Producer Crosstalk: Armin Van Buuren

Dutch DJ and producer Armin Van Buuren’s career began its agile ascent in the mid-‘90s when his seemingly endless efforts finally triggered success and began to grab notice. The move that catapulted him into prominence was in 1996 when one of his tracks was included on Sasha & John Digweed’s mix album Northern Exposure. It won him both recognition and the interest of AM PM Records. A deal was signed and his career soared even higher. Soon thereafter, his track “Communication” cracked the UK Singles Chart and shot to #18.

The radio/YouTube show A State of Trance has aired for nearly 20 years with Van Buuren at its helm. He drew inspiration from fellow Dutchman, Ben Liebrand, a producer and mix engineer who hosted the popular early ‘80s radio show In The Mix. With the aid of the advent of recently accessible home computers, he channeled his talent and lifelong love of music into a successful career.

To enable artists in the studio, he ensures that the physical conditions are as close to ideal as possible and that the vibe is right. “The big thing is to come prepared,” he explains. “When you expect an artist for a session, make sure that all of your gear works. I always have a couple of instrumentals on standby so when we’re stuck, it’s always great to have 10 or 20 ready to go. You can sit together, listen to them and usually it sets you off; it generates new ideas or directions.”

In 2014, his single “This Is What It Feels Like” from the previous year’s Intense was nominated for a Grammy for Best Dance Recording. Beyond the obvious honor, he feels that it boosted his confidence, credibility and marketability. “Being nominated is enough,” he asserts. “It’s almost like a Green Card. It can help with visas and things like that.”

The following year Van Buuren worked with Dutch rock outfit Kensington on the song “Heading Up High” from his record Embrace. It was like an ampoule of adrenaline injected directly into his career’s bloodstream, but it also represented one of his biggest challenges. “It was a big deal because the band is exclusive to the rock world,” he observes. “We wanted to make a track that wasn’t just a beat with the lead singer and a guitar line. We wanted the entire band to be part of it and it had to have both of our DNA. ‘Heading Up High’ is one of the tracks I’m most proud of because so much work went into it to get a hybrid of the band’s sound and mine.”

As a European producer and DJ, Van Buuren faced some unique difficulties when it came time to break into the American market. “I had a lot of success in the US,” he observes. “But it’s definitely harder, for some reason. The DNA of [American] dance music is different from the dance music in Europe. R&B and hip-hop have a much bigger influence. It’s a radically different game. But I never see that as a problem. It’s a challenge.”