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DJ & Producer By Paul Tingen
Published October 2023


If you want to see the state of the art in studio design, there’s no better place to look than EDM star Afrojack’s Wall Recordings.

When Peter Gabriel opened his Real World Studios (watch our studio tour on YouTube) in 1989, it revolutionised studio design. With no separate control room, and huge windows that allowed natural light to flood in, Real World became a reference point for studio design the world over.

Nearly 35 years later, studio design has changed completely. There’s no longer a need for a desk, or tons of outboard, so studios can be much smaller, and the focus is on comfort and a creative vibe over technical requirements. Unusual, highly personalised studios, often in unusual locations, have become the norm rather than the exception.

But clearly, there’s still space for head-turning studio design, as is illustrated by Afrojack’s new studio at his Wall Recordings headquarters in Belgium, a stone’s throw from the border with his native Netherlands. The mind-bend in Afrojack’s case is that his studio is inspired by yacht design, and in part built by companies that are among the world’s foremost constructors of super yachts, as well as by acoustic engineers.

Afrojack’s new studio needs to be seen to be believed and has many unusual features. They include a long, tapered shape that resembles, well, a ship, huge windows, a high ceiling, hardwood glass cabinets, dazzling ceiling lights, a spartan-looking studio workspace, a lounge- like sofa area, an office meeting area with table and chairs, and much more.

Yacht Rock

Afrojack, aka Nick van de Wall, is one of the world’s foremost DJs and EDM producers, has won many awards (including one Grammy Award and three Grammy nominations), and can routinely be found in the top 10 of DJ Mag’s Top 100. “I came to this place for the first time four years ago,” he says, “and after buying it, I started drawing, figuring out the best layouts. Architecture is my hobby, so I designed all my own houses, and all the offices at Wall, both layout and interior design. But I don’t do the technical stuff; that’s not the fun part of architecture.

“When it came to the studio, I started thinking about how I could do it. I have a few friends who have yachts, and everything fits perfectly on them. There are no empty shelves or loose‑standing closets and so on. I’ve always been inspired by that from a design perspective, so I approached Winch Design in London and Feadship in Holland, who both design and build super yachts.

“Jelle van der Voet of Pinna Acoustics designed all my other studios. He also designed studios for Martin Garrix, David Guetta, and others. So, I got him together with the people from Winch and Feadship to figure out how to make the studio look like a chill gentleman’s lounge. I didn’t want it to look like a studio, but like a comfortable room. I want a place that is inspiring to me.

“It was fun to try to build a next level example of what you can do with a studio. For example, the windows have glass plates that are 600kg each, they are the biggest ever put in a studio. My former studios did not have any daylight, and I did not want to make that mistake again. Peter Gabriel’s studio was one of my inspirations, and I was surprised they got the glass everywhere to work, acoustically. Generally, studio designers prefer studios without glass because it’s expensive and acoustically difficult. You need a great designer to get it to work. But when you get the right one like Jelle, it’s worth it.

“Blue and turquoise are my favourite colours, so I wanted them in here, and I love glossy hardwood, and we used a lot of that. I wouldn’t recommend it, though, because it can scratch very easily and is expensive as f**k! I also have a world map in a large circle underneath the desk where I work, and above it a starry ceiling, again in a circle. The world map is because I’m a DJ who travels all over the world. It’s perhaps a bit cheesy, but when you walk in at night and the stars are on, it looks cool. Initially, the two circles created a flutter echo between them, so they repanelled the floor circle to treat it acoustically, and it now also works as a bass trap.”

Not your average studio: Wall Recordings was designed by two companies specialising in yacht building.Not your average studio: Wall Recordings was designed by two companies specialising in yacht building.

Maximum Minimalism

From a pure studio perspective, Afrojack’s place is as 21st Century as it gets. During our visit the desk is cleared, and only the huge top‑of‑the‑range PMC QB1 XBD‑A monitors — around £200k per pair — and a Yamaha Motif XF keyboard to the side indicate that the room is anything other than someone’s very fancy lounge.

“For me, the new flagship large PMCs are like gigantic headphones,” explained Afrojack. ‘I don’t need nearfields any more. But I never bump the PMCs. I’ve been producing as a professional for 20 years, and I now produce at 90dB, and I can hear everything. Even though this room looks very comfy, I can hear a pin drop because of the acoustic design.

With no nearfield monitors, Afrojack relies exclusively on his huge PMC QB1 XBD‑A main speakers.With no nearfield monitors, Afrojack relies exclusively on his huge PMC QB1 XBD‑A main speakers.

“All the amps and gear to run Studio 1 are in the Technical Storage room next door. There is a Dangerous Music Monitor ST outboard unit and a remote mixer which can be controlled via WiFi on your phone or computer. There is also a Ghielmetti patchbay and a Mac Mini to connect to the remote mixer, as well as the Powerplay headphone mix routers.

“In the back desk are three pop-up parts where you can connect your laptops or phones — power and audio — but also a full remote recording chain with Neve preamp, REM converter and Tube-Tech Cl1b compressor, complete with talkback mic and remote footswitch. We can then run audio to the front desk and record anything from the two live rooms.

“Studio 2 is a great production/mix room with a PMC MB3 XBD system. It is also used as the main tracking room with a full Antelope Galaxy 32I/O, so we could record full bands, choirs or small orchestras from the two live rooms.

“This is very anti‑gearheads, but when you’re DJ’ing in front of tons of people, they won’t be able to tell whether the music was made with analogue or digital gear. If I want an analogue sound, I can sample it. But to be honest, I’m too lazy to use the other studio. I’m not going to go through the process of recording every note by myself. I prefer to be in my own studio. I just want to sit down, make music, and then later I can do interesting stuff to treat it sonically by using outboard gear or hardware synths. For inspiration I just want a big clean sound, and ease of use. Plug and play, as fast as possible.”

Juicy Fruit

Van de Wall took his first musical steps when he learned to play piano at the age of five. When he was 11, he started editing music on a PC, using FastTracker software, followed by Magix Music Maker. “The Music Maker software was terrible. I knew some people who made remixes with it, but I was like, ‘What is this nonsense?’ It made no sense at all. I also used to edit on Sony Sound Forge, and I tried Cubase briefly, but then when I discovered Fruity Loops in 2000 or thereabouts, it was like ‘Wow’. To me it immediately made sense. It’s so easy to use, and very plug and play. When you opened it, there was already a kick and a clap and a hi‑hat for you to make a beat.”

Afrojack released his first track, In Your Face’, in 2006, at the age of 17, to moderate success in the Netherlands, and enjoyed his international breakthrough with ‘Take Over Control’ (featuring Eva Simons) in 2010. He earned his first Grammy Award that same year, with a remix, together with David Guetta, of Madonna’s ‘Revolver’.

In 2011, Afrojack co‑wrote and co‑produced Guetta’s smash hit ‘Titanium’ and was a featured artist on Pitbull’s megahit ‘Give Me Everything’. Other big hits followed, including ‘The Spark’ (2013), ‘Ten Feet Tall’ (2014), ‘Hey Mama’ (2015, as featured guest on the Guetta track) and ‘Dirty Sexy Money’ (2017, with David Guetta). He also releases under the names AJXJS, Never Sleeps and NLW (his initials), and has been very active as a remixer and producer, with credits including Michael Jackson, Tiësto, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Pitbull and Chris Brown.

Start Small

Twenty‑three years after discovering FL Studio, van de Wall continues to make music in the DAW. “I also use Ableton, for DJ’ing. Ableton has killer time‑stretching and very good processing. But for production, the problem for me is that you cannot see everything at the same time. I want to be able to see everything: the playlist, several synths, EQs and so on, all at once.”

Even though van de Wall’s circumstances have dramatically changed since his early days, he’s not forgotten the lessons he’s learned. “I sometimes think about the days when I made music in a small bedroom at my parents’ home, not for nostalgic but for professional reasons. It’s my job. We do a lot of artist development at Wall Recordings, so I go back in time, and think about what motivated and inspired me.”

One surprising conclusion van de Wall came to when evaluating his past is that having the best gear does not necessarily lead to better results. “When I started I was not working on great speakers, I think I had Alesis M1s, and also Beyerdynamic DT‑880 Pro headphones, which I still use by the way, as they are actually very good. After that I got Dynaudio BM15As. But people like David [Guetta], Martin [Garrix] and I did not produce our first songs on the best sound systems.

“The thing is that if you’re not yet a great producer, and you go in front of great speakers, everything you make will sound bad, because these speakers don’t compress, they don’t take out frequencies, they just give you everything that you just did. Whereas when you’re listening to KRKs, which are great starting speakers, there is no low frequency under 40Hz and the high end is very unclear. It is going to sound fatter sooner, and you’re going to be happier faster, and a happier producer is a more motivated producer.

“That’s why we have different grades of production rooms here at Wall. I definitely think that if you’re starting out and your mix sounds like shit, work in a less acoustically treated room, where there’s some room noise, where there’s a little bit of reverb, where the speakers are not the greatest, so you get inspired more easily. In fact, if I want to hear a demo, or just mess around, I prefer to work in my living room, where I have my old PMC monitors. I still prefer to start working on stuff in a room that’s not acoustically treated. My main studio is more where I finalise things.”

Teach Yourself

Asked which people, rather than which gear, have inspired him the most during his career, Afrojack responds: “I learned a lot from Laidback Luke, 15 years ago. I also learned a little bit from the Swedes, like Swedish House Mafia, who gave me some pointers here and there, and Eric Prydz. He is a big inspiration for me in terms of fatness, because his stuff is just so fat.

“But I learned 99 percent from analysing things. You put a file in a project, and you listen, and you look with a parametric EQ at the peaks. You filter to find out where the sub is: at 30Hz, or 100Hz? Many of the young kids I work with think that the sub needs to be lower, so they add more 50Hz. This is the only advice I’ll give for free: low end is actually at 100Hz. It’s not at 50Hz. For some reason, what we experience as a lot of fat low end is around 100Hz with brief punches at 50Hz.

“If you put your bass line at 50Hz it won’t sound fat, it will sound muddy and heavy. And if you play it at a festival, because of the wavelength of that sound, it will push people and they will feel very uncomfortable on the dancefloor. I notice it with my records. Sometimes I play a record in my studio and I’m like ‘Wow, that sounds fat,’ and then I play it on the dancefloor, and within two seconds their hands go down and they’re like ‘Ouch!’ Because the low end pushes too much.”

The Little Things

Predictably, Afrojack’s work environment in his DAW is populated with tons of soft synths and plug‑ins. He elaborates on some of his favourites. “I love the FabFilter stuff, in particular the FabFilter Pro‑Q and Pro‑L. But I like to believe that native plug‑ins can achieve the sound that you want, so I use a lot of Fruity EQs, compressors and reverbs. At the end of the day, if you tweak them in the right way, it will achieve, at least for the non‑gearhead consumer, the same effect.

“With regards to soft synths, I like ReFX Nexus, which is very quick and easy. The presets are very simple to get inspired by and then later if I want to make it complicated for myself, I use the Reveal Sound Spire or the Sonic Charge Synplant. I have many obscure VSTs, another one being the Z3TA by Cakewalk. I also love using the Korg Collection pack, which is obscure for EDM producers, but for house music it is standard.

“Like I said, that’s if I want to make it complicated for myself. If I want a piano, I can go to Nexus and there are f**king 300 pianos. But that makes no sense. Why waste time going through presets that have a million knobs to change? I can use just two pianos if I want to be gimmicky. Going through tons of presets and messing with settings is fun, don’t get me wrong, but when I want to make music, I don’t want to sit and turn knobs for hours. I used to do that, but I no longer have the time.

“In any case, getting a record to sound right for the most part doesn’t have to do with the plug‑ins or presets you use. I mean, Spire has almost the same things as Sylenth. It’s not like, ‘Oh, the oscillator is better.’ No, it’s simply a f**king oscillator. When it comes to mixing, what takes the most time is the volume of your synths versus the volume of your sub‑bass. Is there a sub‑bass, or are you using just one bass line? Are you using three or four synth layers, and is there low end in your synths? Should you take out the low end to make space for the bass or should you keep it to make it feel a bit more organic?

“These are the things that make a difference. Or, if you don’t put side‑chain on the sub‑bass linked to the kick, it will not translate, unless you have a very, very short kick, and your sub‑bass accidentally starts late. If you look at how an 808 develops, it starts with a top kick and then the sub comes in. The sub doesn’t start from the first moment. All these tiny things make a difference in the effectiveness of the record. And then, when you play it to people, does it work? Do they go, ‘Wow what a lot of punch!’ Or do they say, ‘I get the concept, but I don’t feel it’?”


Afrojack prides himself in his hands‑on approach in making beats. At the same time, he regularly collaborates with other famous producers, and has worked with Guetta, Garrix, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Steve Aoki, Hardwell, Fedde le Grand, R3hab and many more. Collaborations are at the heart of the EDM world, with the DJ vs producer issue a bit of a hot potato.

“It’s not for me to comment on other producers who have full teams working for them, not just as engineers and mixers, but also younger producers as ghost producers. But I have to say, what I learned throughout my professional career is that a big part of making music is about the concepts. You have to appreciate people who work with ghost producers, because they will usually come up with the concepts. It’s only a very small percentage of guys who don’t do shit and then say, ‘Look at the record I made.’

“I’ve seen people say, ‘David [Guetta] doesn’t produce his own shit,’ but he’s always made records through a very collaborative process. He has a vision and an ear for what works. For me, he’s the best A&R that I know. He knows everything about making hits. Like when I did ‘Titanium’ with him, he was telling me, ‘Do this, do that, less of this, more of that, this could be shorter, use a different synth, that’s nice, that won’t work,’ and so on. If I had done it alone, it would have been a club banger.

Afrojack: Is the product you’re creating special enough to provoke new thoughts, but also familiar enough so it sounds like you?

“Today David does almost everything by himself, just like Martin [Garrix]. I also do most stuff by myself, but like David, I always ask other people’s opinions. When I finish a record, I ask the young producers who we have under development here to come in, and I play it to them, and ask them what they think. If someone doesn’t like it, or thinks it’s kind of cheesy, it’s a reason to revisit my artistic choices. Yes, you’re an artist, but you also build something for your fans, who consume your music and have expectations. Is the product you’re creating special enough to provoke new thoughts, but also familiar enough so it sounds like you?”

Set The Compass

“Before I even go into the studio now, I think: ‘Where am I going? What do I want to do? What works? What doesn’t work?’ I like to set a direction before I go in. If you just sit down and don’t have a direction, there’s like a 10 percent chance of doing something great and a 90 percent chance of just f**king around. I don’t have a lot of time to spend in the studio, so to avoid that, I make notes — ‘I love this idea, I don’t like this idea, I love this new genre, I hate this new genre’ — and then I sit down and like: OK, I’m going to do X, Y and Z. Or at least I try.

“Fifteen years ago I would sit down and do whatever the f**k I wanted, but as I said, you have responsibility for all the people involved with your project, which is like a tribe. You want to make sure the tribe can eat, that the tribe can prosper, that everyone is taken care of. Today for an Afrojack record, good is not good enough, it needs to be ‘wow’. If we are to maintain the momentum we have, and everything we’re trying to build with the company for all these young producers, we need to ‘wow’.

“I will put out records that I love completely, but I will also put out records about which I don’t care so much, but that other people are excited about. If I do something that’s not ‘wow’ but that’s interesting to me artistically, there are many aliases I can use. It’s me that made the music, so do you care under what moniker it is? Looking at the Afrojack moniker, 95 percent of the people listening to the music don’t even know what I look like. And the five percent really love my music, and I will try to give them everything that they want, and I can do it under different names.

“My main goal with NLW is to create a hub for everyone who loved Afrojack 10 years ago, saying things like ‘The new Afrojack is not like the old Afrojack.’ But when it comes to Afrojack singles and stuff, because there are so many people involved with Wall, it’s whatever works for everyone involved, as in the label, the label partners, the distributing partner, all the artists signed to the company, anyone affiliated with us. The question is, is it a good move for the brand? But at the end of the day, I think the fans can hear whether it was Nick messing around in the studio, or if it was Nick taking care of his people.”

Mixing & Mastering

Afrojack is unusually hands‑on within the EDM world, because he also likes to mix his own music. “I mostly mix everything myself. I use Cass Irvine at Wired Masters in London for tracks that are aimed at clubs and concerts, and David Kutch at The Mastering Place in New York when I’m doing radio.

“It’s almost impossible to produce and mix and master a record, because you’re hearing things your ears are so used to, that you don’t notice them any more. It’s like when you’ve seen a photo 10 times, your brain kind of already visualises what’s there without you really looking. It’s the same with listening. You know every aspect of a song you’ve produced, because you know it’s there, you know why you created it, and you hear all parts separately. You’re listening in a different way than a mastering engineering, who will immediately go, ‘There’s too much 120Hz,’ or whatever it is.”