Q&A: Harry Romero

Can you tell us a little bit about where you grew up and how that impacted on you as a DJ and producer?

I grew up in New Jersey in the shadows of New York City, in the suburbs, not the country, not the city, just in-between. I grew up with a lot of different ethnicities; a lot of white, Latin, black – it was a great mix of cultures growing up.

In my home, growing up, we spoke Spanish and when I was a kid we were always listening to Latin music. My father was a more eclectic person in terms of what he listened to. He listened to a plethora of music: Jazz, Opera, Classical and Folk. There was always a mixture of music. It was around the early ‘80s when I discovered Hip-Hop, DJs like Red Alert and Grand Master Flash had a really big influence on what I listened to. Again, they were more diverse times. Everything wasn’t ‘put into a box’ as it is today, I feel.

There were also a lot of Filipino kids in my area that listened to a lot of Nu Wave stuff, like Depeche Mode and that kind of music. So we had such an amazing diverse community of music if you will. It was really, really cool.

When I started DJing in the late 80s, professionally at local clubs or whatever, we played everything; Reggae, Hip Hop, Disco, Latin freestyle (Which is like a cross between Electro and Latin). We played across the board. We didn’t think of terms of ‘boxes’ or ‘genres’ – We kept the party going!

The first House DJs were people like Roman Ricardo, DJ Animal, Glen Frisca – so many! Louis Vega, hands down, has been my biggest inspiration. He used to do a party on a Wednesday night in New York at a bar called, the Sound Factory Bar and I would go every week. It’s a place where I heard a lot of the tracks that have now become huge for Kenny and Louie.

What music was playing in your house when you were a kid?

My mom would be listening to a lot of her Folk music from South America. She was the first person to introduce me to poetry. We would sit and listen to poetry together a lot when I was younger. She had albums of it – It was really cool. There was ALWAYS music on in the house. I don’t know if that’s a Latin thing? But there was.

My father had his entertainment stack; it had a tape deck, tuner, amp and a turntable. We were NOT allowed to touch it… at all. My father used to say “Don’t go near it, don’t touch it!” If we wanted to hear something he would have to get his records and play it himself. Our house defiantly had an ‘entertainment centre’.

Can you remember your first ever record you bought?

I actually do! It was the first Houdini album. I remember buying it and listening to it non-stop. I had collected my birthday money and that‘s what I bought when I was a kid. I asked my mom to take me to the Sam Goody store over here. I heard Red Alert play a few of their tracks and I wanted to get the album. It was the first thing I ever bought with my own money.

Your DAW of choice is Logic Pro for this course. Has that always been the case, or did you start with a different program? What attracted you to Logic Pro over some other choices like Ableton or Cubase?

No, I started to produce with a program called Studio Vision. It was all midi, there was no audio at all. So it was basically just a midi sequencer but, you had different ways of arranging. It did the job and it put together what I wanted it to.

From then on, I went to Studio Vision Pro, which included a little bit of audio. But at the time, the quality of the audio still wasn’t there so I did whatever I could to keep my stuff out of audio.

I wanted everything to trigger from my samplers, but the problem with that was the samplers could only handle so much of the workload and you’d have to buy an additional sampler. At the time I was done working in that way, I already had 3 Akai 3000s maxed out – Around 24 output channels.

The audio at this time wasn’t as good as it is now. I didn’t want my drums to touch audio; I wanted them to come out of the sampler, the way God intended. That’s just how I thought.

After Studio Vision Pro, I moved to Digital Performer, which is by a company called Mark Of The Unicorn and then eventually, I moved to Pro Tools. I was using them for a long time but I got bored, it just wasn’t inspiring enough for me. So now I use Logic.

Why don’t you use another DAW? Because you just weren’t feeling inspired?

One of the things as a producer, I always look for is inspiration. Whether it’s an audio thing, technology, anything! I always try and stay inspired in the studio. When something becomes stale, you keep it moving, you move along and try new things. I’ve stayed very comfortable with Logic for the last 11 years. It has everything I need.

How is your studio currently setup? Are you mostly in-the-box, do you use any outboard gear? Any equipment, which is really essential to what you do?

80% of what I do is in the box. But then, there are times I will work on something, which is 90% out of the box. It really just depends on the project! Usually though, it’s mostly in the box, I’m not going to lie. The last couple of months or so, I’ve been really going outside the box to get sounds from my old keyboards. Then I’ll bring them into 2017, to the new technology! So I’m using my old keyboards as sample banks – I’m generating sounds and putting them into Logic.

Anything on Harry’s Hardware wish list?

To be honest… I’m not too sure at the moment. There’s nothing I can think of right now that gets my panties in a bunch! If I had to really think… I would honestly love a multi-voice sound modular! That would be nice to have. It’s a big power machine and I’d love to play with that and see what I can come up with. I do look at what’s going on in terms of tech and gear, but when I get into my groove, I just want to make music. The last thing I want is down time. If I don’t use something a couple of times, it really doesn’t stay in my studio for long. I have a lot of space, but I don’t want to overcrowd my studio with things I don’t to use.

Do you have a certain set of plug-ins or hardware that you absolutely couldn’t live without?

I could not live without the Waves plug-ins. I use these all the time. I use their compressors; I use their delays, their EQs. There’s not much fiddling about with these.

What is your workflow typically like when you get in the studio? Do you sit down with the intention of writing a specific type of track, or do you just play around and see what happens?

My background is actually in fine arts and what a lot of professionals would say is “You don’t sit in front of a blank canvas without an idea, because you will never finish painting”. I always have an idea, I may not always finish with it, but I try and go with my initial instinct. It could be from something I heard on the Jazz channel in my car and I think, “Wow! Those 2 bars were crazy!”. There’s always an idea. As many people would agree, time is precious. As I make music in Logic, if I find a really good kick drum, I will create an apple loop. I create these all the time in my studio. I’m constantly adding to my sound library when I work. Always.

What is the secret to be being able to work in the studio all day? Lots of coffee? Regular breaks? Low volume?

I take a lot of breaks; I don’t really work longer than 4 hours at a time. I can get a lot done in 4 hours and it’s plenty. I just really work in short, powerful, busy blocks – If someone was to have a conversation with me in those 4 hours, I wouldn’t have a clue what they were saying to me. 10 hours fishing for an idea would drive me nuts. It’s such a juggling act of being creative and getting shit done. In-between breaks I might listen to some Larry Levan from 30 years ago or something. Sometimes you need to recharge your ears with something different.

Do you ever produce music on the road, or is this something you try and avoid?

It’s not something I try to avoid; I just like to do other stuff. I like to watch movies, I like to sleep. Let’s say I’m at the airport, at my gate and something comes on the loud speaker, or I walk past a shop and it sounds interesting, I’ll be like “What is that?!”, I might work on the idea, but I won’t get in deep. I can’t work with headphones, it drives me absolutely bananas!

So when you go on the road you might get inspired from your travels and have notes, but its when you get back in the studio you really build on the ideas?

Exactly. I just can’t make music with my headphones.

If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be? Producers, bands or artists, dead or alive… anybody!

That’s an interesting question… It’s got to be Bob Marley! I would have loved to have worked on some really cool dub stuff with Bob – That would have been crazy. And the other would be, Laurent Garnier, for sure! I love his take on Techno. I love his fluidity as a DJ, I love the fact he doesn’t just stick to one genre. He seems like a really cool, artistic guy and I would love to absorb a little bit of that. And maybe he could absorb a little bit of whatever I have!

What’s your favourite Bob Marley track?

‘War’ – It’s my favourite track of his. Such a cool track.

What’s next for Harry Romero this year? Miami plans? Summer dates? Releases you can tell us about?

I’m going real hard with my label, Bambossa. I’m doing a really cool festival in the UK, I can’t mention too much about that but it’s a really big one! I’m setting up some Ibiza dates and getting ready for Miami next week; I’m doing nine shows there. I’m just keeping real busy.

Why do you think it’s import to inspire and teach the next generation of producers?

I don’t know if I think of it in that kind of scale. To me, it’s something more personal. If I had access to somebody like me, when I was starting out, the way that people have access to me now; that would’ve been amazing for me. I maybe wouldn’t have gone to college, to be honest with you. It’s just amazing to be able to step foot in someone’s studio and life and see how they do things. Pick up on their energy through the computer and see how excited they get. Like “Oh Snap! Check out this high hat!” – That would have been amazing to me. Imagine being able to see the MAW’s studio… Those are the people I looked up to and to be able to see how they worked would have been mind blowing.

So for me it’s like, I’m trying to do a service to kids who are trying to do what I did when I was a kid and providing them some guidance; helping them from point A to point B in easy steps. If I can provide that for somebody and give them joy and spark some creativity at the same time, that’s a really good thing for me.

Make it happen

Learn how to make cutting-edge House and Tech House with our 3 month online Production Certificate taught by Ben Remember & Ben Keen.