I've been playing the role of a music producer since I was 13 years old, in some form or another. When I was in the 7th grade. I had picked up an all-in-one LP/8track/cassette deck from a yardsale one day, and for the holidays my mother gave me a case of blank cassette tapes (I was always making up mixtapes for myself and friends). One day, I found a microphone somewhere, and figured out how to record onto the tape. I thought this was the coolest thing ever, and started recording comedy tapes with my friends. We ran through cases of those maxwell tapes like nothing! I started to grow bored of just talking and recording mixtapes. I owned a basic casio keyboard, and thought it would be cool to try and make a hiphop beat using the stock drums that were on it. But I couldn't figure out how to get the drums in time without using a stock loop, and I didn't have the correct wiring to put a line directly into the tape deck.
I started playing electric guitar the next year. This was also the first year I had started thoroughly experimenting with pot. On average I was playing guitar five hours a day for the next three years.
In 8th grade, I figured out that I could record guitar onto my tape deck with a mic on my amp. I'd play through for the entire duration of a song, and then I could play the tape back through the Hi-FI speakers, while simultaneously playing guitar through an amp at a similar volume. I placed the same microphone I had used originally at an equal distance from both audio sources, and plugged it into the crappy e-machine PC I had at the time, and recorded into the most basic voice recording program that came with Windows XP. What I had achieved was a makeshift-overdub. I was teaching myself basic audio engineering and I didn't even know it.
Later that year I started playing in my first band, a poor excuse for a grunge- half original/half cover band called Lippen. Every song that me and my drummer Jesse played or wrote had to be recorded. I built a strange obsession for needing to record everything I did musically. (which in retrospect I am happy I did, because those home made shit recordings are the most amazing tastes of nostalgia ever.) We figured the perfect place to put one dynamic microphone in the room that would capture the drums, guitar amp, and my then weak vocals at the time, at a somewhat acceptable balance.
I bought my first 4 channel mixer, and now was able to route several (consumer grade) microphones into my computer. Which I was still recording into the line-in 1/8th inch jack. But I was now using the still- existent open-source software Audacity.
In the top of 9th grade, I started to become interested in making beats- specifically hip-hop. A friend in my art class gave me a bootleg copy of Fruity Loops 3.0 (Now FL Studio), and again I found myself with a new obsession. Which was certainly taking priority over my homework and studying by FAR.
I started messing with Fruity Loops, which was easy to learn. I didn't have a musical keyboard to use to control the sounds. Everything was clicked in and inputted via mouse. It was quick and easy, but not at all like playing the real instruments. I was fine with that- but I wanted to get my own sounds into the program. Now mind you this was a few years before the launch of Youtube, so if you needed to learn how to do something and you didn't know where to go, you were sort of out of luck.
I somehow figured out that if I chopped my audio files up in Audacity, exported them as 16 bit WAV files (had no idea what that meant at the time) and loaded them into the one system folder called "XI", that they would show up in the program and be usable. I had no idea what I was doing but I became really happy about it, and called this process "XI-ing" (I later realized this process is called sampling- but again I was teaching myself this process entirely)
My friend Brian came over one day with a duffle-bag full of vinyl 45's. We ran a line out of the record player into the computer, and using no preamps, (we didn't know what those were), it still sounded fairly good. I think I made 3 beats in 2 hours that day, and my friend said he wanted to rap over them. I was really excited because I had never worked with a rapper before, and quickly exported the beat from Fruity Loops and brought the WAV file into Audacity. I played the track back and he started writing. It was a fun process, and then he went to record. I realized that the microphone was picking up the computer speakers, and that I didn't have a set of headphones. Luckily, he did and we got the job done.
This was my first "recording session"
The next week my band recorded our first demo "TS6", a set of six songs designed to get us into the school talent show. It did not work in our favor, but I still have the recordings and happy about that.
I was now in the 10th grade. I was playing with a band called the Hottness, and we would always record our songs onto a 4-track Tascam unit. I could always tell I hated the sound of tape-hiss, and preferred the fidelity of digital recording (this was before I experienced using a reel to reel, granted)
Now mind you, this was not just a side hobby. I was doing this every day. Anyone I was playing music with, we had to record it. Recording became more important than the songwriting itself. I thought I was pretty good at it (I had at this point received no knowledge from anyone or the internet on anything I was doing) Bands were asking me to record them demos. Rappers were asking me for beats. This was the life!
One day we went to go see my friend and bassists' cousin's band Preferably Tapioca perform at some venue. I thought they were incredible, and having almost zero equipment I offered to record their band a demo. They accepted my offer, and I now how to find all the equipment I would need. Problem was, at the time I didn't know what I would need. So I borrowed a surplus of everything from anyone I knew. We recorded to my drummer's Tascam 4-track through a dusty old Mackie board I found in the bands' basement.
I remember having the band play, and making sure that every track on the recorder sounded as good and real as possible before I actually hit record. We only did one take of every song in two tracks, leaving one for vocals and one for guitar overdubs. I thought I had a great product, my friends and I listened to it as I did my first-ever mixdown into the computer. I gave it to the band, but they weren't satisfied with their performance (or likely the lo-fi quality), and never did anything with it. It was a bit discouraging, but I didn't stop doing what I loved.
That fall, my band was part of a competition called the Garage Rumble, put on by my good friend Clark's mother Kristen. It was held at the Joyous Lake (a now defunct famous club in Woodstock NY, that once housed acts such as Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, The Band, and many others). The show was recorded by local legend Chris Anderson (formerly chief engineer at Bearsville Studio). I remember almost a year later getting our recording from the show and hearing how AMAZING it sounded. There was reverb on the vocals. I had never even used reverb at this time. I didn't even know what it was, I don't think! Our performance was sloppy, but the recording quality was so much better than anything I had ever done. It the the first professional recording that I had played on, and it was inspiration to achieve a quality like this on my future productions.
That same year I started filling in as a drummer for a surfy/ ukelele driven band called Concrete Wave. I had only been playing with them for no more than a month or so, before I was told we were going into a recording studio to cut a demo. This was a life changing experience for me. We worked with engineer / producer Jimmy Goodman (a now longtime friend of mine) at Leopard Studio in Stone Ridge NY. One of the first things I noticed, besides the Akai MPC 2000 drum machine (which I now own and will never let go of) was the gold record on his wall from the Strokes' first EP that got them signed to RCA- the Modern Age. The record was recorded by his studio partner, in their previous studio Lower East Side studio Transporterreum NYC. He told us all about the guys and how magical of an experience it was. It was truly an inspiring way to start off a recording session.
It was in these few days that we recorded there, that I started to understand why my music I had recorded to this date didn't have the full sound that we were achieving there. We were using all different sorts of microphones, preamps, and micing techniques that I had never seen before. The rooms were sound treated, and we were using a professional program (Pro Tools) to capture our product. I came back the day that the band was mixing the demos in there and asked Jimmy if I could intern for him. I was 16 at the time. He said yes, and I interned with him off and on for the next 3 years.
The second rendition of my band the Hottness, which featured my good friend Evan Shortnstein & Eli Wolf on drums got me closer to achieving the desired qualities. Evan was a super young talented kid with a giant red Afro who could play the drums, but was also very much into turntablism and beat production. We would rehearse at his house outside of Saugerties NY. And like all my other projects before, we always recorded our sessions. He mainly used the built-in mic on his imac, but the recordings always came out good for some reason. Evan & Eli were both in a local hardcore / punk band called UTD at the time, so they had their own techniques of doing things. We would record the songs on his imac, and then I would do the vocals through my poor methods back at my house. I don't think it was any better this way- I was probably just too self-conscious to sing fin front of my band mates. I still love some of those recordings till this day.
Skip forward a few years . I'm now 19 and fully mastered the capabilities of production in FL studio, and I was tired of recording with my PC computer, with no professional software. I had recorded hundreds if not thousands of low-quality recordings of projects I played in that never went anywhere, and had thousands of hip-hop beats that I had recorded, and then recorded local "rappers" over. I needed the next step. The girl I was soon to start dating convinced me to get an Apple computer because thats what "real musicians" used to make music. She wasn't entirely wrong. I had a lot of friends at that time who were making magic happen just using the internal microphone in their base-level white macbook, recording with garageband, figuring out basic effects, and putting their music online.
Christmas of 2007 I received my first Apple computer as a gift from my mother and went to town. I had one microphone that fit into the line-in jack, and used that for everything. I wasn't using any real pre-amps, but for some reason the quality just sounded way better on this computer than anything I had done before. I recorded a ton of demos for myself using the internal microphone, an acoustic guitar, and overdubbing with an electric guitar.
Then I purchased the recording program Logic Studio and my life really changed. I started making beats in Fruity Loops, exporting them and bringing them into Logic. Adding basses and other instruments that just didn't exist in Fruity Loops. The tracks were getting more full sounding, and I knew I was getting closer to achieving the sounds of my bands' recording that was mixed from the Garage Rumble.
At this time I wasn't playing with a band. I was way more into hip-hop (bands became discouraging as they didn't go anywhere). My mother was in the city alot because her sister had just passed away. So I would always have a free house. I had a couple of parties here and there, but I really wanted to just work on music with people. I would have 10 beats completed in a folder, make up little note pads, and invite my friends from the area over to make raps. We would all work with each other to make the lyrics make sense, and then I would have the job of recording and mixing the songs down. They never sounded amazing, but they always got around town, and people wanted to hear the new tracks.
I wanted them to sound better though. I was now in college and took advantage of my financial aid to the fullest. I bought myself a recording interface/mixer, a high-quality microphone, studio headphones, and a set of studio monitor speakers. I also around the same time found my first AKAI MPC 2500 on craigslist. I grabbed it for about $700 cash in NYC, in a sketchy Starbucks around Grand Concourse. At the time I was living with my girlfriend outside of Newpaltz and we had a little side room (kind of like a den) that was not surrounded by other rooms in the building. I set my studio up in there, and had the freedom to be LOUD all hours of the night.
Having this sort of freedom, I realized, was really what gives people the power to explore their creativity. I started to study sampling records into my MPC, from the greats of production. Early Kanye West, Just Blaze, J-Dilla, etc were among the many I would begin to mimic. I started building up a nice collection of soul records, classic rock, and jazz. Some of which I had inherited from my Aunt who passed away.
I started to produce full projects for people around this time. Not only did I handle the production of the music, but the production of the entire project. Effects on the vocals, where certain sounds and transitions should happen. How the artists delivery should change in certain places., breathing patterns, etc. These were all important aspects to creating a great sounding record.
It was around this time where I wanted to play music again, because mainly all I was doing was beat-based. I got together an indie-rock band together