Shane Stirling, Joell Ortiz, Metro Boomin & Rsonist drop jewels at 2014 Pro Audio Conference

Dozens of beatmakers, producers and rappers gather inside Toronto’s The Great Hall for the Pro Audio Conference on the third and final day of Battle of the BeatMakers 2014. It’s a daylong opportunity to hear about careers in music production and self-marketing, as well as watch live beatmaking demonstrations.

This year the line-up of speakers is stacked: producer Metro Boomin who has worked with big names such as Future, Wiz Khalifa and Ludacris; producer Sonny Digital, who has not only worked with 2 Chainz and Kanye West, but is also the founder of his own label, Sonny Digital Music Group; one-fourth of Slaughterhouse, Joell Ortiz; Rsonist of production group The Heatmakerz and director, designer and visual storyteller, Shane Stirling.

With some of the industry’s biggest names all in one place, a ton of knowledge abounds. And there are three main lessons the speakers collectively seem keen on getting across.

Invest In Yourself: You Are Your Own Business
There are many guides on how to be successful, but few as raw and truthful as Stirling. He admits he is often referred to as “the cool white guy,” and shares how he has made that work for him, with every marketing campaign that he’s worked on, from Nike to Timberland. He knows what he’s talking about when it comes to marketing effectively.

The first order of business, he says, is point of contact – making sure you’re easily accessible to people by ensuring your e-mail, website and all social media are under the same name. For example, his is ShaneStirlingCo. And have all social media outlets, even if you don’t use them, point users to ones you do use, that way no one can make you look bad using your name.

Stirling explains it is as important to maintain your image offline, as it is online. Define your clear tone of voice, and then support it with visuals. Dress for each and every occasion, as you never know whom you’ll run into. Out in the real world you want people to see you being authentically you, not just you on social media. And make sure you have material to hand out.

“This is your legacy item that you’re giving me as a gift… present your [business] card like you’re giving away something of worth.” – Shane Stirling

“Your card needs to say visually and tactfully that you know what you’re doing, because if you don’t invest in your card why should [that person] invest in you? This is your legacy item that you’re giving me as a gift… present your card like you’re giving away something of worth,” he says, noting your business card should have your name, number, email and main social media on it, not everything you do under the sun.

Winner of the 2014 Battle of the BeatMakers, Jordon Manswell, sits soaking in this information. He agrees with Stirling, because he knows he had to go above and beyond to invest in himself to win the competition the night before. As he tells it, he knew that if he wanted to succeed within the competition he would have to study. “Just watching every battle like 50,000 times,” he says. “And learning what they did wrong, what they should’ve done right to make the crowd like them, to make the judges like them. Also just researching your judges. You got to know what they make. They’re probably not gonna like exactly what they make, so you’ve got to come with something different.”

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Remain Grounded – Remember Your Roots
Metro Boomin is the young, talented producer from the South with the big sounds. Coming from St. Louis, now residing in Atlanta, he’s a southern guy, through and through, but his sound is not regional.

“It’s similar in some ways, but it’s real different,” he says. “In St. Louis it’s a little dated, I wanna go back and build on that. That’s where I’m from so I feel like it’s my responsibility to help mold that and make something crazy out of that… The sound of St Louis didn’t really have too much of an influence on me making beats… A lot of my beats sounded like stuff I was listening to and a lot of music I was listening to was a lot of stuff in Atlanta. I’ve always been a big Gucci Mane fan, big Young Jeezy fan. Their producers Shawty Red, Beethoven, Drumma Boy, Fatboi a lot of people like that was my original sound, how it started off sounding like… all that stuff had rubbed off, but all that stuff helps build you.”

“We can be anywhere we get some sound and some power we goin’ make it work. As long as the influence, creativity, inspiration, all that’s there, that’s more important than a lot of those extra things.” – Metro Boomin

While Metro may have made beats for some of the biggest names in the game, he doesn’t let the glitz and glamour get the best of him. He likes to keep things simple – focus on his craft is most important.

“Sonny know,” he begins, referring to his fellow super producer, Sonny Digital, whom he names as a major influence. “We can be anywhere we get some sound and some power we goin’ make it work. As long as the influence, creativity, inspiration, all that’s there, that’s more important than a lot of those extra things.”

Though not a producer, nor from the South, Ortiz agrees with Boomin – remaining grounded is key no matter what the setting. It’s not always easy, though. “I just know when I started rhyming what rhyming meant to me and my neighbourhood in Brooklyn, standing on a corner in a cipher with other emcees,” shares Ortiz. “Where things like swag or the way someone was dressed didn’t matter. It was just about who had the tougher bars that made everyone step away from it and remember you.”

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Keep It Real, Keep It You
It’s when you remain honest with yourself, your music and your fans that your respect level raises. Ortiz and Rsonist are no strangers to this.

“For me it wasn’t about being nicer than Just Blaze or being nicer than Kanye West… I didn’t try to compete because they’re gonna be the best at what they do and I’m the best at what I do.” – Rsonist

“I was born in Jamaica, raised in the Bronx,” shares Rsonist. “My mother played Garnett Silk and Beres Hammond in the morning times so I didn’t know nothing about hip-hop music. So even when I started making hip-hop beats, my drum programming would sound like reggae music, because I didn’t know nothing else. That’s why you hear things like “Dipset Anthem” that sound like Sanchez… For me it wasn’t about being nicer than Just Blaze or being nicer than Kanye West… For me it was doing the only thing I know how to do. I didn’t try to compete because they’re gonna be the best at what they do and I’m the best at what I do.”

There’s a certain passion that you get from seeing creative minds in action, in their element, that shows through their finished product. Ortiz experiences this when working with Rsonist. “Him just making a beat, it’s so second nature,” says Ortiz. “I’m sitting there like he just made that, he created that in front of me. That should exist now because he felt like that… I can’t put into words how it felt like being around those kinda people [like him and Dr. Dre], ’cause they just have that good energy I was talking about.”

Words By. Jelicia Saulter + Photos By. Christina Inniss