Becoming a musician is full of highs and lows. There are times when you’re nailing it, and there are other, frustrating times when you feel like giving up altogether. To give you a bit of inspiration, Chordify has gone to the pros for tips on how to persevere, conquer – and rock!
DJ Swivel – Jordan Young (music producer, mixer, audio engineer, and DJ)
Jordan Young (born 14 December 1984), known professionally as DJ Swivel, is a Grammy Award winning Canadian music producer, mixer, audio engineer, and DJ. He is best known for working with Beyoncé as her personal recording engineer and has also worked with Jay-Z, Kanye West, Fabolous and Jay Sean among others. In 2013, he won a Grammy award for best traditional R&B performance with his work on Beyonce’s song “Love On Top”.
(DJ Swivel – by Mike Woods)
However, Jordan is not just turning knobs and flipping records, he’s also an entrepreneur. In 2015, he co-founded music tech start-up SKIO Music, a collaboration platform for creatives that makes music licensing in the digital era more efficient, transparent and fair, allowing artists to focus more on creating.
Which song inspired you to pick up an instrument?
No particular song. I just thought it was cool to play around. The first instrument I ever played was the violin in school band. I was in fourth or fifth grade, and I was awful. After that I switched schools and tried the trumpet. I was a little better with that but it still wasn’t my thing.
Finally I picked up the bass guitar. I was listening to a lot of Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins and lots of hip hop and R&B. So I felt like with that instrument I could play all of my favorite songs, which was appealing. Trying to play some Method Man on trumpet just didn’t work the same! I played bass for a few years and got pretty good at it, but eventually dropped that too in favor of turntables, a keyboard, and some production equipment.
What was your biggest obstacle?
I don’t believe in failure. I believe in progression, and doing what you love. The first few instruments I picked up, I didn’t love, so I moved onto something else. What I loved was music. The medium in which my ideas came out was always interchangeable because it was never about an instrument for me, it was about creating ideas.
When did you start to write your own songs?
First of all, my music theory is lacking. I know my scales but I’m not classically trained in any way. For me I have ideas in my head, and I just want to get them out. I began writing in tenth grade music class. That’s where I caught the production bug.
Any advice for aspiring musicians or producers to inspire them to keep on going?
It’s cliché to say, but don’t quit. You only fail when you stop. It’s a mental discipline to push forward even when there are visible struggles ahead. I’ve heard the word ‘no’ more times than I can count. But every once in awhile you get a ‘yes’, which gives you the motivation to keep pushing.
(Official Music Video: Beyoncé – End of Time)
DJ Swivel was the sound engineer for this song and the entire album. After filling in for a day when another engineer was sick, Beyoncé was so pleased with Swivel’s work ethic that he became her go-to guy.
You mentioned in a column you wrote that you primarily consider yourself an ‘idea guy’, so what do you consider good and bad ideas, musically speaking?
I don’t really think of it that way. Musically speaking, I don’t know if an idea is good until it’s done and I can take a step back and listen. Sometimes you know right away that it’s not working and in that case I’ll walk away. I don’t like to force anything. I’ll go months without creating if I don’t feel like it, and then I’ll have days where I forget to eat because I’m focused on an idea.
A band like 30 Seconds to Mars spoke out against big record companies, promoting the philosophy that artists and creatives can pretty much do themselves what a record company does. However, even established bands don’t have the big promotional machine that big record companies have. Very often, bands going down the DIY road fail for this reason. What are your thoughts?
I strongly believe labels have a place. I also believe you can do it without them, it’s just more difficult. Take a step back and think about it. What is a label? A label is just a group of people each with a specific job. None of those jobs are particularly difficult, nobody’s performing open heart surgery. They mostly require ideas and experience, which means there’s nothing preventing anyone from doing it themselves outside of the financial investment and risk. If I can afford to go hire a great radio team, or marketing team, then I don’t need the labels.
The labels should be looked at as banks with expertise. If you can’t afford or don’t have the team in place, a label is a great place to be. And this is the case for 99% of artists. However, it’s absolutely possible to do it without them, provided that you have the right tools and that’s where a company like SKIO Music comes in. SKIO is a licensing platform handling contracts, as well as payments. The goal of the company is to provide tools for creators which can streamline the process of handling “business” and give them back the freedom to create. If you don’t have a team, SKIO is your team.
Aside from learning to play an instrument, aspiring musicians wanting to get into the business will also need to learn what they can about the industry. Any tips on where would be the best places to start?
There are lots of great schools that teach about the music business, but even in that case, it’s such a nuanced industry. I personally got my foundation from school, but I learned the ability to apply my knowledge as I went. I learned by making mistakes. And that’s partly why SKIO Music was created, so creators can avoid some of the pitfalls that I and many others have faced.
Any other practical tips for the business side of things?
I would just say, learn as much as you can. You’re a much more powerful artist if you understand how deals get done and how business is handled. Don’t always leave it to the professionals. At the end of the day, the only person you know for sure has your best interests in mind is yourself. So arm yourself with the tools necessary to handle anything that comes your way.