On this week’s edition of #OnTheRadar, local AJ Norman shares some insight on the power of video game soundtracks, reading social situations and speaker-testing his music. Take a peek below at this week’s #OnTheRadar local!
SIM: Welcome AJ! To start, how did you get into producing music?
AJ: I’ve been producing electronic music for about 6 years now! What really triggered me to start producing was seeing Feed Me at Electric Forest in 2011. I went to the festival mainly for the jam band/indie rock/hip hop acts as I wasn’t very into EDM at the time. I heard Feed Me and it was exactly what I never knew I wanted to hear.
SIM: “it was exactly what I never knew I wanted to hear”… that is an awesome way to describe Feed Me. So, are you mostly self-taught as a result, or did you go to school for production?
AJ: I’m mostly self-taught but I did go to school for audio engineering. I went to IPR here in Minneapolis to learn recording techniques, mixing, and mastering. I’ve been making music for as long as I can remember though. I started with piano lessons in 1st grade for a little bit and then later took drum lessons in 7th grade. I realized pretty early on that I was way more interested in writing songs than I was in becoming the best pianist or drummer, so I didn’t take lessons for very long. Instead I focused on music theory and getting to understand why my favorite songs are so good. I developed my ear and comprehension mainly from figuring out and analyzing songs from my favorite video games.
SIM: That is an incredible journey… one can only imagine how much its broadened the quality of your compositions and sound. Do you primarily produce in one genre, or do you like to work in multiple subgenres?
AJ: I would say I primarily produce Dubstep and Future Bass lately. My music is all over the place though! I do a lot of Disco-inspired stuff which I find really fun to make. Most of my music revolves heavily around video game soundfonts and samples, since they played such a huge role in shaping my childhood and musical development.
SIM: Going off of the sounds that have shaped your style, do you primarily stick to NRMN, or do you have another monker that you produce under?
AJ: I was making music in a duo called World Class Art Thieves for a while, but am currently exploring my sound with this new project NRMN. I love to bounce ideas and collaborations with all the friends I’ve made through music IRL and on the internet! One of my best friends goes by the moniker Dreamcasts and also lives in Minneapolis. We have similar styles of music and send each other stuff all the time. Look out for some NRMN x Dreamcasts songs in the near future!
SIM: We will definitely be looking out for your Dreamcasts collaborations! When working on your creations, which production software has been your weapon of choice?
AJ: My production software of choice is Ableton Live! When I first started I used Propellerhead’s Reason 4. It was very limiting though as I could only use MIDI. Switching over to Ableton opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Today though, most DAW’s are very similar in features so it’s not such a huge deal which one you use, it all comes down to personal preference and workflow. I think my foundation of piano, drums, and music theory knowledge are super beneficial in my understanding of digital music and workstations.
SIM: When you started out as local, how difficult was it for you to get support on your production?
AJ: Trying to get support as a new producer is definitely challenging! The internet is making it a little easier to send your stuff out there and get heard but it’s tough to find people who will listen. I remember playing so many house parties and bars while trying to build a name. I think one of the first big breaks and real shows I had here in the twin cities was back in 2011. We submitted a song and won a producer contest through SIM to open for Markus Schulz. Since then I’ve made a ton of connections with so many people involved in the electronic music scene here in Minnesota and beyond that have been so supportive. I’ve been booked for countless huge shows and amazing opportunities I never would have thought possible without their support. I think it’s important to leverage the internet as much as possible while still being outgoing and contributing to your local scene and being present. In the end we are all in this business because we love music and want to work in a field we are passionate about. If people see that you are focused they will want to help.
SIM: Throughout your growth as a local, what have been some of your biggest obstacles to overcome?
AJ: Some of the biggest obstacles for me have been mental blocks. I’ve been making music for a while and there are definitely long periods of time where I have severe writer’s block. Or other times where I question what I’m doing with my life. I have an immense amount of respect for any artist that can continue to pump out amazing work for a long period of time. Sometimes it’s hard to just step back and remember “Oh yeah, stop thinking so much and just make something that you think sounds cool.”
SIM: We can definitely attest to writer’s block as well. What support system do you utilize to help keep you on track with your music?
AJ: I don’t have an official manager or team but I always bounce ideas and consult with my girlfriend and close friends about my work. I also do have some labels and collectives I work with on some of my music releases (shoutout GameChops, Hebinomichi, Tiny Waves, TOO LUSH).
SIM: How has networking in the Twin Cities and beyond helped mold your perspective of working in the music industry?
AJ: Over the years I’ve learned a lot about navigating the music industry, even though I’m not necessarily the best at it. I can be really shy when it comes to networking and meeting people. Since I’m not the most outgoing person I just try to be as nice as possible to everybody and avoid drama at all costs. Sometimes this means biting my tongue and keeping my opinions to myself but I’ve seen many professional relationships destroyed because of people being shitty and perpetuating drama. It’s hard to put ego aside in an industry where we’re literally in the spotlight on stage but we have to remember that we’re all people here just trying to spread the love of music. 🙂
SIM: And in your experience, how difficult has it been as a local to have people give your material a chance?
AJ: I’ve been pretty fortunate to be able to play so many shows here in the Twin Cities and have my music heard by so many people! I think as long as the content you are making is quality, people will pay attention. I also think branding is really important. Decide on a strong aesthetic early and go nuts on it. You want your brand to be what people think about when they see or think about x. When I’m testing new unreleased music live I’m usually paying attention to the mix and loudness vs. the songs I play before and after it. I like my songs to stand out and be at least as clean and loud as the other stuff I’m playing. If it’s not then it’s back to the lab for tweaks!
SIM: That is a really smart way of testing your music, AJ! Thank you for sharing that insight. Do you have additional experiences you would like to share that shed light on your growth as a local?
AJ: I’ll never forget performing my songs for the first time. Or playing my first house party. Or my first time playing at a real venue. Or my first time playing at a music festival. Or my first time playing a show outside of Minnesota. It’s crazy to think about everything I’ve been able to do with my life with music so far and I feel so blessed to be in a scene that gives its artists a chance.
SIM: Do you have any proud moments that come to mind when you think about your time in the Twin Cities area?
AJ: Some of the proudest moments of my music career so far have been hearing other artists that I look up to playing my songs in their sets. It’s an indescribable feeling being in the crowd and hearing a song you made blasting out of the speakers for thousands of people. Getting the chance to play at Summer Set Music and Camping Festival was an unbelievable experience for this same reason, except it was me up there getting to perform my songs for thousands of people!
SIM: Looking down the road, what are some of the next big goals you hope to hit?
AJ: The ultimate goal I have is to be able to sustain myself and the people I care about through making music and other digital content full time. I would also love to able to do audio for video games at some point. Outside of making electronic music and playing shows I also create and sell sample packs and Ableton devices online. I am also teaching Ableton workshops and private lessons. Trying to diversify and apply my talents to as many avenues of income as possible.
SIM: And what is something you hope never changes about yourself as you become more successful?
AJ: One thing I value a lot and hope never changes is my artistic integrity. I’m not really a trend follower and will rarely play songs people have heard before in my sets. I’ve been making music for a long time and have tried really hard to carve out a unique sound that I believe is identifiable and synonymous with my brand, and I never want to sacrifice that and sell out. I’ve had plenty of collaborations not work out in the past because I wasn’t feeling it, and I would rather not release anything than release something I’m not 100% behind.
SIM: Thank you AJ for taking the time to speak with SIMshows this week. Do you have anything else you would like to share with our readers?
AJ: Follow me on all the social media! I’m most active on Twitter, though I’ve been quiet lately as I’m working on my new project. I’ll have more details on that soon as I can’t talk about it right now! But I’m super excited about it!!
Make sure to catch NRMN setting the mood at Skyway Theater before Slushii takes the stage. Tickets are still available, buy yours here.