Artist, performer, live performance specialist, mentor and resource to the stars, Laura Escudé (aka Alluxe) has forged quite the multi-faceted career in electronic music production. From becoming the first Ableton Certified Trainer to being Kanye West’s controllerist, Laura has a vast wealth of experience. We talk to her about her fascinating story, her music and her views on the current state of the industry…
“I think you have to have an idea, and a rough road map of what you want to achieve… but be prepared to ultimately go off-road and for it to lead you down paths you might not have envisioned,” Laura Escudé tells us, in response to our question about how you even begin to plan for a career-path like hers.
Aside from her acclaimed work in the guise of her artistic alter-ego Alluxe, Laura’s Electronic Creatives’ company caters for the complex live production needs of the stars – and we’re talking real world-class artists that include Kanye West, Herbie Hancock, Iggy Azaela, and many more.
From a young age music dominated Laura’s life, and directed her development: ”I started out by playing violin when I was a child,” she tells us. ”I saw a girl playing violin in church and I just fell in love with it. It just really struck a chord with me, so I started taking lessons and played the violin throughout my childhood. All I was exposed to was classical music and music on the radio and I wasn’t aware that other music existed.
”Later I got accepted to a music camp – Interlochen Center for the Arts – the summer before my senior year of high school. Attending Interlochen really changed my trajectory because I was exposed to a vast range of different music and various genres such as hip-hop and electronica that I hadn’t been aware of.
”In college I started going to raves and experiencing that culture changed the way that I interacted with music completely. I started to explore using my violin in conjunction with electronic music – creating new collaborations by playing with DJs. Then I started to learn how to produce music starting with Cakewalk and a floppy disk!”
La La Land
Subsequently, Laura’s expanded scope led her to forge a career path in music production – and discover a vital creative tool: ”I moved to LA in 2004 and my first job was doing tech support for M-Audio. While I was there we kept getting calls about this program called Ableton Live. At that point Ableton Live was distributed by M-Audio because they were a tiny company and were working to get their software out there.
”It was bundled with all of the M-Audio gear. We were getting so many calls from people asking us how it worked and how it could be incorporated with their hardware so we all had to learn how to use it. Before long we all realised that Ableton Live was a really cool, flexible piece of software that approached music making and live performance in a completely different way. I developed a great relationship with the company
and started using Live for my own creative projects.”
Laura reveals how she became one of Ableton’s very first Certified Trainers: ”So I was doing a lot of VIP tech support for a lot of sponsored M-Audio artists, and often we’d introduce them to Ableton Live. In 2007 when Ableton decided that they wanted to do their own distribution, they hired me as their very first West Coast Product Specialist. From there I helped to develop the Certification program and started to specialise in doing high level consulting using the software.”
Laura’s love of music, and her desire to push her own creative boundaries, were important motivators during her career. But it’s important, she feels, to make a distinction between the professional world and the artistic world.
”I developed Alluxe in 2011,” she says, ”and decided that I wanted to compartmentalise who I was in the professional world and who I was as an artist – I wanted to make a distinction. So I created this name for myself that was a combination of the words ‘allure’ and ‘luxurious’.
”I’m a big fan of fantasy and otherworldly, magical stuff so this seems like the right fit for me. I’ve been producing and performing under that name for the last seven years. I’ve made three albums as Alluxe, and I’ve also made an album under just my name previously. I’ve also done many scores, collaborations and violin work.”
So what sounds and genres does Alluxe operate in?
”Well curiously it’s actually coming full circle now, which is quite interesting. Previously I’d been making more down-tempo type stuff. My music was very cinematic, and in 2011 when I created Alluxe I decided that I wanted to create music that was a little bit more danceable, but still very much in the genre of what I like to call ‘future-classical’. This genre really bridges the gap between my classical training and my more weird electronic influences.
”So it still has this classical feeling, but there’s also these razor-like synths, sub-bass and 808s in the mix too. Now it’s interesting because I still have a lot of those elements but now I’m really coming back to the bigger, more cinematic sounds that I started with.”
Laura says that, ”I realised that my style is very distinct and that whatever I call myself, ultimately it’s still me making the music. I might be experimenting with new sounds and ideas, but, really, it all just sounds like me.”
The violin is still pretty integral to Laura’s music-making.
”I’ll use the violin for both composition and performance,” Laura tells us. ”I’ll start out ideas with it in the studio and I’ll build on it and develop those ideas. I do always perform with it as well. I’ve ventured off into using it as a MIDI controller by using the software ‘MIDI Merlin’ that my friend created. Violin is my primary instrument and I still just really love it.
”When I’m playing live I’ll alternate between playing regular, classical sounding violin before dropping into more gnarly synth sounds that I’m controlling with it. The sensitivity and amplitude of my bow will control filter openings and other parameters, it’s very multi-dimensional and unexpected.”
Laura’s violin is just one of many in her arsenal of sonic tools: ”I’m mostly software-based as I am so mobile. The main gear that I use is Ableton Live and the Ableton Push controller. I also use the ROLI Seaboard RISE and I use the Roland TR-series in my studio.
”I use the Livid Instruments OHM controller in my live shows and I use the Teenage Engineering OP-1 synth as well which is really powerful and portable. I use a lot of Universal Audio software in the studio, I use MOTU for all the touring clients because it’s so road-worthy and Apogee interfaces because they sound amazing.
”Software-wise I use a great deal of Native Instruments’ plug-ins. I’ve got a tonne of custom Kontakt libraries. I’ve recently connected with the guys at Spitfire Audio – I just tried their latest Hans Zimmer library and it’s really a great sounding sampler. They’re creating really great, inspiring stuff and they’ve got a brilliant creative culture as a company.”
When it comes to songwriting, Laura’s process is fairly fluid.
”I don’t have a typical process,” she says, ”but usually I’ll get an idea that just sort of randomly pops into my head. Sometimes I’ll hear another piece of music and then I’ll grab a violin and play on top of it, or a keyboard just to get the idea out. Quite often I’ll record that into my phone, that seems like the fairly standard route that I take into song-building.
I find that the ideas that come to me very quickly are pretty much the better ones, if I’m spending a long time trying to force or grab some inspiration then the end result might feel less genuine. More often than not it’s a melodic idea that I’ll get first and I’ll often play it on the violin into my phone or simply hum it.”
Laura is also a dab hand at remixing, and the process is similar.
”When I create a remix I really just try to take as few elements from the original track as possible. Normally it’s just the vocal stem. I really want it to sound as different as it can be and put my own stamp on it. When I build the music it’s very similar to the process when I make my own music as I’ll create a whole new arrangement to support the vocal. I try not to even listen to the original song in case it would influence my creative process.”
Music-making aside, Laura’s other major achievement is her company Electronic Creatives’ work for major artists. Laura begins the astonishing story…
”I had a company called EvoTech Audio back in 2009. After I left Ableton, I got a job doing live music programming for Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas for four months. I didn’t even really know that live music programming and playback was a legitimate job at the time! After that I got another referral to do some work with Kanye West.
”At that time Kanye was working on the Glow in the Dark tour. They’d done a lot of mixing in Pro Tools but couldn’t quite figure out how to create a show in Ableton Live, so I helped them to build arrangements for the shows using the software. When it came time for the tour to begin, they asked me if I could join them on the road.”
Laura was excited, but other commitments got in the way.
”I was in a band at that point myself, and had some other touring commitments and so unfortunately I had to turn it down. A year later I got brought back into the mix and the timing was much better so I ended up touring with Kanye from 2011 through 2017. I did all his live show programming which included music editing, remixing, transitions and sound design, as well as the playback of these elements during the shows which requires a lot of technical knowledge.
”I was also responsible for his live vocal effects, delays, distortion and his live Auto-Tune which was really cool because I got to improvise with him on stage. The job of a playback engineer is much more that people think – it requires a lot of skills – personal, technical and musical and we sometimes act as the Musical Director or member of the band.
”For instance, in 2015-2016 I toured with Miguel as his DJ doing music playback and got to open for him as well. I have also been able to work on my own music throughout these tours as well. It didn’t matter what tour I was doing – I would find time to perform Alluxe shows and do educational events around the world to share my knowledge with other communities. I used the opportunities I was being given to expand on who I was as an artist and am extremely grateful to be given the opportunity to do this!”
We ask Laura whether working with Kanye had an influence on her musical direction: ”Well, I’ve learned different things from all the artists that I’ve worked with, obviously working with Kanye and his team had a huge influence on me, because I not only did the programming but I got to create string arrangements and play violin on several things.
”They encouraged everyone to present ideas and work creatively on the music which is quite different from working with other artists. It was great for me as an artist to grow through his platform. Also Kanye’s work ethic is just incredible and inspiring.”
Laura says that while she was touring she met ”so many people who wanted to hire me and at a certain point my schedule was so full and I was turning down so many gigs that I thought that I should maybe enlist the help of some of my friends who were similarly skilled, as it would also create some opportunities for them. In 2012 got a call from The Weeknd’s camp and they wanted me to come on tour with him. I was tempted but very busy at that point so I trained and put someone else on the tour.”
And so Electronic Creatives was born.
”It all just kind of snowballed from there,” she says. ”I trained more and more people and now we’ve established a full company of about 15 engineers and four staff. We’re doing all levels of shows including the likes of Ariana Grande, Logic, Mariah Carey, Harry Styles – a whole host of huge, world-class artists. It’s exciting because I’m really motivated by helping people in my industry, and shining a light on those people who are talented. It’s great to have been able to create positions and jobs for talented, creative people.
”I’m also happy that we’re a real community of people, and we help each other, as well as the artists we work with. This year we held our first MASTERTRACK program where we trained people for two weeks on how to become touring programmers and playback engineers. We had people all over the world fly in and the community that it built became like family. I’m not aware of anything else like this in the world, so it was a really informative and unique experience for everyone!”
Gaining the trust and respect of these big names in the industry requires a great deal of skill, and self-belief. We ask Laura about the pressure that working with such high-profile artists can cause, and how creatives can combat it: ”It takes a very specific kind of person to be able to actually do this job,” Laura says. ”There can be a lot of stress, and a lot of communication is required. This role also requires a lot of confidence in dealing with world-famous artists. So it’s not just having the musical skills and being technically savvy, a lot of people-skills are required.”
But Laura tells us that, ”If things go wrong – which of course, inevitably they do – you need to confidently assess the problem and put people at ease. We have to manage expectations and sometimes tell artists ‘no’ if they want to radically change an aspect of the show or the performance that might be detrimental to the show. It became increasingly more important for me to focus on self-care while touring.
”I decided to take some time away from the road and focus on my own mental wellbeing, have a bit of ‘normalcy’ and spend more time at home. At that point, my body basically told me that I needed to stop going quite so hard and that I needed some downtime to take care of myself. So I listened to it.”
”I ended up coming out on the other side of that time with a fresh perspective and new eyes,” Laura tells us. ”I took it as a learning experience. I learned how to treat myself better. This experience led me to create my retreat, which is called the Transmute Retreat and is in December in Florida at a beautiful arts centre.
”It’s aimed at artists who want to come and work on their live shows with me, as well as focus on their self-care with yoga and meditation. My goal is to bring together these different worlds that previously weren’t even mentioned in the same sentence. I think more and more artists are craving experiences like this.
”We need to help each other and support our mental health, we have to be aware of what we put into our bodies, how we treat ourselves and the energies that we’re around. We had people from all walks of life come to the retreat last year and again the community that was created from it was very special.”
Laura admits that, ”It is difficult, even if you’re successful in music. We get caught up so much in what other people (audience and critics) think and say, how many followers we have on social media and that kind of thing. For me I’ve been discovering more and more that it’s not about the external – it’s about the internal and how happy we are. I’ve really been shifting that focus myself. When someone is paying our salary we can sometimes be very consumed by their needs and energy but there also needs to be a divide so that we can focus on our own health and wellness.”
Generally speaking, Laura’s attitude is a positive one.
”Obviously there are a few negative things going on right now” she says ”…but hopefully through my work and particularly my creative retreat I want to help impress upon artists that they don’t have to work until they’re burnt out, they can reach for better feeling habits and structure in their lives that sustains them.
”Especially young people, young people should be prepared for a career that deviates slightly and isn’t exactly what they might have envisioned when looking at other artists. When I was their age I had no idea that my life and career would pan out like this, I’ve been creating it one step at a time. It’s important for everyone to remember that and to take care of yourself as you grow.”
Musical support network
Laura is keen to encourage the next generation of music makers, particularly young women.
”I think there’s a lot of amazing initiatives out there and I think people are starting to come together more and realise that, us music makers are a community and we need to look after each other. I like to focus on the positives and those people who are doing amazing work, and who is helping the industry. There’s so much more support now, especially for women which is amazing.”
Laura says that, ”When I first started out doing this, there were limited resources: There were no online tutorials and YouTube videos. I didn’t have any role models. Now there are so many resources for young music makers. There are great organisations like Beatz by Girlz which [MusicTech’s very own] Erin Barra founded.
”To see what they’re doing to help educate is so inspiring and comes from a place of real service. I really think the more awareness that we raise and the more we come together as a community, the more the gender balance in the industry will shift and become more equal.”
Laura is firmly focused on the future. ”Right now, all the different facets of my career are finally coming together,” she tells us. ”Alluxe, Electronic Creatives, my personal brand, my experiential events
and my retreat. I’m actually going on a retreat myself soon. It’s nine days with author Byron Katie.
”I’m going to shut off my phone and email for nine days which – right now – sounds absolutely terrifying! I just figured it’s high time I tried one myself. I feel that in our current society there’s no ‘set’ path to success, you really have to carve it yourself. We have to help each other, support our growth and continue to climb together.”