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Illustration by Mary Berger | Art Director

April 22, 2021

An Unseen Art

Music producers’ roles are at the foundation of music

By Hannah Burkhart | Senior Writer

O ften when people listen to songs on a streaming platform, they subconsciously give all the credit to the artist because, typically, the producers are not included in the credits.

Producers, however, hold a huge role in the creation of songs.

Music producers and engineers work together on the behind-the-scenes process of creating a song. According to Chron, producers are the overseers of the entire creative process of the song, and they provide advice to artists on what they can do to make a song successful. Music engineers are educated on soundboards and are typically in charge of controlling them during recording sessions under the suggestions of the producer.

Mathias Tyner, a 16-year-old producer, started making beats on his phone in the sixth grade. When he was in the eighth grade, he researched how to make actual beats rather than the ones he was making with the click of a button on an app. He discovered FL Studio, and that was the beginning of his journey of taking producing more seriously.

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Photo provided via @mathiastyner on Instagram

One of the most viral songs that Tyner helped create is Tokyo’s Revenge’s “THOT! (feat. ZEDSU),” which has accumulated 44 million streams on Spotify. Tyner said ZEDSU found the beat on Tyner’s YouTube page. Once Tokyo sent the track to Tyner, he sent it to Clifford, a producer who worked a lot with Tokyo, and Clifford made some small tweaks before the song was finalized.

Tyner also works a lot with artist EGOVERT. Tyner produced EGOVERT’s track “Do it! (feat. Smokepurpp)” that reached 1 million streams on Spotify within three months of its release. The fact that EGOVERT and Tyner both create upbeat, quick-tempo music makes them work well together.

“It’s only me and him that make this sort of sound,” Tyner said. “I mean, since we dropped ‘Apollo!’ and ‘Velvet!’ we just make real uptempo, bouncy s---. And I guess I’m the only one that really does that the way he wants. He’s the only one that really raps on my s--- like that.”

The process to go about clearing samples without facing legal issues is expensive. Sampling is the process of taking a previously recorded song by another artist and flipping it or changing its speed in a way that fits the style a producer prefers. Due to complications with copyright, it is difficult to get around sampling certain artists or producers without paying them large amounts of money. When Tyner goes about sampling, he uses websites with royalty-free songs to sample.

On EGOVERT’s “Do it!” Tyner sped the sampled song up a lot to make it sound more upbeat.

Several of the songs Tyner has produced have gone viral on TikTok, including Sinoda’s “Kujo Freestyle,” a trumpet-heavy track with Tyner’s infamous upbeat sound that sends listeners into a dancing frenzy.

Killmxtt, another 16-year-old producer, started making music in 2017. His friend told him about FL Studio, and he downloaded the application onto his family’s laptop. He said he mastered the program in about a week.

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Photo provided via @killmxtt on Instagram

Killmxtt has been around music his whole life. His brother was in a garage band, and he would go to his concerts when he was around 5 years old. Killmxtt was also in bands in elementary and middle school.

When Killmxtt first started making beats, his musical interests were focused on underground rap: more specifically, the Members Only collective, which consists of Craig Xen, Cooliecut and many other artists, including the late XXXTentacion. A collective in music is a group of like-minded creatives who create projects together or support each other stylistically. Since then, Killmxtt’s music taste has expanded stylistically. He has grown an appreciation for the work of producers such as Wheezy and Turbo. Wheezy and Turbo have both worked with artists such as Young Thug, Travis Scott and Gunna.

Killmxtt works a lot with artist DC The Don, who has hundreds of thousands of fans at this point in his career. DC The Don is a basketball player-turned rapper from Milwaukee; he blends his rockstar singing voice with rapping verses. In 2019, Killmxtt started communicating with Trademark, and after just a few weeks of working with it, Killmxtt had two or three placements with DC the Don.

Killmxtt believes engineers receive less credit for their work than producers do, but he said that, personally, he has not felt he has been pushed back from the spotlight for this work.

IMAGiNARY OTHER started producing music in 2014 and has been rapping for 11 years. He has always had an interest and love for obscure beats, such as those in the works of Flying Lotus, MF Doom, Madlib and TOKiMONSTA. IMAGiNARY OTHER reached out to his friend, Telepath, who was experienced in producing, and asked him to teach him how to make beats. Telepath told him rather than teaching him how to make beats, he would teach him how to use a beat-making program.

“So, I first started making some really horrible beats on Reason,” IMAGiNARY OTHER said. “They were the worst beats ever. I actually listened to them the other day. I ended up getting a machine after that, and I kind of just started working my way, which is crazy because a couple of the first beats I ever made ended up on The Stem of a Shroom, the follow-up to The Tip of a Tab. So, it kind of tripped me out that they were good enough to go there.”

The Stem of a Shroom and The Tip of a Tab are albums iMAGiNARY OTHER produced in his collaborative experience iMAGiNARY FRiENDS, alongside Chuuwee.

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Chuuwee is iMAGiNARY OTHER’s recurring partner in the music scene, as they work together in the collaborative experience i.F. Their connection began when they found out they were cousins. When they first started making music together, they were in a group called TUS, a collective of rappers.

When iMAGiNARY OTHER first started producing, he came up with the character iMAGiNARY OTHER. His rap name is Abstract Ninjaa, which is featured on The Stem of a Shroom.

IMAGiNARY OTHER’s most streamed song on Spotify is “Krystal,” which includes a goosebump-inducing sample of The xx’s “Crystalised.” IMAGiNARY OTHER found out about The xx in 2010 while watching a talk show on MTV that featured the group performing “Basic Space.” IMAGiNARY OTHER created the sampled track in 2014, but it was not released until 2018.

“So, I just remember hearing that, and I was like, ‘Whoa, this is such a beautiful sound, and the beats are so crazy,’” iMAGiNARY OTHER said. “The guitar, the baseline, everything was just perfect to me. And so I just dug deeper, and then later, ‘Crystalised’ ended up coming out. This was before I was even making beats, so I would make beats in my head and give myself little mental notes of (songs) ... I would try to sample if I figured out how to sample.”

IMAGiNARY OTHER said to make it as a producer, an individual needs to separate themself from everyone else in the field. He mentioned that success in the music production industry comes when producers find their niche, such as the way they play their drums to the sample choices, how they chop samples up or how they want to be perceived.

“If you're more of a thinker that likes to dissect things with your mind, then you'll know there's a lot that comes with that,” iMAGiNARY OTHER said. “There's a lot of stress. There's a lot of self hate. There's a lot of doubt. There's a lot of depression, happiness, love; all this stuff is going on while you're trying to figure out how you can separate yourself from everybody else.”

Ghostrage, a 23-year-old producer who has worked with high-profile artists such as Lil Baby, Big Sean, SAINt JHN, Post Malone and NLE Choppa, said he has come to the conclusion that no one is given the credit they deserve, and this phenomenon is not limited to the work of producers.

Ghostrage’s production talents are not limited to the mainstream hip-hop genre. He has also worked with alternative, genre-bending artists such as OMENXIII, Zheani, 93FEETOFSMOKE and Gizmo. Ghostrage can align his sound with that of the artist.

“You gotta show out and fight for your credit and what you feel you’re entitled to or else you and your work will be overlooked,” Ghostrage said in an Instagram message.

Ghostrage has been fascinated by music his entire life. He has been playing instruments since he was around 6 years old. Ghostrage works with artists who have very different styles, and the reason he is able to successfully match their sounds is because he has dedicated his life to the craft of music-making.

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Photo provided via @ghostrage on Instagram

“It’s literally all I do everyday, and it’s been that way since I was a child,” Ghostrage said in an Instagram message. “Making music is my life’s work. Because of that, it’s my goal to venture into every musical territory possible and continue evolving.”

Ghostrage said equipment to produce successfully, including guitars, basses, keyboards and professional musicians, is so expensive that he would not have been able to make the sound he currently makes if he had not advanced in his career.

The music industry is often incredibly difficult to be successful and financially stable in. Many artists, producers and engineers have given up on music early in their careers because it can take a long time for their work to get recognized. Ghostrage never had a fleeting feeling of giving up on music because he always knew about his talent.

“I never wanted to give up,” Ghostrage said in a message. “I’ve lost faith in myself before, but never in my music or my abilities. I know what I bring to the table.”

Although Ghostrage has already worked with some top contenders in the music industry, especially in the hip-hop scene, he believes that he has not hit his peak yet. He is not yet where he wants to be.

“People call me a legend and whatnot, but I tell them that I’m not yet,” Ghostrage said in an Instagram message. “I’m on the path to getting there, though.”

Yung Germ is a producer who works a lot with City Morgue, a hip-hop metal duo from New York City consisting of rappers ZillaKami and SosMula. He said his inspirations come from every music genre, ranging from metal to grunge to jazz to R&B. He said his creative process is making what he feels like making, based off how he feels in the moment. Yung Germ said he mainly makes the type of sound he makes for City Morgue, but he can make a large range of music.

Yung Germ has a talent of creating the niche sound of City Morgue; he knows how to blend a hardcore heavy metal, guitar and drum-heavy sound with hip-hop kick patterns.

“I record everything from home,” Yung Germ said in an Instagram message. “I usually finish everything in one sitting, but sometimes I work on stuff in fragments if I’m struggling with ideas. I think me and the Morgue fit together well because we're both trying to innovate and make new s---.”

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Photo provided by Young Germ

Ruban Nielson is the lead singer-songwriter and guitarist of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, or UMO, a psychedelic rock band from New Zealand. Before the band formed, Nielsen was creating music completely on his own. He said it is common in the indie world for artists to play multiple instruments, mix, produce and write all of their music. The reason he formed a band was to be able to go on tour, as a song of his went viral, and he received touring offers.

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Ruban Nielson, photo by Jenn Five for DIY Magazine

Nielsen does not use digital beats for his music, although many people think UMO has an electronic sound. He said just about everything used to create UMO’s songs is live instruments.

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Nielsen in concert, photo by via Instagram

“I think there's a cool magic that happens with played instruments versus programmed instruments,” Nielsen said in an email. “I think part of the reason everything sounds the same is because everybody gets their laptop to play everything. I like that kind of music to listen to but I would get bored making music that way so I just play stuff live.”

Nielsen said he usually plays instruments live in the studio by himself doing overdubs, but UMO has done some songs together as a band as well. Overdubbing is the process of layering a new recording with the original upon replay. UMO has an entirely instrumental album, titled IC-01Hanoi, in which they recorded live in a studio in Vietnam with a traditional Vietnamese musician. Nielsen’s dad joined them in the studio and played saxophone and trumpet on the album.

Nielsen said he typically does the mixing of recorded songs on his own. His brother, Kody Nielsen, and his bandmate, Jake Portrait, contributed a lot to certain songs, and are credited as co-producers on them. Ruban Nielsen said he likes working with other people because working alone too much can get lonely. He said he gives himself plenty of time to mix because he finds it enjoyable and has a specific preference when it comes to how the songs sound.

“I'll usually try to write a demo of the song on an acoustic guitar or piano and then either alone or with some bandmates we'll work out how fast the song should be, what the arrangement is, what the style of it is,” Ruban Nielsen said in an email. “You can have a finished song but if it's a good song it can kind of go anywhere so that arrangement process is important.”

Nielsen works with more than just UMO. He worked with rapper Aminé on his latest album, Limbo, and with Gorillaz on its latest album, Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez. Nielsen also produced and mixed an album from Divide and Dissolve, a doom band from Melbourne, Australia. He has also been working on remixes for Soccer Mommy, Crowded House’s split vinyl single with Tame Impala, Westerman, Arlo Parks and The Egyptian Lover.

“I've been working on some other things in the rap and pop world too, but honestly I lose track,” Ruban Nielsen said in an email. “Covid gave me so much free time. I've been able to just get lost in music projects. When touring starts again, I'll probably miss this time. The grass is always greener.”

AUTHOR: Hannah Burkhart
EDITOR: Jillian Craig
COPY EDITOR: Taylor Burnette