We sat down with the newest member of the team at Sol Passion Music, Zaq, who produces under the alias Forte, and asked him a few questions about his background with music and his approach to sound design.
Q: Where are you from originally?
Zaq: I was born in London, but I lived most of my life in Sweden, moving to Shanghai and then eventually Hong Kong.
Q: When did you start producing?
Zaq: I was about 15 or 16; it was in the Summer of 2016 when I moved here. My family and I were staying in a hotel, and there wasn’t very much to do, so I ended up spending most of the summer learning how to produce my songs and beats! This time was when I started learning at Sol Passion Music.
Q: What would your dream collaboration be?
Zaq: Probably Flume, I enjoy a lot of his more experimental stuff, but he also has this ability even to make mainstream music in his definitive style. I think he’s so innovative and his work pushes the world of production in new and exciting directions. He’s the only significant scale artist in my opinion with that kind of influence; nobody else can meld commercial songwriting with experimental production quite as well as he has.
Q: Where do you find inspiration when it comes to creating music?
Zaq: I mostly work with other artists, because primarily I’m a producer, so usually they’ll bring in their ideas for songs, although sometimes they don’t. Instead, they sit there and watch me mess around until hearing something they like! It also depends on how well I know the artist; it’s an entirely different approach when I’m working with close friends. Often when I’m working with somebody, they’ll be singing in the background, and I can draw a lot of inspiration from their lyrics. That’s my favourite way to work – I don’t really like working alone in my bedroom.
Q: Where do you usually start on a track? With the sound design?
Zaq: Yeah, I work a lot with vintage synths which I find to be so inspiring, and I think the amount of time I spend sculpting sounds makes the difference when it comes to creating something new. A lot of people just use presets, but I far prefer to take familiar sounds and add to them to make them more exciting.
But that’s not always where I start. As a classically trained pianist, there are certain occasions where I’ll instead try to come up with a musical idea that interests me. I have a lot of faith in my sound design, so sometimes I prefer to get a good melody or chord progression and then work on enhancing it with sound design. The same four chords can be incredibly exciting or extremely dull based entirely on what you do with the sound design.
“The same four chords can be incredibly exciting or extremely boring based entirely on what you do with the sound design.”
Q: Would you say that’s your top tip for being creative?
Zaq: Try everything. I always used to start on drums – I don’t know why considering I’m not a drummer and never have been! But I slowly realized that my tracks always sounded too similar or stagnant, so I started trying different approaches, like starting with a melody or finding a beautiful sample. Switching up the different ways you can begin to a song helps you adjust the direction in which you continue.
Q: What hardware or software do you rely on the most?
Zaq: I mostly use hardware now, although I was using Serum before. I have a few Moogs at home as well as a Dave Smith Prophet 12. That’s my go-to, it looks stunning, which is great for inspiration, it’s also incredibly well made with fantastic sounds, and crucially I love its keyboard.
Q: How do you stay motivated and focused?
Zaq: I think everyone is bound to have up and down periods – you can’t force yourself to stay motivated. I find that working with different people can be quite helpful, as it helps you to approach your work from new directions and that can help you to stay excited about what you’re doing. If you keep doing the same things over and over, then you’ll only be able to create songs that sound the same, which will make you lose motivation.
The main thing I try to remember is that as long as I’m always learning new things, then it doesn’t matter how right the track I’m working on is, my main goal is to keep improving.
Q: When you’re in the studio, to what extent are you trying to create whatever you think people want to hear as opposed to doing what you feel?
Zaq: You’ve got to remember why you’re there. You’re not the artist, you’re the producer, and there’s a difference. If they have certain specific things that they want in a track, you’ve got to provide them, but at the same time, you can always input your sound to a degree.
If they are bringing me in as a songwriter or a collaborator, it’s different; I’ll be working off of my instinct and trusting my style. But that usually happens only with friends, and I’m never often brought in to do that with random people.
“Switching up the different ways you can start a song helps you adjust the direction you continue in
Q: What are your short and long term goals?
Zaq: Other than working at Sol Passion Music all summer, I’m also trying to get into the world of podcasts – it can be very lucrative if you’re competent with the right software and good at mixing. I’m currently editing podcasts for a few New York-based publicity companies, which is fun because it involves learning new skills like working with voice editing plugins.
Long-term the goal is to be able to live only off the music. Luckily right now I don’t have to!
Q: What else do you get up to in your free time outside of music?
Zaq: I play a lot of squash, usually with my Dad, which is nice. I also play 4-6 hours of tennis a week currently, which is less than usual! Back in England, I played for the University team, so yeah.
Sports are a big part of my life, and I think it’s intertwined with my motivation for music. It helps to get out of the bedroom, and the fresh air is essential!
You can listen to some of Zaq’s productions under his Forte alias here.
If you are interested in booking Zaq for lessons in Electronic Music Production or Sound Design, then click here.