Speaking at the event, TRAKGIRL (Jhené Aiko, Omarion), Prezident Jeff (Roy Woods, Wiz Khalifa), and LordQuest (Schoolboy Q, Talib Kweli), shared their knowledge and opinions with the Detroit funk great, Amp Fiddler. Native Instruments highlighted select conversation from the discussion, on topics ranging from the effect of geography on their music career, to techniques they wished they had learned when starting out.
Amp Fiddler (AF): Coming from cities that have previously been overlooked in hip hop in favor of locations like New York, L.A. and Atlanta, how has the new attention being placed on Toronto and the DMV affected the music you make?
TrakGirl (TG): I appreciate all the music that comes out of the DMV. I listen to Goldlink all the time. When I’m in different cities like Toronto there is so much incredible music so I just try to be a student and really want to know what the music scene is like. So being in different cities I just try to learn as much as I can.
Prezident Jeff (PJ): It gives you a little bit of legitimacy. Obviously, the cameras are on Toronto and have been on Toronto for a while now. I think five years ago if you were a producer trying to get into music it might have been a bit of a tougher task. It’s just dope because now you’re getting that respect off the jump. Six, to seven years ago, if you saw a Canadian artist on YouTube you’d just go down and read the comments and see what they say but now we are thought of with the same respect as an artist from anywhere else.
Lord Quest (LQ): Toronto had this misnomer that you had to leave Toronto to be successful, to go somewhere else. Whereas now you have all these amazing producers, artists, songwriters coming out of the city who are able to accomplish these great things being right in Toronto.
AF: With producers having tags, being regularly name checked in songs and releasing their own albums, how have you noticed this affect how artists approach you in regards to collaboration?
LQ: It’s kind of backwards and sad to say, but there is a new-found respect for producers. I feel when artists approach you they look at you as another artist and in my mind, we were always an artist as we are all painting the same picture. Whether it’s one producer, four producers, three songwriters, we are all trying to paint this one image to give this listener a feeling. At this point now, it’s really dope artists and producers come together. We are getting our own platforms and people are respecting us which is awesome.
TG: It’s a great time for producers. Collaborative albums, like what Metro (Boomin) is doing, where he’s executive producing full albums is a challenge. It gives more focus on producers creatively and shows what producers can do.
PJ: The sooner producers embrace that we are artists, the better. Making your own projects and taking that out and making the money from it. I just try to champion ownership. Producers that have some placements under their belt go out and executive produce your own projects. Murda Beatz is out on tour now and being recognized as an artist.
GETTING PAID ON MIXTAPES
AF: There are a lot of producers in the hip hop community discussing things such as a producers union and not getting paid for work on mixtapes. What is your view on this and how do you see this playing out in the future?
TG: So, I started this movement called Pay Us Today, and I would hear these horror stories from my producer friends about not receiving credit for their work and not being compensated fairly. It’s a problem as the producer is the heartbeat of the record so why not value our work. I really just want to be an advocate for that because it’s so important. Pay Us Today started as an apparel line but I want to turn it into an educational platform to have a voice for creators and producers. It just really needs to get better and takes us to champion that issue.
PJ: The biggest thing for us is educating ourselves. A lot of producers don’t know how exactly you get paid. There are so many little things people don’t know and that’s how they get you. If everybody was educated I don’t think we would be having the amount of issues we are having now. The amount of time you spend every day making beats, put some of that time aside and pick up a book. Don’t wait until things start to actually happen before you start to figure out how things work. Don’t play catch up, it sucks.
LQ: If you wanted to be a doctor or lawyer you would go to school to learn your craft. It might not be a proper school but like Jeff said, even taking time out of your day to read this book or this article about publishing. When it comes down to it you’ve got to know what’s in front of you or you’ll sign everything away.
AF: As your careers have developed and you’re traveling around Canada and the U.S. for studio sessions, how have you modified your setup to make it portable but also have the tools required when in a session?
TG: I carry my MIDI keyboard with me and hard drive of sounds. Literally I carry everything in my book bag. I try to get ideas out every day and use my iPhone and voicemail all the time. I sing a melody and take it to the studio to finish.
LQ: My laptop, my hard drive, my MIDI controller and I always need a bass guitar in all my sessions. There’s nothing like the real thing. I just try to keep everything with me and always trying to bring out more ideas. Recently, I really got into Steve Lacy and his situation how he creates everything on his iPhone. He makes it work with what he has available.
PJ: I just have my laptop and my hard drive. I do need to get myself that new Maschine though cause that looks dope.
LQ: I use Ableton, but I do have to say out of the box, the Maschine drums bang. They sound like those MP drums.
AF: You’re all established in your musical careers but what is the one technique you wish you knew starting out that people in the audience should go home and master?
PJ: The amount of time I wasted mixing my stuff. I’d go overboard so I wish I took my time to learn to mix properly. I spent so much time adding plug-ins and it still didn’t sound good. Don’t do too much and put 14 different plug-ins on your kit because some YouTube video says to. Trust your ears. I put nothing on my kicks or snares anymore.
TG: For me, I wish I learned that you don’t have to rush when creating. You should really take your time. I don’t make a bunch of tracks at a time but I might make a bunch of ideas. Creating a good song is more important than cranking it out. Some days I’ll work on the chords or the melody.
LQ: The one thing I would say is music theory. For me, understanding how that works really puts you in a space where you can see what’s in front of you and morph that into your own thing. That’s where a lot of producers get lost. When people get that knowledge, they can make something new or their own and that’s where people start to break boundaries.
AF: With libraries such as Sounds.com becoming more and more popular, how do you approach humanizing these sounds or putting your own flavor on them rather than just copying and pasting into your DAW?
TG: I love sound banks. I love to find different sounds but I think it’s important to mix and tweak it to your own sound. Adding your own sauce to it the way engineers do.
LQ: I’m from a time where we actually bought vinyl and sampled off records so I’ve always been into digging. I’m all for taking a sound and making it your own but also there are those sounds where you hear that loop and its undeniable where you can’t do anything to it but throw some drums on it. I think it’s dope because it’s a new form of digging for a newer generation. This adds to the creative process but as much as you fall in love with the original sound, you’ve got to make it your own. That’s what makes you stand out.
AF: Anyone who produces is always looking for new artists to be inspired by can you let the audience know one or two artists that they should go check out.
TG: There’s this girl I’ve been listening to Billie Eilish. She’s fire. She’s only 16, but her lyrics are so mature for her age. Her brother produces all her music and she’s dope.
LQ: I came across a new artist a friend put me onto named Obie from Toronto. He’s a soul R&B singer. There’s this other cat I came across called Cautious Clay who’s really dope.
PJ: This girl I heard about called Kelsey Vaz. This other guy I heard about called TOBI who is super musical and a combination of Anderson Paak, and Chance the Rapper.