Brenk Sinatra, a.k.a. Austrian producer and beatmaker Branko Jordanovic initially established himself by making music for numerous hip hop acts. After various collaborations, he released his first instrumental album Gumbo in 2008. More recently, Brenk Sinatra produced Which Way Iz West, the new LP of MC Eiht. In his twenty years of beatmaking, the Austrian’s approach to studio work has changed and developed. Talking to Kabuki at Native Instruments, Brenk Sinatra talks about his workflow, new technology and old skills, and why beats are particularly good when you leave your comfort zone. Continue reading to listen to an exclusive Brenk Sinatra track made with the Maschine Byte Riot Expansion.
How has your studio changed since the release of Gumbo?
To put it short: everything. Back in 2000, the studio existed just as a corner of my apartment, with a borrowed 386 PC and TV. All my beats were produced using the mouse, and software that wasn’t always working how it was supposed to. Thinking back it was a actually a total catastrophe, and really hard to get anything done with all the constant crashes. But I couldn’t just go out and buy some plugins like today, I had to hold odd jobs to make ends meet. But I believe that if you struggle, the result is often better than if you would just get a fully functional studio as a gift. I knew people back in the day that had expensive equipment, but sold it again after a year. For them it was more of a phase. Today I’m working exclusively with the pads, and Maschine is obviously great for this. After using the mouse for so long, I finally took the plunge and switched to Maschine when the second version was released.
So in the beginning you always had to develop an idea in your head first, and then execute it using the mouse?
A lot of people considered me a chop monster. Gumbo 2 for example had a number of tracks with real hardcore chops on it. But that was all done using the mouse, even though people thought I must have ruined my MPC in the process.
Are you still developing the patterns in your head first, or do you also create new ideas by jamming on the pads?
Both. And I can honestly say that I never had a tool that allowed me to lay down an idea as fast as the Maschine. It only takes me a few minutes to get a loop going that I can work with. I once had an SP1200, but it just took me too long to get results. The sound was obviously great, but it was just too complicated. I need to be able to reach my goal with as little effort as possible.
That’s a good point: for most people new features are about advancements in technology. But shouldn’t the main point be to make the distance between the initial idea and the final piece of music as short as possible?
Absolutely. What’s the point of technology? It should make my life easier. It doesn’t matter if I’m checking out high-tech trainers, or if I’m making beats. One helps me absorb the ground more effectively, and the other helps me to finish a loop quicker. Technology should make life easier, not harder.
And at the end of the day, it’s important whether a piece of music has a vibe.
The mood is the most important thing for me. All other terms have just been created to describe things. One thing that I find troubling is how hip hop producers often only listen to hip hop.
We both agreed that it’s a shame how the producers on shows like ‘Rhythm Roulette‘ are almost exclusively using the soul or jazz section as a resource, but almost nobody is chopping up a country record.
Any producer that has a bit of talent can make a beat out of a jazz or soul record. But if you can turn something crazy into a dope beat then you’re in a different league in my opinion. Just last week I discovered this British new wave band, if you listen to their work – and have an open mind – then you will think: those are goddamn “Jaylib”-outtakes.
These are the jewels for the producers that dig deeper than the rest.
Which is also the reason why I wanted to contribute a beat for this feature that’s not just using hip hop-related source material. You won’t find any typical hip hop sounds in the Byte Riot Expansion.
How do you differ your approach when producing instrumental beat, and beats for rappers?
When the loop is blasting through the room and I’m figuring out what’s missing, then everything is still open. But I soon start to think, “is this for a rapper, or rather for my next instrumental-LP?”. And if I think that I want to have one synth panned 30% to the left, and have something else going on to the right, then the beat is usually too busy and doesn’t leave enough space for a rapper.
Do you just keep it as a loop, or also produce a simple arrangement?
Almost every beat I write has a basic arrangement, such as intro-verse-hook-verse-hook. This way there’s a bit of variety, and it also helps to get a better idea how the final result might sound like. Listening to a beat must be fun. Another thing: when it comes to rap beats, you won’t believe how many hours I’ve spent figuring out who to send what. You can compare this to how you pick the bits for a drill: this one might be too small for what I have in mind, but the other one is so big that it goes right through the wall. So when I’m sending this beat to that rapper, he might get it but the beat won’t get much recognition. The other rapper might be a bigger name, but there’s the risk he’s not getting it yet. It’s always a gamble where you place your beats so that they can reach their full potential.
It’s as if you’re planting seeds, and with a bit of luck you can see the hard work pay off. An organic process.
When I released Gumbo in 2008 there weren’t many instrumental LPs around. I had made a name for myself in Austria, but not so in other territories. So I tried to figure out how to change this.
So it came out of necessity.
Exactly. And the LPs by Dilla and Madlib gave me the confidence that this kind of album can also work without rappers.
That would have been my next question: was there any producer that you tried to emulate in the beginning, that helped you to find your own style?
I recently tidied up one of my hard drives, and came across a bunch of old beats from 2000-2001 that I had no recollection of. They weren’t particularly good, but what I found interesting was how they reflected my musical phases. There were five beats where I tried to sound like Mobb Deep, and then another five beats which were supposed to sound like DJ Quik. I think it’s an important process, one that helps you in finding your own style. For me it’s been an important phase.
Let’s talk about the future: how do you continue to hone your craft? Do you have a specific philosophy related to this?
Like anybody that’s been around for so long I developed certain shortcuts that helped me to reach my goals faster. If something works for me, it becomes part of my repertoire. There’s a certain approach that I’m using, and that results in my sound. If you’re making music for so long you should have your own sound, and that is often the result of things you do subconsciously, that you just picked up along the way. Like my EQ moves: when other people see me do my thing, they often go :”Huh?”, but once I play them the final result they go: “Dude, so that’s how it sounds in the end!”. There were times where I just pushed a couple of buttons and then thought: “What was that?”. My whole life has been a process of learning by doing.
Using the equipment in a way that wasn’t intended might also help to create your signature sound.
This was the case when I made the transition from mouse to Maschine. At first the beats sounded a bit different, a bit cleaner, and I had to find ways how to dirty them up again, add a bit of the organic flavor.
That’s a nice method to improve your craft. By spending time with new tools and learning new techniques. But this takes time, and you can’t expect to just start up a new software and get results straight away.
I was the last one that believed making the switch to Maschine would work for me. And why should I switch? It was working fine like this. But at the end of the day it’s always good to challenge yourself. I’m still arranging the beats in my old sequencer though, when something is getting released I’m exporting the tracks and can arrange them more easily in my DAW.
That’s a cool way to look at it. You have to use the technology in the way that works for you best. The approach you developed to reach your goal is probably the best approach for you.
If you do something for 10 years, no matter what, if you’re a carpenter and you need to use a new system, then you have to change your whole way of working. But you can get used to anything as long as it has a purpose for you.
The will to evolve, to see what could still be improved, maybe that’s just what makes you a producer.
My buddies often tell me: “I tried that for a day, but it didn’t work.” And then I have to explain that a day isn’t enough, that it takes two to three weeks to even get the basics down. People always want everything instantly, they want to get things done too fast.
That’s a great statement. And maybe that’s why music that was done too quickly also doesn’t have the same lifespan as music that was created with attention to detail.
That might be true, but there are also beats that were knocked out in 10 minutes and are now considered classics. And there are those who work on a beat endlessly until everything sits right, and both is fine. Madlib once said that if something takes more than 20 minutes, then it’s probably whack. And even though I’m a huge fan, you shouldn’t take such a statement at face value. You have to find your own path, there is no universal formula that applies to everyone.