The Top 2 Things I Learned Collaborating With iLL.Gates
It was like a summer day in April when I found myself excitedly driving in my car towards an incredible opportunity and experience of a lifetime. I was invited to collaborate on a song with my mentor iLL Gates and fellow members of the Class of 808. I knew this was going to be an incredible learning experience and I couldn’t wait to get started. I arrived nice and early at noon (this is actually early for music producers who frequently work and perform through the night). Ryan (a.k.a. Arko) was nice enough to let us take over his studio for the collaboration. When I first saw the studio it felt like the NASA control room and I was both blown away and befuddled by the many different types of outboard gear and modular synths.
The first order of business while we waited for the other members of the crew to arrive was for Dylan (a.k.a. ILL Gates) to record a song that came to him in a dream the night before. He had no intention of expanding on the song that day, he just needed to get it out of his head and on to his hard drive so that he could get on with the rest of his day. After about thirty minutes or so, he was satisfied that the idea was properly captured (perhaps to be revisited at some point in the future). Soon the rest of the collaboration crew for Day 1 arrived (Matter, Mindset, ArKo lived there) and we all went out for an amazing lunch before we got stuck into the task at hand. There was no point starting before we ate, because of the all too familiar time warp that music producers go into once they start producing. The intention may be “I’ll just do this one thing before we go to lunch…” and the next thing you know it’s eleven hours later and you haven’t had any water or bathroom breaks for the entire time.
After we all came back from lunch with bellies filled with food and brains filled with wonder and excitement for the unknown song that was going to reveal itself to us over the next few hours. We all agreed on the tempo of 140 BPM and the Key of C for the song and then we all began to create musical ideas on our individual laptops in Ableton while Dylan went to work at the main station. He began to experiment on the Moog Mother with some patch cables and other tweaks of the knobs and recorded a melody and draft beat and quickly established an arrangement for the track in Ableton. There was no Wifi in the studio so we all had to share our ideas via USB stick or external hard drives. Pretty quickly we started to amass a variety of awesome ideas. Dylan dug into the various ideas and placed them in a stacked fashion in the session view. This allowed him to switch over from arrange view at any point and quickly preview and grab a musical idea and place it on the timeline. Some ideas worked and others didn’t, but the striking thing to me was how quickly he made decisions and how he has no attachment to anything that is in the song. If he has an idea, he will give it a try for a few minutes and if it is not working out he will quickly delete it and move on without the slightest regret. I noticed how he was always moving onwards and upwards quickly and not getting bogged down too long in any one idea. If it works, great…if not, ditch it and move on. Music production is an endless stream of decisions that need to be made and it can become debilitating if you don’t decide quickly and move on. I know from my experience that I have lost many hours on ideas, because I was too attached to them and invested. The more time that you invest in the idea, the harder it is to let it go, and the pain of letting it go is real and can be overwhelming and depressing. I'm talking real physical pain that stays with you and haunts you in your dreams.
The core structure of the song was established pretty quickly and in the evening the face of the song revealed itself when Dylan found “Is you Is” by Louis Jordan while he was digging by key in his serato library. He dragged the vocal into the track and it fit incredibly well since it was in the same key of the song that we had been creating all day. The challenging task (to be solved in the future by Dylan using a special vocal extraction software) was to extract just the vocal and no other instrument sounds. For the time being it sufficed as a placeholder and the song really began to take shape. We were all so excited and positively charged by this, because the song now had a voice and a theme and a story. This gave us all a boost of energy to keep working very late into the night. I stayed as late as I could, but I had to leave around 4am as I needed to get back home to my family. I couldn’t wait to hear the mix down and when I did I was really blown away by it and honored and proud to have been a part of the creation of it. The song was edited and perfected further over the next 6 months, but the core ideas and arrangement occurred in that first session. I learned more in that one marathon production session than in six months of online training. I am honored to be in the class of 808 with incredibly talented, generous and creative producers. I am inspired by the work that they do and it feels good to be part of a collective of like minded music creators who have each others backs.
Here's a quick summary of the two most important things I learned that day:
- FOCUS AND THE CULTIVATION OF INSTINCTS: Dylan is the most focused human being I have ever met. He is constantly sampling the world around him in terms of "direct experience." Whatever it is that he is doing he is dialed in 100% and experiencing it deeply. I once had the pleasure of joining he and Nunich (his amazing partner in life) for Sushi before one of his shows in Brooklyn and I was really blown away by how they both relish all of the simple details of life. For example, when the food arrived they were in ecstasy and made a point to pause and smell the amazing aromas of every dish before we ate. It made me realize how much I take for granted in life and I wanted so badly to experience life at that level. The same goes for music production (except 10x that) because Dylan is deeply attuned to the psychology of music and understands sound at the most primitive human level (ex: sonic figure-ground Gestalt psychology - check out Dylan's iLL methodology workshop if you want to change the way you approach music production at a psychological level). When he creates music he does it in a way that takes the human brain into account and knows how to tease the subconscious mind while also satisfying the prefrontal cortex.
- MAKE DECISIONS FAST: time can be your greatest asset or your worst enemy. Dylan approaches music instinctually and hovers over the project in a state of non-attachment. This empowers him to try an idea and then delete it with no regrets if it doesn't work within 5 minutes. Now it's important to make a distinction here: if the idea is gold...he will relentlessly see it to fruition via sleep deprivation. The art is knowing what is gold and what is a turd (quickly). Dylan is an expert in this area (among many other areas to be expanded upon in future blogs).
The Class of 808 Album is out now released by Muti Music and features the music of iLL Gates, Mindset, Matter, Sather Bass, Spiderhound, Zodiak Iller, Plurthlings, Moonsplatta, Mitch Brady, Crater Face, and Arko. Please support these amazingly talented producers by buying the album here: illgates.lnk.to/808