Meet the guy who makes Australia’s biggest dance acts sound good

You might not know the name Naderi, but you’ll certainly know his studio mates. As an engineer, Sydney’s Shawn Naderi has been working with artists like What So Not, Carmada, GRMM, Golden Features, Nicole Millar and Flume (someone he’s particularly close with) for years, handling the mix downs on some of Australia’s biggest dance tracks. He even taught Harley “Flume” Streten how to use Ableton way back when the hitmaker was all of 14-years-old, meaning we have a lot to thank him for.

At the end of 2014, ADM’s man-behind-the-scenes branched out and launched Naderi, a solo project that saw him step into the role of producer. Over the last 18 months, he’s released remixes for the likes of Naderi, Fetty Wap (seriously) Zhu and Keys N Krates, with plans to drop his first original in the not-too-distant future. Yesterday, Shawn dropped his biggest remix yet, a stellar reimagining of old mate Flume’s track Lose It. So with 2016 picking up speed for Naderi, we got him on the phone to talk production tips, ghost producing and what he’s learnt from his years in the music industry.

So how did the Flume remix come about?
Well Harley and I both have studios together. Basically it’s a giant warehouse-y space with two separate rooms, which are soundproofed. Throughout the day we’ll play ping-pong, I’ll check out what he’s working on and he’ll check out what I’m doing.

He came in one day and was working on the Vic Mensa track, which I hadn’t heard before. I was like, “dude, this is amazing –  I’m in love with this track.” There’s a little breakdown, just at the pre-chorus, which just gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. I was also working on a couple of tracks for Harley’s album doing the mixdowns. I asked Harley if I could remix Lose It and he was like, yeah, sure go for it. He gave me the stems, I did the remix, flicked it over to him and he loved it.

Awesome. How did you first meet Harley?
I met Harley on MySpace! I don’t remember exactly how I came across his stuff. I was a few years older then him and he was 14 at the time. I was just blown away that there was a 14-year-old able to make music as good as he was.

“I met Harley on MySpace. I was just blown away that there was a 14-year-old able to make music as good as he was”

I reached out to him, and he came to meet me with his dad and his family. It was a slightly formal beginning. So we spent a couple of days in the studio just having little challenges: making tracks and doing weird things, experimenting with music. From there on he then developed his own sound and launched the Flume thing.

Do you guys work well together?
We get on well as friends. Creatively, we’re very different in how we think. However, there’s this really interesting crossover, where he really respects what I say and I respect what he’s got to say. We have very different brains. I’m very analytical and technical, he’s more creative and artistic in his mentality. Obviously we both like music, which is what we’ve got in common.

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And you taught him to use Ableton, is that right?
Yeah, he was using this program called FL Studio, which used to be called Fruityloops before then. I was like, “Harley, you should check out this Ableton program. It’s got a better work flow and I think you’d kick ass at it.” He tried it out and straight away his music was just heaps better. Not because of the program, I just think it was a new space for him to work in. He was more organised and methodical.

Can you take me back to the beginning and tell me how your music career started?
Well I used to make punk rock music. For years I’d wanted to be in a band, but it just turned out that I made better music on my own. Actually organising people to come out to rehearsals and all the stuff sort of wasn’t working out. So I found this program called Rebirth that let me make music and I was blown away, I locked myself in a dark room for a few years and just started making tracks. Then I was overseas in Taiwan for a little while and I went to a club over there – I heard electro house for the first time and I was like, “what is this? This is insane!”

“I locked myself in a dark room for a few years and just started making tracks”

That made me realise that I could bring that kind of energy into music. So I was stoked. Then eventually I got a few releases on some local labels here, worked on stuff behind the scenes. Around that time I met Harley. From there I was making electronic music, more like EDM sort of stuff, but my heart wasn’t in it. I could see all these people around me making music that they really loved and realised I could do that too – I didn’t have to cater to anyone’s tastes but my own. So I started the Naderi project.

You also work as an engineer for your “day job”. What does a track that hasn’t been engineered sound like?
About 90% of the stuff I work on, especially stuff from Harley, musically it’s perfect. Sonically it just doesn’t sound as deep and 3D, immersive. That’s quite often because when you’re working your own music, you lose some of the perspective. It’s just really hard to always hear it as if it’s the first time you’ve heard a track. I come in and I try to look at what the producer was intending to do sonically: did they want it to be a really lush track? Or did they want it to be a really banging and in your face? I try and make sure the final result reflects that intent.

So how different is engineering from producing? Is it the same set of skills, or not really?
There is a crossover. You use the same programs and the same tools within those programs; but a producer is more about the ideas, where an engineer is more about the execution and the finessing of the sound of those ideas.

“[Ghost producing] definitely happens. It happens everywhere”

Is ghost producing something that happens much in the Australian scene?
Yeah, it definitely happens. It happens everywhere. I’m not really down with it, personally, but happens and it’s a part of life. I’ve felt the best thing to do is to ignore it, because that kind of stuff will always exist. You can let it bring you down if you focus too much on, oh this guy’s ghost producing, or she’s got a ghost producer. If you just focus on what you’re doing and you’re good enough, you’ll rise to the top.

What’s a common mistake you see producers make in the studio?
Not listening to people who are trying their best to help them and give suggestions when they’re in their early days. There’s a lot of people who’ll show you music they’re working on, but quite often I’ll find a lot of people just want you to say “Hey, that’s a great track”, instead of giving genuine feedback. I think it’s important when you’re showing your music to someone who’s been doing it a long time that you really, really take that feedback onboard. Even if you don’t agree with everything, there’s probably something what they’re telling you can learn from.

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Naderi and What So Not

What does it take to make a good track? What qualities do you have to possess to be a good producer?
A good song is one where every bit in it – the chorus, the melody, the musicality, right to the production – is well thought out and there’s an idea there, and isn’t just a track for the sake of making a track. If you’ve got a reason and intent to make a track that, quite often I find that shines through in songs. I hear so many songs from people and I’m like, this is a great production, but the music doesn’t speak volumes to me. Or this is like a really great song, it’s just a shame the production’s not quite there. All those things have to come together.

“There is a lot of music that I want to make, which I don’t think I’ve heard before”

When people bring you their tracks to mix down, do you ever give feedback at that stage? Or is it too late then?
I try and give a little bit of feedback. But I also realise that people, when they’ve made an appointment to speak to me and are ready to spend money to mix a track down, they’ve taken it as far as they feel like they can. I try to respect that. It’s really important to not just judge somebody else’s track or anything like that. If I hear something that is totally not right, I’ll be really honest. I’d like that same honesty to be given to me if I was to show my stuff to other people.

So was there a moment that made you go – oh shit, I want to make my own tracks?
I realised that there is so much creativity to be expressed beyond just doing engineering work, and I have a lot to say. There is a lot of music that I want to make, which I don’t think I’ve heard before. There’s a lot of feelings that I want to capture in music. I just really want to express that in my own music.

I know you’ve done heaps of remixes as Naderi – do you know when the first original will come out?
No, not yet. I’m working on it. I’ve made a lot of music, but I’m waiting for a couple more collaborations that I’m working on to be finished and then we’ll decide what track I want to put out first. I’m hoping it will be this year, but I’d rather not rush it. I’d rather the songs to be right and be exactly how I want them to be, rather then just release then on somebody else’s schedule.

Is the plan that you’re going to play shows as well?
Yeah, I’m frothing to do shows! You can’t believe how excited I am to get out there. My days at the moment are spent going from home to my studio, then grabbing dinner and going back. Especially when Harley’s away overseas, I’m alone here. I can’t wait to get in front of a crowd and show all this stuff I’ve been doing to people.

Will it be live, or a DJ set?
Kind of in between is what I’m planning on at the moment. I really wanted to have the energy of a DJ show, but I also want to have the artistic freedom to do some stuff that’s a little off-center with a live show.

If you could give one piece of advice to budding producers, what would it be?
Forget your social life.

Katie Cunningham is the Editor of inthemix. You can follow her on Twitter.