RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW AMERICAN ARTIST GRAYBEAT
Hiya folks thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.
What made you decide that music is a thing for you?
Even though spent two decades performing as a drummer and vocalist, I would say I didn’t seriously embrace music as a full-time enterprise until shortly after I first tried my hand at the art of music production around 2017. I had given performing musically a break starting in 2009 when I felt like I needed to focus on my finances and embrace the 9-5 mentality for a while.
Fortunately, I have found my ‘genius zone’, since I started learning production and establishing myself as an artist and producer. I’m a lot happier when I’m engaging my full intellect and my full self into my own life’s work, instead of using just half of my ability to fill the pockets of an employer.
Introduce us to your musical history?
In chronological order, my musical tastes over the years have gone from hair metal to top 40/R&B, to alternative grunge rock, to classic rock, to jazz, to jazz fusion, to alternative indie rock, to West African music, to reggae, to psych rock, and currently to EDM.
Name me your 3 favorite Albums?
Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland, Beatles Abbey Road, Yes Close to the Edge
What was the first song you heard that steered you into a music path?
Hearing “Rocket” by Def Leppard over the radio waves in 1987 got me into buying my first album (cassette tape). The story of their drummer losing an arm and me trying my hand at air-drumming to their music videos on late Friday night TV may have gotten me on the path I am now. I also remember doing an impromptu performance of “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi with a friend for some adults at a party at eight years old. We studied and memorized the lyrics and performed the whole track.
The music industry is the hardest industry in the world to progress in, How do you feel you are doing?
I believe I’m on track against long odds to reach my goal of becoming a AAA music producer in the next 5-10 years. That said, I think most people don’t see the struggle and sacrifice involved with meeting this goal. There’s sort of a business and cultural aspect to creating a brand and image that can obscure the reality of my day-to-day life. However, I’ve created a community space called the Grayliens where I feel I can be more vulnerable and share those day-to-day realities.
The Grayliens are an amazing group of individuals, and I’m very grateful for them. Getting to know them has given me a much deeper sense of direction and purpose in my life. I have found an artistic identity in the process, too, and that has opened up more avenues for me to explore beyond just the production side of things.
I’m seeing a lot of debate about women not feeling safe at music gigs, any thoughts on what we need to do to help?
I’m not sure why there’d be a debate. Misogyny is rampant in our society, and so is violence against LGBTQ+ folks. As artists, we can make a difference by making sure that when we curate our fan communities we are cultivating a place where all people feel safe to be who they are, and where they can find a welcoming, supportive and engaging group of like-minded people. This is the type of environment that should be curated at live shows and online by all indie artists. For artists with labels, this should be a focus for not only them but the A&R department as a whole.
As you develop as an artist and develop using socials what ways do you get new ears on your music? Any tips?
Let me preface this answer by first stepping back and framing this from my perspective. Music publishing is the business of moving invisible airwaves into someone’s brain through their ears, enhancing their experience at that moment. Organic social media posting is certainly something you’re going to need to focus on when starting from scratch. However, you’re still going to need to plan to invest in yourself with a lot of time and money just to get those airwaves moving and into even one single person’s ear.
I work for the software team with Modern Musician where we are developing an all-encompassing tool that can give you a serious leg up in this regard. I see many artists out there without even an email list these days. They’re not running digital ads. These are just two of the most basic operations that Modern Musician’s StreetTeam App can help you do.
If you are posting to social media, use it as a way to be vulnerable so people can feel connected to you personally, not just your music. Be authentic, and watch what kind of content is working currently for other artists that have built a decent following. Doing vertical reels of yourself is a good place to start. Post on TikTok and Instagram separately, even if the content is the same. Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t spend all your time creating videos and then burning out because you never had time to make the music, the reason you were posting to socials in the first place.
Tell us Two truths and a lie about you?
I am fluent in Spanish
I have no tattoos
I’m 34 years old
What are your thoughts on Spotify’s monopoly on the music industry?
Well, YouTube and Spotify are the most common places people will go to stream music. Both of them pay the lowest in the industry per stream. Concrete Labyrinth is my most popular release ever, and at the three-week mark, I’ll be lucky to have made $0.30 from thousands of streams on the two platforms.
If I don’t continue to invest much more than that in ads and promotion, even those streams will likely dry up. Meanwhile, people are paying Spotify $9.99/mo and, even if they spend their time listening to my music, most of that money goes to the top artists in the world. That’s because they have the most streams on the platform overall, and there is no current limit as to how low of a per-stream royalty Spotify can choose to pay artists. (Here’s the rough formula: “All the $$$ Spotify earns” / “all the streams on the platform” = “how much is paid out per stream”)
However, you must realize that artists and producers are ultimately business owners as well. We can’t just throw up our hands in defeat because the deck is stacked against us. It’s always been stacked against us in some way, shape or form. We must remain vigilant and adapt to whatever sort of economic challenges get thrust upon us, and we must not get misled by a winner-take-all mindset. This is a communal and collaborative industry at its core, and that’s what makes music so special. I think if we learned to lean on each other more and not get lost in the competitive mindset, we have a chance in our lifetime to completely transform and shape the industry into something even better.
Do you sign up for any conspiracy theories?
Not really. I’m very suspicious of misinformation these days. Instead of worrying about theory, I think our time would be better spent considering the impacts of measurable structural injustices, like institutional racism. These injustices are fueled by an unconscious conspiracy of cultural perspectives and norms disseminated through the mouthpieces of generational power.
Did you buy anything you don’t need in the pandemic?
No, nothing I can think of. I invested a ton in my own education and in my studio, which was definitely necessary!
What was the worst experience on stage?
There have been a ton of mishaps over the years of playing live shows back when I played drums in bands, though nothing that ultimately ruined the show. One time, I battled swarms of mayflies at a stage next to a river bank. These giant flying insects were attracted by the lights above me on stage and were constantly flying right into my entire body as I was playing drums. Fortunately, someone was able to remove the rack lights from the stage part-way through the show, because they were getting obliterated as I whacked away on the drumset. My drumheads were full of dried blood for a while afterward.
Tell us something about yourself you think people would be surprised about?
My wife and best friend, Tracia, plays a big role in my artistic decisions. She has always checked my work. She’s got a knack for it.
What makes you stand out as an artist?
First, it’s finding and curating your own identity as an artist. But, you also need to invest in yourself quite a lot to find who resonates with your music. Your identity is a combination of remarkable internal epiphanies over time and outward exposure. As you gain a deeper relationship with the people that resonate with your music and get to know their taste in music, you’ll be able to continue to revise and refine that identity as you go.
I hear you have a new song, what can you tell us about it.
Concrete Labyrinth. I had created a melody a while back and recording it into a voice memo. I then started playing around with the melody, adding some chordal structure and importing it into Ableton. I created three distinct melodies and parts which scratch vocals, and then started writing the lyrics. I wrote some basic lists and prose about some experiences I had and eventually settled on the concept of loss, and spent months refining the lyrics. It’s my most lyrically dense song.
You can find my Concrete Labyrinth Production playlist on my Spotify profile to get an idea of where I took some of the song and production elements when forming the sound and concept of the song. I combined some darker and mellower dubstep I was keen on at the time, along with some elements from vintage and psychedelic pop rock from the sixties and seventies. It’s my best work yet by far. I hope you enjoy it.
Talk me through the thought process of the new tune.
Lyrically, it was an exercise in writing lyrics that were relatable and personal, and I wanted to write without fear of the resulting message. I wanted to talk about the fear of losing something that you don’t even have, which is a common theme I see in people’s lives. For some reason, I also started writing about my experiences in South America, just brainstorming different memories that came to me. That’s when the concept of loss eventually came up in my memory of those strangers I mentioned.
After that, I knew I had the right ingredients to create an internally relatable message about something that I witnessed and I started working through the melodies and coming up with phrases and some sort of structure. When I started out, half or more of it was in Spanish. Eventually, I settled on mostly English lyrics, though I did manage to retain two key non-English words in the final lyrics. The perspective is of me hypothetically speaking to one of the strangers, though we never actually spoke in real life.
What was the recording process like?
I layered about 62 synths into the original demo with the scratch vocals, which were just me saying ‘la’ over and over again to the melody. After adding drums and percussion, there were over 200 tracks in the production. I then added about 35 more layers of bass synthesizers and meticulously automated them to fit the tune. Nothing was quantized and every layer was meticulously fine-tuned so as to carve out sonic space for the vocals.
I did seven different vocal recording sessions, from which I pulled 21 layers of stereo-panned layers of vocals and vocal harmonies. I did a bunch of editing and by the time the mix was complete, there were over 400 tracks in the session. Because I had spent so much time putting the production together and piecing it together sonically, the mix gave me suprisingly little fuss. I spent a lot of time with the vocals and vocal effects. There were probably about 15 different FX layers on each vocal as well. It was a methodical and really fun mix for me.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tune?
I made the most progress in terms of creating lyrics. This is something I’ve been studying and practicing with my mentors, and I feel good about how far my appreciation for the art of lyricism has come during the process.
Would you change anything now its finished?
Not for this song yet. As with all my tracks, I made all the decisions in the production, so it can take a while for me to gain a fresh perspective. I may eventually find something that I would change, which I have for nearly all my other tracks, but it probably won’t be until I’m getting ready for my next release at the earliest.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
I successfully started teaching my music production curriculum to students during the pandemic. The format of the class is an independent study where I teach just one student at a time over Zoom. The whole course is customized to each student’s goals, and is designed to teach beginners up to advanced producers. The ideal student is an artist that wants to learn how to produce music from home.
Since we run classes over Zoom students can learn from anywhere in the world. If you’re interested, please fill out the application at https://1on1musicproduction.com or contact me on social media or email to inquire further.