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As other musicians ran from streaming, German DJ LCAW built his career on it

The Audiophile: LCAW

“We think of every detail. I’m putting a piece of art out there that’s not to be changed.”

Since there still doesn’t seem to be a consensus on the song of the summer as of yet, might we suggest Painted Sky, by LCAW? The 21-year-old German DJ, who has already amassed over 160 million combined plays on SoundCloud and YouTube with a cavalcade of catchy indie-dance originals and remixes, nails the zeitgeist with this one. An uplifting, piano and acoustic-guitar-driven deep-house bed track backs Scottish vocalist Martin Kelly’s lament of “you’re light years and light years away… all the stars aligned/you’re my lullaby,” while a stacked vocal chorus chimes in to champion the wonders of “my painted sky.”
We’re officially calling it: Painted Sky is the summer jam for 2016.

“That is live,” the classically trained LCAW confirmed to Digital Trends about that chorus. “It was pretty funny — we were working in a studio complex, and we just asked a bunch of four or five people to come in and stand around a microphone and scream into it to really get the message of the track across, like (yells): ‘Painted Sky!!’ It’s the surprise moment of the track.”

Digital Trends did the Skype thing with LCAW (full name: Leon Christoph Alexander Weber) at his homebase in Munich, Germany to discuss the overall construct of Painted Sky, how artists can use streaming data in positive ways, and why he looks forward to the challenge of making a full album.

Digital Trends: Painted Sky is so refreshing. It’s a little bit different from what we normally hear.

LCAW: That means a lot, because that’s exactly what I try to achieve.

You use a lot of live instrumentation in your mixes. What instruments are you playing on Painted Sky?

I played the piano, and just a little guitar. The singer, Martin [Kelly], played the acoustic guitar on it. We wrote the melody together. I’m usually not that much of a singer, but when I’m working with singers and guitar players, where I can’t do the job myself, I’ll sing it or hum it for them.

Tell me about what you’re using in terms of gear and plug-ins.

I use Ableton for the main production, and for the recording, I use Logic when I’m working with musicians and singers in the studio. I’ve never used that many plug-ins. I try to be a music connoisseur, so I stick to a couple that I really like — for example, FabFilter, Alloy, Ozone, and stuff like that. And some reverb. I always try to keep the production basic and focus more on the music, like the songwriting.

Your reach on the Internet is amazing, but you only have two tracks on Spotify at the moment, Painted Sky and Clean Break. Will you be expanding more into that universe?

Definitely. The track we have on Spotify, Clean Break, is one of the few tracks where I didn’t use any live instruments. It’s all synthesizers, and then Raphaella put the vocals on it. It worked really well. We didn’t do much promo for the track because it first got licensed for an event, but now it’s getting attention and so many plays — almost 700,000 now, and we didn’t really do anything!

As an artist, are you OK with the streaming universe in general?

It gave me the chance to really do what I do now, so I probably have a different approach to it than somebody who’s been in the music business for over 20 years. They have the shock of like, “People are listening to music for free. How am I going to make a living from it?”

What I came to realize was, if you really understand how this whole streaming universe works, you can use it so much for yourself and your own purposes. So many tricks you can use.

But there does need to be many changes. It’s not there yet to where it should be — for example, with the streaming quality. On most platforms, it’s, you know, blahhhhh.

What other ways can you use your Internet reach to your advantage? Would you, say, use a streaming service’s data to track where the biggest pockets of your listeners are, then go play live sets in that area?

Absolutely. You can collect much more information than you can with just radio plays. I don’t know how it was back in those radio days, but streaming just gives you so much more information.

For example, I was putting together this tour in Australia, and we checked SoundCloud and Facebook to see where the most fans who would show up for a show were, how we should arrange the tour, and how big we should go. That was really helpful.

SoundCloud and YouTube are the best things that could happen for you as an independent artist.

When I started, I didn’t know anybody in the business. I was this complete greenhorn, as you say. (chuckles) It didn’t really matter, because there was a community that really appreciated the kind of music that I make. Without having any big goals, I would just post the tracks on SoundCloud. It would get picked up by this blog, and I got thrown into this community. It’s so community-driven with platforms like SoundCloud and YouTube. As an independent artist, it’s like the best thing that could happen for you.

You could stay independent for your entire career, but for my ambitions now, I felt it was time to sign with a label [Ultra/Sony]. I worked as an independent musician for years, and it didn’t limit me at all, because I could use the Internet and have so many people stream my music.

So will we get a full album at some point? Is that what you’re working on now?

That’s what I’m working on now, and I’m almost finished with the track list. I’m just finishing up some of the details. I think it’s going to be out at the beginning of 2017.

It was an amazing experience to work on not just a single or a remix or a mixtape, but on an entire album. It gives you the opportunity to work on a wide range of your skills as a musician and as a songwriter.

You need two or three singles that can apply to the market, and then with the other tracks, you can do whatever you want. I don’t want the entire album to sound the same. I want people to have an album where they could start with the first track and finish with the last track, and think they went through an entire journey through music.

As a longtime album listener, I prefer being taken on a journey to places I don’t know. Will we get a combination of vocal and instrumental tracks?

More than that. There are some tracks that don’t really have a beat, some are more instrumental, some are focused on the lyrics, some are focused on the synthesizers, or the instruments. It’s hard to describe, so you’ll really have to listen to it.

I’m looking forward to it. Some people call what you do deep house, but it seems more than that, like its own genre.

It’s more in line with just being … music.

That’s a good point. We don’t always need to add labels based on a certain bpm, volume, or the swells that are going to happen. What you do isn’t quite trop house either, so maybe we have to put it under your own name — Leon house.

(laughs) I would like that.

Will we also be getting vinyl for the full record?

I’m going to be one of the first ones to push that topic with label and management, because for me as a producer, the real moment after I realize, “Hey, I just made a record, and it’s out,” I can go into a store and buy my own vinyl, cue it up, and listen to it. (chuckles) I’m really looking forward to it. I really love vinyl. My dad always had his collection, and then I started my own collection.

What are some of your favorite records? What do you like?

When I was younger, I got into this hip-hop universe — but not hip-hop as you know it from the radio; I really don’t like that. It was the producers who use jazz samples.

You mean stuff like what Guru did with the Jazzmatazz series?

Yeah! I also liked A Tribe Called Quest, and some of the other producers who started doing this a few years ago.

I love listening to instrumental techno music — sitting in a sunset and just listening to the melody with a grooving beat.

I also like techno music, but more like the melodic techno. I love it when it’s instrumental, where you can sit in a sunset and just listen to the melody, with a grooving beat.

There were a couple of tracks that made my love of electronic music grow, because I have to admit that when I was 12 or 13 years old, there was nothing I hated more than electronic music. I came from a classical music family. We all played instruments, and it was all about classical music. So I always thought that electronic music was fake. That was small-minded me back then, thinking, “Yeah, you just press some button,” and that’s all the work.

It wasn’t until I got into it myself before I realized it can be much more complicated than it might seem in the beginning. We call it electronic music, but it even crossed that line. For example, in my own tracks, half of the musical elements are recorded live.

What changed your mind about electronic music?

When I was 14, I was taking a music course in Scotland for classical music — chamber music. There was this girl I had a massive crush on, and she was really into electronic music. She showed me music from [Italian DJ] Benny Benassi. Back then, it was quite interesting and really new. It was a really different approach, and something I’d never heard before.

At first, I thought, “I should like this if she likes this, so we have something in common.” But then I realized there was more behind it than I thought. I went to a live concert, and it was like a completely different world I got thrown into. That’s how I got into electronic music back then. I don’t know if that still influences my production.

Then I spread out my fingers to try to find more artists. I fell in love with the music by some other people from my generation — Flume, for example — because it’s just so unique and different.

It’s all great music that you could just fall into. It wasn’t what I expected at all with electronic music. At one point, I thought, “This all sounds so great, but maybe I can make it myself. Just try it.” And that’s how I started: I tried it. I made a track and posted it, and it went well with the blogs. From there, I’d just go with the flow.

Why do you think vinyl is a good listening medium?

I have to say, a lot of people start fights over it, but I think the music quality sounds so much better. I was in some club and I saw a DJ playing some [Pioneer] CDJ turntables, and it was a really nice sound. But the DJ after that played disco music on vinyl, and it sounded so much better.

Parov Stelar - The Sun feat. Graham Candy (LCAW Remix)

I really want to get into vinyl DJing as well. I have one Pioneer player already, and it’s pretty sick. (chuckles)

I really am looking forward to hearing what you’ll do on your full album. The art of how you sequence it will be critical for us to take the journey you want us to go on.

That’s an important part of it, actually. We think of every detail. It’s putting a piece of art out there that’s not to be changed.

So far, everything is going just as I imagined it. It’s an amazing feeling you have as an artist — getting a chance to fulfill yourself. And hopefully, it’s just the first chapter of a long journey.

Mike Mettler
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Mike Mettler is the music editor of Sound & Vision, where he also served as editor-in-chief for 7 years. His writing has…
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