From the far away lands of ice cold Northwest Alaska, Alkota has become known as The Drum Broker. From years of landing placements to producing for artists like Planet Asia, Ruste Juxx & Verbal Kent, Alkota has paved the way for himself as a self made hip hop entrepreneur with plenty on the horizons. Its been said that the best drum samples on the internet are sold on his site www.hiphopdrumsamples.com and if his growing roster of drum kit producers are any indication this may just be the tip of the iceberg (pun intended).
Here is how the conversation with BBoy Tech Report and Alkota went down.
Tell us a bit about who Alkota the producer is?
I began making beats around 1998, and on a semi professional level around 2003 (getting paid). I’m probably one of the most geographically isolated beat makers in the US, since my stomping grounds are the frosty northwest of Alaska. Being so isolated from any major music scene had been a handicap and also a blessing in disguise over the last 9-10 years. It allowed me to focus on my sound without any major outside influence. It also taught me to be ultra resourceful when all I had at my fingertips were the inter webs. The downside of course, was not being able to shake hands. I use the past tense (was), since I feel that we are moving away from an industry that is based on handshake deals. I travel frequently and plan on growing my current industry relationships and business.
On the tech side of things, I come from an MPC/Hardware background. Currently use Propellerhead’s Reason 6.5 to make beats. Have some outboard gear, a SP-1200, etc. but I keep the setup minimalist so I can stay portable. I have a handful of Mix & Master engineers at my fingertips that I use for various projects when I need a particular sound.
I’ve worked with and been featured on tracks with Rasco, Planet Asia, Ruste Juxx, Don Streat, Pep Love, Opio, Planetary of AOTP, Verbal Kent, Bekay, SARS Network, and many more. I’ve also got a sync license list that includes clients like MTV, Red Bull, and hundreds of other clients/placements.
How have you gone about landing placements on both artists albums and tv?
Initially, most of my sync placements were through Pump Audio. It took about 2 years before I landed any placements. Its taken years to stack up my catalog and to start getting checks that I could be proud of. Over time, I’ve developed relationships with editors, music managers, and 3rd parties to place my music. The sync game is competitive right now and you should probably be doing electronic/indie rock if you wanna see any checks.
On the artist side of placements. I’ve had artists contact me. I’ve submitted beats to artists. I’ve give some out for free. I’ve charged for most. But I kept developing my sound and approaching artists I wanted to work with. I feel its taken nearly 10 years for me to hone in my sound. Some guys do it in a few months. Some take a life time. But you’ve always got to improve your game and be willing to change & adjust to the climate.
The recent single I dropped with Planetary of Outerspace/AOTP was a collabo/joint effort. I’m approaching more artists from the business standpoint and putting out records and music vs. chasing placements. To date I’ve not yet had a major placement and truthfully I’m fine with that. A lot of indie clients add up to one or two major label placements. In retrospect, I wish I had figured this out when I started. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort chasing major label placements vs. developing my brand
What placements are you most proud of?
Working with artists like Rasco, Planetary, & Ruste Juxx (and all of the others) has been awesome. These are artists I’ve been a fan of for years. So nothing beats working with someone that you are a fan of. I can’t pinpoint a single placement i’m most proud of. However, I think working with an artist whose music you love and truly believe in is the best feeling. For me and a lot of other beat makers and producers, its a feeling thats hard to describe to someone outside of music. Its esoteric!
[pullquote]look outside of hip hop & America. The world is a big place and loves a lot of different music. Be a producer![/pullquote]What advise would you give to those looking to get their beat hustle and placement hustle on? How can one achieve good placements?
This is probably the answer that you and many others are not looking for, but don’t chase placements. I’m not saying don’t submit to opportunities & artists, etc. But don’t let your music and business revolve around placements. Spend the time, money, and equity earned into developing and branding yourself. I think too many beat makers and producers prematurely try and sell themselves. I did, and it got me nowhere.
Focus on your sound. Work with artists you like. Pay for a feature or two. Put out some singles & videos. Don’t be afraid to spend money and invest in yourself! The FREE movement is a gimmick and lie to keep people confused. There is money to be made if you invest in yourself as a brand.
Keep your expectations low and focus on S.M.A.R.T. goals. Statistically we can’t all nab the next big major label placement or produce the next top single. So be realistic. Also, look outside of hip hop & America. The world is a big place and loves a lot of different music. Be a producer! Don’t limit yourself to just making beats.
Now, I know it is important in licensing for games and tv etc to have a controlled composition which pretty much means that you own all rights to the elements used in the composition. How have you dealt with that versus creating sample based beats for placements?
There is definitely a grey area with sync placements and sampling. Honestly… if you know how to sample you can work in the grey area. But the music that I make and place is not always the music I love to make. I do a lot of sample free stuff & non hip hop stuff. The market outside of hip hop is HUGE. Electronic Music/EDM/IDM is an international movement. Its marketable and original (generally). With that being said, making original sample free music isn’t hard when you are doing it for money. You have to learn to separate the love and money. I love sampling, but it isn’t the most lucrative way to get paid.
When it comes to your mode of production are you hardware based or software based?
At this point 100% software. I’m a Propellerhead Reason guy. Currently using version 6.5. I was a hardware head for years (MPC 2KXL, Rack Modules, etc.) but made the change to improve my workflow. If you have ever tracked out beats from an MPC you can appreciate a one click software stem bounce. Fuck tracking. If you know what you are doing there really isn’t any difference sonically. Its the producer/beatmaker not the equipment. Of course that debate will never end.
[pullquote]Reason 6.5, Akai MPD32, Axiom 61, and E-Mu SP-1200 for drums.[/pullquote]Whats your weapon of choice?
Reason 6.5, Akai MPD32, Axiom 61, and E-Mu SP-1200 for drums. I keep it all inside the box at this point. For sound design stuff, I have access to SSL, Neve, and some other spendy outboard gear.
I know you’ve used and may have even sharpened your chops on the AKAI MPC 2kxl what made you move away from that particular box?
While attending college in Colorado I met a guy named Jeremiah who was making beats using Reason 3 and Recycle that sounded like what I was doing on the MPC 2000XL. It really changed the way I thought about software. I was one of those stubborn hardware/gear heads.
Learning to chop and make beats on the MPC definitely made me a better sampler & beatmaker. But the workflow of software made more sense from an efficiency standpoint. There are some aspects to hardware production I miss, but I’d say overall it was a good move.
I think everyone should learn to make beats on an MPC before moving to software. With software packages/DAW you have TOO many options. I think the endless supply of plugins and features can really take away from creativity if you let yourself get out of control.
I treat my software setup as if it were an MPC. I have unlimited sampling time and memory. But generally only use a a few seconds of a sample (MAX). Coming from a limited environment keeps me grounded and focused.
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using Reason for you?
At this point with the introduction of Rack Extensions (Reason’s Plugin System) the disadvantages are minimal. My only complaint about Reason is the lack of a proper sample chopping tool built into Reason & MIDI out. Fortunately, this is also the complaint of every other Reason user, so I expect that Propellerheads will add these features in the future. Currently I have to chop samples in Recycle 2.2, which is a great tool for chopping samples. However, the workflow of using 2 programs sucks. Its more time consuming and doesn’t allow for complete experimentation.
I think once more developers hop on the Rack Extension bandwagon and Propellerheads add a few more features (MIDI OUT) I won’t have any reason to leave Reason. With Reason 6.5, you can produce a commercially viable song using this software.
What are some of your fav new features in the latest version of Reason?
The SSL Mixer & Rack Extensions. Reason’s mixing console is dope! The whole software package is designed to mimic hardware, so it forces you to rely more on your ears vs. visual production. Its an experience to use, which I love. Some people hate it. Some people love it.
The Drum Broker (www.hiphopdrumsamples.com) started with a relationship with producer Illmind. I was already selling my MPC, SP-1200, 808, & NS-10M Flash Drives and approached Illmind to sell his drum kit (Blap Kit 1) exclusively through my site. From there, it was a matter or putting together a dope team of sound designers and producers who have dope drums (Khrysis, M-Phazes, Beat Butcha, Judah, Illmind, etc.).
I’ve been doing drums and sound design for years, but took the leap professionally the last 2 years. The Drum Broker site has been a work in progress for years and we have some really dope releases for 2013 including an exclusive kit with Illmind & M-Phazes. I’m working with Ayatollah on a new MPC60 drum kit as well. We have some videos lined up, new flash drives, and much more. I’m really excited.
My goal with the site & company is to be the go to source for boom bap & hip hop drums. Our libraries are minimal & designed to be timeless. This means, you don’t have to sift through gigs of samples to find something usable & tweakable. This also means, that our kits will survive trends and fads. You won’t find us selling a lame trap kit, although our sounds can be used for trap muzik, house music, dub step, etc. But we don’t cater to trends.
We offer the OFFICIAL DRUM KITS of dope producers and sound design kits using equipment that a lot of folks don’t have access to (SP1200, MPC60, High End Outboard Gear, etc.).
As a sound designer what is your process like? Do you come up with a concept first or do you design sounds and develop concepts from a marketing perspective?
Some of our kits are conceived with a concept (i.e. the rare breaks kits). I did a SP-1200 Snare Kit (Analog Snares). 30 custom snares sampled through the SP-1200 & Mixed on a SSL4000. The kit has the raw & mix ready versions. With the snare kit I designed it specifically to contain gritty snares that smack. Initially I had about 100 sounds and submitted them to 10 producers to vote on the best samples. We narrowed it down to 30. Then we had our engineer mix them (mix ready versions). It was time consuming to create, but it was fun. I’m working on a new 12-Bit kit as we speak.
When I’m sound designing or doing drums, I create stuff that I like. I feel like I represent the average hip hop/boom bap beatmaker. If I’m not feeling it, I probably wouldn’t buy it. I’ve spent hundreds and thousands on samples, drums, & sounds over the years. I’m always down to support dope drum companies. Two of my favorite being Bangin Beats & Gold Baby. These are dope niche drum companies with quality sounds.
Like I said, we have a solid release schedule in 2013 including some 7″ Break Records.
Do you have a piece or gear or software that you cant live without when it comes to sound design?
The E-Mu SP-1200. There is no emulator (software) that mimics this machine accurately. There are some good bit crushing packages (Decimort). But if you want the official 12-Bit Crunch, the E-Mu SP-1200 is one piece of gear I can’t live without.
How about beat making, Do you have a piece or gear or software that you cant live without for beatmaking?
Akai’s Drum Pads. Whether its an MPC or MPD, Akai’s PADS are my go to for knocking out beats.
What inspires your beats?
My music is mood music. A lot of it is dark. I don’t create music unless I’m in a certain spot mentally. I listen to a lot of genres and if I hear something dope to sample, Ill grab it and throw my flare/spin on it.
My biggest inspiration now days is music outside of the hip hop genre. I came from a Punk/Metal/SKA guitarist background in music. Played some horns, etc. I’ve always loved music, and not just rap/hip hop. I think to stay fresh you really need to limit in your intake of music within the genre you create. I’m really digging the indie rock and vintage recording movement(s). Lots of dope shit to sample!
What or who are some of you influences?
Producer wise, DJ Premier’s “Above The Clouds” (Gangstarr) Instrumental was what got me into making beats. DJ Paul & Juicy J/36 Mafia (who I got to meet personally) are my #2 producers.
Beyond that, the IDM/EDM movement & whole indie music industry keeps me moving forward.
One of my fav questions to ask is what we call the “unicorn”. It is the piece of gear (either real or imagined) that you would love to have but for whatever reason, you have not been able to obtain? What is your “unicorn” piece of gear?
Tell us about your digging service and how that came about?
I’ve run into a ton of dope diggers and figured this would be a great way to link our customers to some guys with amazing samples and records. Not everyone has time or spots to dig for samples. Coming from Alaska, I had to dig in a pretty limited supply of Vinyl, so I feel for the guys who don’t have access to dope vinyl.
How about the physical products, namely the MPC, SP1200 flash drives etc. How did those come about? Do you design and manufacture these or do you source them from far away lands?
One day I saw a custom USB drive and the idea to create the SP-1200 and MPC-2000XL flash drives popped into my head. I immediately jumped on the idea and spent my entire savings having them developed and manufactured. They are made overseas and quality controlled through a middle man. From there, we did the TR-808 (our biggest hit), Yamaha NS-10M. We are dropping a Leica M3 for all the hipster camera enthusiast next month. Got some other joints online. Contrary to popular belief these aren’t cheap to make. We deal with one of the top USB plants over seas and the quality IS RIDICULOUSLY detailed!
What is in the plans for the future of Alkota “The Drum Broker”?
Keep up with Alkota