In the studio with Zanavia
Jaz from the RepostExchange Team
Sep. 16, 2022

After attending their first music festival in Toronto, Zain Ahmed was inspired to start producing their own music. Zanavia started out learning to produce in FL Studio, before jumping over to Ableton, admiring the organisation and simplicity of the program. From a humble beginning learning how-to from YouTube tutorials to getting the go-ahead from Grammy-nominated artist ILLENIUM, Zanavia shares their creative process and top tips in the studio for RepostExchange!

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

I started producing music in the summer of 2015 after I went to my first music festival in Toronto which was Digital Dreams. I learned how to produce music mainly off YouTube where I focused on how to produce different genres of electronic music. After two years I took some courses from Production Music Live which I highly recommend if you want to learn how to make a song from start to finish.

What DAW(s) do you use and why?

I use Ableton because I love how organized and simple the program is. At first, it was difficult to navigate through the program because everything is in your face but once I got used to it I noticed how important it is to be organized especially as an artist. Before Ableton, I was using FL Studio for about half a year.

What are your favourite pieces of gear and why?

I have a Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A49 but I rarely use it. I prefer to make music through my mouse and keyboard; I noticed it is easier and more efficient for me. I have a set of KRK Rokit 6 Studio Monitors that I use for my production and they are great. Had them for three years now and they are working as if I bought them yesterday!

What are your favourite software plugins and why?

My favourite plugin is definitely Kontakt. I love live instruments and with Kontakt, the libraries are endless. I highly recommend it if you're looking to get an authentic sound from an instrument you like. Another plugin I use often is Soundtoys Decapitator. I'm a huge fan of distortion in my sounds, and out of all the distortion plugins I have I noticed Soundtoys Decapitator delivers the best.

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

When I'm starting a new song, I first create a chord that resembles the vibe that I'm going for with the song. I'm confident with my song when the chord is exactly what I'm going for. From the chord, I create the atmosphere, piano, and guitars to make the song more interesting. When all of these are done I begin working on the drums. The drums consist of many instruments which are different for every song. I typically have trouble layering my snare so I use Splice to find the sounds that I need. When the drums are completed I work on the drop which consists of all the sounds combined. Once the first drop is completed the rest of the song is very easy for me to complete. I add a few new instruments to the second drop and maybe change the drumline to make it more interesting.

What resources do you use to improve your craft?

When I want to improve my craft I always go to YouTube. It has thousands of thousands of videos that can teach you about any genre you are interested in. The main thing is knowing what you want to learn. As a beginner, you may feel like you don't know what to learn but I highly recommend watching and studying tutorials that are start-to-finish on genres that you are interested in. That way you learn about the genre and you're able to incorporate the lessons into your own music. With dedication and belief, you will become what you want.

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

This tutorial is great If you want to learn how to mix and master better. There are a lot of great tips in this tutorial which I use today.

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

When I first started out I wish I had learned that it is more effective to create music faster rather than trying to make each song perfectly. Starting out, the music is not going to sound good, by producing songs faster you will be able to make great songs quicker in your career. I used to spend months on a song and in the end, I realized I was not learning efficiently.

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

When I have writer's block, I immediately stop producing. I know at this point it's not worth spending time on music and I'm just forcing it. I usually spend a couple of days away from music and spend time on other hobbies. But if I have a deadline the best way for me to get rid of writer's block is to work out. Either going to the gym and taking the stress out there or going for a 30-minute run always helps me out.

Can you share any killer tips or techniques?

If you use Ableton and you're not the best with music theory, draw the key of the song into your midi track and place it right before the midi starts. This way you can create your sound in key without having to check if the note works or not.

Do you use any online tools to assist with the production process?

I use Splice to find samples mainly for my drums. Whenever my samples don't fit a song I can go to Splice and pick through thousands of sounds that work.

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

Whenever I'm working on a song I will send my song to 5-10 people: these people are my fans and producers. It's important that you get feedback from others because sometimes they will hear something you can't. It is also important to take the feedback with a grain of salt. If you like a piece of the track and others don't, just keep it!

Which track are you most proud of and why?

I'm most proud of the first song I released which is My Mind (ft. Hayes) because I put my heart and soul into that song. I went through multiple vocalists to find the one that I liked the most. I re-created that song three to four times with different melodies and to be honest, spent a little too much time on that song. I also had ILLENIUM listen to that song on stream and seeing an artist that has inspired me so much dance to it made me so proud.

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

RepostExchange is great if you want to meet new artists and find people that create similar music to it. It is also great for getting your music out there which has benefited me a ton!

Desert Island Gear

Top L-R: Omnisphere, Valhalla Reverb.

Bottom L-R: Xfer Serum, FabFilter, Sylenth1.

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This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.