It’s becoming increasingly acknowledged that producers are overlooked in music. Keeping with the Samurai Sound music first ethos we’re turning a light on to the people behind the instrumentals. Their influence and creative direction can often make or break a track.
The first artist in the series is Zio MC, an Italian producer across trap, hip hop and commercial sounds. We were introduced to him through work in the Samurai studio and his producing capabilities through his creation of the instrumental for ‘Hit You Up’.
Why did you get into producing?
“Back in 2006 I lived in a small city of Italy where there wasn’t much to do unless you had a car to escape the monotony. Me and my friends had formed a crew and used to write rap, breakdance, skateboard and draw graffiti.
Initially the beats were simply made of drum loops played through a stereo cd player while I would have played my Roland keyboard along. When I got my first computer I started experimenting with sounds and updated to a DAW. My productions were very rough and unprofessional but listening back to them I can tell there were some good ideas onto them. Basically my approach to music started to actually find a more creative way to spend my time rather than just wasting it. Creating music and writing lyrics became the only way of expressing myself in a dull and boring city like the one I had to live in at the time.”
What does the production process look like for you?
“I think music is one of the most abstract form of expression and as such I try to keep my approach as unmethodical as possible. Not having a specific process allows me to be more creative and also to avoid similarities in my tracks, which results in a very diversified sound. That been said it’s also true that drums are the most important element of hiphop beats, reason why I tend to get most of the rhythmic elements done at the first stages of my productions. Some other times I work on the chords or lead instrumental elements of the production first, get a more detailed sonic shape and then from there I choose the more appropriate sounds for the drums. Finally I add those little details that make the overall sound a bit more complex and interesting throughout.”
Do you feel it requires a different attitude to be a producer rather than a vocalist/songwriter?
“They are two very different roles within the same field. Both need to find their own way of expressing their message to the listener which is not the easiest thing sometimes. For instance the songwriters’ goal is to find the appropriate words to fully conceive their message in a clear and expressive way but without being too cheesy or common. In the same way a producer needs to find the right sounds, create a sonic picture of a mood. Basically I imagine the music composition to be the room where the listener sits while listening to the singer. Creating the right environment becomes particularly challenging when the music production is being created after specific lyrics, which means that the producer has to try understanding what the meaning of the lyrics is first and then express it through the composition.
Generally both the producer and the songwriter need to be able of expressing themselves in a way that most could empathise with. Same task, different mediums.”
Music technology is constantly changing – has this affected your creative process and in general, do you think it takes away or adds to the world of electronic production?
“I think technology will always be part of the creative process of hiphop. It has always been. There is definitely more technological availability nowadays and music composition is really easily accessible. I see this as a major change that is going to have effects on the quality of the music composition. There is a lot of similar sounding music nowadays but I believe this also allows the “different” to stand out more, so in a way real artistry will always be paid back.
Technology has obviously changed the way I produce music. As I said, it used to be just a synth and ripped cds, now you can easily access thousands of updated sound libraries and get any sound you want at any time. The positive side of it is that at some point people will be looking for diverse sounds and music will evolve into new genres and forms of expression eventually.”
You’re from Italy, a lot of countries have distinctly different local music styles and scenes – is this something you feel has influenced your music and creative direction?
“Surely. Italy is full of traditional music that is also very diverse in each region. This has allowed me to appreciate genres of all sorts. I believe a lot of my melodic background comes from all the italian music I have been surrounded by during the years (from pop, to folk, rock and electronic). Even though I have been listening to American hiphop a lot since since 2000 I have been also fascinated by Italian rap which was totally different. Back then there were only a few good rappers in Italy and productions were really poor compared to the lyrical content. This allowed me to have more freedom and experiment with totally new sound rather than approaching an existing established genre. Today’s Italian hiphop and rap scene has grown exponentially and it’s becoming really similar to the international sound, it sort of globalised if you will.”
You cover quite a broad spectrum of sounds – do you ever see yourself focusing on developing a particular sound or style, whether within a genre or a style more unique to you?
“I am influenced by many genres and personally I listen to any sort of music. As a consequence I tend to have quite a wide and diverse sound from a production to another. Depending on my influences, my personal life, my lifestyle or just depending on a personal flavour I like approaching music with the least barriers as possible. Music is expression but also evolution. There might be a common language, but everyone has got his own accent when telling a story.
That been said, I also like working with new artists because I like merging our influences and trying to find a unique sound.”
House music producers have tended to be bigger names than bass producers – why do you feel there is a big demand for production on its own in the house scene and not so much in the bass scene? Do you see this changing where maybe bass orientated instrumentals will have the same role as house tracks?
“I think the scene is changing. House music has always been very popular and there has always been a big commercial side to it. There is also a huge business around it and huge events like yearly festivals that host the greatest DJ’s. House music has always been very active in the last 20 years and now EDM is at the top of the charts. Hiphop on the other side has started as an underground genre and has been continuously growing in the years. I think right now there is a side of Bass music that is becoming as commercial as House/EDM and consequently producers will also become more and more known and popular. I have been to loads of clubs that would usually play Trap or Bass Music as their main genre and there is an increasing number of Djs and producers that exclusively work in the Bass scene and have been asked to collaborate with top charts singers already. I hope this will become not only a trend, but will keep developing into new sub genres in the next years.”
How important do you think image is to producers?
“I think nowadays image is important to anyone really…apart from sound engineers (they still do the backline work! lol). We live in a society that’s driven by social media and exposure is key in any field I think. I’m not saying image is strictly necessary but I believe that it helps a lot especially in positions like the singer or the producer. Creating the right image for yourself as a producer helps building a better profile the way Kanye West always did through the years.
Music is not only about lyrics or great sounding songs anymore. The industry has changed so much in the last years with the continuous use of social media and every successful artist will create a character and invest a lot on his/her image. Since hiphop/bass producers are becoming more known and popular, they also have to be showing their presence on the social media.”
What are you working on at the moment?
“I have been producing a lot of instrumentals in the last few months. The first one out was used by Micah Million and became “Hit You Up” and people have loved it. I am creating a big amount of hiphop, trap, R&B and Bass instrumentals. I am currently in contact with Micah Million for possible new releases together. Other collaborations in progress are with Young Yizzy, Logic from People’s Army, Mighty Moe from the Hearthless Crew and others. There is definitely good music on the way. I can guarantee.”
How would you like your career to develop?
Million dollar question. I enjoy being productive and creative. But I am also a qualified sound engineer and the more I move forward the more I like fields of the music industry that I never thought I could be interested in. There are no certainties about the future but I like to think that I will be producing music with some big artists that I respect. I think at some point I will like to approach the business side of the music industry and become and entrepreneur. Either way I’d like to be in a sunny place with a great seaside and amazing food…not necessarily Italy. lol
Finally, your name is ZioMC – are you also an MC?
“ZioMC is the name I chose when I was 15 and I have been using it since my first rap bars back in Italy. As I said I started off as rapper and only later approached the production side of hiphop. Zio (pronounced “dzee-oh”) is the Italian word for ‘uncle’ but it’s also used to call your mates. I have used that name for years, both because I have got attached to it and also because I wasn’t sure if I was more of a rapper or a producer. Only lately I have decided to not write rap any more and only dedicate myself to production. In fact I decided to change my name into ZIO starting from the next release.”