Hearing Konstantin Kersting explain his approach to working with artists – as a co-writer, sound or mix engineer, producer or any combination of these – it feels almost too simple: “It’s about trying to understand what the artist wants, where they want to go, and then helping them get there – almost in a way where they feel like they did it all themselves.”
In a pop landscape brimming with producers and writers who develop, perfect and disperse a signature sound among all artists they collaborating with, Kersting prefers his work to be invisible, and his involvement to serve more as a compass directing a song where it wants to go, than the eventual destination.
In recent years, he’s collected acclaim and awards on the strength of his work for a diverse set of artists including Tones and I, The Jungle Giants, The Rubens, WAAX and Boniface. His contribution to Tia Gostelow’s debut ‘Thick Skin’ earned it Album Of The Year at the 2019 Queensland Music Awards, while the single ‘Better’ by Mallrat, which he co-wrote and produced, pick up Best Unpublished Work in the Vanda & Young Songwriting Competition.
Before making a mark on the Australian music scene as the go-to producer and engineer from his home base at Airlock Studios in Brisbane, Kersting grew up in Berlin where he picked up first the violin and later the bass guitar and double bass. After moving to the Sunshine Coast on Australia’s east coast as a teenage exchange student, he formed the psych-pop outfit The Belligerents with a group of school friends. He couldn’t have known it then, but the experience of booking studio time with his band laid the foundation for his understanding approach with the artists he works with now.
“It helps so much having been on the other side; there’s a greater level of respect, not just for the process, but also for the artists.” It also drove home the importance of approaching every job as an open and willing set of ears, sounding board or play mate: “Being in a band, and having to listen to a lot of people’s opinions for like 10 years … that really softens out the edges. If I get feedback from someone, I’m always open to listening and trying out their ideas.”
Kersting decided to stay in Australia after high school, and during his first day undertaking a Bachelor of Music degree, had a revelatory experience. “My second class at university was a production class and, it sounds super cheesy, but it was just one of those experiences where I just knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. That was it. Before that I had no knowledge of music production.”
So he set to work. As Airlock Studios’ in-house sound engineer, he developed his skills under the guidance of his mentor, producer Yanto Browning, and began putting in the hours as a freelancer, recording live bands including his own.
Being the facilitator for a band, who step into the studio with their songs written and ready, remains satisfying for Kersting, but he’s more recently discovered a new passion for building electronic sounds from the ground up, and writing with an artist to bring a seed of an idea to bloom.
When he met Brisbane pop artist Mallrat, she’d already built a considerable following and reputation for her music, which up until then she wrote over instrumentals and beats people sent her. The first time Kersting worked as a co-writer with an artist was also the first time she wrote the entirety of a track. “It was totally uncharted territory. I’m actually really grateful that my first co-writing experience was with her because she had such a strong vision of what she wanted to do lyric-wise, and with melodies.”
After writing Better with some leftover time following a session to record vocals, they met up again with the intention of writing together, and found the sweet and wistful single Groceries came to them even more quickly. His studio – which Kersting deliberately ensures is as comfortable and far from a sterile hit factory as possible – was the perfect place to meet an artist with such specific sensibilities as Mallrat.
“Generally, my thing is just about making sure it’s a safe space for ideas. Some people come in with a really strong idea of what they want to do and some come in with nothing at all. I try to make it very clear to everyone that it’s a welcoming space, and one where everyone feels like their ideas are being heard. And also that it’s impossible to hurt my feelings in the studio. It’s not really possible. I say that to most people before we start: this is your song. It’s not my song. I’m just the facilitator. I’m just helping you make this. That helps people get out of their shell relatively quickly and forms trust.”
After hearing his tracks with Mallrat, Tones and I tracked down Kersting during a visit to Brisbane to help her produce the songs she’d been playing as a busker to rapidly growing crowds in Byron Bay. As tends to happen when an artist steps inside Kersting’s studio, the work came naturally – and quickly – from there.
“[Producing Dance Monkey] was about taking the song from something that she’d been playing live with her busking set-up into a pop song that could be played on the radio.” Kersting began taking the track apart and building it back from the ground up, making the beat and recording her vocals. “They were the most important; that’s what the whole song is about.”
She went home to record a group of her close friends singing (“She sort of had a good feeling about the song and she wanted her friends to be on it.”) and Kersting incorporated those vocals during the final mix. “It was super quick; just a regular session.” But when the song was released in May 2019, the response was another thing altogether. “Then everyone started listening to it … Like, everyone.”
By January the following year, Dance Monkey had reached a billion streams on Spotify and was certified Platinum eight times over in Australia. It set a new record for the most weeks spent at number one in Australia; and after its eleventh week, broke the same record on the UK Singles Chart for a female artist. After earning Tones and I an ARIA for Best Pop Release, Dance Monkey landed at number 4 in the annual Triple J Hottest 100 – the largest music poll in the world – with two other tracks he produced from her EP, Johnny Run Away and Never Seen the Rain, coming in at 15 and 26 respectively. Kersting saw his own name on the charts too, among the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 Producers.
Whether he’s working on a final mix with the goal of extracting the artist’s intended emotion from a song, guiding a young artist through their first experience with a producer or meeting a seasoned pro for a writing session, Kersting approaches it with the same passion and enthusiasm.
“It doesn’t really matter what part of the process I do because it all helps bring an artistic vision to life. Regardless of whether it’s at the end of the mix or the end of a co-writing session, I’m always like, ‘I can’t believe we just did this! This song didn’t exist 10 hours ago!’ That process is still like magic.”