Brendon Heinst – founder and senior recording & mastering engineer – runs TRPTK along with his partner Maya Fridman who has the role of Artists & Repertoire Manager. Talking to Brendon and Maya was an extreme pleasure. Their passion for music and doing things a bit differently is nothing short of inspiring. Not only are they partners in the label (boasting over 100 productions) but they are also partners in life and love. Let’s take a look behind the curtain to meet the magicians of TRPTK.
The TRPTK Album Special is listed below the interview.
Firstly let me say thank you to the both of you for taking the time to speak to me today. I’m very excited to get to know you both a bit better, and to learn more about TRPTK and how you guys operate. If we may, I’d like to start with some personal background into your lives. I find it fascinating to hear the journeys that brought professionals such as yourselves in to the world of making music.
Brendon Heinst: Well for me, I didn’t grow up in a particularly musical family, but everyone of us did listen to a lot of music and all of us played some as well. My father listened to a wide range of music and was in some bands as well. My brother was also really in to music, so from a very young age I just started picking up instruments and starting to learn how to play. I was always more of a tinkerer, rather than like a ‘proper’ musician at heart and soul. I liked to open stuff up and see how it works, and then try putting it back together. I guess I would say I was kind of 50/50 interested in making music but also breaking apart things that make music.
I played a lot of guitar and I started building a lot of stuff for that: I built my own amp and my own pedals – I even started to build my own guitar at once, but it turns out I’m terrible at woodwork.
Was there a time that you remember your interests turning towards actually recording music rather than playing or tinkering?
Brendon: I don’t know about a specific moment, I just always had an interest in how music was made. I remember watching a ton of those behind the album documentaries that always came on VH1 and I grew this fascination towards the musical process. It seemed like the perfect combination of creating music, hanging around socially, and also tinkering with the technical stuff. But honestly I didn’t know I would become a recording engineer.
My first work was actually in photography and I had my own graphics design business which I was mostly busy with. While I was abroad one summer though my father – who was already ill for a while – became extremely sick really quickly and one of the last conversations we had before he passed was about this exactly. I was in Singapore, it was about 3:00 a.m., and honestly I don’t know why I called him. I just remember the overwhelming feeling that I should. We spoke for hours about many different things, one being what I should do about the fact that I am interested in music but the business is extremely hard to make it in. The last thing he said was, “You gotta do what you feel you have to do. If it feels right just go for it”. That really inspired me to take music seriously as a profession.
Wow, that’s powerful. Then is that right when you decided to start TRPTK?
Brendon: No, it was about four years before TRPTK was born. I started studying at the Utrecht University of Arts and had a few classes instructed by Eelco Grimm who is now famous for his hifi company Grimm Audio. It was really inspiring to attend his classes because I felt I had similar interests and approaches to working with audio. While I was writing my master’s thesis about recording in surround sound I also did an internship with Bert van der Wolf of Turtle Records. Through these experiences I got to see the classical music world up close and I hated it… passionately. It was so conservative and there was nothing young or creative about it. Back in those days I also recorded rock bands fairly often, and I loved the world and atmosphere much more.
So I was torn – I enjoyed recording classical music the most because it was the most challenging from a technical stance, but I enjoyed the creative and energetic atmosphere of other types of music sessions. I really wanted to merge those two interests, but I couldn’t find anything for a really long time. Then finally I met Maya, we did one session together and I really loved working with her. At some point we started to record Schnittke together, the first cello sonata, and we had such a nice crew together that the whole session was extremely fun and energetic. And we did things in a totally different, non-traditional or conservative way, because Maya is not conservative in any shape or form.
Maya Fridman: No, you’re right. And for me Schnittke was an amazing composer who broke a lot of boundaries – for example he combined rock music with classical – and unfortunately was quite unknown. Starting my professional recording career with this piece felt very symbolic for me as an artist.
The Invisible Link€23,99 – €37,49
So is that a feeling or view that you share as well, Maya? That you have a love for classical music, but you feel the atmosphere around it is too traditional or conservative?
Maya: Yes sure, for me it was a really long road to get to where I was playing music I actually enjoyed. I started as a classically trained cellist at six years old. At around seven or eight I decided that I wanted to pursue it professionally and for the rest of my life.
Brendon: Haha, as children do!
Maya: Yeah well, I was asked very directly because this kind of musical education requires a lot of investment from the parents. It cost a lot of money, but it also required a lot from my mother to be disciplined and get me to practice every day. I recorded my first album when I was eleven. It was never published, but it was a great learning experience for me to realise that I enjoyed the recording process just as much as I enjoyed performing.
As I grew up and got to find my own identity a bit more, I realised that I love rock and metal music so I started to play with bands, although in Moscow at that time it was basically impossible. In the culture there if you were a classical musician that is all that you played. Finding rock bands who wanted a cello player was very difficult, to say the least. I remember at the time I didn’t have internet at home, so I would go to internet cafes and look for advertisements of black metal bands looking for a cellist. Safe to say I didn’t find many. I ended up playing keyboard in a black metal band once, and then I found a post-rock band that I could play cello with. Then I came to the Netherlands and though I didn’t find many musicians to play this specific mix of music I wanted, at least here I started to do my own thing and break out of the classical world. I started my jazz/rock trio Dinosaur,
I was working with singer/songwriters, playing with folk artists and stuff like that. Then I responded to an ad that Brendon had put up and that’s how this all started.
Oh wow, that sounds like a story. You first connected because of an ad?
Brendon: Yeah it’s actually a pretty funny story. I was busy with my master’s degree and I had finished all the theoretical ground work but what I needed was test subjects. So I hung up a poster at the Amsterdam conservatory explaining that what I need is the player and the material to test my recording thesis, and what you’ll get is a free recording. I only ever got one reply in all the time that the poster hung there, and for years afterwards I wondered, ‘Why is it that at a conservatory of hundreds of musicians, only one person was interested in a free recording?’ Turns out Maya didn’t write down the phone number as I had intended that people do, she just took the entire poster!
Haha, that’s amazing. Smart plan Maya, to make sure you’re the only choice!
Maya: Yeah, haha. I don’t think I even did it consciously. It was just a natural instinct. But I’m very happy I did that, because it led to the partnership that Brendon and I have.
Well this brings me to a question that I just have to ask. Many of our listeners probably don’t know this, but your partnership is very unique in that it’s not only a partnership in TRPTK, but in life and love as well. I’m curious, how did this amazing story start between you? Did it start right away with that first session recording Schnittke?
Brendon: Well I knew right away that Maya was someone very special but I couldn’t quite place it. It was only once we started working later hours with the editing and mixing of that project where I started to understand what she really meant to me.
Maya: And for me it was only from the second album that we worked on together. Of course I felt very open and comfortable with Brendon from the beginning, but at first I couldn’t imagine anything more than just being friends and colleagues. But while I was working on the arrangements for our second album together Fiery Angel something changed.
The Fiery Angel€23,99 – €37,49
The album was this very romantic story about a woman who falls in love with an angel who turns out to actually be a demon –
Brendon: Can you see the connection here?
[All three of us were cracking up at that one]
Maya: Haha, yeah for some reason I don’t know why, during all of the musical arranging and the complicated love story, I started to feel something for Brendon more than just friendship.
Well that’s an amazing story. It makes me think of the deep connecting force that music can be.
Brendon: Yeah it really has that power for sure. Not just romantically but socially and culturally as well. With the benefit concerts that Maya organises you can easily see it. She goes on stage with people from Ukraine and people from Russia, and despite everything that’s going on there is this huge sense of connection between everyone there.
Maya: And also music can bring up the deepest emotions that we have as humans, and it can express them sometimes better than we can.
Maya, can you tell me more about these benefit concerts?
Maya: Yeah well I started doing them about a year and a half ago when Russia invaded Ukraine. When it all began I couldn’t sleep, we talked a lot, but I felt completely desperate and extremely angry at the situation. Suddenly the idea came that ‘maybe I can do something’ and to organise a benefit concert with Ukrainian and Russian musicians. The next day I started calling colleagues and fellow musicians and in one week we managed to put on a concert at the Concertgebouw. The tickets sold out and we raised over €100,000. It was incredible, and I just thought that I have to go on because the momentum was there. I created the TRIDA Foundation and have continued doing the benefit concerts since then, among other things.
Wow, that is amazing. Where can we go to find more information about the foundation and the concerts?
Maya: You can visit the website tridafoundation.org
Definitely will check that out.
So we’ve made it to the point of how you both met and how your relationship formed, but I would like to go a bit deeper in to how TRPTK actually came to be. That first project together was not technically a TRPTK production yet, right?
Brendon: Yeah I actually pitched that first album [The Invisible Link] to a couple of different labels. And with my background as a photographer we had shot photos and made artwork for the album as well, but not in the traditional manner. This just didn’t look or sound like an album that these labels were used to. So the general comments were like, “No, no-one listens to Schnittke so we’re not going to do it” or “This is not a classical music cover”. And I couldn’t understand why, just because something hasn’t been done before, that’s a reason not to do it. As if it being a new idea made it a bad idea. So this, along with many other examples, left me feeling like a lot of the labels just had it backwards, or were stuck in another time. Because I wanted to work with Maya and with other artists like her who were really bringing new and creative ideas to the table – and since other labels weren’t interested – I decided to just do it myself. Then I started TRPTK.
When I visit your website one of the first things I see is this term Optimised Omnidirectional Array, can you explain to me what that is exactly?
Brendon: I did my master’s research on this, to make a microphone array for surround recording, and it was based on doing a lot of simulations and going back to the science that’s been done in stereophonic listening. I made countless recordings, micro-tweaking the microphones countless times, listening back in the anechoic chamber at the HKU, and really crafting this microphone array. Then we did a lot of listening tests with a really wide audience – I didn’t want to just include students or teachers, but also friends of mine and family, people outside the music industry. Through the simulations and the listening tests, I put together this microphone arrangement that is the most natural or realistic way of recording things – the Optimised Omnidirectional Array, or OOA for short. And every single recording that TRPTK has ever made utilises this technique.
And has your pursuit for the most natural audio representation also led you down a never-ending search for the right microphones? Or do you have your tried and tested mics?
Brendon: We started out working with Sonodore microphones and I really love them, but they’re not without their faults – like noise rejection, because they’re unbalanced microphones, so they are prone to interference. By some weird coincidence my business partner Ben [Ben van Leliveld] got in touch with Rembrandt Hissink (the main representative of DPA in the Netherlands) on the very same day that I had emailed them asking if I could possible test out some microphones. So then we moved on to using their microphones and I just really love the 4006A from them. Later on I made a recording with Eelco Grimm, or rather we made the recording together but on our separate systems. He used his own Grimm Audio AD1 DSD convertors (which are astounding) in combination with Josephson microphones which I had never heard of at the time. What they do is take these measurement microphones and they create a body to put on it to use for recording, but since they are measurement microphones it’s really ‘what you put in you get out’. There is no coloration on these microphones, and I love it. They really help us achieve our view on recording which is to capture exactly what is there, not adding anything or taking away from it.
Your studio has such a distinct and dramatic look with the blue speakers on the white background. Was there intention there or do you just love the speakers?
Brendon: Haha, I’m not gonna lie, I do love the way they look! It’s not the main reason I use them, but it’s a nice perk. When we started out we had these GoldenEar speakers, pretty nice for the money they cost, but at some point I began to hear the limitations of that setup. Also at that time we made the jazz record Elegy with the AEON Trio – which included Maya –
Elegy€24,95 – €33,99
and when it was finished I took some CDs to a friend of mine who I knew liked this type of music. I wanted to ask him if he knew anyone that could help us with the business aspects of TRPTK, because all I know is making records. What happened is that he came on board himself, and the first thing he did was come see the studio and say, “This ain’t gonna cut it. If we’re going to set something up then we’ve got to move, and we’ve gotta get better equipment”. He talked with a couple different manufacturers and in the end we decided with KEF for our speakers. They’re a great combination between perfect imaging and not being overly analytical.
I also noticed on your website that you always work with a 50/50 split deal with the artists you record?
Brendon: Yeah I do. I’ve seen some artists in the past getting taken advantage of by the label and it always confused me. The way I see it, the percentage you pay to the artist is a direct reflection of how you value your artist and how you value yourself, and the work that you both put in. The only way that made sense to me was to go into a deal with an artist and split everything 50/50. We split all of the costs that are involved in making the recording – i.e. hiring the location, instruments, extra musicians, etc. We also have an equal 50/50 royalty split so for the artists and for us it’s a big incentive to sell the records: what we put in is what we get out, equally. I mean, I’d love to give more royalties to the artists, but then I wouldn’t be able to make recordings anymore. But giving less than 50% to the artist is never going to be an option.
Maya: It is really a relationship, you know? We are there for the artists and for the music and we are extremely involved. I feel it has to be this way also from the artists, I mean it’s like becoming part of a family for me. When I’m looking for artists, I’m also trying to feel if it will work or not with our personalities and commitment to the project.
Is there any story behind the name TRPTK?
Brendon: Honestly I wish I could answer with some philosophical masterpiece, but in reality it’s just because it was started with three people. Haha, nothing too exciting about it really.
Haha, okay gotcha.
Well my last question is one I ask in each Meet the Magicians interview, and it’s typically the least favorite to be answered. Can you tell me your 3 Desert Island Albums – your three favorite albums that you’ve created which you’d prefer to have if you were stranded on an island.
Maya: I think I know mine. First is the album B.ACH with Kersten McCall, and I can’t really explain why exactly but I just love the way it sounds.
Brendon: Oh man, that’s tough. We’re up to 111 productions that we’ve done so I’m gonna have to look through our list real quick… Ah! My first choice would definitely be The Power of Indifference mostly just because of the process. It was an intense and long creation process for this album, so different than just renting a church for a few days and then you’re done. We set up our living as kind of a studio and we made music for weeks creating this album, so it holds a special place for me. Another would be Kinn by the Marc van Roon Trio –
Maya: I also wanted to say this one! But I was doubting between Kinn and B.ACH.
Interesting that you both choose Kinn… what makes it so special for you?
Brendon: Such good memories is one reason. We had two days of complete and utter freedom and it was great. We were supposed to do a Schumann recording that week but due to COVID the piano player didn’t have any concerts at all and he was unsure if he would be able to do a full on CD recording, so we cancelled it. We still had the location booked however, so a week before those dates I called Marc van Roon whom I had been talking with for years already about doing something. I said, “This is probably going to be a long shot, but do you want to record in a week from now? We have the church booked, a beautiful piano rented and it would be a shame to let it go to waste”, and he said yes! He came up with the idea to make a fully improvised album with three people (piano, double bass and drums) where he usually started with a poem in mind and the other two musicians came in. It resulted in a really extraordinary album. Oh, and I definitely need to include Into Eternity, especially now with the situation in Israel. This album has a lot of importance and was made with so much passion.
Great, well that makes four but since you are two people we’ll let it slide. You did it! I know it’s not easy to choose between your ‘babies’. Thank you both so much for your time. It was great getting to know you better and discovering more magic behind the curtain of TRPTK. I look forward to many more amazing albums in the future!
TRPTK’S Meet the Magicians Special
Brendon and Maya’s choices for their Desert Island Albums, along with three other albums mentioned in this interview, are now on special!
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*Offer ends Tuesday, October 31 2023 end of day (Central European Time)
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