Creating An Identity and Defining Your Sound

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In my latest interview, ill.gates discussed the Producer Dojo Cypher 8 and he shared his views on the importance of identity and how it can propel you forward to achieve your goals. 

Dylan, when did you come up with the concept of the “Say My Name” Cypher and why do you think it is a valuable learning exercise for Producer Dojo members?

One of the most essential things I can teach is the importance of creating an identity and defining a sound for it. In my experience taking a name has a huge psychological impact on artists. It is only after we assume an artist identity that we have something to lose. It’s all pie in the sky until that moment. Humans work harder to avoid loss than to seek equivalent gain. It’s just a quirk of human psychology I guess, but why not use it to your advantage as an artist?

How many “Say My name” songs have you made for ill.gates over the years?

I’ve definitely made a few. The main one is that acapella I made for my track ‘I’m Eel.’ I wrote a rap and then replaced each syllable individually with samples of other rappers. It sounds really unique and definitely lets the people on the dancefloor know whose set they’re at! I’ve remixed that acapella about 10 times and it’s really become a defining feature of my live sets. For this mixtape I finally remixed ‘Time to Get Ill’ by the Beastie Boys. I’ve been playing it out as well and it really works. People do the chant and everything. It’s really satisfying.

Out of all of the students that you worked with on the Cypher, do you have a shout out for most improved on Cypher 8?  Can you share the story of the student’s progression?

I was particularly impressed with Trap Jesus on this one. He’s always been good, but I feel like his ‘Say My Name’ track represents a big leap forwards for him as an artist. You can really feel the love and creativity behind it and it’s a joy to listen to. Once he did that one I felt he was ready for bigger and better things at the dojo so I’ve since hired him on as our resident Reason instructor. Big up Trap Jesus!

What do you think was the most common recurring struggle or obstacle shared by most participants?

Confidence is a massive part of music making, especially in the early days. It’s really easy to get overwhelmed by the sea of talented producers out there in the world and to feel like they all have some special thing that you lack. The truth is that they are all struggling every day as well. They have the same demons, the same fears, the same inferiority complex comparing themselves to their heroes. The truth of the matter is that even when producing music becomes easier, the psychological struggle never ends. For this mixtape I wanted to challenge the dojo members to face themselves in the mirror and prove to themselves that they ARE worthy. That their music IS worth paying attention to, and that they CAN take this thing as far as they want to. I’m really proud of my squad. I think this is the best mixtape yet!

For those who worked really hard on their submission, but didn’t make the final cut…do you have any words of encouragement for them?

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan.

A lot of people struggle with finding the “face” of their songs.  Do you have any advice on concrete and specific steps that students can take to find or create faces/narratives for their songs? 

Yes, actually. I was talking about this process with Mr. Bill while we were working on our Virtual Riot collab and the whole concept of a ‘face’ wasn’t really sitting well with him. He felt it was gimmicky or contrived and was pretty much 100% opposed to the concept at first. Upon further explanation I was able to help him through it though. His problem was that he was thinking that the face had to be a lyric, or a hook. It was a misunderstanding. The face can be anything that makes the track memorable, unique, and easy to describe. The face on our Virtual Riot collab ended up being made from these contact mic recordings I made by dragging my wet fingers along the side of a baloon. The sound was a real purple cow! I’ll be putting balloon noises in a LOT of my music now. They sound fucking insane!

Is there anything else that you would like to share?

Definitely! I’d like to share how proud I am of all the progress being made by my Dojo members. Sure I give them a lot of resources and information, but to make progress you HAVE to work hard. There really is no way around it. Seeing them all making progress both in music, and in their lives in general gives me this deep level of satisfaction that I don’t even get from making my own music. I’m addicted to this feeling!

The Producer Dojo Cypher 8 is now available on SoundCloud where you can hear the 37 minute mix in its entirety and download the individual artist tracks for free.