Meet S▲MMUS. She is an upstate New York-based rapper and producer. Her production is characterized by her use of uniquely chopped samples, and video game-like synths. She has been called a “20-credit” rapper because of her smart lyrics, diverse subject matter and versatile flow.
What first sparked your interest in music production?
My interest in production came from a lot of different places. As a child I really enjoyed Daft Punk and was fascinated by the concept of music with no words. Additionally, I played a lot of video games alongside my brother throughout my childhood and adolescence and I enjoyed game music so much that I hoped to one day become a video game musician. I didn’t become interested in making hip hop production, particularly of a sample-based nature, until I heard Kanye West’s “College Dropout.”
Describe the style of music you create.
I mostly make sample-based hip hop production infused with video game synths. I also make what I like to call “trillectronica” music, which, like it sounds is a combination of electronica and trill hip hop production.
Tell us a little about the first track you ever produced.
I feel like I had two experiences of producing a “first track” because I’ve made two fundamentally different kinds of production. The first video game track I produced was a piece I had actually written on my brother’s Yamaha keyboard a few years earlier. The process involved a lot of pointing and clicking, and it took me all day. Listening to it now I’m shocked at how cluttered the track sounds, jam-packed with lots of drums and synths, but at the time you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t amazing!
In terms of the first sample based hip hop beat I produced, all I can say is that it was pretty awful. I had just started using GarageBand, and I only had a few oldies and soul tracks on my computer so I decided to chop up “I’ll Be Around” by The Spinners. I used the in-program 808s and put together a guitar riff that clashed with the sample in more ways than one. I know every journey begins with the first step, but when I look back I still can’t believe how bad some of my old stuff was!
What types of gear and software do you use to produce?
I produce using my Macbook and Logic Express.
Where are some of your favorite places to find and buy gear?
Because I only produce using software I don’t purchase any gear. I have been blessed to receive a Korg nano pad from a friend, which I hope to put to good use soon. In addition I have been lucky enough to acquire different instrument kits from friends and other artists in my network.
Has going to school and competing in beat battles helped you with your development?
I can’t even describe how helpful being in school has been for my development. First, it has enabled me to be part of a network of like-minded individuals who I would probably never have found had I not been in a school environment.
During my senior year of undergrad, I wrote a senior thesis that focused on digital software production and gender differences. Through my project I learned about different classes on campus that teach students how to use digital music production programs, one of which I will be taking this fall for my PhD. Being a student also means having the luxury of a more flexible schedule than people in the working world, so I’ve been able to travel to shows and share my music in a number of different venues.
Competing in beat battles has really helped with my confidence. I never used to believe that my music was comparable to other producers. I had a really big complex because I was using GarageBand initially and I felt like I was handicapped when it came to producing high quality music. The positive reception I’ve received at beat battles has helped me to recognize that my production is actually pretty good. The flip side of that is it has also helped me to hear what’s not so good about my beats because I’m able to finally listen to my music on speakers of a size that I can’t access outside of certain venues. Finally it has helped me to interact with other producers, learn from their music, and hear their critiques about mine.
What are your ultimate goals for your career as a music producer?
Ultimately I hope to make music for video games as was my original goal back in high school. I adore video games, and I want to be the person to inspire a new generation of gamers and musicians to want to make production that captures the spirit of game music.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in music production? What is one piece of advice he/she should know?
The best piece of advice I can provide is that s/he should experiment as much as possible with whatever software or hardware is being used. It took me years to get comfortable with Reason, Garage Band, and Logic and a large part of that process was testing out the parameters of the software to see what I could make it do.
Tell us where to find your music online.