Name a popular artist working today and there’s a fair chance that writer, producer and label-head Alex da Kid (Alex Grant) has worked with them. Eminem? Check. U2? Yup. Rihanna? Absolutely. His production credits alone form an impressive and varied list. But sit back and read on. He also runs his label KIDinaKORNER, which allows him to choose, sign and develop talent he deems worthy. Indeed, Las Vegas-based Platinum-selling band Imagine Dragons was among his first signings.
Since emigrating from London in 2009––where he played professional soccer with Bristol City F.C., btdubs––he has worked in production hot spots including New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles, where he now makes his home. Music Connection sat down with Alex in one of the several studios in which he works, where he shared some insights into his process, philosophy and lessons learned.
Music Connection: Was there a key turning point that boosted your career as a producer and writer?
Alex da Kid: There were several turning points. The first was when a friend gave me [digital music editing software] FruityLoops. I’d always liked music, but FruityLoops opened up my brain. Once I saw how to construct [songs], it made me think about life in a different way. The first week I had it, I didn’t come out of my bedroom. Then I took courses, interned and worked at MTV. When I started my degree, I began traveling to America to work with some people I’d met on Myspace. I kept getting better and then Roc Nation offered me a publishing deal, but I ended up signing with Universal.
MC: You attended Thames Valley University [now University of West London] to work towards a Master’s in audio technology. What’s your take on audio engineering schools in general?
AdK: I didn’t go to university for grades. I went so I could be surrounded by people who loved music as much as I did. I was very up-to-date on every piece of gear that came out because I was in that culture of kids obsessing over it. I don’t get time for that now.
Audio schools are all about learning. I started when I was 21, so I could appreciate it. If I’d been 18 or 19, I probably wouldn’t have liked it or been successful because I wouldn’t have been ready. But when I was there, I took every single opportunity that I could. It’s where I met Ferdy [Unger Hamilton], who became the president of Polydor. He gave me work experience and that’s how I got a lot of my music education. I had many internships, which is where I picked up the language of the industry.
Getting a good balance is crucial, especially if you want to be a producer or engineer. It’s important to learn the technical side so you can speak to engineers in a language they understand. It’s also important to grasp the way people in the industry speak so that you can talk to A&R guys. When you communicate with people in their own language, they respect you more; they’ll give you more and in less time.
MC: Do you look for an engineering background when you hire assistants?
AdK: Yes. Obviously you need to have the standard knowledge of the studio. But a lot of it is about etiquette––knowing when to talk and when not to. I look for everything. There are a ton of engineers who are good at the technical aspects, but you only really get the other side by doing it. Sitting in your bedroom isn’t going to give you that. Work experience is the most important thing. Be in the environment that you want to be in and see how it works.
MC: How much writing do you do with the artists that you produce?
AdK: I pretty much write everything I produce. For me, it all starts with writing; with me making the music. Then I play it for people. All of the artists that I sign write their own stuff. It’s a prerequisite for me. I want them to be able to tell their own story. And I’m big on song titles. Sometimes I’ll have one and then fill in the blanks.
MC: What about a situation in which the producer becomes a co-writer on a track? When that happens, how do you come to an agreement on writing credit?
AdK: You’ll write and no one will talk about the split. And when the song becomes huge, then everyone starts saying “I want this” or “I want that.” I have a system, and it depends on who I’m working with. If it’s a massive superstar, it’s a little different from someone who’s just starting. I’ll have something in writing that says the music track is worth this much, the hook is worth this much. It’s all laid out beforehand so everyone knows where they stand––so there are no arguments. If they’re working out of my studio, I’ll have it in writing. Most of the time, it’s just a conversation that we have.