Lessons Learned from Producing a Chart-Topping Record in the Early 1990s
I’ve learned that technology has revolutionized music production, making it more accessible and collaborative. Affordable equipment allows for professional-sounding music without live musicians. Good cover art can significantly impact sales.I experienced this firsthand when I produced an international hit at 19 with just a sampler and sequencer. Collaboration with a friend and legendary DJ helped enhance the track. I also learned the hard way about taxes and the importance of saving money. In the past, I was widely known as ‘Poing’ and often interviewed about my experiences in the ’90s rave scene. These days, I’ve retired from my company, but I’ve returned to music production as a cherished hobby. While I may not be making international hits anymore, I still find joy in creating and sharing music on a smaller scale.
(The Dutch Top-40 of August 1st, 1992)
A (Very) Brief Introduction to “Poing”
I was only 19 years old in 1992 when I produced an international hit single. It only took a crazy idea, an Akai S-950 sampler and an Atari sequencer to write the ‘song.’ This ‘song’ was then released on 12' vinyl by a small but ambitious record store that started a label. The combination fueled the fire that spread this music style across the globe.
Lesson 1: My Track Is Not an Actual Song
I added the word “song” in parentheses for comedic effect, considering the Oxford dictionary definition of a song: “a short poem or other set of words set to music or meant to be sung.” However, my creation cannot be considered poetic, musical, or even intended to be sung. It consisted of only a series of beats with a single-pitch jew’s harp sample layered on top. Despite its lack of lyrics, people still attempted to sing it, especially at the record store when they asked for “that song that goes poing, poing, poing.” I later realized that this was not a wise decision. The music rights are typically divided among the composer, lyricist, and publisher, and when there are no lyrics, the performance rights organization withholds one-third of the payment, which can amount to a significant sum of money. If I had known this, I would have added some lyrics in the intro or outro.
(Re-recorded version of the ‘song’, mixed on the SSL 4000 console at Rockstar Recordings)
Lesson 2: Technology is a Means to an End, Not an End in Itself
The technological advancements of an era have a direct impact on the evolution of music. The ’90s, for instance, is often referred to as the sampling era. Though samplers existed in the ’80s, they were exorbitantly expensive, costing as much as a house. However, the ’90s brought affordable samplers like the Akai, which sold for around 5,000 euros, a price equivalent to a second-hand car. To trigger the samples via MIDI, a sequencer was required, and the Atari was an excellent choice as it had a built-in MIDI interface and cost only about 1,000 euros. With these tools, it was possible to create music without the need for live musicians. As for myself, all I ever wanted was a sampler and a sequencer to experiment with. When I finally got my hands on them in 1991, I became addicted to creating music that sounded professional, all on my own. The problem, however, is that I prefer to work alone when composing music. I like to tinker with samples, loops, and other elements for hours on end, which often leads to me shutting down the studio without saving any of my work.
(My bedroom studio in 1993)
Lesson 3: Collaboration: The Key to Success in Any Endeavor
I had a successful collaboration once, which began with my friend Danny Scholte while we both worked at a local clubhouse. I was the DJ and Danny was the bartender. One night, while watching people dance, we noticed they were jumping more than actually dancing. Danny said, “we could use that,” and six months later, I stumbled upon the perfect sample, the cartoon-like “Poing” sound. I mapped the sample across the keyboard and played it randomly, but we didn’t know what to do next. I had many TR-909 beats programmed from the past months, which I loaded and copied across a five-minute timeline. I strategically placed a couple of “Poing” samples in 1/4 notes every 32 bars, which resulted in an arrangement similar to the final record.
(Paul Elstak (right) and myself, producing “Mix the House 2” in 1993)
However, after meeting DJ Paul Elstak, an established DJ and A&R manager, we made a crucial addition to the track. Paul had worked with Peter Slaghuis and had a modest hit record himself. He advised us to put the “Poing” sample on 1/4 notes throughout the entire track, except for the intro, outro, and break. We followed his advice, and he even took us to his studio where we mixed the track using a Soundcraft console, large speakers, and a real Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer drum machine. The actual TR-909 belonged to the legendary Peter Slaghuis, making it even more special. Finally, he signed us to Rotterdam Records, the label that emerged from the basement of a local record store called Mid-town Records. One person assisted us with the arrangement, final mix, and distribution, proving how crucial such a person is.
Lesson 4: Pay Attention to Your Cover Art
Having good cover art was crucial in 1992. Customers would visit record stores to search for the tracks they heard while partying over the weekend. They would often hum a melody or a sample to the clerk to help identify the song. As my track did not have any lyrics, I had to be innovative to ensure that my record would stand out. Therefore, I came up with the idea of displaying the word ‘POING’ in bold letters, accompanied by a yellow ball bouncing the letters like in a karaoke video. This strategy turned out to be a success, and customers could spot the record without having to ask the clerk for assistance. This experience taught me the importance of good cover art, which can significantly impact the sales of a record.
(Danny Scholte (right) and myself, shortly after the release of “Poing” in 1992)
Lesson 5: Save Your Money
Let’s be honest; it didn’t take hard manual labour to create the ‘song’. I spent a lot of money on equipment, but that’s fine because producing music was my hobby. You can’t expect your hobby to make money, so it’s a bonus when it does. Most creators spend their earnings on their craft. You probably don’t need more or better equipment if you could create a hit record with what you have now. Most people become less productive with more gear, as do I. You need to pay your taxes too. Many of my peers from the Dutch rave scene eventually got hit hard by the taxman, including me. They can take the gear leave you devastated and in debt. If there is anything to learn from this story, it’s this. Save your money for something useful, like a house.
Lesson 6: Release a Follow-Up
To be frank, creating the ‘song’ did not require any strenuous physical effort. Although I spent a considerable amount of money on equipment, that was fine since producing music was just a hobby for me. It’s always a pleasant surprise when your hobby earns you money, but most creators use their earnings to invest back into their craft. In reality, you probably don’t need more or better equipment to create a hit record; in fact, more gear can make you less productive. It’s also crucial to remember to pay your taxes, as many of my colleagues in the Dutch rave scene, including myself, had to face harsh penalties from the taxman. They can seize your equipment and leave you in financial ruin. The takeaway from this story is to save your money for something worthwhile, like purchasing a home.
(My little ‘Poing’ museum at home in 2020)
Lesson 7: Your Hit Will Be Forgotten
For more than 15 years, I was known as ‘Poing’ by friends and colleagues, and was frequently approached to discuss the early 90s rave scene in interviews and media appearances. I always obliged, in part because it helped promote my business. Though I hadn’t released any new music in some time, I continued to run my production company and would often mention it in interviews. My last use of the ‘Poing’ moniker was when I released the ‘Oldschool Renegades’ documentary in 2013. Since retiring from my company in 2014, I haven’t been asked about or referenced as ‘Poing’ in the media, which is fine by me since music production remains a beloved hobby.