In music today, technology has made it possible for anyone to make an attempt at getting into the music business. Most are just open mic rappers, and box placing music makers. Few are actually making any actual money, and there seems to be more than meets the eye in those we are told are dominating the digital charts. Today we sit down for an in depth interview with indie super producer "20Keyz," as he gives us a first hand look into himself, his life and an industry few can get a foot in the door to. Mainly because they don't understand the business nature of "sound production."
1) WWF: Many don't know who you are, so please, introduce yourself to the readers at WorldWrapFederation.
20Keyz: That is true. But that is how the business is built today. Well, I produce under the name 20Keyz. I've been into production for maybe 10,11 years. I've produced 100's of songs for artists ranging from Hip Hop to Trap Rap, down to RnB and Alternative. I've also done film and television scores for many years, that is the music you hear at a dramtic moment or playing in the background. I'm a quiet guy. I like to tell people I speak through my fingers and the final creation is my story. Take a listen.
2) WWF: And where are you from?
20Keyz: Oh all over the U.S. I come from a military family so we moved a lot as I was growing up. I have thin memories before maybe 5 or 6, but I can remember being in the coldest of cold in a winter storm, and even memories of playing in an ocean beach. I never spent more than 3 years in one school. I've lived in the Carolina's, Washington, Texas, Kansas, Indiana, and I am currently located in Illinois. Just to name a few places.
3) WWF: What would you say were some of the pros and cons to moving that much?
20Keyz: Well, obviously the main con was stability. Whenever we moved it would be HOURS away at the least. Usually 100's of miles from my last place of residence. I never had a junior high graduation as we moved right before so my diploma was mailed to us. I never went to prom because we moved right before the 4th quarter of my junior year. Then I home schooled for almost a year before my father planted us in Kansas where I did my last semester of high school. So friendships were few and short lived. Even with social media, I keep contact with some people I knew, but time goes by and people grow and change. So it isn't like I have daily conversations or even weekly or monthly, with anyone I haven't seen since moving. The pros, well, it kept me working on my sound. it was all I really had to do in between moving and meeting new people. But it made me more socially skilled as I had to introduce myself more often then people my ages had to. And those introductions and associations broadened my view of music. Both in what I was hearing and listening too, down to what I wanted to create.
4) WWF: What would you say is your favorite genre of music? Both in listening too and creating?
20Keyz: I really can't put any one above the other. Once you can remove hip hop, RnB, heavy metal, East Coast, West Coast, Dirty South, this label, that label, so on and so on, from the equation...You really see that music is just Music. It's all the creation and collaboration of sound. Just these people create it different than those people. So for me, my playlist right now consist of everything. Jodeci, Nirvana, Heart, Earth, Wind and Fire, Madonna to Pac, Biggie, Ice Cube, Das EFX, Lords of the Underground, to Twiztid to NBA YoungBoy is in my files. And I'm literally pulling names of what was streaming on my ride here today. Clearly nothing is really the same as the other. And any of these,and others, could spark an idea for a composition. So there is no "one" for me. Music is music. And I love it.
5) WWF: Is there any one artist or producer who gets your creative thoughts going when you hear them today?
20Keyz: You know,...and I mean this with no disrespect because of course i hear things sometimes that sends me to the drawing board. But no one I can really just name that stands out. And it's because they come and go so fast these days. Their sound gets copied and remade a 100 times. And after a week or two on the charts, everything starts sounding like run on songs. These artists hit the spotlight, and they're gone and replaced 30 days later. Honestly anything I've heard in the last maybe 5 years, that really really caught me...was done by an artist or producer from before this era, who is still working in the mix now. And again, I hear things that get me going, but it's repeated so quickly it's hard to just pinpoint anyone directly.
6) WWF: How do you feel about the treatment of producers in today's scene?
20Keyz: It is...HORRIBLE. The worst i have seen in my life. Producers kind of always had it hard. Because even if you get that hit single, and become apart of that winning team for the moment...there is a lot of,...excuse my choice of words but,..fuckery. There's a few reasons here. One being that its all these music makers today. Computers have completely removed the need for a person to actually be talented in making music. I use the word "producer" lightly these days. There are some producers still alive and well. But you see how it is today, they create an amazing sound that stands out on a Monday...and by Friday 50 music makers are releasing beats titled "type" and completely using the producers sound. Another being a lot of producers don't understand the business side of the music business. These major labels and major artists know this and they come with these warp designed contracts with fine print and confusing detail that screws the producer. And then even if you know this and work past it, there is so much red tape in payment process and the producer is almost ALWAYS the last check written. I mean the crew will have their time reigning on the top and fall to the bottom, and the producer is still waiting on the check from the initial single that made it all possible. It's really ridiculous.
7) WWF: Wouldn't it just be smart to charge in full up front then?
20Keyz: What the hell is "in full" for a producer?? (He then laughed at us for quite a few minutes before resuming) Ok look, its like this...let's take, I don't know, lets say Lil Wayne is working on a new album, and they contact me for production...what would be in full? What if they don't release it as a single? What if they do and it flops? What if it blows up? What exactly is in full? See what I mean? Say I say "Well you're Wayne soooo $20,000 for a beat" I'm not a major producer so say he says "hell no, i got an email full of producers sending me beats"...I just lost an opportunity. But what if he says yes and the single sells 15 million? I just lost a major pay out cause the beat is paid for. And, they bought the beat..so they give someone else credit. So now I have $20,000 to pay for a lawyer to go against a million dollar labels team of lawyers. I get my credit but I lost my money. And leasing is no better, although the smartest option aside from exclusive rights, but again...now you're waiting on a check. Hopefully they didn't get you with the fine print of the contract.
8) WWF: And you're currently dealing in these situations if we are hearing correctly. Can you elaborate for our readers?
20Keyz: Well, unfortunately the whole case is still going through the motions and is open. What I can say, is I was signed to a production team who was signed to what is called a "hush entity", something like a secret record label. We produced for major artists in several genres, as well as was contracted to produce for some successful "indie artists" as they call them. My sound has been heard in several songs the last few years, but i haven't received credit or payment. The label says it paid the production company, the production company says it hasn't been fully paid and has sent out some royalty payments. I haven't seen any. Now the reason I can speak in this type of detail is because I joined the production team after they inked the major contract. And I personally refused to sign a gag order. And this is probably why this is the first many people have heard of this "hush entity." I personally thought it something demonic I was going to be a witness to because of all the stuff you see on the internet today, but it was really just about the major fund providers in the music industry today. And it isn't just Hip Hop. Hip Hop is just being used as a forefront.
9) WWF: Wow. Can You Speak Out This "Secret label"? Or do you have to be discreet?
20Keyz: No I can talk about it. My situation doesn't pertain to that. It is just intertwined. I can imagine you have a spread sheet of questions in your mind, and I don't want to dwell to long, so let me see if I can sum it up in one answer. It's like this...we have this huge flood of ways that artists can release and distribute music suddenly being presented. With things going digital, the streaming thing is just inevitable for take over. The industry is the heart of the music "business," so believe it when I say, long before the opportunities for artists came about...an opportunity was presented to major investors in the music business. So now you have to make alllllllllll these people with home studios believe it's possible for them to distribute and become famous. How do you promote it? You sign a bunch of artists who you finance for tours and promotions, website placement, radio spins and interviews, even pay to play with numbers and excitement behind the music. Then when all these artists are supposedly selling 100,000 copies of their music on itunes and millions of followers on Spotify, you promote they did it independently with distribution platforms. Here come all of the artists signing up. They promote these platform services for free(tunecore, cdbaby, distrokid, etc). The fans of the famous sign up as the major artists start releasing music "exclusively" on this platform. Pull the whole world in, control the major music, and make money off everyone from the newcomers in the underground to the award winners on top. All genres. It was an ingenious plan. I just don't like how they present all these boneheads to the young kids and tell the kids "this is what you want to be. INDEPENDENT!! RICH!! A BOSS!!" When really, it's the same game it has always been. That's someone elses money, and these rappers don't have much.
10) WWF: We do agree we don't want to spend a lot of questions on this one topic, but i do want to ask this, to your knowledge how long would you say this "label" has been doing this?
20Keyz: Probably always. This has been going on since before our time. Way before Hip Hops time. It's the company that funded the major labels and artists for years. This is who Sony or Atlantic gets their money loan from to promote a new project or artist. They just figured out a way to cut out the major labels. Which have been a huge hand in their cookie jar since day one. We've seen the machine fund artists since rock n' roll, Rnb, Country, up to rap. Some of these artists where in bed with the "hush entity" prior to the streaming devices, and that's why we seen them immediately sign deals to release the latest project exclusively here or there. Some even got their own streaming service for being such loyal puppets prior to this change in music distribution.
11) WWF: So with all this information on the table, how does a producer like 20Keyz find an interest in production as a career choice? How would one find ways to make an income possible?
20Keyz: There's ways. Everyone is different. You, as a person in general, has to find what works for you. I mean there are producers out here right now living their best life from selling their music. Some release singles the same way people release written music. They put it on Soundcloud or Youtube with monetization. They get paid when people listen. Sure some artists download it and release songs with it. But they are limited. And anything they try to do with the instrumental that brings in any type of payment, these producers are getting paid first. You have some who offer monthly services for a monthly fee. These can come with a bundle of beats per month or even one exclusive per month with one on ones with the producer' getting it customized for the artist. Some sell/lease individually. I've even seen producers who offer deals on certain days or bundles of beats for good prices. It's a million ways to eat. You just have to find one that works for you. And when you do find it, it keeps your interest. Myself, I like to network with indie labels that are finding ways to eat them selves. I usually do bundles to the labels or direct artists. What doesn't get used at that time might get used down the line. Those surprise checks...are what really keeps me going (Laughs). And there are so many avenues for sound production. You never know when a 6 month old email, or even a 3 year old email, will get opened and responded to and you begin to hear your music on the latest commercial or show. Or even movie. And those checks are the biggest. Although often long waited.
12. WWF: Ok, lets get into some more personal music questions for a moment. How do you approach the sensitive task of discussing changes and rearrangements with artists?
20Keyz: Oh Boy...now that's a good one. It's never easy. And I more than understand. No one wants to dedicate time to painting what they believe is their Mona Lisa, then have some one tell them they should add eye brows. Because I can see this, I try to catch the artist while the canvas is still blank. I usually send snippets for pickings. When songs are picked I offer one on ones. Meaning, get with me when you're done writing, before recording, and lets see if we can morph the beat to fit your vision even better. For those I hear afterwards, i always start with mass compliments of the finished product, because I don't ever want someone I work with to feel I am looking for something negative to say. After the positive feedback, I say "hey....what do you think if we tried this? And before you say no, let's just try and if it ain't what we like, it's erased and no one but us ever hears it." 99.9% the artists love the interest shown and is always with trying something different to see if it's the nitch needed to be successful.
13.) WWF: What do you think is the one thing every song must have for it to be solid?
20Keyz: Man...that's hard. I guess...I would have to say...Energy. The song has to have a certain energy. Some of the simplest songs have gone platinum. Some were so complex they couldn't do anything but go platinum. But look at the song some years back "She Bangs" re-sung by William Hung. Ricky Martin was an established artist whose energy had brought him millions of fans and dollars. "She Bangs" did ok for him but isn't one of the songs that come to mind when you hear the name "Ricky Martin." Now enter William Hung with his HORRIBLE rendition of "She Bangs" for American Idol. But his energy was bigger then the crowds of auditioners. His inner confidence that they were either going to love him or hate it so much they would say they love it' just seemed to spread through television waves across America. To this day he probably has as many streams and sales as Ricky martin for that single. If not more. it was all about his energy.
14) WWF: Who is the best music producer working in the industry today?
20Keyz: That's a hard one as I explained earlier. I guess if I had to pick some one. I'm going to say Doctor Dre. Timbaland is another. Always been a champ on beats to me. Even if it's just producing the sounds of the tv show Empire, a lot of what I've heard on there shits on what I hear production wise in the main stream. And every time I'm impressed it's Tim on the track. And CashMoneyAP. Now he is more underground. More of a Soundcloud producer. But the underground is fighting for his beats and he has figured out ways to get paid for his beats, plays and use of. Well enough that he is making a nice living doing it. Not only do I admire his sound but I admire his sound and business ethics.
15) WWF: What's the first thing you listen for when listening to a new recording?
20Keyz: THAT ENERGY BOOOOYYY!!! (Laughs) I definitely look for the energy. Then the writing and performing ability. And last but not least the content. These are the 3 things that not only will define if i will work with an artist, but if I am going to be a fan of said artist.
16) WWF: What's the biggest budget you've worked with?
20Keyz: Please don't take it wrong, but I've never really been comfortable discussing numbers unless we're in a meeting for that. I worked with some nice investors while under contract with the production company. Once that's over it will be more known and obvious the types of budgets I had in front of me. But as far as a solo producer, I'll just say I've made a living from it (laughs). The best I've probably had on my own was a management company leased a 250gb hard drive worth of instrumentals. That has always been a nice deal for me.It was so many beats I still receive royalty payments on new and old releases. And I've been pretty shocked at some of the amounts and who was on the song.
17) WWF: Is it anything or anyone you're working with at the moment?
20Keyz: Well of course I am doing what I have to to pay bills. There's a few promising leads I am waiting to hear back on. Currently though I am in talks of taking a production deal with an Indie label. I am familiar with them and their work ethics, and have already put my magic into some up coming things they have. I usually wouldn't be interested in something of that nature, but the contracts are so well designed. Like they actually make sure the artists, producers, engineers, graphic designers, cameramen, hell even extras in videos or stage performances are paid well, timely and fairly. But that is still in the talks so i don't want to give too much detail as i haven't placed my John Hancock on anything.....yet. But it is looking good.
18) WWF: What advice would you give a producer just starting out?
20Keyz: Aw man where would i start? I guess to just be a real producer. Not a music maker. Do it because you love it. Not for the money. because everyone doesn't make money. And if that's what you're in it for, and don't make money...you might quit early and deprive the world from hearing the greatest song ever. And that will make you lose out on your big payout. Don't be part of musics destruction. Do it for the love or don't do it. And be original. Because copy cats disappear sooner than who they are copying,
19) WWF: Where can our readers find you for interest in instrumental production?
20Keyz: Well, as I said I'm kind of a quiet person. I am just really getting into social media. I have personal accounts for like family and friends. But none actually made to showcase or promote my music. But all that is in the works. Hopefully it will be up soon. Just remember the name "20Keyz," when you see it on your favorite site, send me an add.
20) WWF: We do appreciate you taking the time while in town to sit down with us, and for such an informative interview. Is there anything you would like to leave our readers with before you go?
20Keyz: Sure.....never give up on your dreams....20Keyz