TRIM X WOODRO
Woodro Skillson is a Brooklyn-based music producer who is bringing a fresh and unique sound to the New York music scene, and the industry at large. Skillson is at the top of his game, and has contributed music for Melanie Fiona, Jhené Aiko, Kid Cudi, King Chip, Bun B, Machine Gun Kelly, Logic, and Dumbfoundead, to name a few. His 2013 collaboration with Italian artist Fabri Fabra elevated the artist’s album Guerra E Pace to #1 in Italy.
But even a big name like Woodro Skillson has humble beginnings. He grew up in Woodstown, a small town in southern New Jersey. At the age of 13 he started playing guitar and after studying Audio Recording at Five Towns College in Long Island, he gravitated to the thriving music scene in Brooklyn, ultimately garnering the level success he has achieved today.
TRIM caught up with Woodro to discuss his past, present, and future, as well as his views on the role of music producers in an ever changing industry.
T: So, why the name Woodro Skillson?
W: The name Woodro is an homage to where I’m from, Woodstown, New Jersey.
Also, Woodrow Wilson was the governor of New Jersey and rose to the Presidency immediately after that. I made a challenge to myself by the 100th anniversary of that inauguration date (2013) to be able to make music that I could be proud of artistically, but still be potent enough to be sold and provide some kind of a living for me to keep creating. When that date hit I had sold a couple of tracks to major artists, I felt like I was on my way and kept the name.
T: How would you describe your musical production style?
W: I’m always experimenting with my sound and style. I appreciate both natural and more synthetic, digital sounds and try to find ways to make them fuse together. Most of what I hear on the radio doesn’t particularly excite me. I like 808 bass in a very electronic mix, but then I might throw in a real bass guitar line, have a drummer play to it, or add a trumpet over that. I like hip hop and r&b. I also like rock, blues, and house music. I can take pieces of all those styles and create something that can still play in the club.
T: How did you initially break into the music scene in New York?
W: My friend Andrew was running a recording business and few of his clients were looking for beats. I sent them a small folder of music and they said “okay we’ll take all of them.” It was the first time I sold my music in bulk like that, and I thought, okay, I need to start making more!
T: You’re one half of the DJ-producer duo HeadBanga, what is that like, and how did you and Dot da Genius start working together?
W: After Dot and Kid Cudi worked together on Day ‘N’ Night, Dot was looking to make a production collective because he had gained a good stance, and wanted to make more music to accommodate new opportunities. So there was kind of an informal audition with about 8 to 10 other producers and we all played our beats. Fortunately, I got a phone call back. And now, between me and Dot, we've built a large music catalogue over the past 5 years that’s continuing to grow. So I feel like we've done a lot of the work, and now it's just pulling from this library and figuring out how do we update these sounds for the artist. We’re producers, but also librarians because we have to categorize everything!
T: Are there any particular projects that you're working on now that you want to talk about?
W: There are a few, I don’t want to say too much too soon, we are working on new material for Jhené now, as well as our Headbanga project Gold Mind which we are compiling at the moment also, hopefully releasing this year.
T: What was it like working with Jhené Aiko on her past album?
W: She's an amazing talent as a songwriter, with a great voice. She knows how to translate emotion to words well, and that engages her fanbase. I believe she's going to continue being a relevant artist in the future, and it was a pleasure working on music with her. We had a handful of ideas but they ended up using one song I worked on, Limbo Limbo Limbo, for the first track on her studio album. It's always cool to be the first track on an album!
T: What do you think you think about Spotify and other streaming services, and the effect they have when it comes to revenue for the artist?
W: I always believe that creators should be compensated fairly for their musical work. It really depends on how you do it. You could be a small operation or part of a big label involved in selling music on platforms like iTunes or Spotify. It is based on your approach- like making sure all of the paper work and terms are clear, being sure of everyone you're working with, having everything done through email and on record.
T: What do you think about the prevalence of technology and social media in our society, and do you think it has changed the music industry?
W: I believe it has certainly changed the way the music industry works. Just because anyone can find an artist that they like without the help of a record label. Companies used to have these artists coming in and they would develop them, and then those were the artists that got media exposure. Now it’s very avant garde on how people are doing it, like through a viral video, or companies like Soundcloud. I think it has made the music industry a little more tense because they don’t really know where the next talent is coming from. It’s becoming less of this long term artist development and more of a lottery. All it really takes is one hit song to break an artist onto their own platform. And after that, they either take that opportunity and run with it, or they fall off the radar. Now there are people in smaller collectives that can compete with the big record labels. So there's a lot more excitement for someone like me who is more experimental in sounds and ready to release music. On the other hand you have to compete with a flood of artists.
T: Is it almost like we live in an age of hyper-expression via technology?
W: Yeah. Now you have labels that are accepting music submissions, but those emails blow up so fast. There's no way to cut through. But that's where the PR comes in. I believe that if an artist is very well crafted and consistent in what they're doing, then they can end up making a living without signing to a major label. The most important thing is finding the fan base, but it's hard when there's so much clutter.
T: One could also say the same about New York; does being surrounded by so many talented people inspire you?
W: Yeah definitely! And having to coexist with many people in a similar field leads to finding a niche. You also can develop faster when you are incubated in such an environment. Aside from the competition, living here gives me an opportunity to collaborate with any given number of people. As a sound person, I might be looking to collaborate with visual people because you can pair those things so well. They're parallel mediums. It’s just easier to pull together groups of people to work with because of the population.
T: What effect do you think just advancements in technology have had on music production now compared to the 1970’s?
W: New technology is very inspiring, and I always try and stay on top of what is happening. The music-making process itself is extremely technological, and there are products out that will save hours upon hours of time. We try and do a lot of research on our end. Everything is so much more digital now, with the producers in the 1970's and early 80’s everything was analogue back then, so you didn't have computers to re-tune vocals, or fix the drummer if he messed up a fill. Back then, the tape machine had to actually rewind for the singer to cut multiple vocal takes in booth. Shortcuts are more possible now, and in a way it's almost unfair to people who actually play music-how good someone can fake it.
T: Do you think that's a bad thing?
W: It is what it is, for now and we have to come with terms with that. I don’t see it stopping anytime soon, great music has gone unappreciated throughout time. People have different motives for getting into the music business, but I would say an artist’s chances are still best if they are self-motivated and really enjoy the process of creating at the core. Even with the technology to fix errors in the studio, a live audience won’t be fooled for long. It’s just often more cost effective for the artist’s budget using those methods.
T: Which reflects how fast paced our society today.
W: I think we're getting to a point where it's so fast, people are getting confused. By confused, I mean they are being drawn to an artist that may not really represent them, because of one song that may not even make the next album. So with the next release people are thinking ‘why isn't this as good? I thought I liked this artist’, but artist development seems to be less stringent now. Decades back, when you went into a studio, you had to be well rehearsed because the label is paying for you to be in the studio, and you have to nail that take. It’s not that way today.
T: What advice would you give to aspiring music producers who are just starting out?
W: There’s a lot I would say. Read some music history, listen a lot and find something to learn or appreciate in everything you hear. Find mentors in different specialties to help guide your journey. I myself learn a lot just by being around other creators and changing my environment constantly. Prepare yourself to invest 10,000 hours and more, a serious amount of time, because the faster path is not always the better choice! Be confident in your ability, learn to take criticism, and push beyond comfort zones.
T: What is the goal ultimately with your music and artistry in general?
W: There are several goals. Ultimately it is to make people feel a particular way. I’d like that feeling to be a positive one or a healing one, it’s just not always reality. You could hate my music or you could love my music, but I just want you to feel something. And I think that's something to always aim for- be polarizing with your music. Because you want fans that are obsessed with your work. You don't want people to hate your music, but if they're hating, then they're listening, and they're paying attention. If they really really hated your music, they probably would pay no attention. But they're watching. You can't have one without the other, at that point.