Alex da Kid on Production Process and Philosophy

MC: How did you establish KIDinaKORNER? Has it been everything you expected it to be?
AdK: Once I’d reached the States and had some hits, [Interscope chairman] Jimmy Iovine approached me about doing a label at Interscope. After a lot of back and forth––I was still living in New York––I decided to come to L.A. and start KIDinaKORNER. I wanted to treat it a little more seriously than a vanity label. You can get stuck in some traps of chasing hits. It’s like a drug––once you have one and then don’t have another for six months, you start feeling like you’re not hot. Starting a label took my undivided attention for about two years.

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A lot of producers start a label and it doesn’t work because they’re chasing hits. It takes a lot of time and energy to create hits. You can’t do that and run a label. It’s a full-time job. I wanted my label to work. Other producers were my inspiration just as much as the business guys were. I love learning from their mistakes so I won’t make the same ones. Being a producer, you have a ton of problems you have to deal with. Running a label is like 50 million more. I always watched Jimmy and Dre. I saw what they did and what made them different from everyone else. Running a label was a lot more work than I thought. Then again, everything is. But having it has been the best thing I’ve ever done, in terms of my career and my freedom.

MC: How do you find artists for KIDinaKORNER?

AdK: I employ people who sit online and go through loads of stuff. I also have a studio setup where I have writers and bands come in every day. And I listen to new stuff all the time. I’m surrounded by people who have good taste, so things can come up in casual conversation. And it’s not just about, “Is this person a great artist?” It’s also about, “Can they write their own stuff?” and “Do we have chemistry in the studio?” That’s a huge part of it. I meet great artists every day. But do they fit with what I’m doing and where I want music to go? That’s the tricky part.

MC: What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
AdK: What I struggle with now is balance in my life. I’m an obsessive person. And that’s a good way to start [a career] but you can’t be like that forever. How do you find a balance of work and having a family? I’m still looking for that, although I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve made tons of mistakes but they were all for good reasons. I’ve learnt from them. If I could talk to myself five years ago, I’d say, “Do what you’re about to do.” I’m happy now and I place a lot of emphasis on that.

MC: What do you do when you sense that an artist isn’t feeling confident or completely at ease?
AdK: I have two strategies. One is to tell them how shit they are––I’ll make a joke of it. When they ask, “What do you think of this?” I’ll say, “That’s terrible.” And I keep on saying it like it’s a joke to the point that it doesn’t hurt anymore. Especially with people I know; with people that it isn’t our first session. I find that the bigger the star, the less they want to fail in front of someone. They know that I just saw them play Staples Center and they want me to keep that opinion of them; that everything they do should be Staples-Center-worthy. But that’s not being human. To get to that point, you have to fail 10,000 times. And it’s okay to fail.

My second strategy is to be supportive. But I find it hard to do that; I find it hard to lie to an artist. I hate it when they’re treated like children, which is something that happens a lot. I believe that we should be honest. And I want artists to be honest with me if they don’t like what I’m doing. A lot of producers are good at boosting people’s confidence. I like to strip everyone’s confidence away. The biggest songs I’ve ever done have been the most honest. I want to get to the honesty quickly. I want to make artists feel as small as possible so that they get in touch with their real feelings. We cut away all the layers of the superstar. Because that can often get in the way.

MC: What’s been one of your biggest challenges and what did you learn from it?
AdK: I wish I had more time to hone in on music tech. When I was at University, I had a lot of time for that. My brain was filled with it. I wish I could get back to that place. I loved that community; that culture of the nerd when we all got obsessed over a compressor. There’s only a finite space in my brain. Compressors can only take, like, five percent of it now. They used to take 50.

MC: What do you see as some of the primary differences between London and Los Angeles––culturally and from a business standpoint?
AdK: When I first came over, England wasn’t relevant at all, musically. But now it is; there’s been a resurgence. I think we always go through this cycle of England being really cool and England being really lame. Right now, at least half of the cool things online come from the U.K.. It feels like there’s a scene.

In terms of business, England is a tiny country. America is the capitalist of the world. There’s no better place to be. And not just from a business standpoint. Everyone watches American films. It’s the hub of everything, culturally.

MC: What’s been one of your most magic studio moments?
AdK: I was working with U2 on [the 2011 musical] Spider-Man. The first time we did vocals with Bono, I found out that he doesn’t record in the booth. He does them in the control room with a [Shure SM] 57. He dances and records at the same time. It blew my mind—I was with the engineer setting up all these super-expensive condenser mics in the booth and he just comes in and starts singing on the 57.

There was another time with Eminem. We’ve done some songs that have meant a lot to a lot of people. He’s a producer too and he understands how to use an SSL. We’re both obsessed with detail and I love it when other people are too. Dre is also like that. You can see where Marshall [Mathers, Eminem] got it from. Things that no one else will hear in a song––like the rhythm of a vocal or a drum part––they will hear it and they’ll spend five hours changing it. The average person would never notice what they’ve modified. It’s even hard for me to hear it, even though I’m listening for it. For them, it changes the vibe. You can feel it on some subconscious level. It’s intangible.

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