Michael Woods—you may recall him as the British EDM/house DJ who put Justin Bieber in his place for demanding hip-hop during a set. And yes, we give him mad props for that (then throw some more props on top of that). But away from the booth and the spoiled pop stars, Woods sits down at a keyboard and begins to play. What will come of each session? He never knows. But some of it will ultimately make it to the dance floor, where legions of fans—including those attending the Hakkasan Group resident’s next appearance July 13 at Wet Republic and July 17 at Hakkasan—will get down to his sounds. The new Las Vegas local recently took us through his creative process.
Your latest single, “In Your Arms” with Lauren Dyson, is about to drop. How did you two end up collaborating?
This single came about awhile ago. I was actually doing a track—I think it was for Madonna. I came up with this chord progression and everyone loved it so much and said, “Why don’t you just use it for your own track?” I sent it off to a writer friend of mine, Darren Bennett, and he got one of his songwriters, Lauren Dyson, and it came together quite quickly. It was initially released on my own label and then Spinnin’ heard it, absolutely loved it and it’s now coming out July 14 on Spinnin’.
With so many people throwing their hats into the production ring, what are some of the ways you stand out?
That’s the challenge right now. Basically, all you need is a laptop and you can write a track. But the thing I try to hone in on is my musicality, because I’m classically trained. My dad was a piano teacher, and he taught me piano from the age of 4. So I rely on my musicianship to make me stand out. A lot of these kids, they never really know music, but they do know the computers and the production side of things. But many tracks sound the same because they’re using these sample packs and the same samples. I just create my own and let the music [speak] for itself.
Is having a music background essential these days for those in the electronic music industry?
It’s not essential. I know people who have No. 1 tracks who don’t really have a musical background; they’re so good at finding samples and putting them together. It’s not completely essential, but everyone’s got to hone in on their own skills and techniques. I’m not too bad at knocking a track together myself. But I just try to use everything I can.
Do you compose the melodies on piano beforehand?
I sit down at the keyboard, start playing and it just kind of comes out. Every time I sit down and play, something comes out—I don’t know what until I literally start playing. It’s kind of strange. Sometimes I might hum a melody and record it into my phone and then re-create it back in the studio. But more often than not, the most successful times for me are when I am just sitting there with a blank mind and the music just flows out from my hands.
Do you record your brainstorming sessions at the keyboard just in case?
No, not every single time. I’d have about 15 albums if I did that! I just play and if I hear something I like, I’ll go back and hit record, then come back to it in an hour or two and see if it’s actually any good. But normally, I’m just jamming away.