“Now you can do an orchestral piece on a computer with 200 tracks – but it’s good to impose your own restrictions”: Calvin Harris on the benefits of limitation in music production

The Scottish powerhouse DJ recalls making his first tunes on a primitive Amiga 500 Plus.

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Calvin Harris

Credit: Aldara Zarraoa/WireImage

Though he’s now one of the most successful and acclaimed DJs in the world – with millions of streams and millions of record sales to his name – Calvin Harris, like so many DJs and producers, came from humble beginnings.

In a new interview with BBC Sounds, the Scottish DJ recalls starting his music-making journey using an old Amiga 500 Plus desktop computer his older brother left at home when he went off to university.

“I made my first album on that, actually. I used it long after I should have stopped using it,” he admits.

“I used to play a lot of computer games on it, and then my brother got this very sort of primitive – it was called a tracker programme – so you’d have four channels running vertically, and you could input samples on those vertical channels. Then you’d hit the spacebar and it would start playing. And as the line crossed these little inputs, it would [make drum sounds].

Commodore Amiga 500
Commodore Amiga 500. Credit: James Sheppard/Future via Getty Image

“So I loved it – it was like playing a computer game, but actually you were making something at the end of it, so it was kind of creative.”

Harris goes on to highlight the importance of restriction in music making, and how it can actually be more beneficial than having limitless access to more and more channels and possibilities.

“It taught me to be very selective about what I put in my own tunes, simply because I only have five channels. So everything that was there had to be there for a reason. Now it’s limitless, isn’t it – you can have thousands [of channels].

“But I think if you learn how to do something and you’re very restricted – there were some songs that I couldn’t put a crash symbol in and a chorus vocal at the same time, it would take up too much memory. So I had to decide, would I put in this riff, or would I put in this hi-hat, you know?

He continues: “You can do anything now. And all the programmes are so advanced. You can literally go from doing nothing to doing an orchestral piece with 200 tracks, but I think it’s a good idea to impose your own restrictions sometimes, and work to that.”


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