Community Artist Of The Month   2023 - SkaR

Community Artist Of The Month 2023 - SkaR

Community Artist Of The Month Aug 2023 - SkaR

In the fifth edition of our Community Artist of the Month series we are delighted to showcase Evgenij otherwise known as producer SkaR.

A 22-year-old musician originally from Belarus (now based in Italy), Evgenij's musical journey began at age 6 when he joined a national music conservatory-college in Minsk, mastering various instruments and music theory. However, he didn't start creating full-fledged tracks until 2018, initially exploring trap-inspired beats influenced by the Russian music scene. In this interview, SkaR discusses his setup, favourite plugins, the transition from classical training to making beats, collaborative projects, battling creative blocks and so much more.


Tell us about yourself and how you started making music.

My name is Evgenij, also known as SkaR. I'm a 22-year-old musician originally from Minsk, Belarus, and I moved to Rome, Italy, in 2013. My musical journey began at the age of 6 when I joined the national music conservatory-college in Minsk. While I studied music theory and various instruments, I started making full-fledged music around 2018, initially exploring trap-inspired beats influenced by the Russian music scene.

In 2019, I ventured into selling trap beats with leases and exclusives, but I found the community to be somewhat toxic, which led me to seek new opportunities. This is when I discovered an indie game project - a modification for a Russian visual novel. The creator needed original music, and I decided to contribute for free. It wasn't about money; it was about my passion, self-challenge, and gaining experience. This period marked a turning point for me, where I felt more liberated and had greater creative freedom, even though the results were of questionable quality. The development stopped soon before the beginning of Russia's attack on Ukraine (the author is Ukrainian), so I’m not sure on what’s the future of the project.

During this time, I also delved into lofi music, which to me, struck the perfect balance between a captivating rhythm and the flexibility to explore different creative avenues.

Fast forward three years and here I am. I may not have an extensive discography and I tend to be a bit (a lot) self-critical, but I attribute my pace to refining my skills. I'm continuously improving (at least I hope I am, ahah!) and always pushing myself to surpass my own benchmarks, which comes with its own downsides of course.

Can we discuss your setup? What hardware are you using?

Certainly! My setup is relatively basic:

  • Two Yamaha HS7 monitors: I mainly use them for gain staging since mixing in my untreated space is not easy.
  • Beyerdynamic DT 990 PROs (the 250-ohm ones): I do 70% of the job with these headphones.
  • Avid Mbox Pro 3 as an audio interface: It's old, it has awful drivers, and it uses firewire (!!!), but the sound it provides is more than decent. Plus, it offers many inputs and outputs, which is a bonus for creating physical loopbacks and connecting more gear in the future.
  • Arturia Keylab Essential 61: This is my main and only MIDI controller.
  • Rocktile Pro RB-400B Bass: It might not be much, but it gets the job done.
  • An Ibanez Gio GRG170dx guitar.
  • AKG P120 microphone.

Everything else involves PC components or is related to video, so it's probably not relevant, but just in case:

  • Camera: Sony A6300.
  • Lenses: Sony 16-50 f3.5-5.6 kit lens, Helios 44M-6 Sony 18-200 f3.5-5.6, Helios 44-2.
  • Light: GVM 80W.
  • Capture card: Elgato Cam Link 4K.

Do you have any favourite plugins that you use on pretty much everything? Likewise, is there a piece of gear that you just couldn't live without?

Absolutely. For plugins:

  • RC20: This one needs no introduction; it's my go-to for adding character and warmth to my tracks, although I don't use it as often as I used to, since exploring alternatives is always fun!
  • Arturia busforce: I rely on this plugin extensively after discovering it last year, especially on the drum bus. It's fantastic for quick parallel processing of drums, giving them that extra punch and texture.
  • Decimort: When I want to add some delightful degradation to my drum sounds, Decimort is the choice. It's a fantastic bitcrusher that adds a unique vibe.
  • Vertigo VSM3: For stereo and mid-side saturation without compromising the transients, this plugin has proven to be a game-changer in my mixes.
  • TOMO Audiolabs Lisa: One of my best VST purchases this year. I don't want to write a wall of text about it, so I'd suggest looking it up on YouTube. Shoutout to Davide Perico for this one.
  • Fabfilter plugins: I often turn to Fabfilter for their EQ and compression plugins; they offer precision and control that I love.
  • Blackhole: When I need expansive and lush reverbs, Blackhole is my secret weapon.
  • Valhalla reverbs
  • Convolver reverbs: I'm a big fan of convolver reverbs for their ability to create realistic and unique spaces. My favorites are Kilohearts Convolver (although I use it mainly for sound design-y things, thanks Venus Theory) and Altiverb.
  • Keyscape: This is my go-to for expressive keyboard sounds and it finds its way into many of my tracks. If I happen to need something different, I go for the piano or rhodes by Arturia.
  • Arturia synths: I have a collection of Arturia synths, and you can almost guarantee that one of them plays a role in any of my projects.

As for gear, as you saw, I don't have much and all I've listed above is pretty much essential. There are many more plugins that I use in specific cases, but the list is already pretty huge, ahah!

You’re based in Italy, what’s the scene like there? Are there many people making beats in a similar vein to yourself?

Honestly, I don't have a strong grasp on the local music scene here in Italy, especially in Rome. While there are a few artists I know of, like camoufly, sons cassettes, and Clumby, who share some common ground with the kind of music I dig, I can't say I'm deeply entrenched in the local scene. I am part of an Italian Discord server with lofi beatmakers, but from what I've seen, many of them tend to lean more toward ambient/sleepy lofi, a genre that doesn't quite align with my personal taste at all.

It's worth noting that I might be a bit ignorant about the broader lofi scene as well. I haven't actively researched many artists and I recognise that the genre, as Birocratic once pointed out, often revolves around passive listening and therefore is naturally faceless - something I hate about it and about myself for falling into the same trap and I’m trying to be more “present”.

In my opinion, to truly stand out in this genre, you either need to produce exceptional music or bring something uniquely different to the table. It's a challenge I hope to embrace and learn from as I continue my musical journey. While I may not have deep insights into the scene just yet, I'm open to exploring new avenues and engaging more with the community in the future.

As a classically trained musician, how has the switch from playing in an orchestra been for you? And how being classically trained has helped you musically?

I wouldn't describe my transition from classical music to my current genre as an abrupt 'switch,' it was more of a gradual process that unfolded after I came to Italy, leaving my studies in Minsk behind. I did perform with what could generously be called an 'orchestra' a few times, with a notable win in a competition here in Italy, however, following that, I shifted away from classical music.

Being classically trained comes with both advantages and challenges. On the positive side, it provided me with a solid foundation in music theory and a diverse skill set that includes playing/understanding how to play multiple instruments. These aspects continue to benefit me in my current musical endeavours.

However, there were challenges in my classical training as well. The rigid environment and teaching methods at my college sometimes felt limiting, pushing me into a box that didn't allow for much exploration beyond classical music. There was a strong emphasis on traditional rhythms and harmonies, which I feel hindered my ability to play and create music expressively today.

While I don't solely blame my education for this, as my own laziness played a big role, I've found that I often struggle to apply the more advanced music theory I learned in practice. It's an ongoing journey to break free from these limitations and find my own creative voice.

You released a collaborative EP with Snowji earlier this year called ‘In The Shade’, could you tell us a little bit about the process of how it came about and how you made it?

Oh man ahah, it has been so long!

Well, the EP had its roots in our meeting at a community showcase at CH a few years ago. We immediately noticed a musical synergy – I was drawn to Snowji's skillful drum and bass work, and he appreciated my melodic elements.

The project took off when we created the track "Breeze" in May 2022, which was supposed to be a single, I guess. Initially, we submitted it to College Music, who expressed interest but *strongly* suggested an EP instead. In response, we embarked on crafting the EP, but it underwent significant sound shifts compared to "Breeze," which might have been the reason for not getting accepted.

Our journey led us through several labels, including some label-related drama, before we finally found a home with Brunch Collect, shout out to Korey and Rumi!

As for the creative process, it all began with chord progressions, which is typically my starting point for any demo. We'd build each track layer by layer, incorporating Snowji's, at this point, signature drums and bass and other elements and suggestions. While I'd love to share some secret production techniques and sauce, our process was relatively straightforward.

How do you tackle creative blocks and seek inspiration when feeling stuck when making music?

Beatblock is my surname haha! It often feels like a perpetual struggle, one that can be attributed to a combination of factors - my skill set and, if I'm being honest, bouts of laziness. There are moments when a random good or even great demo pulls me out of this funk, but they tend to be very random and inconsistent.

Usually, when I sit down to create a track from scratch and nothing promising emerges in the first 10-15 minutes, I find myself on the verge of discouragement. The allure of brain rot-inducing YouTube content or a round of Battlefield becomes difficult to resist. I start procrastinating, already convinced that the end result of the next session will mirror my current creative block. Throw in a dash of impostor syndrome, and it's a recipe for creative paralysis.

I'm well aware that this negative self-talk is counterproductive, but breaking free from this cycle hasn't been easy. While collaboration has proven to be an effective solution, my current aim is to delve deeper into my OWN sound, two things that don’t really work well together. Unfortunately, I often feel constrained, not only by my skill limitations but also by the mental hurdles I've made myself.

However, I've recently started having introspective monologues about the root causes of all of this. It's led to some realisations, and I've crafted plans to address them in the coming year. One significant realisation is that my personal blocks often stem from an unrealistic "standard" I've imposed on myself. Social media and the habit of comparing my work to others' have fueled this toxic mindset even more.

To overcome these challenges, I'm considering seeking guidance from a tutor or teacher who can help me explore music theory more comprehensively AND apply it in my work, since I always felt like my education provided both, but did not mix them together well enough. Playing by reading sheet music on the spot is great, but improvising jazz-inspired chord progressions with soulful resolutions on the fly is a totally different skill set, I think. I believe learning that can become a key factor in breaking through creative barriers.

While I may not be the best source of advice, I can suggest a few things that have helped me a bit and might assist others facing similar problems. Regularly practicing your instrument or keyboard, breaking down and playing sections from your favourite beats, collaborating with others while humbly picking their brains about their music-making approach - all these steps have the potential to chip away at creative blocks and inspire new ideas.

Who are some of your favorite beatmakers/producers in the scene right now?

Currently I’m digging Glimlip, Yasper, FloFilz, L’indecis, Clumby, Shuko, Sloppy Jo, yeyts, Craneo, Tesk, Erwin Do and Matsuyama.

While this list reflects my current favourites, I must note that my top picks tend to change as I explore the scene more. Nonetheless, artists like Birocratic, Kendall Miles, L'indecis, Ruck P, and FloFilz have secured their spots on my playlists and I doubt they'll be going anywhere anytime soon. These musicians consistently deliver the kind of sound that resonates with me.

To sum this up - I can say I prefer either upbeat, funky, jazzy, HipHop-inspired beats or melodically intricate and lush, calm beats (such as Paraglider by Kendall Miles & H E R B). I’m not a huge fan at all of simplistic, “sleepy” LoFi.

After digging through your Instagram, we noticed that your beatmaking videos are incredibly well put together. What’s the process behind those?"

Thanks for the compliment! Creating beatmaking videos has become an enjoyable part of my creative process. Getting a relatively good camera was definitely aimed towards this. (Fun fact: I also worked as a photographer and have been into it for quite a few years.) Here's a breakdown of how I put them together:

  • Setting the Scene: I start by finding the right angle and location for shooting. Since I'm limited to my room (I wish I had a laptop), it can be a bit challenging, but I try to make the most of the space I have. I pay attention to lighting, especially using a key light to create a consistent and well-lit scene, or subject (me, in this case).
  • Recording: Once the setup is ready, I record myself playing different sections or layers of the beat, switching between the predetermined angles (or even improvising on the fly). This can take a few tries to get right, but it's worth the effort for a more or less polished end result.
  • Editing: After capturing the footage, I use Davinci Resolve for post-production. This involves tasks like color space conversion (since I record in LOG), color matching and correction, as well as color grading and adding some effects to enhance the overall look and feel. Also, for anyone who’s using Adobe software - I can wholeheartedly recommend switching to Davinci. It's an absolute game-changer.

While I appreciate the positive feedback on my videos, I must admit that I've been dissatisfied with my content on social media. I've been primarily focused on showcasing my music, which has led to inconsistency in my content output and a lack of true value.

However, I've been considering expanding into different types of content that provide more value and engagement beyond just playing my tracks. It's a strategic move to build a stronger online presence and convert viewers into listeners, but there are several aspects I need to refine before diving into this new content plan, with my music being a primary focus. Aside from this, the biggest mental obstacle I have is my accent.

Interestingly, since I started creating videos with my camera, I've noticed a slight decrease in reach, but I've gained more interaction with fellow producers. I've even received collaboration proposals through direct messages. It has made me feel less like a faceless musician and more connected with the community.

For anyone looking to step into content creation, even with minimal equipment like a smartphone, I highly recommend it. Revealing the person behind the music can help establish a deeper connection with the viewer. If you're interested, you can explore resources like the Bread & Butter section on the Chillhop Music Discord server, where the beatmaker community is open to sharing insights and assistance, me included!

And finally, if you could give one piece of advice to somebody getting into making music now, what would it be? It could be something someone has told you, or just something you’ve learned along the way.

Haha, don’t is a good one! But let's dive into some real advice I wish I had when I started:

  • Join a Community: Sure, you can find tons of tutorials on YouTube and lurk around forums, but nothing beats being part of a community. Interacting with fellow musicians, whether online or in person, can provide you with insights, feedback, and a sense of belonging you wouldn’t get otherwise. Plus, you might just make some lifelong friends along the way.
  • Choose Your Educational Content Wisely: Be mindful of the content you consume. If someone's explaining reverb by saying, "just use this plugin, these settings, no need to explain why," it might be time to click away. Look for tutorials and educators who not only show you how but also explain why certain techniques work, and why others might not. Understanding the why is just as crucial, if not more, as the how.
  • Explore Different Sounds and Genres: While it's tempting to stick to the music you love, don't pigeonhole yourself into one genre. Experiment with various sounds and genres because every style can teach you something unique. The more diverse your influences, the more innovative your music can become.
  • Plugin Prudence: Don't fall into the trap of downloading every plugin you come across. You don't need 2147 VSTs cluttering your system (trust me, I've been there). When you discover a new plugin, get a demo, give it a try, and genuinely assess whether it adds value to your music. Can it be replaced with a stock plugin or one you already have? Will you use it frequently? These questions will save you a lot of clutter and headaches.
  • Learn, Practice, Apply, Improve, Repeat: Making music isn't just about creating full tracks every time you sit down. It's about learning, practicing, applying, improving, and repeating. Don't pressure yourself to produce a masterpiece every session.
  • Manage Expectations: It's fantastic to have goals, but it's equally important not to set unrealistically high expectations. Don't be too hard on yourself if your music doesn't meet some arbitrary standard you've concocted. Give yourself time to grow and learn.
  • Collaborate: Collaboration is a powerful tool. Even if you feel like you don't have much to offer, remember that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Don't shy away from collaboration, as it can open doors to new experiences and insights. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses; it’s very hard to find a jack of all trades, and if you do - rest assured that they most likely have a good healthy decade of experience on their shoulders."

A big thanks to SkaR for welcoming us into his world and generously sharing his production process. You can find all of his music on Spotify, and don't forget to give him a follow on Instagram.