No one had yet coined the term “pandemic-proof” when Adam Kershen decided to renovate the basement of his new house into a professional studio. After almost a decade on the road as internationally-acclaimed DJ Adam K – writing, mixing, and performing his own music – Kershen simply “got sick of it,” he says.
“When I stopped touring, my income went from midnight to 6:00 p.m.,” he explains. “When I bought this house, I had to make a decision whether I was going to go into a commercial unit [to work] or not. Financially it just made more sense for me to convert the basement into studios.” That decision would pay off in spades a decade later.
The basement in North York became Hotbox Digital Music, and in the ensuing years it’s grown into one of the go-to production houses in Toronto, not just for dance music (though that is its specialty), but also pop, hip-hop, rock, and advertising, and is signed to a global deal with SOCAN member Ultra Music Publishing.
Alongside partner Drew North (who was known as Andrew Polychronopoulos and was part of the EDM-makers Paranoid, recording at Hotbox when the two met), Kershen has found wide-ranging success. The duo has collaborated with a vast array of club stars, from Tiesto, Steve Aoki, and deadmau5, to more mainstream artists like U2 and even veteran basketball star Shaquille O’Neal. Their most recent hits have included two gold records in Canada (Famba’s “Swear to God” and Frank Walker’s “Heartbreak Back”), and a diamond record in Brazil (Vintage Culture & Adam K’s “Pour Over”).
Kershen decided to team up with renowned audio engineers from Pilchner Schoustal International to create his ideal space. “When they built the studio, I explained that we were making very modern music and bass is very important to us,” he says. “We custom-designed this room to support tons of bass, because that’s what everyone was listening to.”
“All I care about is a good melody and good lyrics” – Adam Kershen of Hotbox Digital Music
Songwriting is the key to everything that comes out of Hotbox. Both Kershen and North identify as songwriters, first and foremost. The former went on to triumphing on the club circuit as a DJ as well, but the latter didn’t take that route, focusing on building tracks rather than performing them. “I never had the DJ-forward mindset,” says North, “and didn’t want to be a performer in that scene as much I was fascinated with how the music sounded, and how to create it. My dream isn’t to be a superstar DJ, it’s to make superstar music.”
Fortunately for them, the dance music upon which they built their careers is often sold on the reputation of the producer, “whereas you get into pop and hip-hop and it’s more about the artist,” says Kershen. “From a production end, things were kind of already on lockdown for producers.” But the song itself is everything. “The money is in the melody,” Kershen says, repeatedly. “Production is replaceable. All I care about is a good melody and good lyrics. The rest of it doesn’t matter. You can do it over again – it’s very easy to re-skin a song.”
North recalls how, “One of the first things [Kershen] said to me was, ‘Your music sounds like shit, but you can write. I can’t teach you how to write great things, but I can tell you how to make it sound better.’”
In spite of all the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 environment, Hotbox is thriving. Just as Kershen saw the ingredients for a brilliant producer in North, the duo have begun mentoring a third producer, Greg Giannopolis (aka Trappy Gilmore) to help them take on the burgeoning workload. Not that they’re taking on too many projects, it’s more that, because of the time they take to get things “right,” they were turning some attractive projects down.
“We’re a boutique production house, so we’re not about having tons of content,” Kershen explains. “That’s never been our way. We take extra time with our projects, even if it costs us. Our reputations and our numbers are very important to us – our metrics. We’re committed to, and focused on, maintaining a higher standard per release.”