The Making of Cypher 19 “Say My Name Again”

The Cypher 019: Say My Name Again EP are the best songs from the monthly cypher challenge that required Producer Dojo Ninjas to represent their brands through sound. The EP was well received and immediately shot to the #2 New Release on The Beatport Leftfield Bass chart. Luke Rain did an amazing job curating the cypher and I caught up with him to learn more about his experience.

Luke, nice work on curating Cypher 19: Say My Name Again. Tell us, why did you choose this theme? 

This is now my third cypher challenge I’ve curated, and I’ve got to say, this one was the most challenging, but also the one where I learned the most. I chose this theme, Say My Name Again, because I know how important good branding is in today’s music industry, and how you need to be able to connect that brand to the music to stand out in a crowded marketplace. 

I also chose this theme because the Say My Name cypher we did in 2018 was a big one for me, personally. Once I made it on my first cypher (003: Night at the Movies with my Trap Jesus tune Mike Lowry) it became my goal to earn the leadoff spot on a mixtape. It took me 5 more tries, but I finally did it with Cypher 008: Say My Name, with another Trap Jesus tune called Spell My Name

Since that time I had gotten some really good advice from industry professionals that, while my name Trap Jesus was a strong brand, it didn’t fit with the non-trap music I was also making. I consulted with ill.Gates about a year ago and decided to rebrand my upcoming dubstep release, Katanas, as a Luke Rain song, bringing back my old brand from my days on the Seattle rap scene. With the new name I was excited to Say My Name Again, so when ill.Gates asked for cypher ideas and volunteers, my hand went all the way up!

You mentioned challenges, what were they, and what did you learn from them?

The biggest challenge that I, and many of the Ninjas in the cypher, faced, was overcoming the ego and getting out of our own way as producers. The challenge prompt, say MY name, looking back at it, invited this learning process in a big way. I wanted to make my track a serious banger, one for the record books. I started with a cool timer beat and added a vocal idea that had been bouncing around my head for quite a while, but a “cool beat” just didn’t seem cool enough for me. I had to make it bigger, faster, harder, with more change-ups, louder. I reworked the song so many times, so many versions, that I basically drove it into the ground. ill.Gates literally used the phrase “beating a dead horse” at the end there, lol. 

I thought I had to do more, that I was supposed to manipulate my sounds as much as I could, to be more impressive than my previous tracks. I now see that lots of my Ninjas shared that thought, and our tracks were the ones that had to get cut from the cypher. It was a tough lesson to learn, but it came with many gifts. The gift of humility and the gift of letting go of a track that’s been overworked. The gift of learning that a song is not its production, but an idea that connects with the listener. That how good a song is does not correlate to how much work went into it, but how little is in the way of that idea. 

Some of the Ninjas in the challenge had either learned that lesson explicitly before this or they intuitively understood it. Their dope songs, produced just the right amount, are the beautiful tracks I have the pleasure of presenting on Cypher 019: Say My Name Again!

Do you have any special shout outs or nods of recognition for the participants in Cypher 19?

Yes, a huge shout out to Tao Moon. His track, The Name, is a special one to me, and it really exemplifies the power of persistence paired with the Dojo system of learning. I had the pleasure of hearing the first draft of this track in my feedback section while Will was still an Orange Belt. Before he had the name Tao Moon, actually! This song was made using the Loop Menu recipe from the EDM Cookbook, which involves finding one killer melody and reworking it thru a bunch of different patches, then stitching all the pieces together artfully using the Checkerboard Method. 

Will worked hard on that recipe thru a few drafts until it was good enough to earn him the Green Belt, and I was super proud of him for achieving that goal. Right about that time is when this cypher challenge launched, and Green Belt is when Ninjas unlock the ability to submit to the cyphers. I encouraged Will to submit to the Say My Name cypher, and he did, adding lyrics and making an even cooler rendition of the song. Then he hit a little snag.

Will realized the name he had initially chosen didn’t feel right, and changed it to Tao Moon. I’m a big fan of that name, and what better time to pick a new name than during the Say My Name Again Cypher, right? He knew he’d have to scrap the vocals that were on the song, and was faced with a choice: scrap the whole song and drop out of the challenge, or double down. Will chose to remix the song with new vocals, working hard to finish  before it was too late, and he made the submission deadline! I was a big fan of the new changes and chose his song from the submission pool to be a part of the Cypher mixtape. He had earned his Red Belt!

Then the cypher was out of my hands, and passed over to ill.Gates for final critiques. Through that process, some tracks actually didn’t make the final cypher cut (including my own. Like I said, it had some fatal flaws, lol). Not only did Tao Moon’s track survive the guillotine, ill.Gates loved it so much he actually chose it for the Say My Name Again EP! The song had earned Tao Moon his Brown Belt!

And since he had kicked so much butt, showed so much improvement through such dedication, I had to nominate him for the honorary Purple Belt as well, which he was awarded in March (read all about that here). 4 belts. One song. Kinda like “one band, one sound” but more badass! And Will has been hard at work creating new songs for Dojo fans to boogie down to in the meantime. I’m so excited to see the future of Tao Moon, and dance to the results! Great job, Will!

Is there anything else that you would like to share with us? 

Yeah, in music making there is nothing you’re ‘supposed’ to do. In fact, the term ‘supposed to’, along with ‘should’ and ‘try’, are ones I’m working to remove from my vocabulary. Through experience I’ve found they aren’t helpful, and actually hinder a happy life, not to mention a successful creative process. In hindsight I can see where my internal ‘supposed to’s’ got in the way of me allowing my song to be good. But I’m grateful for that, because I can learn from it.

I’d also like to share that, along this crazy journey of life and music making, I highly recommend seeking gratitude for ALL things that happen, no matter how hard they may hit the ego. It’s only through gratitude that we can move past the discomfort and on to the valuable lessons. Sure, it sucked getting MY song cut from MY cypher, but really it only sucked to MY ego.

The ego is afraid because it knows it’s fragile, that the slightest elevation in consciousness necessarily means it’s own death. That’s why the ego fights elevation. But I know (I, not ego, big difference!) that the ego is a phoenix. Every humbling moment, every seized opportunity to persevere through discomfort toward positive growth, burns that ego to the ground. But from the ashes, inevitably, and almost immediately, a new ego arises to stretch its wings. An ego that has a little bit of the bullshit burned away. One less ‘should’ or  ‘supposed to’  that life heaped on us, a limiting belief or negative thought, cleansed through a trial by fire. Contrary to popular belief, the ego isn’t bad, it’s necessary,  and we can’t get rid of it while living. But it’s also necessary to burn that thing down from time to time!

So to end my stroll down philosophy lane, I say go seek that fire. Push past the scary moments, get feedback on a song that needs to be cut to shreds, say the truth that may have consequences. Love your ego enough to kill it regularly so it can come back better.

Oh yeah, and SAY MY NAME AGAIN!

Check out the new Cypher 019: Say My Name Again EP here.