The Future of Music Producers

What does the increased accessibility and popularity of bedroom music production mean for the music industry?

The Sound is a column on all things music written by Charles Park (’20) and Mark Park (’20). -Ed.

It’s 2019. Computers and phones are more accessible and affordable than ever. A Spotify or Apple Music subscription is at our fingertips. Youtube and Soundcloud are bottomless pits of great music that’s waiting to be heard.

As a result, it’s never been easier to make music.

You may not have noticed, but just in the past few years, a significant chunk of popular music has shifted from being produced in the biggest studios to the smallest bedrooms. An entire generation of underground producers is sending their beats to rappers and singers on Soundcloud, hoping to make it big. Take the example of Ronnyj, a Miami native who was a virtually unknown Soundcloud producer until he sent the beat for “ULTIMATE” to Denzel Curry.

The fruits of this trend extend beyond pop music. How many times has Youtube recommended you a live stream or playlist like this? It’s true: the rising popularity of “lo-fi hip hop” can be attributed to the numerous bedroom producers that make compilations and EPs full of simple, jazz and 90s boom-bap inspired songs that make it onto these playlists.

You might be disappointed to find out, though, that more producers do not necessarily mean more talent. The idea that “anyone can make music” has brought greater diversity and new ideas to the scene, but it’s also created a market for babysitting beginning producers. Here are just some of the reasons why music production has gotten so accessible and popular.

Sample Packs / Melody Packs / Loop Packs / MIDI Packs

My apologies if this breaks the mystery around the music producing process, but most of what music producers come up with, and a lot of what makes it onto the top charts, isn’t even made from scratch. In reality, most of the drum sounds and some of the instrumental melodies you hear are from “sample packs” that can be downloaded or bought from the internet, created by other producers. Sometimes, pulling three to four samples from a sample pack can end up sounding like something that’s ready for Drake or Kanye to rap over. There’s definitely a stigma around using these premade loops and melodies–and rightfully so–but the sample pack industry has become extremely lucrative.

To give you an idea of just how widespread this new business is, take the example of Internet Money. It’s a collective of producers (most notably Nick Mira, the producer of pretty much all Juice WRLD songs) that live together in a giant mansion and make music. A huge portion of their income reportedly comes from the samples they sell on their website. That’s right: samples are lucrative enough to afford a mansion.

Splice

Splice is arguably the best thing that has come from the bedroom producer trend: it’s an app and website that allows you to buy music software and plug-ins on payment plans, share your project files with other users like Dropbox or Google Drive, and browse through a near-endless bank of samples. It’s a great way for beginning producers to dip their toes in the game and see if the temperature right for them. Just from browsing through Splice’s samples, it’s clear where lo-fi hip hop producers get virtually all of their sounds from.

Type Beats

This is the main reason why producing is so appealing to hobbyists: the prospect of making a little pocket money from it. Gone are the days of having to lawyer up to sell a song: today, you can easily “lease” mp3s of your track to vocalists for a flat fee, through middlemen services like Traktrain and Beatstars. Producers post these instrumentals on Youtube with titles like “Drake Type Beat” or “Lil Baby / Gunna Type Beat” as a marketing tactic. Most famously, Desiigner’s song “Panda” was a type beat he bought for $200 from Youtube in 2014. For producers, type beats are a further affirmation that producing can be profitable as much as it is enjoyable.

 

There’s no doubt that as of today, it doesn’t take the same amount of studying music theory, learning the ins and outs of software, and taking classes on audio engineering to make a beat worthy of the Billboard 100. And at this point, it’s clear that no amount of complaining about loop packs or mediocre type beats will reverse the way the music industry has shifted in the last few years. What we can only hope for is that through the bloated market of Frank Ocean type beats on Youtube will come new genres and new sounds, reflective of the unpredictable ebb and flow of the music world.

Featured image: Wallpaper Safari

What we can learn from National History Day

Lessons from the largest history competition in the world.

On February 16, KIS participated in the annual National History Day Competition at Cheongna Dalton School. Since 2012, international schools in Korea have hosted the regional contest, in which the top two winners from each category advance to the national level competition in Maryland.

Competition categories include research paper, documentary, website, performance, and exhibit; excluding the strictly individual research paper, all categories can be done in either a group or individual.

Year and year again, what is fascinating about National History Day is its power to make you reexamine history. It forces you to delve deep into topics you may have touched upon in class, but haven’t delved deep into the nuances, perspectives, and even controversies that surround them. After all, history is interpretable and easily malleable, right?

If considering participating in NHD, here are five things that a participant can take away in the course of conducting research, forming an argument, and applying knowledge in a chosen presentation category.

It’s easier when it’s closer to your heart
It’s a hundred times easier to talk about and debate on a topic chosen out of true interest and passion. That genuine curiosity and drive to seek out the truth is what can make a project stand out. Don’t just choose the Great Schism as a topic because of a passing recollection from a World History class. Choose the topic that reflects personal personality, interests, and experiences.

How to form your own opinion
This is a particularly important one because of the political climate we live in today. Especially if selecting a contentious topic, a project will have to work with sources that directly contradict and oppose each other. There will be angry, obscene remarks in the comment sections of Youtube videos related to the topic, and the research could be stuck at a crossroads—where it is not clear which route the research should take. Through this dilemmas, those taking part in NHD will learn to review the evidence presented and develop skills to discern the best path forward. Not everything is written in stone!

How to manage your time
The theme for the 2019 contest was released in July of 2018, just a month after the national competition in June, so there’s little excuse to put off working on the project until the last few weeks or days. There will be SATs and various tests and projects sandwiched between the summer of 2018 and the due date in January, which means participants had to be extra vigilant with managing their time. It takes several weeks to finalize the topic, several months to finish the research, and another few months to work on the project of choice. There’s an important lesson to be learned here about how to set deadlines and keep oneself accountable that can be applied to future long-term projects.

How to defend yourself
A large part of NHD is forming arguments through research. Here comes the part where you defend it. During the question and answer session with the judges, participants are bombarded with a slew of questions about their argument, flaws, and opposing viewpoints. The job is to reject the opinions you disagree with, concede to opponents who have a case, and reaffirm your own thesis.

How to combine your skills
History, filmmaking, graphic design; for me, NHD was an opportunity to combine all the things that I love doing, and allowed me the creativity to do whatever I wanted with it. Rarely do we see this kind of unbridled freedom in the classroom. It’s important to learn how to tie in talents with each other and utilize them to the fullest extent. If you like web design, make a website. If you’re a theater kid, do a performance. There’s something for everyone in NHD.

NHD is not going to be unquestionably good for everyone, and people will take away different things from the competition than others. However, if you have a passion for any of the categories that NHD offers, the competition is worth trying. Some may be turned off by the “H” in NHD, but it will be another outlet to express your creativity while building on essential skills that will be useful both in and outside the classroom for years to come.

– Charles Park (’20)

Featured Image: Corona-Norco Unified School District

Top 10 Albums of 2018

The Sound is a column on all things music written by Charles Park (’20) and Mark Park (’20). -Ed.

2018 was another great year for music. From the sweet, bouncy beats on Ariana Grande’s Sweetener to the introspective, ambitious Brockhampton project Iridescence, this year marked a turning point in genre-fusion and artist collaborations. Just a few observations before I get into the albums:

  • “Trap” drums are permeating other genres. A drum kit that was originally exclusive to contemporary hip-hop sounds like those of XXXTentacion or Lil Uzi Vert are now commonplace in the work of Khalid’s Better or Ariana Grande’s No Tears Left to Cry.
  • Artists’ personal lives and political stances have had a significant impact on the way people listen to their music. Kanye’s controversial moves, 6ix9ine’s imprisonment, Mac Miller’s death – so much discussion in the music world has been spurred by the circumstances of artists’ lives outside the studio, prompting people to rethink the age-old question: can an artist be separated from the art?
  • Fans are more accepting of experimental projects. I doubt that hip-hop fans, even just a few years ago, would have been accepting of albums like Kids See Ghosts and Iridescence. Now, these artists are praised for their genre-bending and production quirks.
  • The Soundcloud scene has grown at an unprecedented rate. You know that feeling when you find an artist who’s already racked up millions of plays, but you’ve never heard of them before? That’s the Soundcloud effect: when artists can get insanely popular in a matter of days, because of the viral nature of Soundcloud likes and reposts.
  • Anticipation of new projects has reached a fever pitch. This may be because most of the internet has grown up with the popular artists of today; Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter are full of fans overanalyzing tweets they think are alluding to a new release, or trying to figure out if the background music in an artist’s Instagram story is an unreleased song. I thought I was going insane waiting for the new Giriboy album.

And now to my picks of 2018.

  1. Crush – Wonderlost

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I didn’t have too many expectations going into this, mostly because I hadn’t been keeping up with how much more sophisticated and unique his production and sound had gotten over the years. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear such a refreshing, well-executed take on a Korean R&B and pop sound, not to mention the extremely clever wordplay and lyricism in some of his songs.

Favorite track(s) – Cereal, Close Your Eyes, RYO

  1. Khalid – Suncity

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After Khalid’s impressive debut album from 2017, American Teen, I wasn’t surprised that Suncity was one of my favorite projects of the year. Sure, it may have been shorter and less ambitious, but I think it allowed Khalid to be more focused and better blend the album’s holistic meaning and timbre. Case in point: the outro to Motion includes a snippet of Better, with the chorus “nothing feels better than this” being repeated with a slightly-vocoded, pitched down, and slowed down inflection.

Favorite track(s) – Better

  1. Balming Tiger – ‘虎媄304’

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Korean experimental hip hop collective Balming Tiger blew up this year with singles like ONCEAGAIN, CHEF LEE, and I’M SICK, taking the underground Soundcloud scene of Korea by storm. The resulting project of their collaboration was a complete 180 from the music theory and composition norms that had ingrained themselves in Korean producers; Balming Tiger’s producers cite experimental, electronic artists like Flying Lotus as their inspiration. Besides the production, Balming Tiger’s sound was defined by rapper Byung Un’s well crafted lyricism: “but do you remember? 우리 회사?
”

Favorite track(s) – CHEF LEE, ONCEAGAIN

  1. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran

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Continuing with another experimental hip hop project, Veteran showed me the potential and prowess of rapper and producer Peggy. He uses samples and absurd, mind-bending sound effects that somehow stay accessible to the average hip hop fan. The fact that Peggy produced and mixed the entire album by himself shows the sheer talent that went into creating this project.

Favorite track(s) – 1539 N. Calvert, Thug Tears, Baby I’m Bleeding

  1. Ariana Grande – Sweetener

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Ariana already has an impressive discography, but Sweetener was probably the first project from her that I genuinely enjoyed from start to finish. Although I did find Pharrell’s production to be a little over-the-top sometimes, as many did, I felt that the project was a departure from her usual pop-oriented sounds and was a step towards Ariana’s own artistic vision.

“I don’t know about the importance or significance the album holds to Ariana Grande’s career as a whole, but I do believe that the album represents an important step in maturity and growth for Grande. From her lyrics to the unique sound that she has come to embrace, the album is an accumulation of all the lessons she learned throughout her career as one of this century’s most renowned musicians.” – Andrew Hong (11)

Favorite track(s) – No Tears Left to Cry, God is a Woman

  1. BROCKHAMPTON – Iridescence

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I started following self-proclaimed boyband and hip-hop collective BROCKHAMPTON at the end of last year, around the time their third SATURATION album was released. I loved the explosive synergy of the group’s members – Kevin, Matt, Joba, Ameer, Bearface – and was excited to hear what was next for the group as they reached mainstream popularity this year. The result was an album that I initially didn’t care much for, but grew to love. Even with a more mainstream audience, the group kept its unique and jarring production quirks and made its most ambitious, yet honest, project to date.

Favorite track(s) – NEW ORLEANS, WEIGHT, SAN MARCOS

  1. Mac Miller – Swimming

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Mac Miller’s death left me particularly devastated because of the message of Swimming. The lyrics on the first track, Come Back to Earth,

“In my own way, this feel like living
Some alternate reality
And I was drowning, but now I’m swimming
Through stressful waters to relief”,

Made me think that Mac had overcome his substance abuse and mental issues and had finally moved on. It was a message that I’d taken to heart, which made his death even more soul-shattering. What he left behind, though, is probably my favorite project from Mac of all time, beating my previous favorite The Divine Feminine. The lyrics flow well and are meaningful (as they always have been) and the use of more acoustic instruments like bass guitar adds a nice R&B touch to the sound of the album.

Favorite track(s) – Come Back to Earth, Hurt Feelings, What’s the Use?

  1. Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts

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Kids See Ghosts was my favorite album of the summer. I was never a big fan of Kid Cudi, so it came as a surprise to me how enjoyable this album was for me. It’s definitely not the magnum opus that many in the hip-hop community claim it to be, but it’s certainly Kanye’s most well-produced and focused projects as of recently, beating his other 2018 project ye by a mile. The production is futuristic (it reminded me of something Vince Staples would do) and the project never loses its energy for its short runtime.

Favorite track(s) – Reborn, Feel the Love, Freee

  1. Giriboy – Science Fiction Music

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What’s always impressed me about Korean artist Giriboy is his versatility. When you listen to his older works, like 2015’s Take Care of You or 2016’s Sooljalee, you would never expect him to undergo the transformation that he did. Starting from his EP earlier in the year, hightechnology, Giriboy’s production became futuristic, forward-thinking, and incredibly ambitious, more so than many of his contemporaries, even within his own record label Just Music. The resulting project is an album I’ll probably never get bored of, for its lyrics, production value, and just how fun it is.

Favorite track(s) – I4P.kr, Keyboard, hooksong

  1. Denzel Curry – TA13OO

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Denzel Curry reached virality a few years ago with his angry trap song ULTIMATE. The fact that it was produced by RonnyJ, who’s responsible for much of Lil Pump’s discography, should give you an idea of what kind of song it was: a mindless, repetitive workout beat, and not much more. To shift this attitude, Denzel came out with Ta13OO, a masterpiece which convinced me and many others that trap wasn’t just a phase of hip-hop and that it would lend itself to become one of the most defining subgenres of the decade. The album structure in itself – having three separate sections that each have a layer of darkness and complexity to them – is a long-needed change from the compilation-based albums that artists like Migos have been pumping out. In totality, the introspective lyrics and production of TA13OO make it my pick for album of the year.

Favorite track(s) – TA13OO, Black Balloons, Black Metal Terrorist

Honorable mentions: warrenisyellow – ALIEN, Travis Scott – ASTROWORLD, Various Artists – Black Panther the Album, Kanye West – ye, Aminé – ONEPOINTFIVE, Kamaal Williams – The Return, Sam Kim – Sun and Moon, Lauv – I met you when I was 18, Cuco – Chiquito, Vince Staples – FM!

Biggest letdowns of 2018: Drake – Scorpion, Juice WRLD – Goodbye & Good Riddance, Nas – NASIR, Joji – BALLADS 1, Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth, Rich Brian – AMEN

Featured image: Pitchfork

Let’s Talk About Kanye

The Sound is a column on all things music written by Charles Park (’20) and Mark Park (’20). -Ed.

If you’ve been following news on politics or music this year, you know about the tumult Chicago rapper Kanye West has created for himself: for calling for the abolishing of the 13th Amendment, for claiming that slavery was a choice, and for flaunting a MAGA hat all over social media.

Less than a month before his album ye dropped this June, Kanye famously said at TMZ: “When you hear about slavery for 400 years… For 400 years? That sounds like a choice.” TMZ employee Van Lathan was one of the first to confront him, telling him that his luxurious life as an artist has alienated him from the problems that “common black folk” go through in their lives: the residual discrimination that has manifested as an after effect of the aforementioned 400 years of slavery. Kanye has often been cited as the symbol for “blackness” (as Vox put it) in American pop culture.

His first three albums, nicknamed the Higher Education trilogy: The College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation, are reflective of his self-awareness and reverence for his roots – with his mother, with Chicago, and with his career as a producer and rapper. He admittedly didn’t have the in-the-pocket flow and gruff voice of many rappers at the time, which is why it took so long for him to convince Jay-Z to give him at a shot at rapping, a stray from his usual gig as a producer. His real draw was, therefore, not his voice, but his introspective and humble lyrics.

So what makes people accuse him now of losing that humility? Did the fame truly get to him? Did marrying into the Kardashian family compromise his values?

I don’t think that Kanye’s remarks on Trump and on slavery are anything new. To me, Kanye saying anything controversial means “oh… he’s probably dropping an album soon”. Even in the past few years, he had a feud with Taylor Swift and opened up about his $53 million debt just before releasing his 2016 album The Life of Pablo; most iconically, he said on national television “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” a week after dropping the second album to the education trilogy, Late Registration.

As far as most can tell, these recent controversies simply started as another attempt to promote his work that ended up becoming blown out of proportion because of the topical nature of the subject matter he chose to delve into: Trump and racism. His appearances on shows like Jimmy Kimmel are embarrassingly revealing of his lack of fleshed-out, logical contentions about the people – and ideas – he’s promoting, and Trump’s open endorsement of West just seems like a PR move to pretend like the president is actually caught up on American and African American pop culture – “thank you Kanye, very cool!”

What’s equally upsetting is the number of people that are getting worked up about Kanye’s recent moves. Even if they can’t see through the fact that it’s just a promotional campaign for an album that went too far, it’s plain to see that he has good intentions. For the record, Kanye has never stated that he agrees with everything Trump says: he said that he doesn’t fully agree with anyone, which is what makes everyone unique. Instead, he stands behind what the MAGA slogan represents: literally speaking, a great America.

As a fan of his music and art, I hope that Kanye would actually take the time to learn more about how his own country functions, and to use that knowledge to inspire his fans to take action for themselves. So many rappers have made efforts to improve their hometown and do actual good for the community, a recent example being rapper 21 Savage making a back to school drive for underprivileged children in Atlanta. Kanye’s bars on ye showed that a large part of him is still the soft, insecure Kanye he was during his formative years as a rapper in the early 2000s: he just has to harness that energy for actually politically informed discourse, rather than his usual sensationalized tirade.

– Charles Park (’20)

Featured Image by author

Introduction to THE SOUND

Let’s admit it: music isn’t what it used to be.

Your old Spotify playlist is stale, the “Discover Weekly” playlist only recommends trashy pop songs, and you’re just too busy to spend a few hours on Youtube digging through old records. We’ve all been there.

That’s why we created The Sound. We cater not just to giving you a taste of new music, but also expanding your realm of audio entertainment.

Are you bored of listening to music through your phone? Do you want a new way to enjoy your favorite albums? Well, maybe you should consider starting a vinyl collection. But where do you even begin? Do you opt for the $50 Crosley players on Amazon? Or do you get a vintage one from the 70s? Where do you even begin to look for the records themselves?

Are you tired of the mediocre sound quality of your Apple earpods? Maybe you’re looking to invest, but there are so many options, and so many AP tests to study for. What’s the difference between earphones and In-Ear Monitors (IEMs)? Why does it matter how many drivers there are in one ear? And what’s the difference between passive and active noise cancellation?

Do you think you can do better than all your favorite artists? You should look into starting your own music career. Are you inspired by the “Bedroom Pop” playlist on Spotify, and how to make an aesthetic music video in the likes of Clairo or Mac Demarco? Where do you even start? How should you produce your own song? How will you gain a following on Soundcloud?

The beauty of music is that there are more questions than answers. It’s an endless, abstract, arbitrary plane of vibrations and frequencies that have been put together as a construct and medium of entertainment. And thus, it should be made clear that The Sound’s purpose is to ask you more questions than we answer. Ultimately, music is an incredibly personal, intimate experience; no one can tell you what kind of music to enjoy. We hope that with each new article, you’re at least one step closer to finding The Sound.

– Charles Park (’20)

Featured Image by Crescentia Jung (’19)

Why is Hip Hop So Self-Destructive?

Though discourse about drug abuse, suicide, and violence is admittedly integral to contemporary rap culture, in the wake of rapper Lil Peep’s death, fans have begun to wonder, “at what cost?”.

A lyric from the late Lil Peep’s “Beamerboy” is extremely telling of what the hip-hop community wants, or expects, from him:

“But they don’t wanna hear that, they want that real sh*t, they want that drug talk, that ‘I can’t feel’ sh*t”.

It’s true; talk of Xanax, Adderall, Lean, and a myriad of other prescription drugs is so commonplace, it would be considered extraordinary for a rapper not to mention “drinking lean” or “popping xannies” in at least a few of his songs. Even devout Christian and philanthropist, Chance the Rapper, wrote a song titled “Same Drugs”, reminiscing about a girl from his childhood. Though it’s strange to use the analogy of drug use to incur childhood nostalgia, it just goes to show that without drugs, hip-hop simply cannot exist.

And though hip hop’s obsession with drugs dates back to the 90s, the era of Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, and Dr. Dre, it’s only recently that drugs began to be actualized by artists to be dangerous and self-destructive–and yet, to most, it’s still as appealing as ever, if not even more than before. This is the paradox that hip-hop culture has found itself in, a sort of cognitive dissonance where being depressed, addicted to “xannies”, and being suicidal is cool. The definition of “cool” by hip-hop standards has gone from

“like Scarface, sniffin’ cocaine, holdin’ an M16, see with the pen I’m extreme”

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Image source: Record Mad

 

of Nas’ 1994 album “Illmatic”, to

“I’m in pain, wanna put ten shots in my brain, I’ve been tripped by some things I can’t change, suicidal, same time I maintain,”,

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Image source: Genius

 

of XXXTentacion’s 2016 album “17”, all in the course of twenty-something years. The topics haven’t changed: we’re as obsessed with Lil Pump drinking lean in 2016 as we were obsessed with Nas shooting up cocaine in 1994. What’s changed is the artist and the listener’s attitude towards drugs. And what many don’t realize is that this was inevitable.

The audio-share website Soundcloud, essentially Youtube for songs, jump-started the careers of now-mainstream artists like XXX and Post Malone, and a quick visit to the hip-hop category of the site will reveal an entire pool of hopefuls trying to make it in the industry. With easily accessible DAWs (digital audio workstations) like Logic and Live, with increasingly affordable MIDI Controllers and audio interfaces, and with the entire internet as one’s potential audience, being a musician has never been easier… and more difficult. With an oversaturated market, the chances of being signed to even a small label like 88Rising (Rich Chigga, Joji, Yaeji, Higher Brothers, etc.) are one in a million.

These artists aren’t rich: they don’t have any stories about cocaine or assault rifles to tell. They’re just a bunch of guys sitting in their basements, slaving away at their computers, checking their Soundcloud followers every hour. So when you don’t have any interesting stories about gang fights or nightclubs, what do you turn to? That’s right–rapping about things you don’t have: money, friends, what have you.

This is the reality of contemporary hip-hop, and as bleak as it may seem, it’s notable that cases in the likes of Lil Peep are rare, almost nonexistent. And though some may say that his rapping about his Xanax addiction or his depression was a sign of mental illness that his fans ignored, that’s definitely a stretch. Not all artists that come from the Soundcloud Rap genre are depressed, nor are they addicted to prescription drugs. Just like there were fake rappers in the days of Nas that did not, in fact, have M16s and cocaine, there are rappers now that aren’t the depressed, self-harming, drug-abusing facades they put up on their Soundcloud bio.

– Charles Park (’20)