Beat Menace is an audiophile and gear-enthusiast. He shared his thoughts on the scene, making music in Ghana as well as his production set-up with us.
Who/What inspired you to get into music production and at what age did you start producing?
I always made music in one way or another as a child and growing up I remember playing around with utensils, combs, cutlery and the kitchen table, etc. I also really wanted to attend music school as a child but my parents had other plans. In hindsight I’m actually glad they did.
I can’t really tell exactly when I started making music but it became “official” after Secondary School. I did mess around with saving and manipulating beat ideas much earlier though when I was in Junior High. I used a boombox to record myself beatboxing and playing all sorts of instruments and layering these recordings by playing back what I had recorded on cassette and recording that on another boombox while adding other ideas musically. I was stacking sounds that way. I was the king of drumming on anything and in a way I still am, but in a less-gifted way LOL. Technology has made me a little lazy I guess. But I love it. It helps and spoils us at the same time.
What genre of music do you absolutely love to make and why?
This is one of the hardest questions for me to answer next to “name your favorite music genre or artist. I love music, probably to a fault. I write, compose, arrange, produce and engineer all types of music depending on the inspiration. When I started making beats on keyboard sequencers and drum machines, it was mostly Hip-Hop beats I made at the time because I had found Hip-Hop resonated with me at that point in my life much more than anything else.
However, after a few years, I paid less and less attention to Hip-Hop. I’ll always be a die-hard Hip-Hop head but I produce everything from full-on live 11-piece jazz music, Reggae, Folk, Ethnic music, Rock ( all live ), R&B, Soul, Neo-Soul, Afrobeat (the real Afrobeat and not what people typically call afrobeats these days. Fela-type Afrobeat), Pop, Highlife ( Old-School 50s to mid 70s style highlife especially), Electronic music and full-on cinematic orchestral scores mostly for film related work. I love it all!
I find the genres to be like languages and dialects in a way. Honestly, I’m not big on genres and the classification of music. I totally understand the need to put music into these little boxes for the purpose of identification and commerce, etc. I believe in a way it’s great to be organized in order to market or sell a music product thus the need for genres but it sometimes becomes a problem. It’s sometimes really difficult to absolutely classify true expression of art, and that’s what music is.
Do you think the classification of music into genres is absolutely necessary?
For marketing purposes, I guess it’s essential to classify according to genres. Genres are constantly being re-defined these days as the divides become seemingly blurry with expansive creative expression. This has been long-winded but I hope I answered your question somewhere along the line.
What’s the most challenging part of the production process for you?
It varies. It could be anything from being able to express candidly some idea I may try to lay down, or a vocalist not being able to bring the right performance to a song or the emotion to carry it, right down to very mundane situations like seeing something pretty graphic (e.g. Motor accident) and receiving a phone call sometime later about writing or creating music that is supposed to be used for a love song for instance. Most of what I do is very emotionally driven.
I am also pretty anal about detail and finishing as well as achieving perfection in music and in a lot of things I do so it gets frustrating when something gets in the way. It can even be a problem where I feel a recording is too clean and I want some grunge or dirt in the recording. It depends and can happen at any point in the production process. Getting a production to where I know it ought to be could be frustrating especially when things get in the way.
What is your current DAW setup like?
I have 3 setups. My laptop with a lot of soft-synths and plugins running Logic 9 and X as well as Protools 11. My second rig is mostly for production in my studio. I record here as well depending on the nature of the project or budget. It’s pretty much the same thing as my laptop but with a lot more instruments and plugins as well as additional MIDI controllers, drum machines, samplers and vintage synth keyboards. I run these through a 16-input audio sound card / converter that I can use to record a small to medium sized live production whenever required.
My third and main studio is for audiophiles and productions that require the most in sonic quality and acoustics. It is stocked with vintage and standard outboard Keyboards and synths, Guitars, a baby-grand acoustic piano, fender Rhodes and MIDI controllers, etc. It also houses an 80-track analog desk as well as a 24-track analog tape recorder. This studio houses a live space for “old school” type recording. Esoteric mixing and mastering will typically be done in this studio. My initial ideas are usually just done on my laptop before I track other stuff all over in the main studio.
Who’s the most inspiring artist you’ve worked with so far and what makes them exceptional?
I haven’t worked with as many artists locally but I’ve been blessed to know more than a few talented artists. Many are relatively unknown mainstream but have a fairly solid cult following. Some names that come to mind are Ama Sante, Victor Dey Jr, Bernard Ayisa, Manu Falla, GhaliLeo, a brilliant singer-songwriter called Sedi Adayi, Boy Nash, Yoliswa, VILLY & the Xtreme Volumes, Cecily Alexa, Leanne C, Daniel Kruger, Manatee, etc.
I’m sure I’ve left out a few names. I mostly choose the artists to work with and I usually place performance and expression ( artistic honesty ) above everything else. I’ve worked with some of these acts for as long as 12 to 13 years even though we do not have material we’ve released yet to the public but at some point I think I’ll just open the vault and let people drown in the volume of work we’re yet to release.
I’ve mentored a lot of artists and have been mentored to. It’s a symbiotic relationship and I’m constantly learning and teaching. I can’t work with artists I can’t get inspiration from. It’s different every time and with each artist. I will probably have to end somewhere as this answer may take days to answer properly. I have worked with a couple artists locally and around the world in diverse genres but the one thing they all have in common is a genuine love and respect for music, perfection and artistic expression.
Give me an artist who is open-minded, hardworking, talented and most importantly open-minded. I can’t handle or stand a “shoe-boxed” mentality in any form.
Who are your top 10 producers both globally and locally?
Globally In no particular order: Quincy Jones, Sir George Martin, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Teddy Riley, Neptunes, Timbaland, John Shanks, Brian Eno. Local producers will include Stan Plange, Essiebons, Panji, Sewor, Jayso, Juls and Mikemillz.
What’s the hardest part about making music in a market like Ghana?
Ignorance about the craft and the lack of proper structures to support it as a viable product. It’s an easy answer but not a simple one. The problems are multi-faceted. We must build an industry because currently it doesn’t exist in any form. We must educate practitioners of the craft, hobbyists and the masses alike about intellectual property, publishing proper branding and marketing, standard industry practices, etc.
I’ve been involved in trying to raise some form of awareness in my own way by educating artists, engineers, producers etc, when I realize that I know something they may not know by engaging in a discourse, giving out books, videos, and other educative material I think may be of help.
I and a number of like-minded individuals also started an Organization known as the Audio Engineers and Producers Association of Ghana ( @aepagh ) to help raise awareness of the need for global standard industry practices ( as far as skill and business know how ) to be implemented through workshops, discussions, etc.
Can you give us names of 3 upcoming Ghanaian acts that we should watch out for this year?
Yoliswa and Ama Sante for sure. I’m working with other acts but I’m pretty sure most of these will be released sometime next year. The projects I’m releasing this year have been work I started a couple years back and it’s just at this point I feel confident that the work is ready for release. I’m working on some pretty interesting music projects, some very experimental. I’ve been involved in 6 of such album projects already this year alone.
Would you say music production for you is enough to live on or do you have side jobs?
Sometimes I feel music is the side job that takes a lot of my time. I run a creative agency and I studied design, advertising, animation and actually lectured that in the University when I was 23. I don’t only live off music alone although I want to believe I can. The truth is I’ve always done other stuff and because time is a luxury for me, I make sure anytime I work on a project, it’s viable from a creative to a compensatory standpoint.
It is one of the reasons I can’t work with may Ghanaian acts. They are not as developed as I think they should be, are lazy and have a culture of not wanting to pay for services. That came out wrong and probably makes me sound like a snob but the reality is many people in this line of work will perfectly relate to what I’m saying. I can work for little to nothing but it still has to be worth my time.
If you’re a singer or claim to be one and you can’t develop your voice to be in key or sing pitches correctly and are used to using software to enhance your performances, you’ll be a waste of my time. I don’t have a problem with pitch correction but I have a problem with supposed singers who can’t sing without it. Pitch correction for instance can be used as a creative tool but 99% of its use today is to mask or compensate bad pitches from singers who have no business recording in the first place LOL.
So coming from that perspective, I believe that doesn’t give me enough for my family and I to live on as this scenario automatically eliminates 98 – 99% of Ghanaian artists. It’s brutal but that’s the truth. The truth is almost always a hard pill to swallow.
There’s another side to the coin though, thankfully. Music is art. Art is one of the few things that naturally has a global marketplace, even more so in this era where the internet is king. Meaning I don’t necessarily have to do things I may not be too proud of to be able to put food on my table. Not yet at least. Never, I hope. I believe in globalization and that has always been my mantra from the get go and that has influenced my work ethic, my penchant for quality and not quantity etc. I try to carry that philosophy in everything I do and get involved with. I need to ask myself “is this something I’ll be proud of 75 years from now?” To me, this question is the ultimate litmus test and I’ll like the answer to be a resounding yes every time there’s the need for me to ask that question.
Any last words for upcoming producers?
Do what you do for genuine reasons. Love what you do and develop your craft. Know yourself and develop your identity so you’re different from everyone else. These days, everything sounds the same because of the abundance of the soft-synths and programs everyone uses. What makes it worse is the fact that music isn’t in the school curriculum anymore and many parents and guardians do not see the important role music plays in the lives of their children and ultimately, society.
Learn an instrument and some basic music theory if possible. The entry point for music these days is really easy. It is a gift and a curse. It’s a gift because it’s empowering to have just a laptop and some software and be able to make amazing music in the most remote places. It’s a curse because 1. Everyone thinks by virtue of the fact that they have access to a computer and some software, they are producers. Yes, you could spend some time every day on your computer and do some stuff you may call music but that’s very relative; besides, production has a lot more to it than just making beats on a laptop. It cheapens the art form and gets people caught in the “feedback loop” thinking just anyone can do it.
The decrease in the number of people who understand some music theory; however basic or those who can play some instrument in any form ( not to discredit any producers who have no knowledge whatsoever in theory or how to play an instrumetn; although there are a few out there doing some amazing work, it’s actually pretty genius ).
Developing your craft and learning some theory and an instrument or more will help you stand out and greatly increase your musical vocabulary to potentially express yourself in more ways than one. There is the need for people to be unique today than there ever was in the past because of the internet alone. Give me a reason to choose you and not the next person. Sounds easy but it takes time, patience and sacrifice.
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