They say there’s six degrees of
Kevin Bacon separation between every one in the world. After being exposed to video after video of Soul Khan laying waste to unsuspecting battle rap “opponents” by my cousins I was surprised to get a DM from @WillieGreen1, an engineer (and talented producer) who’s worked with:
- Soul Khan
- Cannibal Ox
- Roc Marciano
- and many others
Willie took the time to tell us how to get quality guest verses, the difference between music in academia and the real world, and a piece of advice his mentor gave him that continues to pay off for him.
You’ve been involved in music essentially from the womb and progressed through experiential and academic education. What were you able to pull from playing gigs versus attending Berklee College of Music and how do those different experiences combine to help you make quality music?
Well, the biggest difference is music school is preparation, and the gigs are real life. If you’re a drummer and you drop the beat and train wreck a song in school, it’s not a huge deal. But do that on a gig and you might not get the next one, and landlords are not as understanding as teachers. But music school is a great place to learn the tools to help you get that next gig. It’s not critical to go to school to make it in the music industry, but knowledge never hurt anyone, and I wouldn’t be the engineer I am if it wasn’t for my mentors who taught me.
You’ve collaborated with an impressive list of hip-hop artists including Cannibal Ox, Roc Marciano, and Soul Khan. How did those collaborations come about and what workflow changes/improvements if any, did you gain from working with established talented artists?
I’m a firm believer of putting the right guest on the right song, not just a popular one. Everyone knows how nice Roc Marci is, but when billy woods and I talked about which song we wanted to approach him with, it had to be Body Of Work. That was just the right one plain and simple. Same thing with PremRock and Soul Khan, we went through all the possible beats on the album and Had To Be Me was just the right one. For me, the song dictates most choices.
But when dealing with guest artists, and especially in this digital age the biggest thing is patience and flexibility. This bigger the artist the busier they are, so don’t hit them up a week before your deadline thinking you’re gonna get that 16 that night. I do so much mixing via getting files over the internet that I’ve developed certain procedures to make sure that final product is something everyone is happy with.
Always ask for their vocal files to be bounced from the beginning of the song, even if they’re the third verse. Nothing kills a relationship with an emcee faster than lining up their vocals wrong.
Since that only happens half the time, always get a rough mix of their verse. If the file itself doesn’t line up, at least you have a reference to line it up by ear.
Before you start mixing an artist for the first time, listen to their albums. That’s how they want their voice to sound. If you take someone with a deep heavy voice and mix them like Freeway, you’re phone probably isn’t going to ring for the next mix.
What piece of engineering or production advice made the largest impact on you?
One of my mentors told me he does something he’s never done before in every single mix. It might be a tiny thing that only he hears, or maybe he pans the guitar left instead of right. Just something to keep what we do from becoming a factory line. I work on 100+ songs a year, so it could easily become stale. But I love what I do, so I have to keep it interesting.
What projects do you have coming down the pipeline?
My latest solo album “We Live In The Future” comes out March 19th via Fake Four Distro. It’s a bit of a departure from my older stuff, it’s more of a dance/hip-hop album, but it still very much sounds like me. It’s also a big change, because there are no samples on it. All the samples were replaced, I brought in a string section, a horn section and everything.
I also just finished mixing new projects for Billy Woods and Blockhead, Corina Corina and I have something in the pipeline for my man Henry Canyons out of LA. And that’s just this week.
Where do we learn/hear more Willie Green?
Everything is up at www.WillieGreenMusic.com, check me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/WillieGreenMusic) and you can find me saying hilarious things about the studio, the NBA and cooking on Twitter at @WillieGreen1
If you have any questions for Willie, leave them in the comments section or ask using one of the ways listed above.