Boi-1da, DJ Camper, DJ Mustard, Harmony Samuels Discuss The Secrets of Urban Hitmaking

From left: Boi-1da, Harmony Samuels, ASCAP Jennifer Drake, DJ Mustard and DJ Camper (Photo: Picture Group)

Hip-hop producer Boi-1da has worked on hit tracks such as Drake’s “Best I Ever Had” and Eminem’s “Not Afraid;” DJ Camper is known for his work with “Marvin Gaye & Chardonnay” ft. Kanye West and Roscoe; DJ Mustard has credits such as “I’m Different” by 2 Chainz and Tyga’s “Rack City” to his name; and Harmony Samuels produced albums for Fantasia, Chris Brown, and Ne-Yo. The four urban hit makers came together on Friday afternoon to discuss songwriters with the secrets of creating some of contemporary hip-hop’s most successful tunes before an audience of ASCAP songwriters.

The panel, entitled "Urban Hitmakers: Maestros of Modern Music" was moderated by ASCAP's Director of Urban Services Jennifer Drake, and commenced with each of the speakers briefly introducing themselves and revealing what initially peaked their initial interest in music. They spent the next hour walking the crowd through the current world of R&B, hip-hop, soul, dance, and rap music – touching on where they find inspiration for new sounds, sharing how they got their foot in the door, and explaining what types of skills are needed to make it as an urban producer in this day and age.

Panel highlights included:

•    The Gear: Boi-1da, DJ Camper, and DJ Mustard raved about Fruity Loops, while Samuels exclaimed that he refused to be converted. “I’m a Logic man,” he explained. They also discussed new equipment they are excited about, including Nexus, Pro Tools 10 and virtual instruments.

•    Songs Beat Beats: Samuels shared his journey with grabbing his business partner and heading into labels to continuously play new batches of beats. He revealed that a major turning point in his career came when he turned those beats into concrete song ideas, thus giving people more to listen to and envision. “Remember that beats don’t sell songs. Songs sell songs. The day I started making songs was the day my music changed.”

•    Sound Decisions: “We put our own songs together. You did it so you keep perfecting it,” said DJ Mustard, who explained that his tactic is to find what works for him and to continue to perfect his craft. “I stay in my own lane and don’t try to move over here or here.”

•    In Da Club Test: When asked how he knows when a hit is done, DJ Mustard told the audience that, “I like to test records in the club. I don’t like to believe it’s a hit till I see the reaction.” Samuels chimed in on the topic, adding that he trusts his gut to tell him if a song is ready. “For me, it’s a feeling, not a science.”

•    Less Is More: Samuels admitted that he often has to remind himself not to go too crazy with layers. “As a musician I have to remember that I can’t put too much into it.”

•    Know When to Hold Em: Each of the DJs stressed the importance of making sure that you respect your work and know your value. Samuels added, “You may have records that are in your computer that are hits but wait for the right people. That can make or break you.” 

•    Crash Courses: Samuels suggested that songwriters give themselves a crash course on the business end of selling songs. “You have to understand who you are dealing with and if you don’t  -- don’t expect it to change your life when you sell a song. Understand the business well before you go into it. There’s a lot to it.” The panelists suggested that the audience align themselves with lawyers and or managers to help them navigate the fine print of the industry.

•    Stay Cool: The panelists stressed the importance of being patient in the studio – listening to an artists suggestions and fostering a collaborative environment. 

•    Leave The House; DJ Mustard stressed that you can sit in your room and make beats all day but if you don’t get them in the right hands, you’re just wasting your time. He advised the crowd to reach out to artists they want to work with. “Get in touch and say, ‘Hey I make beats. Can I play you some?” “Be there, be visible. The Internet is a great tool. Use things like SoundCloud. Go to industry events in the city, rub shoulders with people,” said Boi-1da. “Be proactive. Use YouTube,” added DJ Camper.