StéLouse on the state of SoundCloud, how artists brand themselves and more [Interview]
Ross Ryan, known to his fans as the esteemed producer StéLouse, has been making music for over 10 years, culminating with the release of his debut, self-titled LP earlier this year. With a past in the hard rock and metal scenes, the producer made the switch to electronic music just a few years ago, and has since seen great success in his transition.
Bringing his knowledge of producing an album, touring, and playing with a live band to a new realm, StéLouse swiftly moved to the front of the future bass movement on SoundCloud. Although he put out the occasional original track, he gained prominence after releasing vibed out remixes of Odesza, Oh Wonder, Doja Cat, and more.
With a decade of industry experience under his belt, StéLouse has been active long enough to see the rise of new media in the music industry. Weighing in on topics ranging from streaming services to the importance of social media and online marketing, the artist speaks of the music industry with a calm knowledge and appreciation of how it works, and where he fits into the scene.
“You can smoke and mirror the shit out of anything,” the artist notes. “You can make an artist that’s been working on a project for five years look like they just blew up overnight by wiping their social media or changing their name.I think you just have to get creative with marketing on the internet nowadays, and what works for one person won’t work for everyone.”
Indeed, Ross Ryan’s preferred route to success is a marathon, not a sprint.
“I… think that my rise isn’t a flash in a pan, like shoot to the top. I think I’m on more of a gradual rise, which I’d rather be because those careers seem to have a little more longevity.”
Now signed to Casablanca Records, StéLouse is working to continue his success at a more professional level. An established presence on the festival circuit, the producer has begun to flesh out his live show, playing bass and keyboard live with a drummer and vocalist.
Dancing Astronaut caught up with the multitalented producer at New York’s Elements Music & Arts Festival, just before his electrifying set on the main stage.
I wanted to start by asking you about this festival. Obviously, this industrial space at Elements is different than the typical festival experience. So personally, as a performer, as an attendee, what do you look for in a festival?
Yeah definitely, I just look for a dope vibe and the crowd to be on the same vibe. I like to go hang out in the audience for a little bit before I perform too, to feel what they’re feeling. Electric Forest is a great example of a great festival.
Oh yeah, if you’re looking to find a good vibe, especially for a live electronic act like yourself, that fest is a dream.
Yeah its one of my favorites for sure.
Looking at the Elements Fest lineup, you have Kerri Chandler, Damian Lazarus, artists that some people might consider more traditional dance music. However, there’s also a heavy influence of more modern EDM and SoundCloud acts like Pusher and Ekali. As a live act that found its roots on SoundCloud, where do you see yourself in the scene, especially when you play festivals like this with some of the old school legends?
I don’t know to answer that [laughs], my favorite festivals are ones that are very eclectic and there’s a little something for everyone, I think that’s what festivals should cater to, to make sure there’s diversity and variety. Where do I fit in? I do crossover electronic music, we do a live act. I have a live drummer, I play live bass and keys, I bring in a vocalist. At a festival like this, we’re a little more on the GRiZ and [the] Knocks end of the spectrum as far as performance goes.
What prompted the switch to a live band format? I know you were in a rock band and a live band always might have been in the back of your mind, but was there any one point in the StéLouse experience where you felt you needed to make the switch from DJ to live act?
The answer is really in the question there, when I started doing the StéLouse project back in 2014, the whole idea was to transition this into a live project. It took me three or three and a half years to pull it off, I needed to get somewhat of a following, get on a label to get some tour support, because taking a band out is hard. And I needed to get a catalogue out, so it took a bit of time. I wouldn’t say I made the change abruptly, it’s been a transition back to my roots.
I also heard that with your old band, you won a crazy tour contest from a guitar store. Did that help kickstart StéLouse?
I was in a band called Boys; we had actually already broken up. We got a call from the artist reps at whatever guitar store it was saying, “Hey, we’re just checking in because you guys are pretty much about to win this thing, we just want to make sure that you guys are gonna be able to do [the tour].” So we had to call the singer and everybody, since there was fair amount of money involved. I think there was like 30 or 40 grand involved so we did it. I bought a production laptop and software and that whole tour, I was literally learning Ableton on flights and in hotel rooms.
So obviously you have this live performance background, how does that inform the music you produce? Do you produce with an audience in mind?
I mean before it was kinda “anything goes,” and I’m still anything goes, but I definitely do keep in mind how this would be performed. But I don’t want that to hinder the creative process and be like “Oh, I can’t do that live.” Because when we perform the songs live, it’s not gonna sound just like the tracks I have out. I like it to be a live interpretation of the tracks, because if you’re gonna show up and just hear the songs exactly how they are, why go to the show? You can do that at home.
I’d like to talk about the switch from being an artist mostly known online on SoundCloud to becoming an artist signed to Casablanca Records under Republic. You put out an album. How were you able to make that transition to what, from an industry perspective, is a more established route to success? Was that a difficult transition or something you were able to manage pretty easily?
Ask me that in another year [laughs]. I think we’re still transitioning from, you know, the depths of the internet to being more of a recognized name out there. I’m still working on building that up, and you know, I just do what’s natural.
It seems like you just do what you want and it works.
I’ve been doing music for a long time man, and I learned that if it’s not something you want to do, then fuck it.
So in this digital age, do you think it’s easier or harder to build legitimacy as an artist?
It’s easier in the aspect of like… I mean you can smoke and mirror the shit out of anything. You can make an artist that’s been working on a project for five years look like they just blew up overnight by wiping their social media or changing their name. I think you just have to get creative with marketing on the internet nowadays, and what works for one person won’t work for everyone. You just gotta dabble in different stuff as far as marketing and your online presence and how you’re getting music to fans until you find something that works.
I don’t mean to name any names, but with the whole Marshmello kind of branding that some people say is gimmicky, where is the line between the branding and marketing and selling people a product?
I mean that marketing is genius. It works great for him. We live in an age now that’s kinda like a new age of humanity, where people almost care more about who you are and what you’re doing on the internet than the music you’re putting out. And nothing against Marshmello or his team, that kind of marketing it’s found it’s niche and it works. Would that marketing work for me? No. But there’s a lot to learn from looking at an act like that and how they’ve gone about strategically doing that.
I saw that you were over 50% done with your next album. What was the reception like on the last album and has your process changed since then? Obviously you’re still making music and in the creative mindset.
The fan response on the album was great. I think it showed artistic diversity a lot, I think fans were stoked on it. Did it move the needle for me as an artist in the industry? I wouldn’t say necessarily, but I also think that my rise isn’t a flash in a pan, like shoot to the top. I think I’m on more of a gradual rise, which I’d rather be because those careers seem to have a little more longevity.
Yeah, I think it’d be better to have fans from over the years instead of being a one hit wonder and then trying for a recap tour in 10 years.
Exactly. But that album was done a year ago, man. I mean, I could put out two more albums worth of music this year if I wanted to. I’m gonna do some singles and we’re gonna put out another body of work next year.
We talked a bit about how you blew up on SoundCloud, and there’s so much going on with with the platform right now, between the CEO stepping down, money issues and a possible complete closure of the site. Why do you think Soundcloud is so important for this generation of musicians, and can you allude to anything about the atmosphere that has allowed it to be such a fruitful source for music?
I mean, most of us are here because of SoundCloud, let’s be real. Some people bash and talk shit about it, and they’re exactly the people who got put on with it. SoundCloud is still my strongest platform for getting music out. It’s changed a lot in recent years. I feel like it’s a better tool two or three years ago and I feel like it’s becoming harder for newer producers to be heard and break through just because of all the reposts, all the tracks, all the noise. And I do feel like the people working on the platform have neglected the bread and butter of it a lot, and that’s why they’re constantly in financial ruin.
It’s interesting because they went unchecked for so long, and the labels finally got a hold of it.
Yeah, because shit was blowing up on there.
Yeah, millions of plays with full on verses taken from other songs. And you have to think that remixes are transformative, that everyone has influences and wants to take something and make it new, but it’s also someone else’s personal art and intellectual property.
Yeah, you know that’s just this culture. And when people come in and they shit on that and shit on the culture, that was dance music culture. Sampling and remixing. It was hip-hop culture. And that’s just corporate needing to shit on art. So fuck that, but SoundCloud has been very successful in being able to squander millions of dollars.
So on the other end of the spectrum (Republic, Casablanca Records), are they treating you well? Are you enjoying it over there?
Yeah man, as much as I can. You know, I never wanted to be on a major label but I had a meeting with them and they were really cool, they wanted to let me do what I wanted to do. The relationship was solid and it works. I think it was just sort of a “Hey, let’s try this for a while and see how it goes.”
You came from hard rock roots. There seems to be, now more than ever, an overlap in of fan bases. There’s Emo Night going on in LA, you see Deadmau5 playing Motörhead, DJs are playing System of a Down or blink-182 in their sets. And even though this is a large spectrum of rock music, what do you think is behind that overlap, what draws the same people to both electronic music and metal, emo, and hard rock.
Thank god! [laughs]. It’s the attitude man, the attitude and the vibe. We’re just blurring the genre lines of everything. Fuck a genre man, people should like good music for good music. Skrillex was fuck a genre way back, everyone just pinned him into dubstep. The guy was just making dubstep beats with electro-house sounds and a rock attitude. People didn’t now what to call it so they were just like “oh this is American dubstep.” We always have to label everything for some reason.
It’s funny to seeing the metal tees coming back, with people at electronic festivals in Metallica and Slipknot tees, and interesting that that culture has started to blend a bit.
A lot of these kids grew up on this stuff in middle school and high school. That was what was popular and it’s nostalgic. I love Slipknot. Actually, something no one knows is that Shawn Crahan from slipknot actually co-produced my band, Boys. He was the co-producer along with me on that.