'I'm Loving Making Music Again': Timbaland on 'Empire,' Justin Timberlake & More at ASCAP Expo

timbaland ascap 2016
Sal Ochoa

Timbaland, appearing by video conference, gives the keynote address during the 2016 ASCAP 'I Create Music' Expo on April 29, 2016 in Los Angeles. 

Travel issues prevented Timbaland from appearing in person for his keynote interview at the ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo (April 29). But the in-demand producer did the next best thing: appearing via live feed from Miami. And erasing attendees’ disappointment, The Emperor of Sound (the title of his new book] presided over a rollicking session that was part-tutorial, part-The Voice -- and thoroughly entertaining.

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Parrying questions from moderator and ASCAP senior VP of membership Nicole George-Middleton as well as the audience, Timbaland addressed everything from his start in music and collaborating with Justin Timberlake to overseeing the music for the hot series Empire (whose latest soundtrack was released that day) to scoring original music for  -- and the status of -- his own album Opera Noir. (He’s up to six songs that aren’t fully completed.) At the producer’s request, several questioners launched into impromptu singing auditions that won the audience’s attention -- and Timbaland’s (colleagues with him in Miami whipped out their phones to capture the performances).

As an animated Timbaland noted halfway through the session, “Right now, I’m loving making music again.” Among the additional insights the award-winning producer related during the late afternoon session:

Having a signature sound without being redundant:

"I use different rhythms. My brain moves faster than my body. I have all these concepts in my head that I’m constantly hearing; I hear rhythm in [people] talking. My mom told me that nobody can copy what God gave you."

The importance of building the right team behind you:

"You need a team. It’s your talent but you need the right people around you to orchestrate your talent. It starts with having a key person who believes in you more than you do; who sees beyond what you see. And that one person orchestrates who else comes along with additional expertise to help further guide you. When you have the right people, you can go hard. It’s all about God, teamwork and timing. My time and God’s time are different. I had to learn the hard way that tomorrow for me might be five years later."

The secret behind his 20 years-and-counting career longevity:

"It feels like I’m just getting started, so I don’t know. What I couldn’t do [yet] in 20 years … the world has no idea what’s about to happen."

Describing the creative synergy between him and Timberlake:

"We both honestly love music: we don’t do it for the money but to better ourselves. It’s something you’ve got to see; I can’t describe it. You just know it’s crazy when we get in the studio. He gives me power and I give him power. It’s almost like going to therapy -- getting stuff out to renew yourself."

His success with Empire:

"[Series co-creator] Lee Daniels had an idea, I believed in the idea and we clicked. The beauty of it: this was new for him and new for me; we’re growing together. It’s been a blessing and a cool challenge -- I’ve got a couple of more shows coming out. Between Empire and the NBA, I’m now getting to do what I’ve always wanted to do."

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Getting validation from his daughter:

"I use her for my gauge because kids let you know about simplicity. If she’s gigging to something, then I know I have enough simplicity and then know how to put my crazy around it."

Response to one questioner calling him “the inventor of sound”:

[To audience laughter] "I wish I was high when you said that. Some people have called me the modern day Quincy Jones. I’m trying to live up to that."


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