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Producer Crosstalk: the Cataracs

The-Cataracs

Writer and producer Niles Hollowell-Dhar began recording hip-hop for himself and friends under primitive conditions on his low-end PC during middle school in Berkeley, CA. It wasn’t long until he began to compete with local artist David Singer-Vine. The pair quickly recognized the advantages of working together and decided to synergize. Thus, the Cataracs was born. The team has since gone on to write and produce for a number of artists including Snoop Dogg, Selena Gomez and Enrique Iglesias. The two are the writing/production force behind hits including “Like A G6” and “Booty Bounce.” The team dissolved in 2012 but Hollowell-Dhar continues to work under the name.

How he begins a new project is largely dependent upon who he’s working with. “If I’m with friends, there’s no pressure,” the producer explains. “We make some of our best stuff when it comes naturally. If it’s an opportunity to place a song with a big artist, I’ll usually have something that I’ve tailored specifically for him or her. But it’s not the first song I show them. It’s more like the fourth. That strategy has worked well for me. As a producer, it’s my job to be the visionary for the next single, to know what’s best.”

One of the things that he’s recognized is the necessity of having other people in the room while he’s working. It gives him the opportunity to bounce ideas around and it helps to identify when he’s created something unique. “You listen to other songs and try to emulate them,” he says. “In the process, you typically don’t succeed. You sort of fumble into your own sound. It’s important to recognize when you do that. Sometimes it’s difficult because you’re the only person in the room and you’re beating yourself over the head thinking, ‘Why doesn’t it sound like this song?’ It’s important to have other people who can stop me and say ‘That sounds really dope. Go with it.’”

The three most important things he’s learned as a producer/engineer are:
• You have to get excited about something within the first 30 minutes. If you’re not, then move on. There should be something beautiful early on.
• As soon as you can, go from the mentality of making beats to the mentality of making songs. Songs without vocals lack a human element and they can only get so big.
• Keep people around. They can tell you if something is good. As a producer, you can lose perspective sometimes.

Hollowell-Dhar is first and foremost a fan of electronic dance music (EDM). That, then, gives him something of an outsider’s perspective on pop music. “In pop, it’s all too easy to see the tricks that happen again and again,” he observes. “Dance music is something I’m passionate about. As it develops more and enters the mainstream, it’s gotta be the same as any good song. It’s not enough to play the same beat for five minutes. Some producers and DJs have been impressive in their delivery of EDM cuts that are songs in the sense that they have a melody that sticks with you. That’s an inalienable component of successful music: a good tune you can hum along with. The Beatport top 10 can get a little monotonous.”

To aspiring producers, he underlines the importance of finding a unique voice and that it is imperative to make mistakes. “You have to keep making stuff that sounds like shit for a while and know that that’s okay,” he explains. “Your mess-ups can sort of define your sound. Even ‘G6’ was really an accident. I had this [Roland TR-] 808 and I put distortion on it. There was a melody on top of it. I accidentally dragged the MIDI from this bell over to the 808 bass. But it was awesome. Thankfully, people I trusted in the room told me that it sounded good.”

Hollowell-Dhar maintains a home studio where he does much of his writing and production. He completed work recently on albums with Selena Gomez and Enrique Iglesias as well as songs with Sean Paul. He’s also in discussions with Moby. Future collaboration with original Cataracs member David Singer-Vine looms likely on the horizon.

Contact Ben Willis / Indie-Pop Music, ben@indie-pop.com