In this exclusive Interview, frequent contributor DK catches up with Chris “MayDay” Rucks, author of the book “Don’t Make Beats Like Me”.
Let’s get into it.
For those that may not know tell us a bit about yourself?
I’ve floated around the entertainment space in different capacities – mostly because I’m an uber creative and I’ve been following the arts. I got into beatmaking as a senior in college and basically spent the summer after college cataloging incredible samples and learning to use an MPC1K. I moved to Atlanta to form a video production company with a buddy. We shot some dope videos for a few big artists including 2Chainz, Young Joc, and Freeway, but I was doing more beatmaking than 1st ADing and wanted to shift to the music side of entertainment. That led me to Dyanmic Producer, where I gathered most of my insight for my book. My experience led to me to several years in sync licensing in Chicago, working with artists and composers all over the globe. And I moved to NYC last year to figure out my next creative adventure.
I’m a writer first and foremost – which is probably why the book has had such an impact. I applied my first gift (words) to my first love (production)—it seems to be a potent formula. I live in Brooklyn, I’m engaged to an exceptionally dope young lady. I listen to a ton of instrumental music nowadays and I dig all genres, from classical to grunge rock to new age.
I love reading dope books. I’m into art, design, photography. I like to look at the world and see things other people have missed. And I’m working on cultivating an exceptional beard.
When did you make your first beat?
That would be the winter of 2003. I pirated a copy of Fruity Loops and had no idea what I was doing. The beat was terrible. It sounded like the soundtrack to an awkward alien on his first date or something. Or perhaps an awkward alien making his first awful beat.
You mentioned in the book the importance of playing an instrument. Why do you think that it is important for beatmakers and producers to understand music theory and know how to play an instrument?
You know…there are a lot of music people getting by on the minimum. And I think you have to go all in, especially today, when it’s just insanely difficult to break through the production glass ceiling (and remain on top when you do). With that said, why not maximize your abilities? Why not give yourself a creative edge? Why not leverage the power that comes with really understanding music?
I can usually hear, in people’s work, that they have an understanding of music. There’s something about the way those producers and composers craft sound, write melodies, and connect chords. It’s mathematical. Not robotic per se, but it makes sonic sense. There are musical terms for all of this stuff that I’m describing and don’t know. But you know it when you hear it. Think about the guys who were in band in high school or college, or played in church, or had lessons as kids. You hear that understanding in their music.
Why wouldn’t you want to weaponize that?
Now that’s not to say that it’s a necessity. You can be incredibly talented and just have a knack for the compositional aspects of music. But even then, why not take your gifts and level up through knowledge and learning?
What, in your opinion, is the difference between beatmaking and producing?
Some of what I said about learning theory and aspiring to study instruments applies here. I would also add an extreme discomfort with the minimum – an urge to push to new levels of skill. Which is hard to cultivate. That aspiration isn’t always innate to people. And if it is innate, there’s a difference between wanting to push beyond the minimum and actually doing the uncomfortable things to do so.
It’s still this mystical concept – the difference between the two. But let’s briefly look at who we would describe as great producers. Quincy, Marvin, The Neptunes, Raphael Saadiq, Mark Ronson, Dre., Puff
They all compose music (maybe with the exception of Puff, but who knows?)
They spend time working with artists, coaching the best work out of them
They shape the vision of records
They produce whole projects
They sometimes craft a signature sound or at least create or assist a market change in sonic direction
Even if they’re not making the music, they’re facilitating the collaboration of beatmakers, producers, songwriters, and musicians
They’re signing acts, shaping them, bringing them to market
They’re working across multiple genres
They’re handling deals, paperwork, publishing, royalties, points, legal: the less-than-fun business of music
Those things are foreign to a lot of music makers. They’re difficult. They’re scary. This is the kind of stuff I write about in Don’t Make Beats Like Me. And I write all of this not to say that I had these concepts in mind or were aspiring to them during my time. I was either oblivious, terrified, or not ready just like other beatmakers. And if I did understand them intellectually, I wasn’t taking action on them. Which is where we get caught in the trap: knowing things intellectually, but not actually taking the daily steps to make them real.
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Technological advances have put the ability to produce music in everyone’s reach. Do you think there are advantages and/or disadvantages to that sort of accessibility?
Yes and no. It’s a beautiful thing to make music anytime, anywhere, all over the globe. It’s amazing that you can make quality records with amazing sounds while on a flight, or that some kid in a basement in Botswana can make dope records.
But let’s not be fooled – just because making music has become so much easier, making music isn’t easy at all. It’s still difficult. Becoming successful, sustaining yourself financially, getting heard…all of these concepts are challenging and require a different level of thinking outside of just making great tunes.
As well, outside of the digital stuff, I hope that producers still have some connection to being around and near instruments, holding guitars, wacking at drum sets. Hearing how flutes and horns sound in the natural, approaching theory and such.
Who are your favorite beatmakers/producers of all time?
Man, that’s so hard. I love producers and music makers who are mystical. Meaning they make the kind of music that I can’t easily decipher. I have to think about it, appreciate it. Like a piece of abstract art that requires interpretation. I think every producer wants people to think about his music like that. Like it has to be savored and thought of and understood. Music like that lasts a very, very long time. There’s a correlation between music that must be thought about and longevity. That’s not a coincidence.
Let me see if I can do my best…
Old School Producers
New School Producers
And there’s a whole host of composers and musicians that I consider to be crazy – Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Deodato, Lalo Schifrin for example.
What was the inspiration for the writing the book? Where did you get your ideas and information?
Production is too difficult for me to have stayed silent. And I was offered a really unique perspective. There were only maybe three producer resource companies back then. Three places where you could work closely with hundreds of producers at a time. Hear their questions at events, see what they discussed in forums, witness their challenges and failures and successes.
So I was seeing and learning all of this while also being a producer myself. I knew first-hand how it felt. To win. To lose. To pour your heart into your craft. I put two and two together. It was a mean formula for insight.
And I realized that so much of what music makers did or didn’t do, won or lost, was about what they were thinking and subsequently doing as a result of those thoughts.
So I wanted to put all of that together and create something that helped more music makers beat the odds and find what they were looking for. This business is too hard to go it alone. I wanted to be another helping hand.
Are there plans for another book?
I’m not sure. We’ll see how this one ends up doing, lol. But if not a book, maybe in another media format. We’ll see.
If aspiring producers could only take away 3 things from your book, what would you want them to be?
Another hard one.
Know yourself. Question everything. Question your habits, question your sound, question your sensitivity to criticism, question how you handle finances. If you can increase knowledge of self, question things, then objectively work to iron out the wrinkles in yourself and your music, you can make a way. Reading things like my book helps you ask questions and iron out wrinkles.
And master your craft. It doesn’t matter how strong you become emotionally, how incredible you are with habits and things of that nature if your music is mediocre or just like everyone else’s.
I enjoyed the fact that your book takes a rather focused look at the “mental” part of of beatmaking and producing. Why was that important for you to focus on that throughout the book?
It’s what matters. Everything flows from your thoughts and feelings. If you’re amazing, but you’re terrified of networking and meeting people or being critiqued, guess what? You have a problem.
If you’re an amazing musician but are awful at handling business…you’re going to eventually have a problem.
If you’re comfortable making music in your room for years and, despite your talent, haven’t cultivated your vision of what you’re supposed to be doing as a producer…you’re going to have a problem.
All of these things and more deal with how you feel and think. How you think and feel will direct how you act. It’s why if you take two equally talented producers and watch them progress over the years, one can significantly outpace the other in terms of success. Why is that? They’re both equally talented. But one is thinking and doing something entirely different. That’s the reason for the book’s focus.
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What advice would you give to the aspiring producing coming up?
Cultivate an accurate vision and actually do those things that make that vision real. If you want to be great, figure out what great really means, and hit those milestones on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis.
I want to be a masterful communicator. So I read. I listen to people speak. On a daily basis, I write words – stories, nonfiction, essays. I submit my material. I get rejected. I try again. I go to bookstores to see what’s out. I study incredible storytellers, what words they use, how they phrase their sentences. I take coursework.
Every week I’m doing the things that help propel me toward being a world-class communicator of ideas.
So with production…if you have a vision to be like one of your favorite producers, what does it mean you have to do on a daily basis?
Learn to work with artists
Handle the financial parts of the game
Cultivate a strong following
Build an incredible network
Sign acts and produce EP’s and albums
You can’t want to be like Just Blaze and not do “on-the-comeup” Just Blaze things.
So just make sure the vision matches the daily action. They are one in the same.
What can we expect from you going forward?
I don’t know man. Maybe I’ll ride off into the sunset and never be heard from again. Move to an island with my future-wife, live in a tiny house and eat coconuts and crab legs all day.