Brandon "Rocky" Byrd, or Blacque Byrd Music as he's known in industry circles, is no stranger to having the spotlight shone on his enviable production talents. Having just completed his debut sample pack for Producer Loops (the already-bestselling "Blacque Byrd Music: Essential RnB"), we caught up with this busy LA-based producer to discover how he went from playing guitar for the likes of Bruno Mars & Britney Spears to being in the Grammy nomination pool and producing for Nicki Minaj & T-Pain.
Hi Rocky, thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. Have we dragged you away from any exciting studio projects?
Yeah, a little bit but I always have time for a friendly conversation. Actually I most recently just scored a new movie coming out called "The Woman in the Red Dress". I did all of the original score and all the original soundtrack songs. I am currently working with Nikko London from VH-1's Love and Hip-Hop series and let me tell you, we have a SMASH coming out! Definitely proud of my production on this record. I'm building records as well for my film and television sync licensing catalog with another company as a producer, so be on the look out for several of those songs in commercials and television shows next season, as well as other placements I got that will be hitting radio soon.
Let’s rewind a little. You grew up in a musical household and started off playing guitar for artists like Bruno Mars & T.I.. How do you think this background has influenced you as a producer?
Well, yes I did grow up in a musical household. My father played the guitar. I did, however, shy away from the guitar when I was younger, as my father had always told me not to touch it (laughs). Initially, my mother had started me on the piano at the age of 6. I stayed with that for years before finally taking an interest in the guitar in middle school - somewhere around 6 or 7th grade, in order to get girls. Cliché, yes I know but it did indeed work!
As a guitar player and musician in general, it definitely does help with being a producer. It wasn't so much the influence, per se, but it built a super solid base for me to stand on once I made the decision to pursue becoming a producer.
I’m sure most of our readers are keen to know about the Grammy nomination pool…
Well at this point that’s more of a title I choose not to focus on so much. My main focus is definitely geared towards winning one that’s for sure but here's the low-down on that. So I had an artist that I did a few songs for “on spec". In layman's terms that means free (laughs). So, I did the songs for her album, which actually did pretty well overseas. One of the Grammy committee members heard the song and pushed it through into the voting nomination pool. It was placed in the category for "Best Female Solo Pop Performance”. Honestly, that's it. It was really just a stroke of luck.
How have all of your big name collaborations, and the Grammy nomination influenced how new projects come about for you? Do the record labels have you on speed dial or do you still pitch for new projects and collaborations like the rest of us?
A lot of the songs I produced definitely put me on the radar as a producer. Once I moved from my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri to Los Angeles, where I currently reside, is when things started to really pick up! No, the labels don't have me on speed-dial just yet but I'm currently being "groomed" as they say to sign to RocNation which is Jay-Z's label as writer and producer. At this point I still get the who's looking lists from the publishing houses and I shop records just like everyone else.
Where do Blacque Byrd Music productions begin? Producing a lot of RnB must make your workflow very melody driven.
My wheelhouse has always been Urban so basically it started with me only doing Hip-Hop and RnB music, which is mostly always melody and or heavily drum driven. I had a fire lit under me by a manger I had several years back. At that point in my career I was just getting started, and I had just recently played guitar on the official remix of Britney Spears's "Toxic". Once that had come about a lot of people started reaching out to my management asking if I was the producer of the song, which of course I wasn't but I was a producer. People were asking for pop songs, which I had never even thought about doing. I was scared to make that jump since I had never done it before but my manager sat me down and told me if I wanted to have any longevity in this industry, that I was going to have to step outside of my box of RnB and Rap production. So, I did and I haven't stopped since.
The main bullet point was that I was a guitar player and keyboard player so I knew the melodic arrangement and sonics of a pop record, so why wasn't I doing them? So since then I have made the cross-over records pop, pop-rock, straight rock songs and even country and ballads. I have done a ton of remixes as well. Doing my first big set of remixes for major labels is what walked me into the song that featured Nicki Minaj. It was for a Brazilian pop singer named Natalia Damini who was at the time, and still is, signed to Universal.
Are you an "in-the-box" kind of guy or is your studio filled with tonnes of outboard gear? There must be some go-to pieces of kit that you can’t do without?
I am most definitely an "in the box" guy for sure. It helps you stay a little more mobile when visiting other studios and for the most part it's done that way for convenience. Not only does it make mixing a lot easier but if there ever arises a time when another engineer is called in to mix one of my records, which happens from time to time, then most engineers have the same plug-ins and can continue to pick up a mix right where I left off if I had already started. Most producers know that 75% of the time you may or may not be the engineer on a song you're producing for an artist and sometimes you have to send out stems or WAV files to be mixed by someone else at another location – it could be up the street or half way across the world.
Would you say that you have a signature style? Something that all your productions share and something which sets them apart from those of other producers?
I do have a definitive style. I am mostly known for my catchy melodies and undeniable drum patterns. So besides my signature hi-hat style that I'm known for, I created a signature arpeggio that I use every time with the same exact sound every time. Sometimes I bury it in the mix and sometimes it becomes a part of a record’s main melody, it just depends. So even if the artist decided to take my tag off a song, which is always an option in all my contracts, you still know it’s me on production by listening for that arpeggiated synth in the background. As far as having my go tos, I can't live without my custom BBM drums. All the sounds I have crafted over the years: kicks, snares, hi-hats, weird sounds I've made with my own voice, and tweaked and reshaped – got to have the drums!
You know, it was pretty easy. I had several choices that I had chosen and set aside but once I thought about it I said to myself, “I'm going to make something from scratch” so that’s what I did. I loved the creative process because it allows me to color outside the lines a little bit. I had to pick my own brain and ask myself “what would I want in this pack if I was looking to buy one to spark my creative juices from these loops?” I definitely stepped my game up on this and I look forward to bringing you all as much of myself as I can with bigger, newer and better construction packs for the Producer Loops label. "Blacque Byrd Music: Essential RnB" is just the beginning, guys!
Do you use many samples in your own productions? If so, what do you look for in the packs you purchase?
Hmmmmmm I think I may have used a record sample here or there. I can honestly probably count on one hand how many times I've done it. I try to stay away from using record samples especially if it's of a song that's relatively popular because then it becomes a situation of having to get it cleared. There have been occasions where I have used a sample though…When in doubt I will usually replay the song instead of using the sample out-right.
When I'm shopping for royalty-free sound-packs (when I'm not creating my own that is) I generally look for the newest style of music – something catchy that will spark my inspiration. Sometimes there are things I hear in a song and I think to myself “Man that'd be great to do” but I hit a wall because it's a VST or plug-in or something they used to create a sound or whatever and I may not have it or know what it is or it's a trick or something that someone’s picked up along the way in their career and I haven't come across it yet. That's the thing, people are always looking for new ways to tweak and rebrand a sound and use it in a different, ingenious way. That is what creates the learning curve for us as musicians and producers and engineers. It's a daily job to keep up with all those changes to sound and different styles of music that are being created.
If you had one piece of advice to give to aspiring producers, what would it be? Production or otherwise.
My one piece of advice to any aspiring artist, musician, DJ, Producer etc. is: DO NOT BE AFRAID TO TRY, AND KEEP TRYING! My sister had a chance to meet my idol Pharrell Williams years ago and she told him about me when I was first starting out again for the second time. That's the advice he gave her to share with me and that's what I live by. He said in an article I read when I was in high-school “There was a time when nobody wanted to hear beats with accordions and clavichords”.
The Weeknd is hugely mainstream now but a lot of people don’t know that he has been doing the same style of music for 10 plus years and it has taken him this long to be on top and have people crave his music, which is, in fact, a product of his producer’s creativity. That super low-pass, filtered, distorted and drowned in reverb sound is what has put them on top now. 10 years ago that was the exact opposite of the mainstream glassy sounding polished Pop and RnB production of the early 2000s when nobody wanted to hear that.
And finally, what’s on the Blacque Byrd Music bucket list? Presumably, trying to go one step further and winning that coveted Grammy, or maybe a dream collaboration with an artist?
A bucket-list you say? Well, let's see… working with Pharrell is definitely on that list! And, as I mentioned, actually winning a Grammy or Grammys. I fully intend to not stop at just one. I really want to become the creator of a signature style and make timeless hits like Berry Gordy or Quincy Jones, somewhere in that realm. Another item on my bucket-list is to score more films. A lot of people don't know that's what I had initially gone to school to do. I wanted to write the music for film and television shows.