Everyone has their own definition of success. Some consider it passing a test, some think of it as getting through a really tough day without crying, others consider it helping a team win an important match, some see it as having a successful career and others think of it as the amount of followers they have on social media. One of the most important elements of success is that it’s self-defined. It’s individualised – only you can say what you consider successful and, more often than not, you could be incredibly successful and no one around you would ever notice. That’s most certainly the case for two of the most successful producers and beatmakers in Cork: UCC Students Adam Gould and Rob O’Halloran.
Adam (known as Nxstalgic) and Rob (known as Jar Jar Jr) have a combined listenership of almost 17,000 people on the music sharing website Soundcloud. The website, launched in 2008, has over 175 million monthly users, and is the biggest music – and audio – sharing site in the world, allowing people to listen to any type of music they could imagine. It is the go-to place for music creativity and has sparked the success of numerous bands and acts across the world, including Kygo and Chance The Rapper. Both Rob and Adam use the site on a regular basis to release snippets of songs or samples that they’ve been working on. They have garnered a loyal fanbase, with Rob’s latest song reaching 12,000 plays in less than 24 hours. Upon meeting Adam or Rob however, you would never know: there is no sense of grandeur, just modesty – but how did they learn about producing, and how have they grown so successful at it?
When asked this question, Adam replies “I was always interested in the sounds that hip-hop and R’n’B artists would use in their songs. After this I became very interested in beats and the production of the song as a whole and it kinda started from there.” Rob takes a moment to think, before replying: “Listening to gangstarr, hearing the way DJ Premier flipped samples into something completely new and being completely mind boggled as to how he did it. Then by some combination of events I gradually became aware of James Dewitt Yancey and his love children: Tom Misch, wun two, bsd.u and coryayo, to name a few, and since then I’ve been trying to emulate what J Dilla did almost 20 years ago. He still never ceases to amaze me, I still can’t touch him and I never will.”
Learning how to produce at the start isn’t always easy: there often isn’t someone around you who can teach you or show you how a turntable or mixing desk works, or how to loop samples. One of the most important developments, in terms of creating bedroom producers, has been YouTube. With its wide range of tutorials, you could learn how to do almost anything in 20 minutes. Adam reveals that he learned how to produce; “[I] mainly learned how to make beats from listening to how other producers would make beats and a lot of tutorial videos,” while Rob learned by “trying to emulate the sound of the music I love and getting lost along the way, accidentally creating a sound of my own.” Both have taken inspiration from those around them and continue to do so to this day.
Music production has given both Rob and Adam a lot of opportunities that wouldn’t have always been available. They have worked with acts from around the world, earned a little bit of money from selling instrumentals, and made friends with musicians across Ireland, friendships that continue long after the collaboration has been released. Adam has worked with Lord Apex, Finn Foxell and other well-known London rappers and producers. Both Rob and Adam have made friends that have helped them get to the upper level of the Irish production scene. Adam has also become part of the collaborative label known as Soft Boy Records, and Rob has produced for some of the biggest worldwide producers on soundcloud. Both would never trade what they’ve earned thanks to music production, but neither would give it up were the perks to disappear. “it’s my passion,” decrees Rob, smiling, “I’m not really looking for compensation.”
Making beats and songs is not as easy as it may sometimes sound. It can take weeks for a song to fully come together, and when it does it often takes you by surprise which direction it feels it should go. Some people follow strict instructions on how to write, while others take it song by song. When asked about his process, Adam replies “I never really go into making a beat with any steps I think I should follow, but if I’m working with a sample I’ll always chop that up first, and if I’m not working with a sample I’ll probably write a chord progression to get things going.” Rob, on the other hand, has a very specific process, which involves choosing a sample, chopping it up, laying down prototype sequences to how a song should go, looping a bar of this sequence and attempting to add drums to it and then deleting the prototype and fitting the chopped sample into the drum rhythm previously created. He then fine-tunes the drums, messing with the velocity of drum hits to exaggerate the groove and carving out pot holes in the sample with an equalizer to give the snare and kick more room to breathe. One of the most important elements for him however, is his final step: “Create your own sounds in your own way and do what sounds good. Don’t be afraid to sit on a beat for a while. I often find myself unable to flip a track in the way I want to. When that happens, I save the project file, close down my computer and go to bed. Sometime later I’ll come back to that old project file, when I am unable to seek out new samples. I’ll listen to what I’ve done with it and laugh. Listen back to the sample, hear it a new way and unlock the true flipping potential of the track. This is how some of my best stuff has been made.”
In households and bedrooms across Ireland there are producers and beatmakers slaving away at their craft, often late into the night and often working between college, jobs, school and sometimes even in the middle of personal trauma. There is very little they expect to gain from producing, they just love what they do, love what they make and deeply appreciate anyone that agrees. It’s difficult in the 21st century to get praised for your work on the internet, what with the majority of comments left negative, but soundcloud is different. People rarely comment insulting jibs or derogatory phrases – it’s very much a place where artists go to feel loved. If you don’t like it you can easily switch it off, if you do you can let the artist know and it could make their day and give them the much needed boost to keep working.
It is, however, difficult to be noticed as a producer among the thousands of others across the world. Many use social media and act as their own PR man. Adam in particular saw it as very important for gaining followers.” “It’s vital, it’s really the only way I promote things if I do promote something. I still love the idea of dropping songs out of the blue and the good ones catching on too, though, instead of banking on a song you’ve promoted doing well.”
As the interview comes to an end, Rob and Adam have begun talking between each other, discussing different techniques, equipment and producers they both know and love. As this interviewer begins to pack up, they are so entrenched by their conversation they hardly notice. These are two geniuses, finally meeting someone of a similar mindset. They feel like the only people that matter in that moment, until they step outside and disappear into the shadows again.