Name: Tobias Topić aka Topic
Occupation: Producer, songwriter
Nationality: Croatian-German
Current release: Topic's latest single "In Your Arms (For An Angel)", a collaboration with Robin Schulz, Paul Van Dyk and Nico Santos is out now. Previously, he has also worked with Clean Bandit, Bebe Rexha, and Lil Baby.
Gear recommendations: Sooth2; All uad plugins

[Read our ATB interview]

If you enjoyed this interview with Topic and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.

Topic · Topic, Robin Schulz, Nico Santos, Paul van Dyk - In Your Arms (For An Angel) (Acoustic Version)

What was your first studio like?

It was in an old factory building. In the beginning it was really dirty and run down.

But it was amazing, I could always turn up the speakers as loud as I wanted since there were no neighbors. I could also always invite people there, either to record or to throw parties. (laughs) Which was great in the beginning to connect with new artists.  

How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?

Actually my gear has gotten a lot less.

In the beginning, I used like a little mixer, maschine by Native Instruments and some other midi controllers. Now I basically only work with a laptop.

I'm getting more and more interested in analog stuff now though. So maybe in 1 or 2 years my answer will be different here and I’ll tell you that I have a big synth wall in my studio. (laughs)

The digital studio promises endless possibilities at every step of the process. What is it that you actually need from these potentials and how do go about you selecting it? How do you keep control over the wealth of options at the production stage?

Yeah, that’s a tricky question! Sometimes you get a bit overwhelmed these days. Especially with more and more sites like Splice popping up right now. You have all the samples in the world just a mouse click away. I can often find myself looking ages for the right snare, since I always think I might find a better one. A little bit like tinder. (laughs)

I'm trying to be more conscious of this and try to avoid going down that rabbit whole of getting lost in finding “the perfect” sample, loop or whatever.

A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?

A mix!

I don’t like using only headphones. I definitely need good speakers and a well built room to have a nice sound. What I don’t need (and actually don’t know how to use) is a big SSL mixing console and countless of hardware compressors, eqs, etc.

I’d rather put all of that money into nice interior design and create a nice vibe for myself.

From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customised devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces? What role does the tactile element play in your production process?

I’m very easy with just a midi keyboard! Doesn’t even need to be a 88keys one.

How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? Using a recent piece as an example, how do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?

I think technology can actually spark creativity!

As I mentioned above, I’ve started getting more into analog synths. I bought my first analog synth in 2019. The moog sub 37. I just played around with it and found a sick sound which I've been using since then. You can hear it in "Breaking Me", "Your Love (9pm)" and "My Heart Goes (La Di Da)."

Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.

Oh, im a total mess in that department. If you have any strategies, please DM me on Instagram.com/topic. (laughs)

Despite the aforementioned near endless possibilities, many productions seem to follow conventional paths. How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?

I think with automations you can achieve an incredible amount of surprises! You can get crazy creative with them. Reverb automations, playing a lot with the ADSR of the sound, white noise automation, cutoff, filter etc.

Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?

It is always a mix. That’s what I love about music so much! I’ve learned that great ideas can happen always and everywhere.

You can’t force creativity, it has its own way and just comes to you when it wants!

How important is it for you that you personally create or participate in the creation of every element of a piece – from sound synthesis via rhythm programming to mixing?

It is very important for me! There are very few songs out there where I haven’t been involved with from the very sketch idea until the final mastering process.

I’m not a control freak or anything, I just love every aspect of creating a song. From finding the tempo, chords, melodies, lyrics, all the production elements. Right until the final mix and mastering!

Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?

Not really. Here and there, some plugins will pop up, which make your life a bit easier.

For instance, soothe2 was one of them. I still don’t know how it works; it is a bit like a de-esser but just sounds so amazing that I barely have to worry about annoying high frequencies in my mix anymore.  

To some, the advent of AI and 'intelligent' composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative provess. Do you feel as though technology can develop a form of creativity itself? Is there possibly a sense of co-authorship between yourself and your tools?

To be honest, I haven’t ducked in deep enough into the AI of making music. I've just seen some videos on YouTube where you could recreate the voice of famous artists. Which is insanely interesting but also a bit scary!!

Do you personally see a potential for deeper forms of Artifical Intelligence in your music?

I think it is hard to have AI doing a song alone, but I can imagine that AI can help you - maybe in a few decades - create music and make it a lot quicker. I mean, if you compare the process of making music from 1980 to now … it’s a huge difference. Who knows what’s to come!

But I always try to be curious and open for change.

What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?

This is really really high tech!!! But … if you could just transform your thoughts in your head immediately into a song, that would be crazy. (laughs) But that will probably take a few hundred years more. (laughs)