Sitting in the Interscope Records studio where he recorded his first two albums, Anton Zaslavski, better known as Zedd, revealed an inside look at what it’s like to be one of the music industry’s most powerful hitmakers Friday at a masterclass hosted by Universal Music Group and Marriott Bonvoy in partnership with Interscope Records.
Surrounded by a handful of Bonvoy members, the creative force behind the smash hit “The Middle” (featuring Maren Morris and Grey) shared his tips and tricks for songwriting, how he knows when a vocalist is right for a song, and the power of getting goosebumps.
At the end of the day, Zaslavski said, as long as a song evokes some kind of emotion, that’s all that matters.
“Somebody could tell me this is not right — labels, management, anybody could tell me it’s not right. But if I have goosebumps, it’s the only thing that actually matters,” he said. “The emotion that comes out of an honest vocal is much more important than all these fancy microphones and all this fancy equipment.”
Once an exclusively EDM artist, Zaslavski explained that he went through phases of creation to get to his current position at the top of the pop charts. “I get more connection with words and melodies than I get with a hard drop where I see everybody jump,” he said. “It looks amazing when 20,000 people jump at the same time, and feels amazing. But it’s also really amazing to see 20,000 people sing along and feel really emotional about it.”
The DJ is known for his collaborations with pop vocalists. Over the course of the last several years, Zaslavski has struck gold with hits like “Stay The Night” with Hayley Williams, “Clarity” with Foxes, “True Colors” with Kesha, “Get Low” with Liam Payne and “Stay” with Alessia Cara.
Zaslavski got his start the old fashioned way — by finding Skrillex’s manager, Tim Smith, on Myspace and direct-messaging him a link to his demo. But he doesn’t pretend to have things all figured out.
“We can create a song that’s so perfect that [it seems] there’s no way it won’t be big, and then it doesn’t connect with people,” Zaslavski said. “We still have no idea what we’re doing. We’re still learning everyday.”
And while “The Middle” didn’t win any of the Grammys for which it was nominated — including two Record and Song of the Year — when asked if he would rather have had the song nominated in a dance category, where it might have stood a stronger chance, he shook his head.
“I think ‘The Middle’ is a pop song at its core. It’s not structured anywhere near an EDM track, it just has a drop that sounds like that to us. But really it’s just a chorus just like any other typical pop song.”
Something he would like to see at the Grammys, however, is a greater number of categories — which is an interesting comment for an awards show with 83 categories. “I think only having two categories is kind of a shame, considering there’s probably ten categories that are nowhere near as influential to humanity right now,” he said. “So me taking away a spot in EDM or dance categories would be kind of a shame for the types of Fisher songs and Disclosure and whatever’s nominated that really deserve that space.”