Brooklyn-based Producer, DJ and A&R man Dre Skull discusses the mission of Mixpak records, his new studio, and his dedication to bringing up a diverse range of artists in new and organic ways.
1) Dre, give us your own story – how did you come up and how did your producing career start? How did you evolve from DJ to producer?
I started out by messing around on a 4-track and pretty basic samplers and over time I taught myself how to produce on a computer. Eventually I got into doing remixes and original productions influenced by all sorts of things – namely regional club and rap music, pop, and dancehall. I’ve also logged some time on the East Coast noise scene, which has been a definite influence on how I think about and make music.
2) Mixpak Records is an interesting new direction in music production, artist development and marketing. You seem to be diversified in to many levels. Can you tell us about Mixpak?
Mixpak is a Brooklyn-based independent record label that I started in 2009. I’ve always wanted to do a label that was eclectic but still pop-minded, and I think a lot of the things we’ve accomplished over the last five years fall into that framework: everything from dancehall to rap to bass-music and punk, unified under one roof. We recently opened a new studio space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and continue to grow and deploy new strategies that attempt to adapt to the ever-changing music-business landscape. These are weird but exciting times and Mixpak is striving to play a role in that space.
3) You have an amazingly diverse roster of artists. What are the most recent top projects you are working on or have worked on in the past year?
Of course, the newest Popcaan record, “Where We Come From,” was a huge release for us, and it continues to build worldwide. Jubilee just put out her new single that is an amazing take on the Miami bass sound she grew up with, and she is currently working on a larger project at the Mixpak Studios. One of our newest artists is Palmistry from London, he is making some genre-shattering music that is still really melodic and dancehall-inflected in a really interesting way.
4) What is your approach to producing an artist?
It really depends on the artist. Ideally, I get to spend some time with them and try to understand their vision and their strengths as an artist. In terms of particular productions, I really like to have them record on a track that is still in process and then shape the final production around what they do. I find that often lends itself to an amazing song.
5) How does owning your own studio fit in to the Mixpak mission and your vision?
Mixpak Studios is a great way for us to focus in on what we’re trying to do as a label. It lets us have a home for our artists and the projects we’re working on and it gives clarity to our vision, which is to put the music first. It’s also pretty cool to have our own little clubhouse that can facilitate unexpected and exciting collaborations with a wide variety of artists and friends.
6) Give us a description of the Brooklyn studio:
It’s an all around HQ for all our endeavors. The studios were designed by L. P. Swist and include an A Room and smaller B Room production suite. The backbone of the A room is our Augspurger mains system. We decided against a console in our studio, but have a nice patchbay set up with a number of pieces of outboard gear ranging from a Roland 808, a Roland 909, several synths, a Space Echo, a pair of Distressors and more.
7) Discuss the choice of the main monitors . What led you to the Augspurger sound?
I have worked in a few rooms with Augspurgers and always been impressed with the sound. Proper low end is such an important part of the music I’m working on, I knew I wanted to have monitors that allow me to push the boundaries of sound and trust that the mixes would work in the club.
8) You chose one of Augspurger’s more compact systems, the Duo-12 with 12” subs. How did that decision come about?
The Duo-12 was just the perfect fit for the size of our A Room, so it was a straightforward choice.
9) What are your initial thoughts/reactions about the system?
Being able to work on music with the Augspurgers on a daily basis has been incredible. The low end, the stereo clarity and the power are amazing. One surprise has been the strength of listening at lower volumes. I didn’t quite realize that you would still get such a good feel for the low end at a relatively quiet level.
10) What record is your first Augspurger mix on your new system?
My next Riddim release Blacklight Riddim featuring the dancehall vocalists Konshens, Spice, QQ and Tifa was just mixed on the system. It should see release on May 5 on Mixpak.
11) Who else mixes in your room and what is their reaction to the system?
My buddy Mark “Exit” Goodchild has been in a few times to vibe the room and work on some things. Suku from Ward 21 also just came through and mixed some tracks for us. He came up under King Jammy and is an amazing vocalist, producer and engineer. It’s still early days, but so far the response to the system has been amazing.
12) How does having an Augspurger environment make Dre Skull’slife better?