Indie synthwave veteran Vaughn George offering virtual synth music classes
June 2, 2021
Since his first release on Octiive in 2013, Vaughn George (AKA Vaughty, Von Mixer) has been gaining popularity and growing the synthetic music subculture to great effect. With popular tracks reaching from 2013's Time Bandits cover, "Endless Road," to his recent 2021 instrumental short, "Insidious," Vaughn George has been garnering critical and fan acclaim the world over for more than a decade.
Now, having settled into a successful YouTube channel, forged relations with artists who worked on integral Depeche Mode albums, and more, Vaughn George is taking on a new challenge: synthwave school.
We sat down to talk with him about what he's done, how he's done it, and how Octiive managed to help along the way.
Tell us about yourself and how you got involved making original music.
Hi, my name is Vaughn George, I guess it always starts with the love of music. I was always known as “the music guy” back in school and usually the guy who made mixtapes for everyone's house party. Hearing Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence” was the track that ignited the musical flames of my soul and that is what inspired me to produce music.
Describe your DAW, usual instrumentation and other key factors in your setup. Why have you made these choices?
I learnt the “old skool” way by using a hardware sequencer , the “Roland MC-50 Mk2 Micro-Composer”
My first DAW based system was “Digital Orchestrator Pro” and then Cubase. I moved onto Logic when it was still at version 7 and I have been on Logic ever since. I love anthemic and melodic music. I try to change my approach often but I guess I do subconsciously gravitate towards certain sounds.
[Need advice on an affordable laptop for your music studio? See our picks here!]
How has the response been for your own independent music releases?
My first album was released back in 1997 (feels like 100 years ago!). That album was called “2021,” back in the days when I released under the name In-Unison. After moving to the UK in 1999 [from South Africa], I started making music as Von Mixer. That saw me producing dance music from really cheesy “Cascada style” right the way through to electro-house.
I loved dance music and clubbing but I always felt like a fraud because my heart was never really into DJing. I’m more of a composer and songwriter. The lights really came on for me after I watched the 2011 “Drive” movie by Nicolas Winding Refn. This spawned the idea for my new alias, “Vaughty.” Vaughty was my nickname in school because I was mischievous and naughty, hence the name, “Naughty Vaughn” or Vaughty. The project has since matured with a brand-new full-length album dropping this year.
I’ve also started a retro-synth instrumental project based on nostalgic synthesizer sounds, and this project is simply called “VG.” I needed a project with a different name because sonically, the music is so different from Vaughty, it makes sense to separate the two brands. My music has been generally well-received over the years and my YouTube channel, Vaughn George, has helped drive my music to a wider audience.
What are your other music-related pursuits? What other music services have you offered?
Since starting my YouTube channel, I’ve found there is a huge demand for education and mentoring which is presented in a fun and non-patronising manner. I have started coaching students online. My services include vocal lessons such as “How to find your voice and your place in the music world,” and I’m also teaching absolute beginners how to play the piano and keyboard using a method I devised, myself. I’ve never had a music lesson in my life, myself, so my style of coaching shows how students can quickly progress without having to start off playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'' on the piano. Some of my students are more mature, and I’m always encouraging people to get started because it is never too late!
How is your YouTube channel doing these days?
The VG YouTube channel is by far one of the best things I have ever done. It started off as a simple piano-tutoring channel, but has since grown into something that has overwhelmed me (in a good way, of course). It seems like just the other day I was sitting there, nervously talking into a camera in a bright, echoing room. Now, less than three years later, we have built a die-hard loyal following of 18,150+ subscribers and growing daily! I feel really blessed, but then again, I have worked my butt off and continue to work extremely hard at it. It’s rewarding, but at the same time, it’s a killer. I wouldn't want it any other way!
What other platforms are you on?
Besides YouTube, I have a Vaughn George Facebook page and a private Facebook group. The FB group acts as a forum or discussion platform for the YouTube channel. I reluctantly joined Twitter (the Nasty Platform, as I call it) and my growth there has been slower than expected, but it is nevertheless a good way to promote my content and the VG brand. I’m also on Instagram (the Friendly Platform) with slow but steady growth. I am not on TikTok — call me old fashioned. I do not understand that platform. There is something off and sinister about it as far as I am concerned. It gives me a bad feeling, so I steer clear of it.
I am not one of those people who has 50 Instagram followers and follows 6000 people. I see where people are so desperate to grow their following they will do almost anything, resorting to “like for like” tactics, selling their souls … I find that approach to be very sad, very insincere and disingenuous.
My advice to all new creators is slowly but surely through steady and consistent action, like the story of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” It’s all about sincerity and authenticity. There is no other way. Grow slow and build a solid foundation.
You’re pretty well-connected in the synthwave community. How has that come about?
The release of my first Vaughty album, “Love and Industry,” really resonated with the synthwave community. My more recent Vaughty offerings have been far darker and heavier and have actually upset some of the original Vaughty fans. The new “VG” alias is there exactly for that reason, as not only an outlet for me to express my more synthwave and retro ideas but to keep the original Vaughty fans happy. I can assure you the new Vaughty album will be Vaughty as you have never heard him before!
And you’re involved with people who have directly worked with Depeche Mode, isn’t that right?
Ha ha! I was waiting for that question! You know, it's surreal. All the people whose names I used to read on my vinyl sleeve note and vinyl booklets have now become acquaintances, and some are becoming good friends of mine, too!
Legendary photographer Brian Griffin (who is also my neighbour) has become a dear friend I love to bits. We have started a poster-printing business together selling Depeche Mode prints. I saw the opportunity when Brian was a guest on my channel. People contacted him to purchase his original prints but they soon realised his original prints are far beyond the budget of the average music fan. I then suggested to Brian, “Why don’t we introduce a smaller, more affordable version of your prints at a price point fans can afford?”
The rest is history. We now have a poster-print business which finally makes original Depeche Mode artwork available to the masses for an affordable price, and the best part is that they are all signed by Brian Griffin personally! Everyone’s a winner!
I also have since gone into business with Depeche Mode producer Gareth Jones. When I first interviewed him, he had just released his debut album “Electrogenetic” digitally. To cut a long story short, I invited Gareth to come onto my channel and set up an exclusive Q&A over Zoom for Depeche Mode fans. This was a dream come true for many Depeche Mode fans as they got to meet Gareth Jones, the man, himself. We started a crowdfunder to fund Gareth’s album for a vinyl release and we raised all the funds in 72 hours. Gareth is happy because he gets to release his album on vinyl, and it was released on my own Aggro Monkey Records, so I’m very pleased to have Gareth Jones’s vinyl as the first vinyl drop on my independent record label!
These are but two success stories related to the channel, but they highlight the potential of the new music-industry business model and what can be achieved if you put your mind to it!
And now you’ve begun teaching synth music, is that correct? How were you inspired to do so?
My mentoring is tailored to what the individual needs of the student. My coaching is not a set of modules that you simply buy. Every student is different and on a unique path on their own personal journey. My job is to help you on that journey and therefore the approach is unique for each student.
Tell us about your new music school.
I call it the “The VG Academy.” All my coaching is conducted online. All you need is a good internet connection and a good webcam and a decent microphone (sound is most important), and I can help you.
What materials do students need?
Once again, it really depends on what the student needs help with. It’s good to have the initial session so I can help the student find clarity in their mind. Every approach is different.
Have classes already begun? How has response been?
Yes, they are in full swing! There is often a lot of enthusiasm with new students. I always emphasize the point that enthusiasm is one of the most important traits, along with a desire to learn. A student must, however, be prepared to put in the work and the effort because there is still no substitute for hard work.
What do you like about synth music? Why is it your primary focus?
I have always loved the creativity that comes with electronic music, and due to the nature of synthesizers, it is easier to “think out of the box” and take things into a very unique and individual direction. I am, however, not a so-called synth purist. Much like one of my idols, Gary Numan, who I interviewed last week, I believe in the sound more than the actual instruments.
I personally like to use the combination of conventional instruments like heavy guitar in conjunction with synthesizers. In fact, my new Vaughty album will be a very good look into my mind as it shows my personal taste in a greater way than I have expressed before. I think a lot of Vaughty fans may just be shocked by the amount of guitars on some of these tracks. They’ll just have to wait and see.
How did you come to be suited to teaching synth?
As I said, I’ve had no formal training, ever, but I have been blessed with the opportunity of having great mentors throughout the years. I’m a believer in results, and hopefully the quality of my work will speak for itself. Personally, I find that people are more inspired to learn from someone who is self-taught and who has the ability to demonstrate as opposed to learning from some know-it-all academic type. The fact that I could teach myself is hopefully inspiring to others. Of course, I’m not for everyone. We all need to learn from someone who resonates with us and there is so much choice in this great world.
What will students be able to do after the first lesson? What can they expect to know after five or six lessons?
That’s a “how long is a piece of string” question. We can't measure results that way; it really depends on too many factors. I can say that, for example, students who take my “Layman's Keyboard Method” class for absolute beginners will see the keyboard in a whole new way and will be slightly less intimidated by the look of a keyboard after just the first lesson. Students of mine have managed to make substantial gains after just three or four lessons. Everyone is unique.
What interaction will you have with students?
The classes are conducted on Zoom, so it’s obviously face-to-face. I also have overhead cameras so students can follow along with me on the keyboard. Every lesson ends with a re-cap, and the lesson is recorded, too! The recorded lesson is then emailed to the student the following day along with their “homework.” When the student returns, we re-cap again and they are required to demonstrate they’ve carried out their homework.
Being a coach is more than just mentoring and teaching people, it's about keeping them on-track and holding them accountable, too.
How much work goes into offering your classes?
It takes intense concentration and focus on my part. It’s important that my students feel understood and it’s important to me that my students are dedicated. The preparation also depends on what I am teaching that day.
What is your favorite thing about teaching these classes?
Seeing someone get that Eureka! moment when they manage a concept. I also love seeing how a student gets better with every lesson. It’s very fulfilling, and I get a kick out of it every time!
Will students be able to interact with one another? Will they learn together, or individually?
These are early days and I’m always looking to improve the offering. I am looking at offering group classes which will be cheaper than one-on-one classes — as I said, these are early days, but so far, so good!
What long term plans do you have for your course?
I’m really just building upon strengths. It’s always a lot of trial and error and things are being streamlined all the time. This is a two-way street because I’m pleased to say I learn a lot, myself, from these lessons, too. Everyone has something unique they bring to the arena.
How large a reaction to your course do you expect?
It’s been good considering that I have not really pushed it much. I don't intend this to become an enormous undertaking — I remain selective as to who I work with because that makes it fair to my students and myself.
What do you most want people to know about Vaughn George classes?
Once again, time permitting, I’m happy to take on new students if I feel they are a good fit. This is not about me taking all the money from everyone who approaches me. I think enough people in my community will vouch for my sincerity. If you work with me, you get 100% of me, and it is important that the student is prepared to give the same.
It’s also worth mentioning that not all the sessions are intensely technical. People have been contacting me for general advice, too, and the hour sessions can be used for general advice, if wanted. In fact, the other day, I had a guy book an hour-long session simply to talk about Depeche Mode, and that was a lot of fun!
The prices are all on my website with hourly sessions starting from £45 per hour [64 USD].
You've been using Octiive for a long time now for distribution. How did you come across it, and why did you choose Octiive?
I have indeed been using Octiive ever since the early days since they were known as Mondotunes. I joined up approx 2013. They were a small company at the time and not one of the big players, but I went with them because I like the idea of supporting smaller operations who are passionate and sincere.
They were a bunch of artists who got together to form the company and therefore were aware and sympathetic to the struggles and challenges independent artists face. I got in touch and their customer service was first class! What’s best is that you only pay once to get your music uploaded and distributed to over 500 digital stores (I believe). It was a no-brainer and I have been with Octiive ever since.