Monday, June 30, 2014

Shop Talk with Po'Safe Beats

So. I've known this guy for a couple years now. I started following him over twitter and then when I was on Instagram. He was always posting crazy albums on vinyl, his record collection is close to legendary. He's a super down to earth guy who has crisp clean beats. We sat down to a few brews a talked shop. Here's a nice album of beat from him to peep while you read through.

A.I. - "Let start with the same, same ole. Who are you, where are you from and how long have you been making music?"

PS - "My name is Jason, but I'm Po' Safe Beats. Originally from Lawton, OK, currently residing in St. Louis, MO. Been making music probably about 18 years now."

A.I. - "What was it that got you into playing music?"

PS - "Funny question. I always sang in choir, never played any instruments. In high school I started listening to a lot of hip hop and electronic music. Always reading liner notes, reading "produced by." I wanted to be the producer. So I chose to go to school for studio engineering to learn how music was made. While in school, learning studio recording, I started experimenting in the studio. Attempting to remake songs I knew. I discovered drum machines, and keyboards, and later sampling. Then I started making beats. So in a round about way that's what got me started in "playing" music."

A.I. - "We've chatted a few times on twitter where you seem pretty knowledgeable about guitars and instruments. I'm assuming that studio experience is where that comes from or were you playing any instruments during that time?"

PS - "Not really. For my degree I had to take piano and guitar lessons, but honestly, I really do not play. Only 3 semesters of guitar, I can play a little. and piano about killed me. I was more the engineer in school. Recorded countless albums and learned a lot along the way. Summer of 98 I got my turntables. Spring of 99 I got my MPC. Those were the game changers."

A.I. - "Your musical tastes are so diverse. What kind of albums were you listening to back in school that you thought 'I wanna make albums like this'?"

PS - "Honestly, I grew up in the church. I listened to a lot of christian music. Not your typical christian music. A lot of gospel rap, alternative, and electronic musics. Then I went to a christian liberal arts college, where I was introduced to a lot of music i never heard but should have. my next door neighbor in the dorm would be listening to Zeppelin one minute, Ice Cube the next, then Nine Inch Nails. The dude across the hall was a total Pink Floyd head. He actually taught me a lot in the studio. Gave me my first engineering credit on a CD he was recording. I have to shout out some of my major influences... Sup, aka Soup the Chemist from SFC. Peace 586, Freedom Of Soul, Tunnel Rats. LPG. Scott Blackwell, and his Nsoul label. I still listen to their music to this day. Then Endtroducing came out. That was freshman year. I think the entire second semester that's all I listened to. Between all this new/old music, learning recording, it changed everything."

A.I. - "Having so many digital options and software/hardware available how was the transition from working with artists in studios to having a home studio?"

PS - "When I first learned recording it was on ADATs, then I had a chance to record on 2" analog tape, then the school transitioned to Protools. So I had experience all around. After school I really didn't have a home recording set up for quite awhile. Just me and my records and MPC. I had friends with mbox's and digi's, so we would record that way. I went through a couple different cheap home set ups, but finally settled on running sonar on my PC. One day I will upgrade to a mac with Protools. I'm a cheapy though. But to answer your question, the transition? In the studio I actually recorded with bands. Full instruments, multitrack recording and what not. Now it's just me tracking out beats and occasionally recording an emcee. Usually though it's just in house production and then send it off to someone to use. I miss the artist interaction. The internet is great cause it connects you with so many people, but I miss the working in the same room vibe. There are some people I can send tracks back and forth with and build in a similar fashion. But a lot of times it's just "here's the beat, record to it, okay, we're done."

A.I. - "Be yeah the, send them a ruff edit to see if they're digging the feel, then bam they record and release a track over that beat, haha."

PS - "Exactly."

A.I. - There is something about feeding off the other artist energy that builds something you can't describe. The same thing happens in a good emcee cypher. I'd say that's one of the hardest things about being a "Producer" in today's music scene. The producer should be shaping songs and pushing the artist in different directions which that can't always hear on their own. Today it's like make me a beat and I'll do the rest and say you produced the song. It's the beat maker/producer debate.

PS - "Exactly. I always preach that I am a beat maker until I am involved in the songwriting process, then I become the producer. Too often the "producer" title gets thrown around too much. When I was working with bands in the studio, a lot of the time I was just the engineer. Then sometimes I was actually a producer. same could be said with beat making."

A.I. - "I like 3's so let name 3 pieces of gear you'd buy if money was no issue?"

PS - "The MPC 60, MPC 3000, and SP1200 all beat machines haha."

A.I. - "You ever try the SP1200 or an ASR? Or are you did you get the MPC and just stick with that over the years?"

PS - "The first dude that intro'd me to making beats was all ASR-10. I toured with his band as sound tech/roadie/bus driver, and we had a side project making beats and electronic remixes. So I learned a lil bit on the ASR. When it came time for my own beat machine, I got an MPC2000 off Ebay. Had the same machine since. Known a couple cats to have an SP, but never really had a chance to mess around with one."

A.I. - "What's the best advice you could give someone just starting out making beats. Like both in how to move in your career and also in getting a good sounding beat?"

PS - "Just make music. Make the music that makes you happy. Find like-minded people and work with them, learn and grow with them. Be patient. Practice practice practice. You don't just sit down and make the perfect beat, or write the perfect song."

A.I. - "Your record collection is pretty crazy. Where do you even start when looking for a record to sample. Do you have a certain style of music you like sampling the best?"

PS - "Funny question, figured the records were gonna come up. Honestly, a lot of the time I sample from the newest stuff I have purchased. My collection is mostly all sorted alphabetically. I do have hip hop 12's in a separate section, sorted by bpm. I also have soundtracks and compilations in their own category, but most everything sorted is alphabetical by artist so I can find it easily. I will have my newly purchased records stacked around and as I listen through them make mental notes of sample-worthy portions, or just sample on the spot. I always say I am going to start a notebook, or do the post it note thing on the records, but I never do. For me sampling is spontaneous. I can listen to an album one day and not hear anything, then months or years later pull it out and hear something completely different. That's the joy of sampling for me. I listen a lot. I guess I am a fan of the music first. As for genres or go to records. I sample a lot from the kind of cheesy easy listening records. I love christian/gospel/jesus music. But really, whatever catches my eye."

A.I. - :Haha. I think that sometimes about organizing stuff I have but then I've actually sampled the same song with out knowing and it turned out totally different. Just because I hear thing different from day to day myself."

PS - "Exactly!"

A.I. - "You did that album of beats totally made of ohh was it, Band On The Run, wings? Samples.

PS - "Yes! I have to thank Wasabi Macaroni on twitter for that one. One night he challenged me to do that, so I went out, found the record, and did it, lol. Now that was an exercise. Some of the beats are stretching it, but I was actually surprised with a few of them. I think three of the beats from that project have made it on albums, 2 released and 1 unreleased, so far."

A.I. - "That pushing to find something was sort of what the 'Night At The Movies' was all about for me too."

PS - "Definitely. Even if you aren't completely happy with the total outcome, the process and the challenge helps you grow as a creator. When I was in college I had the privilege to get to know a lot of artists/painters. Painters do "studies," where they will study an artist, copy or mimic some of their works, then do an original work in that artists style. That always intrigued me. They would learn from that artist by imitating them, and then incorporating it into their own work or style, challenging them to work/think differently."

A.I. - "So what next on you plate for musical projects?"

PS - "I'm currently mixing J Draughon's album. I have some remixes on deck for both biathlon and Iceberg Theory, as well as trying to compile my next beat tape project, which i have yet to find a theme/idea for, just making beats til I know. I had a local kid holler at me the other day interested in possibly working, need to open up a line of communication and test the waters."

A.I. - "I really appreciate the time you set aside to do this with me. Thank you vet much sir."

PS - "Sure, anytime. If you need more, let me know."

Shop Talk With Digital Fiend

So I had a chance to sit down a get on record with one of the most underrated musicians I know, Digital Fiend. He's a really good personal friend of mine and great to chat music with. We go over a whole bunch of recording, gear and random stuff. Here's some music to listen to while you read through. A EP Digital Fiend did with Atari Blitzkrieg, 'Chase The Dragon'.

A.I. - "#1. Who are you, where are you from and how long have you been making music? #2. What got you into making music?"

DF - "#1. I was born in DC, and grew up in Prince Georges county MD. I've been making music since 1993....#2. My father was a drummer for the band The Hellions in the 60's, and I used to see his pictures growing up, and wanted to play drums. He never taught me how to play though because when he got screwed over by Ray Stevens on a contract for the song Guitarzan, he gave it up after years of gigging, so all I had was the pictures and stories. Simply put my father the drummer got me started."

A.I. - "So you started drumming first?"

DF - "Yeah"

A.I. - "When you started who were drummers besides your father that you wanted to play like? Who are three drummers out today your really digging? And try and name 3 over the years you've changed your opinion on? Like I remember thinking players weren't that great years ago then as my ear expands I notice they're playing has more to it that's I first thought."

DF - "Mitch Mitchell...I don't know the names of any other drummers off the top of my head. Oh Sly Dunbar, and Style Scott 2 reggae drummers. Neil Pert.

A.I. - "You ever check Chris Daddy Dave or Steve Jordan? Those are probably my fav current drummers. The guy from Dave Mathews Band was awesome too."

DF - "I know DMB, but their names I never knew..No I don't know those dudes.

A.I. - "When did you start recording music?'

DF - "1994, when a buddy of mine got a 4 track for his birthday"

A.I. - "How was working with a 4 track? Would you just record the drums as one whole track with a single mic?"

DF - "2 mics, one on bass drum and one in between the hi hat and snare."

A.I. - "So let's walk through from the 4 track days to let say the 2001-2002 era. Did you do recordings? On What? What kind of other instruments were you playing? All that type of jazz."

DF - "Yes recordings. Those days I was using electribes, sequencer, and a korg kaoss pad with a fostex digital 4 track, zoom drum machine, and still playing drums and congas."

A.I. - "What got you into drum machines? Was moving from real drums to a drum machine easy or was it like taking a step back in what you could do?"

DF - "My friend Christian got me into Midi equipment, it was like taking a step forward. It was easier to play, I picked right up on it like it was nothing. Then I started laying real drums over the drum machine."

A.I. - "I mainly got into midi because recording a kit is so hard and requires too many good mics to make a quality recording. Although I never played drums I had to learn it all on a drum machine. I mean I could probably mic an acoustic guitar for hours with one or two mics before I got a sound I really dug. Haha"

DF - "Yeah, the only time I ever got a good recording of drums was when Christians dad paid for studio time for us and we took every weekend for 2 months and layed tracks in a super duper studio. That and when Atari takes my live drum tracks and mixes them. I got mics and a 16 track mixer that I only took out the box a few times. I could set up the drums and mic them and all that..only problem is I'm by myself, and its hard enough going back and fourth from the drums to my 8 track..with 2 mics ..I couldn't imagine having to do it by myself with the entire drums mic'ed. When I do drums I do em in tracks, hi hat, bass, then I lay snare on a separate, and rolls and crash and all that good shit later. That's why I miss being in a band. I miss it, and I don't miss it lol."

A.I. - "Haha yeah that's a big part as well for me. I wanted to not be relying on anyone to make my music. Being in a band is hard aside from the music the personality and relationships are hard to deal with. I track all my stuff out now but I have like 120 tracks or something I've never used as opposed to being reduced to 4 or 8 tracks."

DF - "Yeah, I see those huge Cadillac looking mixers 32 tracks, etc.  And I think . Jesus do they really need all those tracks..64 track mixer? you're just showing off!  Lol. But yeah, they have it set up for purposes, I know..but still..damn!! A 65 track mixer can buy a fucking car, or put a down payment on a house."

A.I. - "Yeah I work pretty minimally and think its more about using what you have creatively than having a ton of expensive gear. People forget that lots of great albums they love were made on less than we have today. I do think that the best part of the digital studio today is the ability to not have a band and have control over everything myself."

DF - "Exactly, but I still like getting new shit to play with, some of the old gear just looses its edge when it comes to sounds. Like the old electribe, the patterns in it suck now......unless you play it like a little keyboard and tweek it..other than that, I'm bored with the sounds it came with back in the day. Everything I have..I use!  I still think that having mad equipment to play with is much better than just using FL and calling that a Studio.  there is no musicianship in fucking fruity loops man. Lol. I'm not hating on it though. I use acidpro still sometimes, but I lace it with hardware."

A.I. - "What was your favorite piece of gear over the years and why?"

DF - "Sequencer. I'll get back to you with why."

A.I. - "Haha Ok, I've never used a sequencer. What exactly does it do?"

DF - "The MPC is like a sequencer, but it has sampling capabilities.....the sequencer I use does just has sounds built in, and MPC stlye pads, you can get other sound chips to put in it and beef it up, it's OOP, so the only place you can go anymore to get parts is Ebay....16 tracks, drums, bass, keys, efx, basically whatever you want, and can manipulate and filter and make your own tracks. Any "box" or piece of gear that you can lay down tracks with and record straight into, is a sequencer..MPC included ...hence the word "Sequencer"..or whatever the fuck. how many tracks can you record to with your MPC? ONTO your MPC?"

A.I. -  I guess I have 16 pads on the MPC as for how many tracks, I'm not sure. I don't know how to use the MPC that well. I seem to get 8-9 sounds happening at once and then they start dropping things out. It depends on if the sound is mono or stereo I think. To be honest I mainly use Fruity Loops, haha, I try to apply as much musicianship as possible though."

DF - "I hear you..yeah man, it's cool. You are a guitar player, I can't play the guitar, I always wanted to though. I tried, but I just don't have it. Yeah man I use acidpro.

A.I. - "So if money was no issue what 3 pieces of gear would you get, and why?"

DF - "I'd get a Korg entrancer to manipulate video with turntables, another EMU mp-7 with full upgrade maxed out sound chips, because mine is about to take a dump and an Electribe EA1- MKII to upgrade from the one I've got now."

A.I. - "Throughout this conversation it sounds like you don't sample but I always though you did both sampling and composing?" 

DF - "I do, and I thought about that too, what you said, but yeah I do...crazy."

A.I. - "Where do you want to go with you music now? Like musically. What would you imagine you next ideal album to be. Like let's say a big label picked you up, put you in a nice studio and you could work with either singers or emcees. What kind of album would you make?"

DF - "Very electronic, tweek and destroy, with Atari, BionicHeart and now my brother Ostu, with live instruments layered over top of it all."

A.I. - "What advice would you give to somebody just starting out making beats or music in general?"

DF - "Stay in school, and don't do drugs."

A.I. - "Haha. Guess that explains why I didn't make it in the business, haha. Let's talk about your last release with Atari. One thing I was stoked on when I heard about it was 'oh damn, new DF music'. Then when it came up it was all old beats you made which had guitar over them and post production. I'm not sure what you where involved with in that past making the beats years ago. Also since its not brand new stuff from you it was new to me whenever you made it and really I don't know when any of the stuff you have released was made, and does that even matter anyway?"

DF - "That was the vibe of that project. Everything else has been new made for the specific projects. Those beats fit the vibe so they were used. Old and dusty, and those were old, and dusty so they made the cut. And no it doesn't matter as far as i'm concerned, like you said, they were new to you, so its like those beats finally saw their day of being heard. better to get to enjoy them being out and heard when you are alive, then when you're dead."

A.I. - "So where do you go from here? What's next on you plate for music?"

DF - "Keep doing what I've been doing."

A.I. - "Yeah big thanks to you bro for doing this chat with me. It was cool as always, really appreciate it."

DF - "Cool man. Thank you."