Producer Profile Interview: EmmoLei Sankofa

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This profile is dedicated to introducing everyone to EmmoLei Sankofa. A woman of many talents, EmmoLei is an American composer, producer, singer-songwriter, sound artist and percussionist. Her passion for music is driven by the desire to push it forward and to challenge listeners to expand upon how they perceive sound and couple that perspective with moving visuals. EmmoLei agreed to answer a few questions about her production work for the Gender Amplified blog. Check it out!

What first sparked your interest in music production?

I’ve been playing and creating music all my life. It was bound to happen. I come from a musical family as well. What I will say though, is that a friend of mine – Stephen Jones – made a song for a social studies project we had in middle school. After his group presented, I asked him immediately how he made it and he introduced me to FL Studio. That was the day I began pursuing music production.

Tell us a little about the first track you ever produced.

Wow this is a little foggy. I still actually have a few of the very first songs I produced or…I guess tried to produce. But, I think the first thing I tried to produce was inspired by Art of Noise’s “Moments In Love” record. It was definitely an instrumental and had quite a bit of potential. When I listen to my old music, I always think of this Ira Glass quote:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.

It goes on, but you get the point.

What inspired you to produce “Relax”?

Relax was birthed out of a 30-day audiovisual series called, JustBcuz, that I recently did as a challenge to myself. The framework for “Relax” was created on the 4th day. When I wrote what is now the chorus, I was thinking about the anxiety I observed across the internet and within various peer groups about life. Then, I thought about myself. I’m not sure what my life looks like to everyone else, but the past couple years here in LA hasn’t completely been a crystal stair. I essentially pulled from the collective consciousness of what was closest to me and assessed my own life. I was giving myself, and what turned out to be many other people, advice.

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You used Landr’s distribution platform to release it. What advise would you give other independent artists who are trying to better distribute their music?

Do your research on what distribution outlets are available, assess what your goals are, and then do what makes sense. Right now, I prefer the DIY option through LANDR because it just makes sense. And, I’m not even trying to plug. But, I’m always on the lookout for things that better oil my machine. Also, try to pinpoint where people are consuming your music the most and focus your energy there.

What types of gear and software do you use to produce?

Software: Logic Pro X Gear: Axiom 61, Keystation 32, Roland V-Studio 100(they don’t even make these anymore), Allen & Heath Zed FX, Blue Spark, and SM58. I use other things here and there, but this is the core.

Tell us about Bèl Son? What’s the core mission of this collective?

Bèl Son is creative audio company that I founded to help emerging filmmakers tell better stories and make better films by aligning more meaningful sound/music with their work. We compose music and sound, and synthesize the components to create beautifully, distinct experiences that really help them separate themselves from the crowd. Right now, we’re a team of three. Cindy Takehara Ferruccio, Xiao Hou, and Me.

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You have a master’s degree from Savannah College of Art and Design. How does your background in visual art influence how you approach music production and the sonic arts?

Ah, well my MFA is in Sound Design. I didn’t go to SCAD for film or visual art per se. While a lot of my time at SCAD was about how sound and music interacted with visual media, the focus was how sound and music interacts with the world and all of the media we consume. I am a film composer so there are definitely things that I have to be in tune with and understand regarding any kind of visual work that informs what I implement creatively to support that media. People have often called my sound cinematic and that never came from me being into movies or anything. That came from playing in large ensembles like the symphonic band, percussion ensemble, and being exposed to opera, theater, etc. My mom played the violin so she would take me and my siblings to see the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at least once a year and we’d go see other musicals here and there. I feel that I’ve always heard music differently than a lot of my peers because I was exposed to so many different genres. When I’m producing music, I am usually thinking about how a band would sound playing it. And, not just like a 5-piece band. I’m thinking about how it would sound arranged for an orchestra, marching band, jazz band, etc. The only thing I see when I’m producing music is what’s swirling around in my imagination. Scenarios I create, that relate to the music, or old situations that prompt feelings I use as inspiration to make the song.

What are your ultimate goals for your music career?

My ultimate goal is to be the best at whatever I touch. I have many interests and have set intentions that will unfold as I grow. I can’t tell it all. You just have to be strapped in for the ride.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in music production? What is one piece of advice he/she should know?

The older I get, the more I hate giving advice because there is no one way to do anything and what may work for me may not end up working for you. However, I would say, at the root of it all, learn all you can about your craft. It only makes you better. Learn and understand music theory or at least become proficient on an instrument. It helps you realize your ideas more fluidly. Don’t close yourself off to new information when you think you’re good and the checks start rolling in. Things are constantly changing. Keep learning until you take your last breath. Also, LEARN THE BUSINESS.

Tell us where to find your music online.

www.E-Sankofa.com
Spotify
Apple Music/iTunes
Tidal
Soundcloud
Bandcamp (full discography)
Deezer
Google Play

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Gender Amplified Attends Hip Hop Hackathon At Spotify

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On June 10th, Gender Amplified was invited to participate in Hip Hop Hacks, an event dedicated to celebrating and exploring the intersection of hip-hop and technology. Organized by R. Sommer McCoy/Monthly Music Hackathon NYC and held at Spotify‘s New York City office, the day included group discussions with industry leaders, workshops varying in topics from music production to computer science, and performances from guest lecturers and attendees!

Producer, engineer, singer-songwriter, and Gender Amplified founder Ebonie Smith served as one of the panelist for a listening/critique session alongside fellow artists/producers Hank Shocklee (Bomb Squad, Public Enemy), Breakbeat Lou (producer/DJ), Ms Madli (producer/engineer/iStandard Champion), VHVL (electronic musician), and POZIBELLE (producer/educator). The listening session gave beatmakers and producers of all skill levels a chance to showcase their work and gain useful feedback from distinguished industry professionals.

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After panelist introductions were announced, legendary producer Hank Shocklee gave up-and-coming producers in the room some inspiring words of wisdom to live by before the start of the listening/critique session.

“This is for all of the young producers. You guys, right now, have the key to the future in your hands. You can build upon the wisdom of the past and even relate to what’s happening in the future. But the thing you guys have to understand now is… networking with each other is what’s going to continue making this industry strong. Sitting around just talking about music is an important aspect. What you want to do is build a relationship. Music is spiritual, and if you connect your vibrations and your spirits together, you’ll create better art.”

Check out more recap images from the event!

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New Music Friday: Sam Bruno Releases EP “I AM SAM PT.1”

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I AM SAM PT.1

If you happened to listen to Kanye West’s song “The One” back in 2012 off of his G.O.O.D. Music: Cruel Summer compilation album, you might have heard the vocal stylings of a young Phoenix-based singer/songwriter named Sam Bruno. Bruno and her creative partner Lifted first caught Kanye West’s attention in 2011 while on a trip to Los Angeles to promote their newly minted musical collaborations.

Fast forward five years to today and Sam Bruno has released her highly-anticipated first EP titled I AM SAM PT.1 with Atlantic Records. Like so many female artists nowadays, Bruno took many aspects of the technical process into her own hands, especially when it came to her vocals. When asked about the depth of her involvement in the editing and mixing process, Bruno explained:

“I engineered and recorded most of my vocals on I AM SAM PT.1. I vocal edited and rough mixed all five songs, to the point when the mixers would get the songs to mix, they’d be like, ‘I’m not changing anything on your vocal mix, it’s already so great!’ Which is a huge compliment coming from Manny Marroquin [Kanye West, Rihanna, John Mayer] and Andrew Wuepper [Justin Bieber, Mariah Carey, The Hamilton Mixtape].”

Bruno is known for her ability to push the boundaries of musical genres with her electronic dance and hip-hop influenced pop. This talent is best featured on “Hello Hater”, the second track on I AM SAM PT. 1, and her breakout hit “Search Party”, featured in the 2015 film Paper Towns starring Cara Delevingne and Nat Wolff.

Listen to the album here:

From Ballet Dancer To Rock N’ Roll: Get To Know Metallica’s Assistant Engineer Sara Lyn Killion

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When Sara Lyn Killion first moved from Denver to Los Angeles, her plan was to join a ballet company and pursue a career as a professional ballerina. But her love for music and live performances took her life in a different direction. In a recent interview for Metallica’s online blog So What!, Killion recounts her journey from the stage to behind the recording console.

“I moved to join a ballet company out in LA, and when I decided that wasn’t going very well for me, I was like, ‘What else can I do?’ I had a bunch of friends in bands, so I wanted to do live sound. I wanted to be front of house. I wanted to go on tour… I went to a vocational school [in Arizona] to learn more about the whole audio thing because I knew I loved music, I knew I loved bands, I knew I loved the whole scene, but I didn’t really know much. I didn’t know how it all worked.”

After completing her studies, Killion began interning at recording studios in the Los Angeles area and eventually worked her way up to assisting sessions. Her first major studio album credit came from being the mix assistant on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ critically acclaimed album Stadium Arcadium, through which she began working with producers Greg Fidelman and Rick Rubin.

“I first started working for Greg during Death Magnetic [Metallica]. I think we did one project before, and it was The (International) Noise Conspiracy, we were doing vocals up at Rick’s house on Sunset [Boulevard]. So that was the first thing. And then he called me, which was weird. I was working at a studio called The Pass and I had been working on a Chili Peppers record. That’s how I got into the Rick camp. I got into mixing, the mix side as an assistant on the Stadium Arcadium record.”

When asked about being part of a ballet troupe versus recording rock bands, Killion describes the studio experience as less competitive and more friendly. “You would imagine that rock and roll is tough, but it really isn’t. Everybody looks out for each other, it’s more of a family.” And when asked about her partnership with Fidelman, she explains, “I feel like we’ve got a good teamwork thing. We know, ‘I’m gonna handle this, he handles that,” and if there’s anything I can foresee down the line I’ll try to do it or he’ll try to remind me to get ready for something. So I think it’s great, and it works.”

You can check out the full list of Sara Lyn Killion’s album credits here, and listen to Metallica’s latest album Hardwired…To Self-Destruct on Spotify.

The Future is Female – Madame Gandhi at SXSW 2017!

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One of our favorite music producers, Kiran Gandhi (her independent musical projects are under the stage name Madame Gandhi), has had quite the busy month… and it’s only getting started!

This week alone she has performed several showcases at Austin’s annual SXSW Conference and Festival, including two DJ sets for SoulCycle and live performances at TechCrunch Day Party, Empire Control Room & Garage, MOOGfest, Empress, and SheShreds. Gandhi brings surprises and new additions to her show such as the Madame Drum Set (a beautiful gold and yellow acrylic drum set created by DW Drums), various tattoo, sticker, and vinyl merchandise, and songs about the current political state in America.

For the full list of DJ sets, live performances, and panel discussions Gandhi will be participating in for the remainder of SXSW 2017, refer to the flier below:

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And if you missed our Producer Spotlight on Kiran (Madame) Gandhi, you can find it here.

 

 

 

Celebrate This Holiday Season In Style With ART GIRL ARMY!

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This year has been one for the books for our friends at the ART GIRL ARMY, and they want to celebrate this holiday season with you in style.

They’ve partnered with the fantastic New Women Space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to bring you delicious food, live performances, festive drinks, an AGA pop-up shop, and more!

This event is open to the public, meaning AGA supporters of all genders are welcome, so come with the ones you love and party with your favorite friendly neighborhood girl gang.

Tickets include entry and access to the by-donation bar!

And the winner of the “Dear Daughter Remix Contest” is…

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Last month Gender Amplified teamed up with Halestorm for our “Dear Daughter Remix Contest” where the winner would receive $1000 and a chance to meet frontwoman Lzzy Hale!

And the winner is… TMPO! Check out the mix below, it’s pretty spectacular!

Congratulations and a huge thank you to all who entered!

Make sure to follow TMPO here:
instagram.com/tmpomusik
soundcloud.com/tmpomusic
twitter.com/tmpomusic

Producers on the Rise: Bobbi Giel Talks Impact of Humans of New York Featurette

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“You’re only 22 years old? My daughter just turned 27 and she isn’t as self-actualized as you. You’re going to be fine, I know it.”

That’s what a kind stranger said to me after 15 minutes of small talk and a few drinks each at the MSR Studios closing party back in July. I’m used to giving and receiving frivolous compliments from the joys of complimentary booze at industry parties, but I didn’t know how to respond to being referred to as “self-actualized.”

It reminded me of the time I took a course the spring of my sophomore year of college called “Adult Journey.” The course was two and a half hours once and week, and all we did 90% of the time was watch movies and write reflection papers about how those movies related to our lives. We occasionally colored and had group therapy sessions too.

This was a college course. I’m not kidding.

We spent one class watching The Breakfast Club and our reflection paper asked us to explain whether we identified with the criminal, the princess, the athlete, the brain, or the basket case. I’m pretty sure I wrote about identifying with both the basket case and the brain. I don’t remember exactly, but that combination seems as analogous to my personality now as it did when I was 19.

Another one of our assignments was to present a project about a person we believed to be self-actualized. My group chose John Lennon. Another group chose Oprah. A third group chose Gandhi.

See where I’m going with this?

Compared to those monumental individuals, why would someone consider me to be self-actualized? Almost two months after being given this unwarranted accolade, my reaction hasn’t changed much. I’m 22 years old and graduated from college just over a year ago. My job as a General Assistant at MSR Studios was unfortunately short-lived because of forces beyond anyone’s control. I burn toast and undercook chicken regularly. I lose at least one sock every time I do laundry. I learned what a 401k is two weeks ago. I have no idea what direction I want my life or career to go in, nor do I have a sense of how my presence impacts this world.

I’m not self-actualized – I’m far from it.

And for some reason, I seem to stumble upon situations that make others believe I have my life together. Or as my mom likes to say, “Bobbi, you always seem to fall into s!#$ don’t you?” My mom is very eloquent and honest – that’s why I consider her one of my best friends.

Let’s take being interviewed by Brandon Stanton from Humans of New York, for example.

Y’all have heard of that little blog, right? Close to 18 million people follow it on Facebook or some astronomically ridiculous number like that.

I was dropping my friend off at Juilliard for his graduate school audition when Brandon stopped me. It was a Monday afternoon in late February and I was on call for the studio, so unless a last minute session booked in or a co-worker called out, I had the day off. It was below freezing, I was sick, I had absolutely no makeup on, and my hair was reaching that point where I couldn’t resuscitate it with dry shampoo as I had done the day before. I usually have my earbuds in when I’m walking around the city alone, but for some reason, that day I decided to unplug rather than listen to my ?uestion Mark playlist (if you’re curious about my taste in music, there’s a snazzy link to the playlist below – there’s no theme, hence the title).

When Brandon first approached me, my initial thought was, “Ugh, this random dude is probably going to ask me for money, directions, or both. Look distracted, look distracted!” If you’re a New Yorker, those are two questions you dread being asked on a daily basis. But once he introduced himself and whipped out his camera, I knew what I was getting myself into. My sickly, unkempt appearance was going to be all over the internet along with whatever story I decided to tell.

I was freaking out. I started excessively complaining to Brandon, to which he reassured me, “No, not at all. You look great!”

Lies. Lies.

To confirm how disheveled and awkward I looked, I was on the phone with a friend of mine about a month after the interview went live who hadn’t seen it. Before I could even warn him, he goes, “Yeah… that’s not the best picture of you.”

Life hack – get yourself some brutally honest friends to keep your ego in check.

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After learning my name and a few other basic facts about myself, Brandon’s first serious question for me was, “What is your biggest challenge in life?” How do you answer such a personal question for someone you hardly know? I know that’s the whole premise of Humans of New York, but still. I have trouble communicating even my smallest challenges to my closest friends and family. So in response, I groaned several times in the vocal stylings of Tina Belcher, which inevitably made Brandon ditch the existential questions and start asking me about what I did for work.

More specifically, he asked me to explain what being a General Assistant at a recording studio meant. For me, it meant cleaning toilets every morning and taking multiple 40 gallon trash bags out every night. It meant going on food runs for clients at 2pm or 2am and spending almost 12 hours on a Saturday to set up for a two day Broadway cast recording session. It meant barely any sleep, going rogue for weeks at a time, and spending an absurd amount of money on takeout because none of us ever had time to cook.

Regardless, I’m not saying any of this with contempt. Although I only had the opportunity to call MSR Studios home for six months, they were some of the craziest and greatest six months of my life thus far. When our studios weren’t booked for clients, assistants were able to use them for personal projects, which was a huge luxury. To be able to go in on a Sunday afternoon by myself and record my own music on a 72-input SSL J Series console with what seemed like endless amounts of outboard gear and plugins at my disposal – it was an audio engineer’s dream.

And my co-workers. If one of them didn’t make me laugh until I cried with an ache in the pit of my stomach, my day was ruined. We supported each other and encouraged each other and I consider them all to be my incredibly annoying but affectionate big brothers. What other group of guys will leave a voicemail for you of themselves shouting your name while you’re on vacation or write and record an entire rap song based on you getting fiberglass down your shirt?

I know what you’re thinking.

“I want to hear the song!”

Of course you do. Everyone does. But I’m not going to disclose the title or any of the lyrics because they are mortifying and I can’t listen to the whole song through without my face resembling a ripe tomato. All I will say is the song was a whimsical sentiment of love and adoration that I will always hold dear to my heart.

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When the picture and write up finally went live two weeks after the initial interview, to say the response was overwhelming is a vast understatement. I received hundreds of Facebook messages from people all over the world (Peru, Australia, and France to name a few of the countries people were contacting me from) asking me to listen to their demos and if I was interested in producing them. My phone was buzzing continuously for weeks with text messages, emails, phone calls, and notifications from every social media platform. Atlantic Records reached out to me personally. Organizations such as Gender Amplified, Women’s Audio Mission, and Soundgirls.org welcomed me into their communities of like-minded female audio engineers. Thousands of friendly Internet strangers commended me on my work ethic and humility and wished me success in my career.

Being featured on Humans of New York, without a doubt, changed my life instantaneously.

However, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling like a downright fraud.

I’m going to be vulnerable for a bit and confess a few heavy insecurities about myself to the worldwide web in hopes that those who may read this will understand my fraudulent mentality.

My self-confidence has always been relatively nonexistent. I’m not exaggerating when I say I virtually have none. It’s gotten marginally better over the years, but I still struggle everyday with finding the strength to take pride in myself and my abilities. I’ve been studying, performing, and writing music since I was six years old. I went to two high schools simultaneously (my hometown public high school for academics and a performing arts high school for classical piano) and still managed to be an honors student, a band geek, and a theater kid. I carried at least 18-20 credits a semester in college while working three jobs and graduated when I was 21. I’ve also been extremely fortunate to be continuously employed in my degree field since then.

I’ve accomplished a fair amount, but there’s always this nagging, devilish voice in the back of my mind whispering, “You’re not good enough, Bobbi. Just stop. Quit before people realize you’re actually terrible.”

Remember that scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II where Voldemort hijacks everyone’s minds and reproaches Harry in this eerie, hissing voice? The voice in my mind is essentially Voldemort.

With that said, in the wake of my Humans of New York interview, I was suddenly a fresh face for the “Women in Music Production” movement, and the newly placed expectations for me to make a name for myself and have my life together were daunting. I felt unworthy of the attention and praise I experienced and am still experiencing today. There are women in the industry working twice as hard as me and thriving in their careers, yet I was the one profiled. Six months later and I still feel just as unqualified.

But like I mentioned in the beginning, I fall into s!#$.

So how does being on Humans of New York and working at MSR Studios and being referred to as “self-actualized” all relate to one another?

I’m getting there.

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My candid interview also presented an outpouring of comments from young women who were either unaware of the possible career paths in music production or intimidated by the difficulties of being a woman in music production. Because it is hard. It’s really hard. Breaking into the music industry, whether as an artist or audio engineer/producer, is tricky for anyone. Add on the stigmas and societal stereotypes of being a woman, and the journey becomes twice as hard.

My thoughts of being an unconfident, undeserving imposter aside, it was humbling and inspiring to hear these women’s stories. I’ve seriously considered quitting the quest entirely and moving to a rural hillside town in Europe at least a dozen times (I’m a dual citizen of the United States and Italy, so this fantasy may not be so distant in my future), but these confessionals persuaded me to keep persevering and stay true to my goals.

Because here’s the deal. Yes, I am only 22 years old, wide-eyed and intrigued by the world. Yes, I worked at a major recording studio in Manhattan for minimum wage sixty hours a week or more at times, then the facility closed and left me scrambling to figure out what I was going to do next. Yes, I doubt myself and compare myself and am constantly hard on myself. And yes, sometimes I consider giving up on this dream for a career more manageable and stable.

But part of being “self-actualized” means to “seek personal growth and one’s full potential through creativity and independence” (thank you dictionary.com). Everything that has happened in the year and a half since I graduated college has contributed exponentially to my personal growth. And even though my career path has experienced some detours and treacherous terrain recently, I’m determined to live my life in pursuit of my fullest potential, whatever that may be.

So I wouldn’t refer to myself as “self-actualized” like that tipsy gentleman did (he also insisted I learn how to play a Hammond B-3 organ – long story). I like to believe I’m still “figuring it out” – that’s a good millennial way to sum up my situation and every other 20-something year old’s situation, really.

“Work hard, be good to people, enjoy the process, and enjoy your life during the process.” I wish I could remember who or where I heard that from, but it’s a mindset I strive to emulate in my life day by day. I know it’s easy for me to believe because I haven’t been “roughed around the edges by the harsh realities of this cruel, cruel world,” (a miserable, old man I was working with on a live sound gig once said that to me and totally obliterated an already long 16 hour day), but truthfully and maybe even naively, I don’t care. Life is full of highs and lows, and I rather live my life searching for the highs rather than succumbing to the lows.

So yes, I’m not quite sure what the universe has in store for me, but I’m having the time of my life “figuring it out.”

Gender Amplified Presents: Studio Politics Featuring Ebonie Smith

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Gender Amplified is proud to present ‘Studio Politics,’ a new web series that takes you in the studio with our founder and award-winning music producer and engineer Ebonie Smith. Known for engineering work on Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) and other notable projects, each and every episode Ebonie will take you behind the scenes to talk about the process of making music at the major level and working as a staff producer/engineer for Atlantic Records in NYC. There won’t be a dull moment as Ebonie produces and composes records on the spot and discusses music production and technology with a cast of talented collaborators and industry insiders. Tune in and SUBSCRIBE!

Studio Politics

Event Recap: Gender Amplified In-School Seminar at Frederick Douglass Academy

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On March 31, Gender Amplified partnered with The Apollo Theater Education Program’s (ATEP) In-School Career Seminars (ISCS) to offer a music production workshop to students at the Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, New York City.

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The workshop, entitled “STEM Learning: Dissecting The Music Track,” covered the ways in which science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects are use to create music in the recording studio.

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In-School Career Seminars offer students the opportunity to interact with business and creative professionals from the performing arts and entertainment industries. Seminars take place on-site at selected high schools and focus on such topics as marketing and public relations, entertainment law, artist management and technical production.

Producer Spotlight: Grimes Just Wants to Do Her Job!

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Canadian producer Grimes is on a mission to use music technology to express an artistic narrative that has grown out of her control. In this candid interview for The FADER, Grimes discusses the importance of being in control of her sonic narrative. In reference to self-­producing her own music, she expresses, “I don’t want to just be the face of this thing that I built; I want to be the person who built it.”

 

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In commenting on her latest album Art Angels, she explains, “Grimes, as one person, cannot represent more than a couple ideas. That’s why I started developing some of the other characters… like really abstract from who I am…”

 

On the RISE: Producer Stoni Profiled by ROLI

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In a piece entitled “On the RISE: Music is life – Stoni,” ROLI recently profiled Gender Amplified Alumna Stoni demonstrating the new Seaboard RISE musical instrument. ROLI is a design­-led technology start ­up expanding the bandwidth of interaction between people and technology. Read an excerpt from the article below:

“There’s no stage in your life that doesn’t have a song you can reference,” says Stoni, the New York­ based producer and DJ known for her hard ­driving hip­-hop beats. “Like when you graduate from high school, you’re listening to something, and every time you hear that song later you think ‘Ahhh!’ And you get to recapture that feeling, and it makes you feel great.” READ MORE

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Stoni is always on the move helping to bridge the gap between the technology of today and pop culture. She has consulted some of the hottest music producers over her career, which spans several decades.

Our previous Producer Profile with Stoni in 2014 also highlights other areas of her work. She is a trailblazer, and her reign as an accomplished master of music technology is just beginning!


Producer Profile Interview: Stoni