Audeze speaks with artist, producer and mixer Rick VanderKleijn

July 08, 2023

Rick VanderKleijn is a Dutch artist/songwriter/producer/mixer living in Los Angeles for over a decade, forever in pursuit of never-ending audio bliss and trying to touch people’s souls through music.

Rick VanderKleijn in the studio with his Audeze LCD-X headphones

"I actually enjoy using them without any headphone correction software simply because I enjoy the sound signature of the LCD-X and I trust them."  - Rick VanderKleijn
Here's our chat with Rick: 
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

I’m still very much loving the first song I ever put out as a young indie artist with a thousand dollar budget for the music video. I had organized everything myself with the help of a buddy who is a great videographer. At the time I didn’t think much of it but looking back I think I did a pretty amazing job.

Also, one of my proudest, most gratifying moments has to be when I was finally able to re-record my debut album that I had initially started recording at the fancy Paramount Recording Studios in Hollywood when I first arrived in the USA. This producer I had worked with at the time turned out to be a real shady guy and ended up refusing to hand me over my session files, demanding a final payment just because he thought he could. It’s a rather long story that I won't bore you with but that whole ordeal was actually a catalyst for me to pick up the guitar, bass, drums, and anything I could get my hands on as I had vowed that one day I would re-record everything myself but better. That day came not long ago and it’s been quite the journey and I can’t wait to share my work with the world! The best part: multi-million dollar studios with all the fancy gear are no longer a prerequisite. Thanks to the incredible tech innovations of the past decade, and a set of great headphones, it can all be done on a laptop!

The following highlights are not necessarily highlights directly related to the work I put out, but indirectly as an artist being from a small town and living the LA dream, they meant a lot to me):

The day when Macy Gray was actually standing at my grand piano in my home, singing some of her hit songs, that was a special moment for sure!

Jamming with Ceelo Green at a friend's home on one of my original songs.

Performing “Wild Horses” at a fancy Beverly Hills hotel and next thing you know, Ron Wood (of The Rolling Stones) is standing next to you and invites you over to his booth.

Having Bob Clearmountain and Nile Rogers jam out to one of my tunes in Bob’s home studio.

Weirdest moment ever must have been when a friend handed me over the phone and said, “here talk to Stevie”! I actually ended up talking to Stevie Wonder for a good ten minutes about music.

Having dinner with Quincy Jones and hearing all the amazing “behind the scene” stories of the old days.

Performing for many celeb private events. I.e. Jessica Alba's party or randomly being called by DJ Khalid to sing for his wife for Valentines Day at his private residence in BH.

Ok here’s one non-music related story but pretty insane: having a 40 minute boxing lesson from no-one other than Mike Tyson. Here comes the kicker: I didn't even recognize him!! until people came rushing up to me after he had disappeared into the locker room! “Omg dude you were just training with Mike Tyson!” I got asked so many times why I didn’t recognize Mike Tyson. Pretty simple; I was so fresh off the boat, I didn’t know anything in LA. I simply never even knew running into superstars at random places like your local gym was a possibility.

I’d love to one day run into Mike again. He might even remember. I mean... While he was showing me some moves, I blatantly asked him “You seem to know a lot about boxing brother, you used to fight or something?” I remember vividly him looking at me kinda weird but he must have realized I really was clueless.. I mean… it’s like asking Michael Jackson, hey you know how to do the moonwalk? I regress.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

Aside from performing a lot as a pianist/singer at private events all over the USA, I spend most of my time working on projects as a multi-instrumentalist producer/mixer and lately I’ve been getting really busy. I’ve always been fascinated by producers that could just pick up any instrument and make it sound like a million-dollar production all by themselves just being in their home studio. I used to work with a producer like that and it inspired me to one day be like him.

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

I was five years old when my neighbors’ older teenage sons across the street introduced me to their Vinyl collection. They showed me their awesome speaker stereo setup and played Four Non-Blondes “What’s Up” – I was so inspired! I still love that song btw!

I always wanted to play the guitar but at the time my local guitar teacher was already fully booked and so I ended up taking piano lessons instead. Classically trained at first but always improvising on the spot against my teachers' liking. She ended up enrolling me for this contemporary music improvisation program and so my music journey had begun.

My dad plays guitar, by no means a professional, but very passionate about music and so is my mom. I grew up listening to a lot of seventies folk music. James Taylor, Carole King, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder (not particularly folk I know), Tracy Chapman, Hall and Oats, Elton John, Billy Joel, you name it. My mom was a big Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin fan… so I was exposed to what I consider to be great music early on. Then when I was about ten or eleven, I ended up buying a 4-set CD Collection called “Super Hits of Rock” on one of these cheesy TV home selling networks. All rock hit-songs from the sixties and seventies. Best decision ever!

Later on I really got into soul & funk music. Actually I love all music except gangsta rap! I really appreciate good and catchy melodies. I have a soft spot for anything from the 90's. Lenny Kravitz, Macy Gray, Nirvana... you know what I mean.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life?

Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc? This American funk/soul band had randomly taken up a residency gig at the local pub in my hometown. They were truly amazing musicians and quite the sensation. The musicians had all individually toured with some of the biggest names in the industry. The bass player Billy Haynes had toured with Tina Turner and Lou Rawls for many years. We became friends and he was one of my early mentors teaching me about the importance of “The Feel”. I’m talking really obsessive stuff... making me move (I’m a terrible dancer fyi) to the groove to ensure I’d feel and understand the up-beat. Billy and I later traveled to Los Angeles together to meet and work with his musician friend - legendary pianist & producer Clarence McDonald - Remember that piano solo on James Taylor “How Sweet It Is”? That’s Clarence. Or Bill Withers “Lovely Day” he produced that.

For an assignment, I had written a bunch of songs to some lyric ideas Billy had shelved for years. I never forget Billy’s emotional reaction getting all teary eyed to one particular song I had written for him. If I recall correctly it was called “I miss you mama”. I was still a kid, sixteen years old, and I will never forget him telling me I had a gift for melodies and that I should do something with it.

I ended up moving to LA at age nineteen by myself to go chase the music artist dream. I met this British guy Marcus, who I think up till this day is still one of the most talented multi-instrumentalist producers and songwriters I have ever got to meet. He played about any instrument you can imagine and knew all the recording tricks. I learned a lot being able to look over his shoulder while in the studio. Mind you, this was all before YouTube existed lol!

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

I’ve always been such a perfectionist and always demanded my productions to sound like my favorite stuff I would hear on the radio. Obviously those productions were done in the best studios by industry veterans really knowing their stuff. The perfectionism can be exhausting, it slows things down and in the end you think to yourself was it really worth it? It can be a real artist trap but the upside, for me at least, has been that I really seem to know my stuff these days. What I learned is, even with all the fancy gear, it will still not turn a shitty song into a good one and vice versa. Ultimately it is about capturing special emotions touching people's souls. So I try to remind myself every day to not overproduce or overmix anything because it is easy to overbake your production to perfection taking out all the soul.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

I use quite a few plugins from a company called Acustica Audio. They sound great. I got into the whole Nebula thing before anyone even knew what it was. It was very user unfriendly and almost impossible to use on even the fastest computers. That’s also when I discovered I had a tech nerd hiding inside of me lol. I ended up working with Acustica Audio in their early days helping them with their software licensing to big companies like Focusrite. I always believed in Acustica Audio and today they are considered to be some of the best plugins in the industry. They recently released a plugin called “Sienna” which is a headphone emulation software. Together with the Audeze LCD-X headphones it truly is a game changer.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

Attitude is everything. Our thoughts drive our circumstances. Your attitude towards life and the people around you is your window to the world. If you think you can do something, then you can. If you think you can’t do something, then you can’t. You are right either way. What I’m trying to get at is the importance of having a growth mindset. Don’t allow yourself to be held back by limitations. Don’t ever wait for no-one to make things happen. Create leverage by taking the bull by the horns and just get started on your own. Think Dolemite! (look him up, go watch the movie!).

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

I’ve always envisioned one day being able to accurately mix on headphones. Today is the day. The technology is finally here. I still use my monitor speakers when I just want to jam a bit but even then, I find myself turning to my headphones more and more. These days all mixing is done solely on my headphones combined with Acustica Audio’s plugin Sienna. Game Changer!

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

These cans are amazing. I actually enjoy using them without any headphone correction software simply because I enjoy the sound signature of the LCD-X and I trust them. Of course, in the end, I still check with different software solutions as a "safety" check but increasingly, as I'm getting to know my cans better, I simply don't need to. 

I've been producing/mixing a new artist located in Florida. We've been doing many remote sessions and so it was really important for them to hear exactly the same mix as I did... so... they ended up purchasing the LCD-X for this very reason. :)

Rick VanderKleijn's Audeze LCD-X headphones