Views From The Studio: Meet Producer Frequency
Frequency is truly a student of the game. While pursuing a career as a full-time producer, the New York native perfected his craft by digging through his parent’s immense collection of records and crafting his own beats on a daily basis from artists like The Delfonics and Jerry Butler on his “little PC computer.”
The song structures he learned from those early R&B musicians from the 1960s and ’70s helped to dispel his method of “just creating a beat” and shaped the sounds into something that’ll stand the test of time. His passion for constructing those sounds can be felt on Eminem’s “Monster” hit which went three-times platinum in the United States.
For VIBE’s latest installment of Views From The Studio, Frequency discusses how he got his start in the industry as part of the group the Understudies, gaining inspiration from working with Slaughterhouse and his plans for the future.
VIBE: How old were you when you made your first beat and describe that moment?
Frequency: Probably 15, and I was just screwing around on the computer before I had any equipment. My dad had a big record collection, so I was picking some of his old records and sampling them, chopping them up on my little PC computer. It was pretty bad but that was my first little experience. It was amazing that I could make something that came out of my brain basically using somebody else’s music. It was pretty cool.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I started out selling tracks or giving free beats to local people from New York. Some stuff was just meeting people on the Internet and I started going out to shows and passing out CDs to people anyway I could, burning my own CDs with beats and stuff. My first really big placement was a song I did for Snoop Dogg called “Think About It.” I went to one of these producer conferences where aspiring producers come and watch panels, and listen to people talk about their place in the business. There were a whole bunch of A&R’s there and there was one from Geffen Records who I handed a CD to. He walked away with probably a stack of 300 CDs from all of these people. His name is Mike Chavez. Almost a year-and-a-half to two years later I got a phone call from him. I guess the CDs were sitting around his office and he decided to go through some of them. For whatever reason he picked up mine and he found this track. He sent it over to Snoop Dogg and he liked it, recorded it, and called me and said, ‘Snoop Dogg recorded to your song!’ That was my first big thing. I wasn’t expecting it. I threw it out into the world and that’s how it started.
You’re also a DJ, so how did that profession help shape you into becoming a producer?
I was brought up on hip-hop and a lot of the old music that was being sampled in hip-hop. My parents both listened to a lot of Soul, R&B music and had a large record collection. I got into it a lot through the records, going through them and finding samples, different sounds. That transitioned into DJing and seeing how people reacted to different music in a live setting like that. It informed me into what sounds work good in the club or at a party, and it was a back and forth conversation figuring out if I play this break, maybe people will react this way, or loop that idea or groove.
You were also part of a group called The Understudies. How did that group prepare you for the industry, because from that experience you went on to collaborate with other artists from John Legend to The Roots?
When I first started out I was working in a little studio and being in that group, doing shows, being out at clubs and venues, it opened up my world from just being in the studio and seeing how the music translates in a live setting as opposed to DJing records at a party to actually doing a show and seeing how those records that we made are being translated. It solidified everything together. I learned a lot about production and working with artists. When I started out I was making beats for myself. I transitioned into crafting songs for an artist and figuring out ‘This is going to be a song, not just a beat.’
Do you have a song that you produced that you feel didn’t get the recognition it should’ve received?
I did a song recently for this artist, Bebe Rexha, who co-wrote Eminem’s song “Monster” with me. A song that I did for her, a piano balled called “Gone,” came out last year. I don’t know why it didn’t take off. Probably because it’s a ballad and it’s kind of slow but it’s one of the best songs that I’ve been a part of. It’s a really great emotional song. She’s a great artist and a great writer. Maybe down the road it’ll get a sync in a TV or a movie, but that’s one of my favorite songs.
As a producer do you think you have to conform to a popular sound to get a record noticed? For example with DJ Mustard, he has the Bay Area sound that a lot of artists are going for. But as a producer do you feel that you may have to conform to a popular sound?
I would say in the beginning maybe I did. I was listening to what was out there, and maybe not necessarily copying but trying to mimic things. But now I don’t think about that at all. That’s very prevalent in hip-hop and urban music. When you start getting 50,000 songs that sound like the exact same thing, while you might get a placement or it might be on the radio for a little bit, the life of that is going to be short lived. A lot of these songs are out on the radio for a month and that’s it, you’ll probably never hear that song again two years from now. It’s so of the moment. It keeps your name out there, but it’s not what I want to be doing. I want to create songs that are going to last and stand out. When you’re doing something that sounds different, or pushing the envelope a little bit, that’s going to stand out amongst everything else that sounds the same. There’s a lot of records out there right now that may sound like DJ Mustard’s records, and they’re not DJ Mustard’s but everyone is assuming it’s him. It’s not really giving the guy who actually did it any type of credit. I love all types of music and I’ve been trying to make great songs that are going to impact people as opposed to making tracks that sounds like something so I can get on the next whoever else. I’ve really tried to move towards finding artists, trying to develop people and work on songs that I feel connected to as opposed to trying to chase a trend. Honestly, four, five months from now that sound is going to be gone just like certain elements of the Trap sound are starting to evolve. Things change and you have to be on the edge of the envelope as opposed to trying to catch up with it.
What do you think makes a beat stand the test of time?
I think the biggest thing is I don’t think it’s necessarily just the beat. Whether it’s a hip-hop, pop or R&B song, the song matters. You could have the hottest beat, but if the song sucks you’ll never hear that song again. I think it’s more about the marriage of the right song and the right artist. I don’t think it’s just about the beat. When those songs stand the test of time, there’s something magical that happens in the interaction between the music, artist, and the writing that creates itself. That magic dust that’s in some of those big songs.
Are there any artists or producers pushing the genre forward?
I think J. Cole is one of them especially with the last album that came out [2014 Forest Hills Drive]. There was a single, but it wasn’t really about trying to do what people are doing, he just does what he does. He’s a great producer, rapper, writer, and honestly even Kanye [West]. I know that a lot of people didn’t like his last album [Yeezus] but he’s always pushing the envelope. People may not like what he does, but I really respect that he never does the same thing twice. He’s always looking to do something different. Producer-wise I would say Timbaland. You always know a Timbaland record when you hear it, he’s always pushing the envelope.
How did you link up with Eminem for “Monster?” What was that studio session like?
That was a crazy process. The song was originally written for Bebe Rexha. I had been working with her for a couple of months on her own music and we did a songwriting session for her. The whole song was probably written in two hours and it was a kick-drum piano, some bass and her vocals. It was a full song with verses, a bridge, and the chorus was the same but it wasn’t a rap song, it was a pop song. A couple of weeks later there was a holiday party at the studio I was working at. I know Riggs Morales who is an A&R at Shady Records and I’ve been sending him beats for 10 years. I invited him up to the studio, had a couple of beers and just played him what I was working on. Not to say ‘This would be a good song for Eminem.’ I was like ‘I’m working with this artist. We just did this song a week or two ago, tell me what you think.’ It was in a really rough stage this late in the pro tools session, and he said, ‘This could be a good song for Eminem. This is really powerful, but you’d have to change the production on it,’ because it wasn’t a hip-hop record at the time.
I went back to everybody and I said, ‘Are you guys cool with us trying to pitch this to Eminem?’ Everyone was, and I spent probably two weeks working on the production trying to get it to a point that I thought it would be a good Eminem record. There was a lot of back and forth because there’s about 4 or 5 versions of the production before it got to the final version. Changing drums, guitar sounds, structure wise, and the chorus was always there. I was working off of Bebe’s vocals and it finally got to a point that Riggs liked it and he gave it Paul Rosenberg, Eminem’s manager. He gave it to Eminem and they liked it. A week later they said can I send them the pro tools file. We sent it over to them and it was the track with Bebe’s vocals on it for the chorus. Em ended up recording his vocals at his studio and then sent it to Rihanna to record the chorus. They put the session together and sent it to Dr. Dre who actually mixed it. That whole process was like a year-and-a-half.
How did you react to the success of the track?
It changed my life. I knew when we did the original version that the chorus and the melody was really powerful. When I heard what Eminem did with it, I was like ‘Wow this is going to be really great.’ I’d hoped that people were going to react to it the way that I reacted to it and they did. It was an incredible feeling. I started going to a deli by my house in Washington Heights where I was living at the time in New York. I’d go to get my coffee in the morning and it was playing on the radio. I never said anything to anybody but it was a really interesting experience for sure.
Have you ever had a memorable moment in the studio with an artist?
Probably when I did some stuff with Slaughterhouse. At the very early stages of Slaughterhouse when they first formed as a group, they were pretty much individual rappers. They had recorded to one of my tracks called “Onslaught.” It was one of the first songs that they did together as a group. They all were in New York meeting to talk about solidifying the group and they ended up booking a studio session and invited me over there. I played them some beats and it was one of the first times they were recording together because they conversed separately. It was never like the 4 of them writing and working together. It was interesting to see these four people who are all super talented in their own right and had very successful solo careers to come together and everyone be on the same page and start from scratch. There was another song we ended up doing called “Fight Club” and it was great to see everybody as opposed to people just writing verses and that’s it, we paste it all together. There were a couple of sections where they go back and forth and it was cool to see that collaboration between these four talented minds.
Do you have a time in your career that was like your defining moment?
Probably the Eminem song, success wise, but learning wise or where I wanted to go with my career is the time when I worked with the producers Trackmasters for a couple of years. That was my first exposure to working with songwriters and singers, and not just rappers. I learned so much in that process of really making a song. Not just throwing a couple of verse or three 16s and that’s it. I learned a lot about melody, recording vocals, shaping the transitions between sections of a song. That changed me as a producer and put me on a path of trying to be something different and going outside of what I normally try to do.
You’ve produced melodies from hip-hop to alternative rock. Do you find a certain genre to be more time-consuming?
Everything has it’s own things that are faster or slower. Sometimes a hip-hop track can be a bit quicker, but with the rock stuff I’m starting from scratch with a band, guitars, drums, horns, everyone is collaborating together. A lot of my tracks, aside from a piano ballad, the drums are really important. If I’m working on a rock record I’m going to make sure the pattern, sound and drums are going to knock. Obviously I’m not going to make it sound like a hip-hop record, but I pick some of what I do with different genres and apply them in my own way on different things.
What was the process like being the executive producer for the MisterWives’ album Our Own House?
That was a different experience for me because I haven’t worked with a live band like that. That was recording live drums, horns, and accordion. We locked out in the studio for two months and everybody had the drums, mics, pre-amps, everything was set up and Mandy the lead singer wrote all the songs. She was bringing ideas to everybody, and everyone would contribute their own input to the songs. Just helping them shape that sound, they had a strong idea of what they wanted and it was doing what was best for the songs. It was a lot of fun because one of the things that’s great about something like that is the freedom to experiment. You’re not trying to pitch songs to anybody or place a song on an album. This is the band and this is what we’re doing. We’re not trying to sound like anybody else. We’re trying to make fun songs. It was a lot of fun to experiment with things and going outside of my comfort zone. Trying to get the snare drum to sound a different way, and how are we going to mic an accordion (laughs). The bathroom in my studio is big for no reason and we got some crazy reverb. We brought some microphones and did some snaps in the bathroom, other weird sounds and that’s not something I would do on a normal day in the studio. But being around that collaborative environment of experimenting was really fun.
From your travel experience as a DJ, has it ever influenced your music?
Yes, when I was DJing with Slaughterhouse for their tour. Just being out there and hearing stuff on the radio and hearing stuff I never heard before or would never hear here in the States, it made me realize there’s so much music out there. There are so many different kinds of things we may never hear and just be more open to other sounds and types of music. It opened up my mind to see that there are people from all over the world from different walks of life. That being said, it made me realize that music transcends the language barrier. A lot of these countries that we went to they don’t speak English, but they like the music. That’s something that’s really powerful. You don’t understand a word that’s being said, but it speaks to you.