Maria Hanlon chatted to J.Ar.J, one of the busiest music producers in London right now who’s worked with the likes of Jordan Stephens, Yiigaa and Hyphen and has produced tracks with over half a million streams on Spotify. The pair cover how he got into producing, adapts to working with different artists and lessons he’s learnt along the way…
M: My first question for you is how would you summarise your job in one line?
J: For me specifically, I call it a vibe dealer.
M: It just makes sense, it’s what you do! So what would you say are the 3 key qualities in being a music producer?
J: Consistency, integrity and openness, not being too opinionated.
M: Those are very important ones. So tell me how you got into producing?
J: I used to play music at a young age and then when I went to secondary school they had computers that had Cubase (music production software) on it, so you could make beats and songs. That was the first time I encountered stuff like that and I thought it was so cool. I literally remember the first time I used it, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is sick’ and it just clicked with me. Then I was just obsessed from that day on, my brain was like, ‘This is your thing now’.
M: Talk me through a busy day in the life of a very busy producer…
J: Normally if it’s a really busy day and I’m fully booked, I’ll get up at 6am and then I’ll go to gym for an hour. Then I come back home, get ready and then go to the studio for about 11am. Then when I’m at the studio I’ll do some tidying and make sure the mics are set up, the headphones work, my projects are open and things like that. I also make a playlist of people’s vibes, so I’ll listen to that playlist to refresh my mind then the artist will arrive. I usually do my first session from 11am to 3pm and then after that I’ll take a little break. Well, I try to have a break but I sometimes don’t because I usually have a song to mix or something. So I’ll be mixing during that break or I’ll have to send some files then I’ll have another session. The second session will usually be from 4pm till 8pm. If it’s a really busy day, after that session I’ll do some more mixing, send off files again, sort out stuff that I needed to get done for the day and then I’ll head home around midnight.
M: That’s a long day!
J: It doesn’t feel long because there’s nothing that I’m doing that I don’t enjoy so it flies by. My weeks go so quickly too! Everything just keeps going and you kind of get used to it but if I take time off, I’ll really notice the intensity of how much I work sometimes. So it’s important to have a bit of balance.
M: You’ve worked with the likes of Yiigaa, Hyphen & Jordan Stephens to name a few – how do you adapt being in a studio with different artists with totally different sounds?
J: I just get to know them as people, that’s the main thing. I’ve got a very good relationship and friendship with everyone I work with. They can chat to me about personal stuff and we talk about things that are a bit deeper than normal. That lets me understand them as a human and then I understand what music they like and what their vibes are too. I adapt depending on who I’m working with and then I do this thing where I have a playlist of vibes that’s similar to that artist or gives me that energy that they’re looking for.
M: Do you have a rule where if you’re not feeling something within the first part of the session you’ll scrap it or do you try and push through?
J: I always try to push through. Most of the stuff I come up with initially is probably going to be good. As long as the artist is happy with it, then it’s my job to make it make sense. I feel like for me, just because I’ve been doing it for so long, I kind of naturally roughly know where to go.
M: How do you meet most of your clients?
J: Mostly word of mouth. People are usually friends with artists I’ve worked with, or Instagram, that’s where I post most of my work. I’ve been getting into TikTok recently and meeting people on there a lot. I have this one artist, her name’s Kaiya and she’s from Australia and I found her TikTok cause I liked her voice. Then I followed her on Instagram and then she was like, ‘I’m coming to London in summer’ and so I said ‘let’s do a session’. Social media can be really good, but you have to put yourself out there sometimes. I also try to go to artists’ shows to support them. When they perform songs that I’ve made, usually people are like ‘Oh who made that song?’. Or the artist will shout me out and I love it when artists do that. Sometimes it annoys me when they don’t say who the producer is because then I’m like, ‘Oh, now I’ve gotta go do some mad research.’ (laughs).
M: Let’s touch on networking a bit more, do you think you need to network as a producer nowadays to gain those connections and build up a community?
J: Yes you do. In my experience, it’s easier to make a connection straight away in person. You can obviously be texting and on WhatsApp and DMing a but realistically it’s not really you, is it? When you meet in person, you get each other’s energy straight away and I feel like you make more meaningful interactions. The thing is though, it’s not me intentionally going to networking events and stuff because I find them horrendous, but I go to gigs or just go out and be around artists and people and then you start talking to random people and realise they make music.
M: What is the first thing you do when you are interested in working with someone?
J: I just message them about working together and tell them I charge for production and I do this etc. I think it’s good to let the artist know upfront because otherwise they suddenly get an invoice, so it’s important to be very clear. I’ve learnt that over time so nothing is misconstrued or miscommunicated. I’ll chat to them and ask them what stuff they’re into and ask them if they want to hear my work. I’ll usually send them a playlist on Spotify of music that I’ve made too. Then I’ll book them in, send them a calendar invite, get their number and send them the studio address and then go from there. I won’t interact too much before the session as the session is where the vibes are really built and the connection’s made.
M: You’ve got your own studio now that you built yourself after years of hard work… If someone doesn’t have a studio or access to a studio how could they get started?
J: The only reason I have the studio is because it’s more professional than being at my house. Anyone can come to the studio, but not everyone can come to my house. So it’s a different vibe and I need to be in a different environment to get in the right mindset. I like travelling to the studio as it helps me set myself up for the day. It adds accountability as well because I pay rent for it so I have to be on point. The main thing you wanna focus on more than having a studio is sound selection and knowing what sounds make sense in terms of what you’re going for. Genre wise, if you’re doing a certain genre, not every sound works for every genre in the same way. You have to use it in a slightly different way. Also, being comfortable knowing you’re not as good as you want to be. That’s the thing that stops people pursuing it because it’s like, I wanna be really good straight away but it’s going to take time. I’d say I didn’t get good at making beats till I was like 16 and I started when I was 11, and then songs, I didn’t get good at making songs till I was about what, like 22. So like that’s 11 years? Even now I’m still thinking I could be better. You’ve just gotta be ambitious and comfortable with knowing you may not be as good as you want to be straight away, but if you’re consistent, you have integrity and you’re open to stuff and you get your ego out the way you can grow. Another one, as well, for people who have imposter syndrome is even, if you weren’t ready for it, you wouldn’t even have the chance or the opportunity. When I heard that a couple of weeks ago, it just spun my head.
M: What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way?
J: A Producer called Kenny Beats’ whole thing is ‘don’t overthink it’. When creating, you’re making something you have in your head that’s on some mad pedestal that is just the most unattainable thing ever. Then you think what you’re making isn’t good enough because you need to reach that. But actually that’s just you overthinking it and being too deep, whereas most of the time, the first few things you come up with are going to be good. It’s just how much you actually believe in it. Like how much confidence do you have behind that idea? If you just don’t have the confidence in something, you’re never going to give it the right energy or feeling that it needs. That’s a good lesson and also good advice, it’s both.
Photo: Krishana Sivathasan @krishess.photos
Words: Maria Hanlon @mariahanlon
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