It’s no stretch to call Matthew Koma the voice of EDM. Over the past few years, the Brooklyn-born artist has brought a unique lyrical voice to the dance music community by writing and performing on crossover smashes like Alesso’s “Years,” Zedd’s “Spectrum,” and Tiesto’s “Wasted.” Bringing a distinct singer-songwriter style of creativity to the dance world has positioned him as one of the scene’s most in-demand vocalists, and he’s further ingrained in the electronic world with his DJing career.
Now, the Los Angeles-based artist is showing off his DJing skills in a big way, with his US festival on the main stage of Ultra Miami this weekend and a pair of performances at Indio Valley’s Coachella next month. Koma caught up with DJ Times to talk about the gigs, his DJing style, his experiences writing some of the most recognizable anthems of recent memory.
DJ Times: You’re scheduled to DJ at Coachella and and the main stage of Ultra over the next month. What’s it like to be booked for such huge events and what goes into preparing for them?
Matthew Koma: It’s really exciting to be a part of such major festivals with artists that I’m a huge fan of. You grow up going to a lot of these things strictly as a fan, so to see your name on the bill is surreal. Preparing for shows is a different process every time depending on the platform and what I’m able to do. From DJ sets to full band shows, it’s always a different approach, which keeps it fresh for me. I think I’d get way too bored just doing one thing. For these particular shows, it’s an opportunity for me to play a ton of the songs I’ve written, produced, and sang on—some that people might not even realize I was a part of. For me, preparing is more about deciding on an overall aesthetic and tone for the show and making sure it’s as unique and fun as it can be. I also put a lot of thought into pre- and post-show food. Coachella has some for real food trucks. You can find me there.
DJ Times: A lot of electronic music fans became familiar with you from your vocal performances. What can they expect from a Matthew Koma DJ set?
Koma: It’s funny; a lot of people were introduced to me as a vocalist and I’ve never considered myself a “singer” per se. I sang to deliver my songs and productions, sort of a means to an end. I’ll see a lot of people saying, “Wait, he’s a DJ now?” or, “He DJs too?” It’s like, well yeah! I’ve always gone out there and played the songs I’ve written, produced, and remixed; it’s just a side of me people weren’t introduced to initially, so it’s less familiar. A lot of people heard me as the voice of “Spectrum” or writing “Clarity” or “Wasted,” or whatever, when really I’ve produced a lot of the songs people know me for and have written every single one. Some nights you’ll see a DJ set, some nights it’ll be an atmosphere where it’s me and an acoustic guitar, sometimes it’ll be a band, sometimes a hybrid. As far as what you can expect from a Matthew Koma DJ set, it’s sort of like Six Flags Great Adventure on a stage. You will scream, throw up, and still buy a churro after all is said and done.
DJ Times: Is production in the cards, as well?
Koma: As a newer artist on these bills, there are always a few limitations as to what you can and can’t do in your given space and time slot. I have a huge dreamer inside my head, so if I had it completely my way, I’d be performing on a giant Kanye West blow-up castle, but I’m not sure I can pull it off in time.
DJ Times: As someone who got much of his start in the singer-songwriter realm, how did you find yourself as one of dance music’s most prominent vocalists?
Koma: Dance music has welcomed a new kind of song over the past decade. Up until that point, the worlds of dance and singer-songwriter driven songs didn’t necessarily coexist. As music influences music, and collaborations with outside of the box artists became more encouraged, it opened the door to try new things. I was really fortunate to be part of a wave of that with Zedd and Alesso’s first few singles, and we were able to take chances and have a different kind of song live within the context of their production landscapes. A bunch of the songs I initially stayed on were just because I happened to sing on the writing demos for them and it was like, “Sure why not?” I love the music and it feels different. I couldn’t stay on every song I wrote so I tended to stay on the ones that connected with me the most.
DJ Times: What is the general writing process when you collaborate with producers? How much of your toplines, lyrics, etc. is prepared beforehand and how much comes as a result of the collaboration?
Koma: I don’t typically write with the producers or collaborate in the traditional sense of the word. It’s a different process every time but I really like writing alone. I’ll either send a song to someone with an idea of where the production should go, or if they have a track they love and it inspires me, I’ll send it back with my vocal on it. A lot of the times it’s songs I have already written, and then I bring them in to work on the production with me. There’s no “one way” it works really. A lot of my words and melodies come in pretty quick spurts, and then I spend time tweaking/adjusting.
DJ Times: You recently wrote a song for Kelly Clarkson’s new album. Have the opportunities to write for other artists been presenting themselves more often since “Years,” “Wasted,” and “Spectrum”?
Koma: There has definitely been more of an awareness of my songwriting since those songs and “Clarity” were released. I’m really thankful to have had the opportunity to work with some major talents in and out of the dance space, from RAC to Bruce Springsteen to Britney Spears to Rivers Cuomo to newer artists like Oliver Heldens and Flux Pavillion. They’re all opportunities that serve totally different indulgences and I’m really humbled and thankful for it.
DJ Times: Are you still at work on an album? What other projects can fans expect from you in the coming months?
Koma: My album is finished and I can’t wait to share it. The songs are some of the closest and dearest to my heart, and I can’t wait for people to hear what I’ve been hard at work on. As far as other projects, there are so many in the works right now. I’m so stoked. Dillon Francis and I just started something I am really pumped on. So many. You’ll see!
Catch Matthew Koma at Ultra Music Festival on Sunday, March 29.