How creating from the heart pays off, as told by Marino Canal [Interview]
“Most stories of success (and i’m not saying mine is one of them) are really stories of perseverance, but people don’t give that enough thought. Nobody is showing others the failures along the way. “– Marino Canal
Making a living off one’s music is an undeniably difficult task. Taste and trends run in cycles, and keeping the balance between what’s inspiring in the here-and-now and what one’s fanbase wants is a continually contentious topic for artists. Is it worth the risk in the end, to change artistic direction?
Marino Canal answered this question for himself in recent years. Having broken into the international scene in 2014, it wouldn’t take long before his driving, club-ready productions caught the attention from MOOD owner Nicole Moudaber. He was promptly taken under her wing, where he was given “complete freedom and confidence to do what I wanted,” according to the producer, as well as constant support through her podcasts, label showcases, and beyond. By 2016, his first album made its way onto MOOD in the form of Over Under.
The only problem was that, by the time Over Under debuted, Canal had already begun feeling a disconnect between what he was creating, and what he felt in his heart. Instead, he felt a closer affinity with the softer, more melodic side of progressive that has since seen him land on labels like Lost&Found, Vivrant, and of course, SIAMESE where Dancing Astronaut recently had the pleasure of premiering his last track on the label, “Dreamt Of Tomorrow.”
He was thus at a crossroads: continue on the path he was on, which had just begun reaping successful, or follow his heart. He opted to go for the latter—after all, “maybe now I’d be stuck in the golden handcuffs, where I would not be happy with the music I’m doing, but still feeling obligated to continue as it would be how I made a living,” Canal expressed.
And so, Marino started over. Doing so wasn’t easy, but this time around, he felt even more motivated to continue. The work is finally paying off; with his revamped sound and unfettered creative freedom, the producer has swiftly picked up steam in the progressive circles and beyond. His music has touched many, even leading to a top Beatport spot with his first Vivrant release. Canal has proven what he’s known all along: the risk is always worth it when in it for the long haul.
As he continues down his path to growth, we spoke to the budding talent about shifting gears, persevering, and maintaining a realistic, smart strategy for his career.
Let’s start with your earlier days—describe what inspired you to begin making music of your own, and the full story how you landed your first LP with MOOD.
Most stories of success (and i’m not saying mine is one of them) are really stories of perseverance, but people don’t give that enough thought. Nobody is showing others the failures along the way.
No matter what you do in life you must persevere. I was classically trained in piano and musical notation when I was about 9 years old; however I have now forgotten all of it. Growing up there was always music at home. My father is a melomaniac, but a doctor professionally, so in one way or another he influenced me to pursue this music career that maybe he had wished to pursue for himself, just like his father influenced him to become a doctor. To be honest, I was raised in a family where I could have done whatever, but music always seemed right to me either way.
My relationship with Nicole started by chance—a friend of mine was listening to her podcasts, and she mentioned how Nicole had played one of my tracks in her mixes so I just sent a SoundCloud link to her Facebook page and she signed my first EP on MOOD soonafter. At the time I did not know much of her record label or anything surrounding her. I had no idea how big Nicole was, so I didn’t have any expectations.
I have had a few let-downs in my music career, but never from Nicole; she was always honest and down to earth, never over-promised, gave me complete freedom and confidence to do what I wanted and supported my music in every way she could by asking me to come on tours, make mixes for her podcast and stuff like that.
I have found as I’ve gotten older that it is best to not expect anything from anyone. Just focus on your own work and your own happiness, lock yourself up and create something that is worth something to you, work on a project that you like, maybe someone else likes it and that’s great. Either way, don’t work on things to please anyone else but yourself and your curiosity.
You must have been really excited to have debuted such a big project on a label like MOOD. Did you feel at this point that it’d be a big break, or did you receive any promises from those around you that this would be a “career-making” project?
I came in to that relationship with no expectations whatsoever, I was just doing the music I liked at that time and that was about it. MOOD and Nicole gave me a great spotlight, but I was making very different music on MOOD than I am now.
I was never promised anything that was not granted, from MOOD’s side, there was some hype around me as Nicole built up our gigs together and featured my music left and right. She really did make me feel like home with total creative freedom and took great care of me, like a mother really. I felt loved. The reality is that after my album Over/Under got released on MOOD, which was successful by some measure, I felt like my music taste had changed.
I guess some people might wonder why I moved away from such a comfortable position where I was being heavily supported by one of the top DJs in the world, but one thing you have to understand Is that the only thing driving my creativity and my career are is how music makes me feel, this happened around the time that EDM died off from the Beatport charts and techno/house was exploding, I felt like my sound did not reflect who I was as a person so I made the change. Whenever I’m doing anything I think to myself, “does this make me feel right? does this sound feel right?.”
Looking back, my moment on MOOD was career-defining in the sense that it gave me the exposure I needed to be where I’m at now. My first release there and the title track of the album were heavily supported by Adriatique, years later we are in the studio together, making exciting records.
Following your heart can sometimes be scary, especially when it involves defying what’s “successful” at the time and entering uncharted territory. Can you dive into the mental health aspect of this?
It gos back to the “hype”-thing. I guess people were expecting me to make big techno records or release on this or that label, but I just didn’t give two fucks about that. Not “making it” then has not really affected me mentally. I have always had a quite pragmatic outlook on life, so if anything I have learned more about what this industry really is made of.
I have seriously thought of quitting trying to pursue making music for a living quite a few times, but I don’t think I will ever just stop making music. For me sitting in the studio gives me peace and a place where I can 100% put my mind into something. Kind of what meditation feels like, I imagine.
In a sense, if my career had “taken off” then, maybe now I’d be stuck in the golden handcuffs, where I would not be happy with the music i’m doing, but still felt obligated to continue as it would be how I made a living.
This is one of the reasons why social media is so toxic, It creates false expectations that you end up projecting on yourself. I think my music now is more oriented towards longevity rather than trends. This is why I try to put feelings in to my music, feelings are timeless but statements have an expiration date.
Going off of the negative, you found a way to persevere. What kicked you back into motivation and drive to succeed in music?
A combination of things. The support from the fans, creating music that excites me, meeting my current manager Alex, my relationship with Adriatique and seeing my music being supported by artists I look up to.
It was great seeing how a lot of people felt the same way I did with ‘Her Perfect Sky’ there was a guy who tattooed the name of the track in his hand, and just people in general telling me how the track had an impact on the life. Making meaningful music helped me keep going.
Three years later, your moment has arrived. Your debut EP on Jeremy Olander’s Vivrant made number #1 on Beatport and your latest project on Adriatique’s SIAMESE is doing very well. What are some other key takeaways you’ve learned from the saga between ‘Over/Under’ and now?
Make something that matters to you and that has longevity.
What can you say to other artists who might be comparing themselves to others who seem ‘more ahead’? How do you ‘keep the blinders’ (keep to yourself) on and keep pressing forward?
t’s inevitable to compare yourself to others, the way infants learn to speak or to walk is by observing and copying. What I’m trying to say is if you are just learning to make music, there’s nothing wrong with trying to copy a certain sound or trying to recreate a bass line or whatever it is that you need to do to improve your skill-set. However, if you want to make a difference and get noticed you need personality in your music.
A lot of the people sending me music right now sound exactly like each other. They want to be on Afterlife and they just copy a sound of some music that already had an impact a long time ago. Instead of creating something truly unique they end up having no distinct personality and their music will only be short-lived.
If you are making music right now, abstract yourself from the tracks you are making, try to picture yourself in 3rd person above the records and think of what space it has in the current industry, where it is that you want to go with this music, where you would imagine it being played, what purpose does it have?
Learning to think of my music in this way has helped me a lot.
Do you believe anyone can succeed over time if they are driven enough? What have you learned so far outside of purely musical skill to better market yourself to get to the level you have today?
Yes, absolutely, anyone will have some degree of success if they spend enough time doing whatever it is that they are doing.
One of the most important things is who you surround yourself with in real life. You can be a ground breaking artist but if you don’t have a team of people helping you get noticed, opening doors for you, it will be very difficult
From the producer point of view, I think most of us are introverted by nature, imagine you like sitting in front of a computer screen alone for hours on end, that’s not a very social lifestyle.
You need to compensate by having people around you who push you. For me it’s hard to make great music and be social at the same time.If i’m on a studio roll I need to cancel dinners or dates and so on. These days I’ve just resorted to not picking up the phone or answering late.
Nowadays there are a lot of tools to selfpromote and I think there’s no reason to wait for a big label to pick up your music anymore. You can save up some money and pay for a decent promo on to have your record be put in front of DJs. I think up-and-coming producers need to be bold and not wait to be picked up by a big label.
If you have interesting music there’s every tool available today from your computer to get noticed.
To stay balanced, happy, and mentally clear, do you have any specific routines that you incorporate into your daily life?
My life is very unstructured. There might be a month where I go to bed at 11PM and others where I go to bed at 5AM, taking advice from me for a balanced life would be an oxymoron :)
Let’s talk shop a bit. What’s your studio setup like currently?
Pretty mediocre, but sufficient. I have a pair of Genelec 8040A, a room that looks treated but is not sounding so great. I use only plugins. No hardware.
A lot of people ask this so, my go-to plugins are: Diva, Zebra, Uhbik-A, Serum, Serum FX, Mongoose, SPL Vitalizer, Waves Doubler. Not much else.
Splice.com for samples is something everyone should sign up for. People at Splice. if you are reading this, please sponsor me. I have sold so many people on to your great service.
What and how did you arrive at the melodic house and techno sound you currently champion?
I think a lot of the vibe on the sound of my music right now comes from de-tuning oscillators and modulating filters, these two are the biggest. Another part of my music is that it’s not too complex percussion wise, but because the melodies are so present and strong many of my tracks don’t need a traditional clap/hat arrangement. It happens that when I try to add percussion the track does not work anymore.
With ‘Curious Eyes’ I added this techno house hat/clap groove on top that I thought was cool, because it sounds commercial and groovy but the synth work is nothing standard so I thought that was a playful combination and it got people dancing too.
One thing that some of my producer friends have a hard time understanding in the way I produce music, is that they sometimes feel my music is lacking percussion, but just because every other track has a 909 hat or shaker or a clap on the 2 and the 4 you don’t need to have one in your music, it’s not like I forgot to put in the percussions, it’s a conscious decision.
What musical heroes and inspirations have you had over the years?
Massive Attack, David August, Four Tet, Bonobo, Apparat, Deru, Brian Eno, Phillip Glass, Burial, Eric Prydz, Joachim Garraud. Too many to name. I used to listen to ‘Barber’s Adaggio For Strings’ by Tiesto on repeat when I was a teen.
Everything around you influences you all the time, movies, art and even relationships. It’s such an open ended question.
What gives you the most inspiration in general? And what do you do when you find yourself having writers’ block?
I really do not know where my inspiration comes from, what I do is I sit in the studio, I work on a synth sound or a melodic progression and sometimes that inspires me and later in the arrangement I might think of the track in a cinematic way. Maybe I think of a particular track as a story on film and what that needs in order to work as a moving picture.
I think creativity is a very abstract topic, but here’s an amazing Reddit AMA that I’ve kept coming back to over the years.
Any final words you’d like to share?
We live in a time where all or at least most of the knowledge there’s ever been is available to us on the internet for free. Whatever it is that you want to learn there’s resources for it. YouTube for tutorials, Reddit for specific knowledge or discussions, Library Genesis for books, Stack Overflow, Codewars and so on.
Go and work on that project that you’ve been thinking of.
Photo credit: Rawad