Talking Shop With Emile - EMusician

Talking Shop With Emile

THE HIP-HOP PRODUCER DISCUSSES HIS WORK WITH KID CUDI, HIS BEAT-MAKING TECHNIQUES, HIS REMIX OF MICHAEL JACKSON, AND HIS NYC STUDIO
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Emile in his studio in New York''s lower Manhattan.

Photo: Courtesy Emile Haynie

It all started with a borrowed Ensoniq EPS sampler. It was back in the early '90s, and Emile (who is also known by his full name, Emile Haynie) was a young DJ with aspirations of getting into production. When a friend, a producer named Cochise, lent him the EPS, everything changed. "That was it," he says, "I was hooked. I started buying as much equipment as I could, buying records to sample and going for it."

Without any formal training in production or engineering, he learned by doing. "I had a couple of friends who did production, I got to watch them a little, but I picked it up on my own, for the most part," he says.

FIG. 1: Emile produced five songs and tracked many others on Kid Cudi''s successful debut, Man on the Moon: The End of the Day.

His first paying work as a producer consisted of making beats and selling them to hip-hop artists. The first sign that things might be starting to happen was when R&B producer Rodney Jerkins bought one of Emile's beats. "I got a check from that, but it never came out," he says. Emile also had "a couple of underground things happen," but wasn't able to get any serious momentum going career-wise. His break came when his beats were used on two songs on Obie Trice's debut album in 2003. "Both of the songs that I did on the album were coproduced with Eminem," Emile recalls, "so that was the first thing that really hit with my beats on it."His career has continued progressing, and nowadays, Emile has his own project studio and is one of the key members of Kid Cudi's production and management team. Cudi's debut album, Man on the Moon: The End of the Day (Universal Motown, 2009, see Fig. 1), on which Emile produced five songs and recorded the tracks for about three-quarters of the others, was both an artistic and commercial success, hitting the #4 position on the Billboard Top Rap Albums chart. Emile also has production credits with Snoop Dog, Ice Cube, and Ian Brown, among others, and he recently did a remix of the Michael Jackson song "Maria (You Were the Only One)," on the album Michael Jackson: The Remix Suite (Universal Motown, 2009, see sidebar "Remixing Michael").

I recently spoke with Emile about his work, his gear, his production techniques, and more.

How did you get started working with Kid Cudi?
You know, it's interesting. I was sitting in my studio one day, and I'm always looking for demos and new artists, and going on MySpace and listening to new bands. I stumbled across his page on MySpace, and he'd just recorded "Day and Night," I think. It was like a new song and didn't have that many listens, and I was looking at his page, and saw that Plain Pat was on his top friend list. Now Plain Pat is someone I worked with for quite a long time. He A&R'ed a Roots album that I produced some stuff on. He A&R'ed Def Jam, and he'd use my production sometimes on projects. So when I saw his name, I called him and said, "Who is this guy? He's got you on his Friends [list] and he's incredible." And he told me he just started working with him and he's managing him, and we made plans to get together in the studio and get a couple of sessions going.

This was before Cudi had a record deal?
Way before.

So you basically got in on the ground floor with him?
Exactly.

He''s got a pretty original sound. Is that one of the things you like about him?
That's what you look for, more than anything in a new artist is something you've never heard before, that is good on top of that. That's always the most important thing to me. He sounded so unique, but he still had melodies and hooks that sounded very powerful; very, very different. That was like the instant attraction to his sound, that project.

How would you classify his sound?
It's hip-hop, but it's a new sound. That's the beauty of hip-hop: It's constantly changing and constantly refreshing itself, and this is just part of that movement.

FIG. 2: A look at Emile''s studio, which features a Pro Tools LE system, an Akai MPC2500, and plenty of keyboards.

Photo: Courtesy Emile Haynie

Talk about the Cudi album. What did you do for it. You were producing the beats?
I started his album at my studio [see Fig. 2]. I have my own studio and it's more like a preproduction place, but we recorded more than two thirds of the album at my studio. I produced about four or five beats on it, so I produced about five records on it and recorded most of it.

You recorded his vocal tracks there?
Yeah.

You have a Pro Tools HD system, I guess?
No, an LE.

Wow. Was it powerful enough for a big project like this?
I'm so used to bouncing stuff down when I start running out [of CPU], or like—once the music is done— I'll just record vocals over a 2-track, and go back and forth between the two [DAW and 2-track]. I think you can get up to 48 stereo tracks now. I've got some Producer Pack or something, which was cool for almost everything until we got Larry Gold, who's a legendary string arranger. He got his orchestra to do strings over just about the entire album. So once I started, I had to edit all that stuff and chop all the strings up. That's when it gets tricky because those string sections can be 60 tracks on their own.

So you had to do a lot of submixing, I guess.
Yeah, I would do like the violins and then bounce them down, and then do the cellos and bounce them, and then chop them up—whatever it took. When we mixed, I would obviously send the entire session and they would mix every track individually.

So you didn't mix it at your studio, you just recorded it?
Yeah, we recorded it.

What Pro Tools interface do you use?
I have a Digi 002 mixer and then I have a Digimax ADAT. So I have 16 inputs, I have a ton of keyboards. The way I start a session is I'll just do 16 tracks, and have all my keyboards up at the same time. I'm in the process now of getting a new interface and new converters and learning about that stuff. I never put much thought into it before, but now I'm starting to figure it all out.

Do you generally record your keyboards as MIDI parts and then bounce them down at the end, or do you commit them to audio early on?
Not really. I use an [Akai] MPC to sequence everything, and I'll do all my drums on the MPC, and I have an [Ensoniq] ASR-10 sampler, and a bunch of keyboards, some old some new. I've got a lot of vintage keyboards. I'll have everything up in record mode. And once I get the track started, I'll just record that right to Pro Tools and then start chopping it up in Pro Tools and adding stuff as I go. So, no MIDI with Pro Tools.

It seems like a huge percent of hip-hop producers use MPCs. What is it about them? Is it the sound or the feel?
It used to be the sound. Back when it was the MPC3000 and MPC60, I think it was the sound more than anything.

Wasn't it 12-bit?
I think so. The Roger Linn MPC stuff used to have a really good sound. I use the 2500 now, which is more of a digital new one, but it's being able to just do drums on the fly, really fast, flying through sounds. I can make a kick-snare-hat sequence in like 10 seconds, and keep building it up and building it up, rather than programming something on a grid, which can be a little bit time-consuming. You can change it: take the quantize off and make it your own feel.

I'm curious, instead of an MPC, why not use a pad controller going into Pro Tools where you could access a zillion drum sounds, and be able to play them into your sequence without having to program?
Yeah, I see people are starting to do that now. I'm just so used to the MPC, and I know it like the back of my hand. It does have a certain swing, and I guess the timing of it I'm just really used to and really like.

So that's with the quantize on?
Yeah. You can take the quantize off and have it your own feel or have the quantize on and set the swing and adjust it. I'm sure there's stuff that's similar now, but I'm just really used to it.

So you typically record parts in the MPC, and then fly them into Pro Tools, basically, not even synched up.
Yeah, pretty much. I used to only work with an MPC, MIDIed up to an ASR-10, and I would do samples on the ASR-10 and drums on the MPC. Now, especially with Cudi, we'll start with chords and melodies, and I'll start on the keys before anything. So I'll just track loads and loads of keyboards and synths into Pro Tools, start arranging and then add the drums. Then I'll just kind of play the drums along to what's already in Pro Tools.

So with Cudi, it was not like you were just making a beat and he was rapping on top of it?
Yeah, with Cudi it's pretty different. He's one of the few artists I've worked with where we do it this way. I'll just sit there and just play around on the keyboards and start experimenting with some different chords, and he'll kind of start coming up with melodies, and once I know he likes it, I'll start tracking it in.

So you're basically songwriting together in that situation.
Yeah.

Outside of Cudi, in other hip-hop situations that you've been in, when you're putting a beat together, where do you usually start?
I don't really have an exact method. When I used to sample a lot, I'd always start with a sample and find a good one and then do some drums with the sample in my head, and then go back and record the sample back over the drums that I came up with. I've got so much equipment now, and so many sounds, that it's always different.

So you're not relying on sampling as much as you're creating your own material.
Yeah, I'm really having more fun playing and coming up with my own stuff.

Michael Jackson: The Remix Suite included Emile''s subtle and reverential remix of “Maria, (You Were the Only One).”

Remixing Michael

Emile was recently commissioned to remix a song for the album Michael Jackson: The Remix Suite. Emile chose a somewhat obscure tune, "Maria, (You Were the Only One)," from Jackson's 1972 solo debut, Gotta Be There (Motown). Emile was pretty familiar with the tune going in. "I had sampled it before and made a beat out of it a long time ago," he says.

He was given access to the original multitracks. "I have some experience dealing with them [multitrack masters], because I actually collect old multitracks," he says. "The way I treated it, really, was like I was sampling it and making a beat out of it, the way I would, and the way I did years ago, which was like taking the original elements and spicing it up a little with some drums and things like that."

His first step after getting really familiar with the tracks was to put down a basic kick-and-snare pattern in Pro Tools. Then he laid in the vocal and started sliding it around to make it fit the new tempo of his drum track. "I really just pay attention to the way the voice feels with the kick and the snare, and that it sounds like it's in the pocket," he says. He used Pro Tools' Elastic Time time-stretching feature on some of the instrument tracks from the original, which he was conforming to his new timeline. "I didn't use it on the vocals, because I didn't want to mess with them at all," he says. Emile also took the original guitar track and added a bit more distortion than was used on the record. "I put some effects on it, but there was no way to get it as good as they had it sounding on the record," he says. "One of my favorite elements of the early Mike stuff and the Jackson Five stuff was their fuzz-guitar sound."Emile used the original tom tracks but changed them around some. "Those were actually toms that were in the song that I just chopped up and made go through the whole thing," he says. "I've been doing that a lot for slower songs, where you could have, instead of a hi-hat doing eighth notes or sixteenth notes, you could have a tom or even a snare or kick doing that, which makes it have a faster feel, even though it's a slower, downtempo song. That's what that was: trying to make it feel faster than it was."

Because Jackson was such an icon, Emile was careful not to totally change the song. "I didn't want to screw with it too much. If you listen to it, I wanted to use all his original sounds and keep the original music that they had, and not disrespect it by messing with it, too much."

Mike Levine is the editor and senior media producer of EM.