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The Envelope Music Producers Roundtable: Producer's role more about 'having a vision'

Since the explosion of hip-hop in the '70s and '80s, the role of the producer has generally been associated with mainly crafting beats, often without the presence of live instrumentation.

At last month’s Grammy roundtable, Los Angeles Times pop music critic Ann Powers led a freewheeling conversation with the three hitmakers responsible for Grammy-nominated songs (Alex da Kid, Ari Levine of the production trio the Smeezingtons and RedOne) by Eminem, B.o.B., Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga.
A topic that piqued her interest was how the role of the producer has shifted over the last few decades — and which part the soundsmiths thought they played.

“I think the most important thing is having a vision. Being able to see things before other people can see it,” Alexander Grant — better known as Alex da Kid — told the audience inside the Grammy Museum's Clive Davis Theater. “Most of the songs you're working on, they won't even come out for three or four months at least, maybe longer, so you have to be able to think what's going to be a hit record in six months.”

Check back daily until the Grammy Awards on Feb. 13 to see more of this conversation on pop music.

Related:

Envelope Music Producers Roundtable: Does genre matter anymore?

Envelope Music Producers Roundtable: Sampling from the past versus composing in the present

Envelope Music Producers Roundtable: Has mobile technology stripped away emotion in pop?

Envelope Music Producers Roundtable: Hitmakers look forward to new year of bigger hits

— Gerrick D. Kennedy


Envelope Music Producers Roundtable: Hitmakers look forward to new year of bigger hits

Lady Gaga's “Bad Romance,” Eminem's “Love the Way You Lie,” Cee Lo Green's “[Forget] You” and B.o.B.'s “Nothin' on You” and “Airplanes” not only proved to be major game changers for the artists performing them, but it put the three hitmakers responsible for crafting the singles (Alex da Kid, Ari Levine of the production trio the Smeezingtons and RedOne) on the map.

After spending a better part of 2010 blanketing airwaves and filling headphones with indelible hooks and melodies, the three are now duking it out for Grammy gold in some hotly contended races.

Levine, as part of the production trio the Smeezingtons (with Bruno Mars and Philip Lawrence), has four nominations, including record of the year for both B.o.B.'s “Nothin' on You” and Cee Lo Green's “[Forget] You.” Alex da Kid too has four nominations, including both record of the year and song of the year for “Love the Way You Lie.” RedOne received two nominations this year, capped by an album of the year nod for his work on Gaga's “The Fame Monster.”

With February barely making a notch on calendars, the producers have wasted no time with their next hits. RedOne is riding a wave of buzz for producing "On the Floor," the leaked lead single from Jennifer Lopez's upcoming album; Alex Da Kid crafted Dr. Dre's heavily anticipated comeback lead single, “I Need A Doctor,” which features Eminem and Skylar Grey (Alex's own artist, by the way); and although Levine is mum on what he is working on, we've heard he is cooking up another year's worth of hits.

In the clip above, Times pop music critic Ann Powers asks the three what they are most excited about in 2011 after their respective breakout years.

Check back daily until the Grammy Awards on Feb. 13 to see more of this conversation on pop music.

Related:

Envelope Music Producers Roundtable: Does genre matter anymore?

Envelope Music Producers Roundtable: Sampling from the past versus composing in the present

Envelope Music Producers Roundtable: Has mobile technology stripped away emotion in pop?

— Gerrick D. Kennedy


Envelope Music Producers Roundtable: Has mobile technology stripped away emotion in pop?

Technological advances in today’s evolving digital age have allowed music producers to venture from behind the studio soundboards and into the realm of endless mobility. 

During last month’s Grammy roundtable, the three hit-makers responsible for Grammy-nominated songs (Alex Da Kid, Ari Levine of the production trio the Smeezingtons, and RedOne) by Eminem, B.o.B., Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga, among others, spoke at length about how these advances have helped make their job more accessible despite rigorous travel demands.

Alex Da Kid said he crafted the hyperactive beat for Nicki Minaj's “Massive Attack” while riding a subway on the way to a studio in England; RedOne remembers writing the epic opening chords of “Bad Romance” while on a tour bus traveling with Gaga. “Love the Way You Lie” was mixed with Eminem in Detroit as Rihanna recorded her vocals at the last minute in Dublin.

“They can just send files from across the world to get stuff done,” Levine said. “Like [Alex] could sit on the subway with his laptop and make a hit song.... Now anyone can buy a studio in their house or on their laptop and make hits there.”

In the clip above, Times Pop Music Critic Ann Powers asks if anything is compromised by this sense of mobility –- especially whether the raw emotion of a song is depleted if the producer and artist never actually meet face to face.

Check back daily until the Grammy Awards on Feb. 13 to see more of this conversation on pop music.

Recent and related:

Envelope Music Producers Roundtable: Does genre matter anymore?

Envelope Music Producers Roundtable: Sampling from the past versus composing in the present

— Gerrick D. Kennedy


Envelope Music Producers Roundtable: Sampling from the past versus composing in the present

The question of original melodies versus sampled ones is a debate no pop producer is immune to.

At last month’s Grammy roundtable, Times pop music critic Ann Powers quizzed three hitmakers responsible for Grammy-nominated songs (Alex da Kid, Ari Levine of the production trio the Smeezingtons, and RedOne) by Eminem, B.o.B., Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga, among others on how they strike a balance between borrowing melodies and ideas from old songs and crafting tunes from scratch.

“I think everything we do is almost borrowed from the past,” said Nadir Khayat, the Moroccan-born producer known as RedOne, one of the most in-demand producers in the world. “Just talking about myself, I grew up in a family with a lot of music and a lot of influences. Everything I’m doing in music, I’m trying to get that feeling back of when I was a kid.”

Though Khayat is best known for his work with his muse, Lady Gaga, he scored a massive hit when he used Lionel Richie’s 1983 party classic, "All Night Long (All Night)," as the foundation for Enrique Iglesias’ Pitbull-assisted "I Like It." The club banger hit No. 1 on both Billboard’s Latin Pop and Hot Dance Club charts and logged more than 3 million downloads.

In the clip above, the three producers discuss the art of sampling and if they feel it’s possible to go too far.

Check back daily until the Grammy Awards on Feb. 13 to see more of this conversation on pop music.

— Gerrick D. Kennedy

Recent and related:

Envelope Music Producers Roundtable: Does genre matter anymore?



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