessed. I owe a hell of a lot to Re-Ex because without it I would never have been able to reach so many people in such a good and easy way.

Thanks to Re-Ex I discovered musicians who might never have reached me. The choice of different genres offers endless possibilities to get to know numerous musicians and thus to be able to network with all these great people. But the packages and campaigns are also extremely valuable in distributing my music. Maybe I'll even dedicate a song to Re-Ex because it's a resource I wouldn't want to be without anymore. Anyways, thanks for that!

Desert Island Gear

Top L-R: MacBook Pro, AKAI Professional MPK Mini mk3.

Bottom L-R: JBL Xtreme Bluetooth Speaker, BLUETTI Solar Generator AC200P, AKG Studio Headphones K240 MKII.

Connect with Elaine Katoy on RepostExchange, SoundCloud, Spotify, and Instagram.

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This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.