Finding your sound is an ongoing quest for producers
From the first tentative steps on DAW to the final touches of a concept album, finding a signature sound is imperative for creators. The quest is a noble on and, for some, will be a lifelong mission. Whilst no one can ever ‘complete’ this journey, one producer who has come incredibly close is Elan Brio. With 15 years in the game, this producer has consistently honed his craft over the years, carving out a lane all his own. With a rich discography full of variety, we jumped at the chance to talk shop with this veteran creator.
So, the first question I wanted to ask was about ‘Subie 06’. Can you tell me a little bit more about it?
Sure. So about five years ago I had this cool little car, a Subaru. It was an STI. It was a 2006 STI and it was a fun car. I put a lot of work and time into it. It was one of those things, it was pretty cool. I always thought it would be cool to make an EP describing some of the things that I liked about the cars, some of the fun parts I worked on it. I always loved driving the car in the winter, in the summer and I remember just cruising with my favourite tunes. I was like, yes, I should make music I would like to drive to.
That was the inspiration for it. Then, with naming some of it, I wanted to keep it simple.
It could have been way more complex, and then people probably wouldn’t know what I was talking about. But I just try and keep it simple. Some of the people that drive Subarus, that hear my music, probably can relate to it. It was a car geek thing.
I think you’re quite the master of that small EP format. What’s so appealing for you about the format?
I think it’s straight and to the point. To me, I can make good music and I can make it fast. But at the same time, it’s just how I’m feeling at the time. So, I usually make a lot of beats anyway and when I set out to make a project like that, I say I’ll make a series of beats that fit something, and it just happens. It’s actually not too technical. I love to make beats. So, when I do, I’m just, okay, this seems to fit with that. And then, I like to take listeners on a ride or a journey with my music.
I’m always trying to do that anyway, so, it always fits because of the way I make beats. I’ve always wanted to say something so it wouldn’t be so monotonous. So it’d be, okay, I can take this sample or these instruments, and then, okay, what would be a variation that’ll still fit and still keep the listener interested?
So let’s talk about ‘Higher Ground’. This is obviously one where you’ve blended some Trap stylings with some more traditional Lo-Fi. How did this project come together? What’s the story behind that one?
I always thought about how can I challenge myself, and how can I make music. Lo-Fi is pretty popular now and, that’s the sound people are going for. For me as a producer though, I want to grow. I don’t want to just be stuck in Lo-Fi or Boom Bap
And I thought, what better way to challenge myself than to try and blend the styles? I don’t know if I was successful. I don’t think a lot of people really heard that EP. They mostly listen to my old stuff. I actually think they’re catching up because I put a lot of stuff out. But with that, I was just trying to just give it a different blend. I still do love the Lo-Fi style; the sampling and bass music more than anything. But I was just, okay, how can I challenge myself? Let’s play some instruments. Let’s try to play more chords, but let’s modernise it. It was a creation. I love to experiment. Most of my best beats usually come from experimentation.
I feel that. If you go across your discography, like you say, there’s quite a lot of stuff there. It’s pretty vast, with a lot of variety. How do you maintain that output?
The first thing is I’ve mastered a formula for me. I think every producer or music person has to have a certain formula that they need for themselves to be more efficient, to be quick. I’m not saying rush your music. But I’m saying, when I go to the studio, okay, say I’ve got an hour, two hours, I want to be efficient. What can I make? Where can I start?
Sometimes that doesn’t start in the actual studio. Sometimes I dig intentionally. I might hear a song and I go, okay, let me go find it. Or I’ll go to a record store. I dig unintentionally, and then I dig intentionally. Okay, for these two hours today, I’m just going to set aside records I hear. So, I’ll put them away or I’ll go find some records, or I’ll listen to records. And maybe I’ll find a sample here and there. And I say, okay, let me stash this away.
Then, when I go on the studio, I already know that I had an idea of what I wanted to sample, or an idea in my head. So, when I get to the studio, I can save time. I can be effective. I’ve got an idea, so I’m going to go ahead and work on this part of the beat.
Just making beats for so long, I’ve been able to master my equipment. I do like new equipment, but I’m a fan of if you have something that you’re really used to and you’re really good at, I think you should master that, use it, and then add other pieces later. That’s my secret I think to the output, to make beats, chop them up, whatever, keep going.
I can see quite a gearhead But do you have a piece of go to gear that tends to get used on every track?
It just depends. There are at least two pieces of gear I use on every track… I take that back. I’ll go for projects. For example, ‘Escalator’ to ‘Robot Heaven’, I actually tried to only use the SP. So, I try to challenge myself and grow. For example, I’ll do EPs where I only use one piece of equipment. Then, I’ll do an EP where I use Maschine, Logic, whatever. All my software together. So, to try and answer that question, it just depends on what I’m planning on doing.
Sometimes I think, hey, I miss making beats on the SP. So, I’m just going to make all SP beats and make a tape. Or I’ll say, you know what? I’ll mix it up. Or I’ll play all keys. It just depends.
So, it moves from project to project?
Yeah, it does. But there are certain things. For example, if I’m trying to play keys, of course I’m always going to use my Native Komplete. I don’t have a keyboard, so I have to use that. If I really want to lay bass, then I’m going to use that for it as well. But it’s between the Maschine, the SP, Logic, and Native Komplete. So, a lot of software, because a lot of gear is hard to come by. Old gear is expensive. And minimal space.
So, with all this variety, I still think you still have a very distinctive signature to your sound. How do keep that signature whilst varying all these things up?
Honestly, I think it just comes through. I haven’t found anything that I can say, hold up, I want people to know this is an Elan Brio beat. The only thing I’ve ever done was put a tag on it. I have a pretty cool tag that sometimes I use, but I haven’t been using it as much. I don’t want to overuse it.
For example, if you’ve ever listened to Rick Ross, every song has that Maybach Music clip. I think that’s cool and it’s a great marketing strategy, but on beats, I didn’t want to overdo it. So, I think it naturally comes through, to be honest with you. Some of my friends that I talk to, they say, yeah, you’ve got your own sound and sometimes I can tell it’s you. So, that’s cool. That’s what we want.
That’s what Timbaland did. That’s what Premier did. That’s what Pete Rock does. So, I believe if you’re a producer, you want to have your own signature sound in a way that even if you’re making a Trap beat or Lo-Fi, or Boom Bap. That’s how Brio does that, or that’s how someone else does it etc.
Yeah, I feel you. You touched on a few people there, but who would you say some of your major musical influences are?
I think it all started with just Hip-Hop in general, just listening to Hip-Hop. I would listen to Wu Tang and anything from Dr. Dre to Kanye, to Gospel, to Rock. So, I think my musical influence comes from certain eras and sound. I love the 60s Rock sound. I love the sound of 90s rap. I love the sound of 90s RnB, even early 2000s RnB. I actually like a lot of the new Trap stuff, as far at the producers go. I think some of the producers are amazing.
I’m not a fan of all the rappers. There are some rappers that I think are talented, and some I’m like, I’ll miss that haha. But I’d say my signature… Not signature, but my main influence would be that Golden Era sound. I’m trying not to be a dinosaur. I’m trying to adjust. I don’t want to be considered a ‘sellout’, but I don’t really believe in that anymore. I think that used to be a thing, but I think now you have to adapt and make music that people like whilst still being yourself, like you’re say.
So, if I’m going to make a Trap beat, I’m trying to make it for me. I used to be opposed to Trap beats, but now once I learned how to do it and I was able to pick up the skill, it’s just music. I think it’s good. As long as it’s dope. Dope is dope. Good is good.
Who’s coming up right now that you really like?
I always try to give back. So, I run this playlist on Spotify. It’s at 200 followers and growing. It was 50 a couple of months ago, so I’m excited about it growing. I think it’s a community of listeners and they’re mostly unknown producers.
But I’ll hear a lot of stuff. There’s a kid right now, I think he’s from Sri Lanka or maybe India? His name is B Element and he’s dope. I listen to his stuff all the time. I listen to Godfrey. Some of the guys in the Chill Tapes camp that always inspire me. I’m like, how did you do that? Not in a competition way. That’s awesome.
But then, you’ve got some main guys that a lot of people like, like STLNDRMS, Mayaewk are pretty dope. So, I’m really trying to stay tuned to the underground. I like a lot of artists that are popular, but I really don’t know them and I haven’t made a lot of connection with them. I really love the community of Lo-Fi has. I’d say 90% of the people in Lo-Fi are genuine good people. We all talk and make connections, and just have fun. We make music, and it’s all about the music.
Then, also there’s a 10% that they want to make those major playlists, and they’re out of touch for guys like us. But that’s what I think. I’m more influenced by the underground, because I think those guys are making creative sounds. There’s a few that are just amazing and they deserve credit. Like wow, this guy, I think he’s keeping it original and unique, and something that I aspire to be. I really like King Divine. He put out an album called 'Firefly' which is so dope.
So, talking about the community, what’s your general take on it?
Overall I think, like I said, there’s a lot of good people out there. There’s a lot of startup producers that are looking for help and trying to connect, and they’re some genuine people. But like everything, there’s always some jerks or people that don’t care about the community as a whole. But overall, I think it’s healthy. I think it’s a good community. I think for the most part people really care about the music.
At the end of the day, I’m not mad if a person wants to be successful, or makes plays, or get a little mix and get your music somewhere. That is totally fine. At the end of the day, it’s not a bad thing. But I like the guys that really want to keep it music first, and really care about it.
The genuine cats, really.
Yeah, the genuine cats. I like Dweeb. I listen to him a lot. Deep Beats, he’s from Florida. There’s so many others, man.
Yeah, of course. From your perspective, how can we elevate the scene? What’s the next step for the community do you think?
How can I say this? So Lo-Fi, when I first started getting into it, about four-five years ago, there seemed like there was a lot of opportunity for you if you were unknown. I think the opportunity was if you’re dope, you’re dope. But now I think it’s getting political. So, I’m hoping that if we can get rid of the political stuff that you would find in all the other mainstream music. I wish that would go away.
I don’t think it existed before. Maybe that was because it was new and fresh, but I don’t know. Maybe if we could keep it more of a genuine community, not let the politics get in, then it would be better. If you want to get on a major playlist or you want to get down with someone who’s doing good distribution, or to get your music somewhere, it wouldn’t be like, I have to know this guy. It seems like it’s harder now.
Yeah, bring it back to the music.
Exactly. But I guess that would be some utopia haha. I get it though, you’re in the business of making money. But at the same time, there’s got to be a balance. Me and a good friend were talking about this the other day. You shouldn’t have to have a certain look or a certain friendship if you’re music’s dope, and you go through the right channels, you do things properly.
What I’ve realised in music, and it’s in a lot of societies, society says is there’s not enough to go around. In America, if we say there’s not enough water, the whole world says there’s not enough water to go around. It actually causes panic and a lot of stress. But really, there’s plenty to go around. There’s plenty of fans out there that have heard our music. There’s millions of people that haven’t discovered it. So, there’s plenty of opportunity for everybody.
So, I hope Lo-Fi steers away from that. It seems like it’s going towards that state, that there’s not enough and we’re only going to play these top five guys. But I wish they would realise that, hey, there’s more than enough. There’s plenty of listeners. So, I hope we keep that culture, and realness, and community.
What does Lo-Fi mean to you in a general sense?
Lo-Fi to me has multiple identities and multiple meanings. What I mean by that is guys that were around before l Lo-Fi was a thing (like Pete Rock, 9th Wonder, DJ Premier, those guys) were making Lo-Fi beats, but it was classified as Boom Bap. I think Boom Bap had bigger basslines. It was cleaner but then, Lo-Fi went to degrading the music and adapted more subdued basslines.
And now, if the new Lo-Fi is like the new Boom Bap, it’s sounding cleaner than it was. So, like I said, I think it really is subgenres of Lo-Fi now. There’s really grimy stuff that we started with. Degraded stuff. Then there’s l Lo-Fi house now. There’s Lo-Fi Hip-Hop.
What it is is basically, it just that smooth sample sound. I think you have to have one or two elements, like I tried to do with the Lo-Fi Trap thing. It’s the same. There’ definitely different elements. So, I think it has many faces now. To me I think the original form was Boom Bapping or real grimy beats with samples and melodies. Melodic with a lot of chill.
I get you.So, in my research for our interview, I came across that video of you rapping on the YG Hypnos beat I think it was?
Which I didn’t know. So, I wanted to know when did rapping come about for you? Is that something you’ve always done?
Actually, I started as a rapper. When I first got into Hip-Hop, I would listen to the instrumentals, Rap, and make songs. I actually got the copy Cool Edit Pro that everybody had. 9th Wonder, he made beats on Cool Edit and Fruity Loops. I had access to both and I was like, oh! Haha. So, at first, I didn’t actually use Fruity Loops to sample. I had no clue how to do it. This was how my beat journey began. I would just take a song and I learned how to loop in Cool Edit. So, it actually was training me to chop samples and not even know what I was doing yet.
Okay, that’s interesting.
I would make a horrible loops, just a wreck for three minutes haha. But that’s when songs were longer. So, it was definitely punishment for the listener haha. But anyway, I would rap over it and then go to Soundclick, and I said, hey, I need to get a beat. You could buy a beat for $100, $200. Then, some of the beats were $3,000. No way!
So, I had Cool Edit, and then my wife was like, we can buy this programme I heard about called Hip Hop eJay. So, we got Hip Hop eJay and it had drums. So, I would try to sample and chop it. And sometimes I’d use it with loops and make a song.
But then, I wanted to try and get creative, put my samples over their drums. I learned, I can drop drum tracks on Cool Edit. So, I was making beats there. When then I finally got my first… What did I get? I got a Ventis ASR-10, which I’m still mad that I ever got rid of. I also got an MPC1000. That’s when they first came out.
So that’s when I started making beats. I was making beats the whole time but I started making beats for myself. My wife was like, you’re good. I was like, don’t lie. I asked my friends, don’t lie to me. No dude, you can make beats. So, I was like, for real? But yeah I started out rapping. If you go back and look, dude, there’s probably five or six rap albums in there, that have my beats, and other producers on them. But I always was a rapper. And now you hear all these instrumentals. So, that’s how it went.
What is it that appeals to you about rapping? What do you like about it?
I always feel like, me, when I rap or made a song, number one, I try not to sound lame.
And then, secondly, I was just trying to say something significant or positive. I’ve got kids and I always believe in making music that is friendly and challenging, but also something you’d want to listen to. So, that was my thing. I wanted to make music. So, I stopped rapping for a while because I felt like I had nothing to say. But recently, I feel the urge to actually write more and rap. Speaking of that, I’m working on a project. I was trying to get it out before January, but I’m not. I’ll probably end up getting it out next year.
It’s actually done. Mixed and mastered. I got some beats from some of the guys, like YG and some of the guys in Chill Tapes. Some guys you’ve probably heard of, The Otter? He’s from England. He’s a dope producer.
So, I got some of his beats. I’m trying to say something true and positive, but you can still relate to and not be lame. So, that’s always been my lane. I feel like it’s time. I haven’t done a rap album in a while. Just to change it up, because I still love the mic. But I’m not going to make 100 rap songs every day. Beats are way easier.
I wanted to chat a little bit about your videos, because you’re quite a prolific videographer. Why do you think video is still so important to producers?
Sonumber one, the music industry uses video to this day. Even though everybody streams everything, you’ll see a famous rapper having a music video. I think it’s just another way to connect to your listener. I think people can see you. They can see you doing something. Maybe they can see your personality through it. And I think it’s always a good representation. We all have ways of learning. There’s nine types of learning styles. Some people learn with the audio, hearing, hands on. I think video can give you at least two of those elements.
You can see me, hands on, making a beat. Number one, I like tutorials, I like to teach, I like to help. So, people can see you. You can be helpful by them seeing you. Okay, he chopped the drums. He was doing this. They can see you. They can hear you. And I think you get those elements and those learning styles. Number one. Two, it’s fun.
You talked about your tutorials a little bit there. What is it that you bring to the table that’s maybe different to other tutorial video makers?
You’re getting insight into who I am. For example, if you were to ask any other beat maker that question there would be a different answer. We’re all unique because, like we were talking about earlier, we all have our certain sound and signature.
What I think and my opinion is if you like my music enough, if you care about my opinion enough; then you get an insight in what I say. That’s pretty much it, because I’m trying to figure it out, because it’s a lot of people that do them. And me, I don’t do it to necessarily get views or be famous because I don’t have a big following. I just do it because I’ve always been, hey man, I wish somebody would have shown me how to do this.
Another unique thing about me is I try to show things. But then, also I try to leave a little mystery because at the end of the day, you’re not going to really learn something unless you do it for yourself. Which is probably counterintuitive to that, because a lot of people are like, hey man, show me how to do it but then they’ll probably never visit your site again. AI get it, but at the same time it’s like, okay, I’ll show you this.
I always say, hey, maybe you could try it and see what works for you, because that’s what really helped me. If I did it one way and just showed you everything, then I’m contributing to that recycling of music where it’s not unique. Remember? We were talking about that. Everybody should be unique. So, I try to do it and say this is what I would do, but you find out your way, and try to lead you to the water.
Yeah, it’s almost like a starting point.
Exactly. But if people ask specific questions, then of course I’m going to answer them. There’s no end all be all. All the information’s out. How to sample etc. Premier used to say, hey man, I’m not telling what my sample are and I get that, but at the same time show me a process or an idea. You don’t have to show me everything you do, but give me an idea. That way, we can keep this tradition going. I think if we don’t get the information out then we can’t keep it going. With the next generation, let them have insight, but then, okay, they add their own twist. And that’s how we get better music. That’s how we get creativity.
So, that stranglehold at the top doesn’t help us at all. As a whole, there’s enough for everybody. So, there’s no sense in me keeping a secret, not showing you a sample or how to do that, if you get my point.
Do you have any tips for producers looking to get more into filmed content? Anything that you’ve learnt along the way?
What I’ve learned is light! Get the lighting right! Try to get the aperture. That’s what I do. I do some basics and then figure it out from there. But it’s so hard sometimes, guys like us, we’re producers. We hate reading the manual, but I’m telling you, read the manual!
With the SP, I could have learned so much quicker if I’d just sat down and read. I think it’s only 40 or 60 pages, user friendly and would help. Oh my God, I could have read it! I know it sucks, because I hate to read sometimes too. But don’t be foolish. It’s an old proverb talking about how a fool doesn’t use knowledge and a lazy person is poor because they don’t work. So, we’ve got to actually do that.
You’ve got to put the time in.
Yeah. So I say find good information. The YouTube university is cool, but if you can find an hour, read it. It’ll give you so much insight.
What’s coming next for you? What’s on the horizon?
Honestly, this is my perspective. Maybe I hurt myself, maybe I help myself. But I try to be consistently dropping music every month or maybe every two months. Coming around right now I have a Boom Bapish type project out. It’s called ‘Dig, Chop, Repeat’. It’s a beat tape. Then, I have an EP. It should be out any day now. I just dropped it.
I didn’t really put a date out. It’s called ‘Hard Winter’. It’s just some beats I had left over. I just try to do something and project it. Okay, I’m giving you a date and then, I just want to give you a gift. So, that was like a gift. It’s just some music. If you get to hear it, you get to hear it. It was something I had finished a while ago, but I wanted it out. So, that’s the next two things. Then, at the beginning of the year, I’m trying to finish this rap album. I’ve also got a couple of collaborations that I’m going to be a part of.
Listen to Elan Brio below:
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