Here is the full video of the panel I was on at A3C back in October hosted by Young Guru. It was a pleasure to discuss the ins and outs of the production process with such a distinguished group of professionals.
Team Demo and the Depth Charge Recording Group were recently awarded a gold plaque for their production of “Crime Wave” on 50 Cent‘s album, “Before I Self Destruct.” Although the album was released in November of 2009, we finally received the official award this past month.
“Creativity is the residue of wasted time.” – Albert Einstein
March and April were very busy at Depth Charge Studios so as things began to slow down in May I wasn’t too upset. Normally, it is months like these that allow me the time to create new things, try new ideas and re-stock my catalog with seeds for future records. Unfortunately, the muse is not obliged to conform to my schedule. I am simply out of creative juice at the moment. If you create for a living I’m sure you know the feeling. It’s that sense of fatigue that creeps in when you need to make something, but nothing is there. Some refer to it as “writer’s block,” and try to plow through it. I just remember the Einstein quote at the top of this blog and try to find something to waste the time needed to clear my head.
The following paragraphs aren’t really for anybody to read but myself. If you find them valuable, then terrific, but I’m merely trying to collect my thoughts in an attempt to better understand the current creative bottleneck in my brain.
I feel stuck in between lanes musically. I’m most known for the work I do in hip hop, so the demand is high for my services in that genre, but almost no other contemporary hip hop inspires me to make my own. The hip hop I make sounds very little like the stuff I hear on a regular basis. I believe this is generally a good thing but it requires the people with whom I work to have vision and a willingness to try to make stuff that doesn’t fit neatly with what everyone else is doing. Talented individuals with that kind of artistic courage are few and far between, and those who are looking for what’s hot “right now,” may find it difficult trying to make “the next.”
My sound is organic (not synth based) and is arranged with live and scripted instruments. I don’t sample from other works (though other people on my team do) and I go into each piece with an idea of a band playing the music I’m making. I often write down each imaginary musician down to the timpani player in the back of the orchestra. I know of very few “hip hop” producers who work the way I do (my production rig would most likely crash their laptops) and I find myself sharing ideas more with film composers, jazz/ funk musicians and singer songwriters than with hip hop cats. Often times it is the non-hip hop people who appreciate my “hip hop” tracks, while the hip hop heads pass over my stuff to rap over a two note, half step progression, Reason synth preset arp line with an 808 kit. To each his own. I get the most joy from my non-hip hop production projects because the artists truly can and want to implement my full range of skills and ideas. I try to bring all of this to my hip hop, but the genre is quite frankly just not keeping up. It has become so easy to make a hip hop track nowadays, that musicality is simply lost in the combined noise of a million kids banging on lap tops who wouldn’t know a single aspect of music theory if it bit them on the ears.
I have quite a few colleagues who stopped making hip hop all together. I used to wonder why they did. But as my talents expanded I realized why. They didn’t leave hip hop. They kept walking and hip hop stopped. Hip hop decided to squat on the corner and even retreated back to play on the monkey bars with the kindergarteners while they progressed into adulthood. They tried to bring hip hop with them but for whatever reason, it didn’t want to go for the ride. They realized, as I have, that a real creator doesn’t follow the music, the music follows him or it doesn’t. Hopefully, I will soon find the inspiration I need to lead my music somewhere else and maybe, hip hop will join me, but right now, I’m pooped.
I try to keep everything I have ever worked on. In the days before music could be easily stored as hard drive data, a busy music professional could build quite a collection of media. This is my new Ikea bookshelf in the lounge at Depth Charge Studios. I purchased it to store & present my collection of works from the first fourteen years of my career. The bottom three rows contain double stacks of ADAT track tapes. There are more than 100 completely filled sets each containing an average of 10 songs each. That’s quite a few records. It is also important to note that most of my clients had their own tapes, so this stack only contains all of my company’s productions and recordings along with recordings by studio clients who rented tape from us.
The middle row contains VHS and Digital 8 video tapes of our shows, music videos, making of music videos, various studio sessions etc. This is one of the few libraries I consider incomplete. I am missing a lot of video footage from over the years which I would love to have. If any one has any old Team Demolition or Lower Life Forms concert footage from back in the day, please let me know.
The next row up contains floppy and zip discs storing mostly beats I made on the ASR-10 from 1993 – 2003. The top row contains more than 75 DAT master tapes (digital tapes used to store the final mixed and mastered stereo mixes of records) and more than 60 four-track analog tracking tapes which contain my crew’s early work from 1989 – 1994. It is pretty amazing to stand back and look at this knowing it represents such an enormous portion of my life. Thanks to hard drives, my work from 2004 to the present is stored on a couple of machines no bigger than a typical paperback novel. While the convenience of that is fantastic, it doesn’t look quite this cool.
The average urban music career is one and a half albums. The average attention span of a modern music enthusiast is about a second and a half. Add these two things together and it is easy to see why so many of the artists I work with have no idea that I was one of them not so long ago. In fact, they would be fortunate to have a career where they made the money my crew and I earned, sold the records we sold, toured the places we toured and broke the ground that we broke. We had videos before there was a Youtube. We were featured in The Source and scores of magazines that have been gone so long one probably hasn’t heard of them either. We were on WPGC when we were in high school. Our records charted on CMJ and Rap Attack for a decade. Much of our music was available online; in the sense that one could order it from an online record store on vinyl, cd or cassette. (Side note: In 1999, I signed an online distribution deal with a company called CDuctive. We received a $2000 advance for the rights to distribute our catalog. That company was later aquired and then they were aquired until one day, they became The Orchard.)
If you’ve never heard of my crew and our work, I don’t take it personally. A hip hop generation spans about 3 or 4 years. That generation is usually only aware of the generation that immediately preceeded their own, and the one that follows. With the exception of my “Mister Wise Album” which came out in 2010, all of my records as an artist were released independently between 1996 and 2004. Only the few scholars of the current generation know about the Depth Charge label, the Lower Life Forms and the Team Demolition projects (but I digress at the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney.)
Fortunately, there are many from in and around my generation who do remember. It is the demand of these individuals that drive up the price of our early out of print vinyl and who post our old music on web sites that are designed to spotlight the works of an underground era. It is these people who have sent me a number of requests to make available our old catalog and unreleased tracks. And it is in part, them who have inspired to make my New Year’s resolution to do so.
My company only released a dozen or so 12 inch singles and a half a dozen albums in our history. However, that represents just a small fraction of the material we produced and recorded. In the early 90s, we recorded our music on 4 Track tape. I still have the working machine and all 62 tapes which contain more than 250 songs, (most of which never made it to market.) I also have more than 85 sets of ADAT tapes containing our music that was recorded between 1995 and 2003. We are still cataloging these, but I estimate there are 300-350 songs on those tapes. I am personally going to be spending my spare time dumping and archiving all of these tracks from both of these formats to hard drives over the next several months. From there, I will restore, re-mix and re-master all that I find redeemable, and make as many of them available as I can. I also have plans to take some of this material and re-work it. (Vocals placed over new music, lost beats remade or completely remixed etc.)
When all is said and done, I believe those who do hear this anthology of sorts will enjoy the creativity, passion, unique ideals and honest artistry my crew represented. If a youngster wants to have a listen, have at it, but I’m not doing this for them. I’m doing this for myself. The digital age allows me to preserve for both posterity and enjoyment, that which was the central focus of my life for a dozen years. Doing so allows me to truly close that chapter of my life, and have a ton of fun in the process.
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