Tune Tools Transcript: Episode One

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Thanks for listening to Tune Tools, a project made possible by Project Amplify, MacPhail Center for Music, and EMRA, Electronic Music Recording Arts.


Welcome. Thank you for listening to Tune Tools. This is a cool new audio project made possible by Project Amplify and MacPhail Center for Music. I am Krysta Rayford, your host. I gotta admit, I’ve gotta get used to talking to myself, especially for this first episode. But what’s really exciting is I’m, I’m hoping that this is gonna be the start of a really cool series of features about EMRA, Electronic Music Recording Arts, the department that I am a part of at MacPhail Center for Music. But even more so, an extension to other artists, teaching artists, educators, professionals who are doing the work in the community and in their organizations, uh, touring across the country. But using the recording arts tools that we are implementing here at EMRA.


So, for myself, Isaac, Michael, Kenichi, and Barbara, we really appreciate you listening in, tuning in, and learning more about EMRA. And hopefully, this podcast is going to be something that features some of the tools that we use in our programming but implementing them in the world. And so, I figured that this podcast could be a really cool way to start.  Maybe it’s a start to brainstorm. Maybe it’s a start to have new ideas. But ultimately, this is an introduction, for those of you who may be curious about what is electronic music, curious about music production, curious about the tools that some of your favorite artists use.


Maybe you’re an educator who is really interested in utilizing some of these skills or these tools, but you don’t know where to start. Maybe you are a student, regardless of age, who is ready to build upon your skillset as a musician. Maybe you’re somebody who’s just listened to music and you’re in a place where you really, really, really wanna just have fun with it and be able to create what you can envision in your head or hear.


So, what is EMRA, you know? That is the question that we get the most. I know for myself, this year especially, kinda going a little bit more out into the world, my big mission was trying to get people to understand a little bit more of what EMRA is, what, what we’re doing, what we’re bringing to the table. And the umbrella that it really truly is, especially when you talk about music and how it’s incorporated.


So specifically speaking about EMRA at MacPhail. What I can say is that I joined in September of 2020. Our program director, Michael Cain, wildly enough, reached out to me having listened to some of my music, specifically an album that I did, a collaborative album called Lucid Dreaming Skylines that I released in late 2013, early 2014 with producer Simon, and he asked me if I would be a part of the team at EMRA.


And I remember pulling over on the side of the road, right in front of Abbott Hospital, actually in Minneapolis, and just sitting and being super excited because when he told me what this department was really going to be about, it really, really, really tapped into everything that I utilize as an artist and as an educator. But just in general the recording arts has been completely essential to my artistry.


And so, I was super excited to come on board with Isaac and to help Michael launch this program. And to see what’s happened in the past two years has been incredible, but it’s also really cool to sit and be able to introduce people to what EMRA is. Because for a lotta people, EMRA can be interpreted in many different ways depending on if you’re a songwriter, or maybe you’re somebody that just likes to listen to music. Maybe you’ve been a student, in other areas of music, or maybe you’re an educator, a teacher that, you know, looks at what you’ve done and wants to incorporate different tools.


For me as a musician, I’m a producer, a songwriter, a vocalist. But everything that I have used as a producer in my projects have all been used or recorded on these r- you know, digital audio workstations, which people call DAWs or DAWs. I call ’em DAWs. But for me, you know, my voice has been recorded into music software programs since I began my career in 2010.


So, becoming a vocalist, songwriter, you know, singer-songwriter to a lotta people, I really wanted to pivot into production because I wanted to know more of, of how to produce the sound that I could think about in my head but wasn’t necessarily sure how to articulate or communicate.


So, for me in my mid to late 20s, I actually got back to becoming a student. Didn’t go to college for music, went for communications. Didn’t have a classical music background, but I was introduced to music at a very early age, and it was very humbling for me to go back and start to learn about music production. And in my 20s, still feeling like I was much older than some of the other people in the classroom. It really was a humbling experience for me to think about some of the lifelong learners and people much older than myself getting the courage to go out there and learn more or learn something new.


So, learning production really became essential to not only my artistry, but my story because it signaled the pivot in my career, you know? I really was making a name for myself specifically in the Twin Cities. And internationally by collaborating with other artists on the internet for many years. But at a certain point, I felt like I wanted to create a sound that I couldn’t necessarily communicate, and so music production was where I wanted to return.

(07:24): You know, it was very interesting for me to sit in a booth in a recording studio with somebody and collaborate as, as an artist, as vocalist, and to be able to tangibly see, you know, the software that they were using. But I wanted to know more. I wanted to learn as much as a producer as also, you know, an

introductory engineer more for the sake of just be able to be that much more of the artist I wanted to be. I’ve just always been that much of a learner.


And even though I’ve been an educator, I still think of myself as an evolving student. And so for me, as an adult, music production was something that I really turned to after college, after completing undergrad. But it was more of a passion thing for me. And so, with EMRA, you know, Electronic Music Recording Arts, when I think about EMRA, I think about the, the music software. I think about the tools. I think about learning how to y- record on a microphone. I think about learning how to put together a basic recording setup, um, and feeling confident in doing so.


I think about live event sound. I think about film scoring, DJing. The elements of hip-hop music. There’s so many, many different things that I think of. And the cool thing about that is with these tools, whether it’s a microphone or a recording software, music software, monitors to, to hear your music on, these same tools are essentially being used for so many different types of music, so many ways to craft music.


And when you start to realize, so many different people with so many different ideas can work on unique things or create unique music using the same tools, it can be a game-changer, as an artist, and also as an educator. And so, the exciting thing is, I think EMRA is this extremely innovative, concept or idea that’s actually very simple, that starts with thinking about how does music get recorded?


Whether it’s classical, whether it’s hip-hop, whether it’s spoken word, the tools are all essentially the same. There’s just so many different variations and going from more beginner knowledge to expert level knowledge. But that can be daunting, and part of that is there’s never the same uniform introduction. My introduction as someone in their late 20s is not the same introduction as a 10-year-old child who loves to play around with Garage Band or someone in their 70s who has never thought about making music on a laptop because they always thought they had to go to an actual recording studio.


There’s so many different variations of learners in this capacity. So, the point of this podcast, after this long, long tangent, thinking about Tune Tools is what are some ways to introduce some really important cool people that happen to be musicians and music professionals but also artists in their own right who use these tools, who use these resources to create what they create, and who love making music.


And I thought that, by incorporating EMRA with this, some of these different artists in every episode could introduce what those tools are and how they have been innovative and game-changing for them in their own ways.

(11:29): This past year, I was really, really fortunate enough to be one of the Global Music Initiative artists in residence at McPhail. And my project was called Step Up to the Mic where, ultimately, I traveled to

different schools to talk about how EMRA, Electronic Music Recording Arts specifically, impacted my life so that I could have this career that I now have as a teaching music professional.


And one of the things that truly, truly struck me was that this was not only an introductory concept for these students at all, it actually wasn’t. Many of the students that I came across were well on their way to producing and making music in so many different ways, so many different genres. But they were doing it on their own. They were doing it for fun, and a lot of it was because that programming or software, those classes weren’t available directly at school.


So, I found out very quickly that, especially amongst the middle and high school students that I was able to meet with, or teach, or speak to this past school year, that ultimately a lot of these students are making music in their own ways for fun anyway. And blending these concepts that they’re learning at school already in band, choir, and orchestra. But the other thing is, a lotta these students that aren’t involved in any of the music courses are also making beats, are also, uh, making different songs using different digital audio workstations like Garage Band or Sound Trap, or Logic, or Ableton, which is what I use.


So, I think it’s a really, really, really cool important time in history where students are so tapped into technology already to start introducing some of these tools or software in a way that they can enhance their understanding or build upon some of the skills that they’ve learned. For students who also haven’t ever had access to music software, have never made any songs or beats, this is also a really cool way of introducing these tools at a way where, if everyone is able to access the internet or has access to a computer, they can utilize the same tools to make what they want.


And there’s something really, really interesting, and compelling about potentially addressing disparities by giving students the tools across the board, without the fear of, accessibility and the, the barriers to that due to cost or gear expenses.


For myself as a student, especially growing up in the Twin Cities, coming from Chicago, I was introduced to music at a very early age. But it was through the public school system. So, when I went to Windham School in South Minneapolis at the time, Mr. Donald Washington was our band director and ended up being, he’s a hero of mine to this day and a huge inspiration. One of my earliest inspirations for becoming an artist and being a musician.

(14:53): But I was able to get into band at an early age, in third grade. And as time went on, funding thinned. And by the time my brother was in middle school, the band program was no longer able to be funded. When I went to high school, I went to a small private Catholic school where our band director, Mr. Mark Capecci, was the, the teacher that got me into musical theater in addition to band, and also into choir. And he was also the person that was really making music happen as kind of the musical director at our high school.


But for both of those teachers, they were beyond just teachers at school. They were these lifelines to so many different artistic opportunities that not only changed our lives but instilled that confidence. And a lot of students have grown up, most of us, myself included, with the band, choir, orchestra model.


Creating music was always a personal goal for me. But it wasn’t until I was introduced to these recording arts tools that I even could envision what the possibilities could be. And for many students, being able to go to a website or go into a music software program, click around, and just become comfortable, it’s not only something that builds technique or skill, but it also builds confidence.


And I speak about that from experience, as someone who, when opening Ableton Live for the first time, was completely overwhelmed. Being able to take time, click around, connect a keyboard to my computer, play around, and manipulate sounds, all of a sudden, that was what gave me the confidence to connect the dots and want to continue within music production.


And a lotta times, the barrier is knowledge, access to the technology, and a combination of both, combined with cost. So, when I think about introducing people to EMRA, the first place to start is through a computer or a DAW. Looking at a digital audio workstation. And I think hearing from the perspectives of some of the artists that will be featured. It’s always interesting to hear, one, what their preferences are and what they use. But two, how they’ve utilized these different software’s or technologies, or approached them so that they feel empowered and not as scared as when we first started.


When I tell people how I pivoted from just being a vocalist or singer-songwriter… And I say just speaking in my own case. Not to minimize either title by any means. But when I tell them, you know, I then also started my road as a producer and becoming a producer, the next thing beyond why is the how did you do that? And I think what’s so important for me to tell people, especially as an instructor and as an educator, is that I started as a student.


 For me, going back to classes, starting with introduction to music production as one of the eldest students in the class at that time was my first introduction as a music producer. And I don’t lie about the fact that I wasn’t intimidated. I remember, as someone who’s very open about their anxiety anyway, there was an added sense of anxiety of, every week, pushing myself to, to get back into that classroom, because of that imposter syndrome of, “Oh, everybody else must know more than me or I don’t know enough. I’m not really a music producer”.


As an educator, I see this all the time with the students that I work with across ages. It doesn’t matter. This is from a lot of adults. I feel like more younger students give themselves that grace. As you get older, it gets harder to lean into fear and to take a chance on yourself for sure. But across ages, people, especially when it comes to their introduction to EMRA, is “Oh, I don’t, I don’t know enough of this yet.” Or “I don’t, I don’t know where to start.”


And that can be what can be the most fun part about being an EMRA student, is allowing yourself to just try and just go for different things. Looking at recording as an open canvas and trying different tools and different sounds, and different instruments, and manipulating sounds. It’s sometimes hard to go from thinking you have to learn music in a certain way to unlearning that and saying, “Hey, let me just try this. Let me be free.”


There’s something very liberating about learning the tools of recording arts. Because, like I said earlier, it’s empowering, but with that empowerment comes, you know, the ability to just try something and not to second guess it. Or to collaborate with someone you never thought you may make music with before, and so on.


One thing I definitely learned from this past school year was seeing that there is a need for a new enhancement of music education in our schools, but not just in our schools, for lifelong learners as well. And the cool thing about EMRA is that it doesn’t replace the value of band, choir, or orchestra. It doesn’t threaten their existence at all. It only enhances what they all have to provide and gives people the tools to empower them to strengthen that.


So, if you’re somebody who has been playing the tuba and you’ve only played the tuba, and you wanna learn, hey, maybe just making electronic music production is something you’ve just n- always wanted to try, you can learn how to record your tuba also in a really cool way to manipulate the sound. (laughs)


There’s so much room for that. As a singer-songwriter, learning how to record yourself, whether you’re the one who ends up being the vocalist or becoming the person that has reference vocals for someone else as a songwriter, there’s so many tools and techniques that you can learn across the spectrum when it comes to electronic music recording arts.


To kinda sum up this first episode, I wanna thank you all so much for joining me for the first episode of Tune Tools. This is, once again, made possible by Project Amplify and McPhail Center for Music. My name, once again, is Krysta Rayford, and I am one of the instructors with EMRA, Electronic Music Recording Arts.


So, to sum things up and think about, you know, what, what happens next, why this podcast? You know? To feature music professionals across genres and disciplines who share a common interest and passion for EMRA, that’s pretty cool. And I think giving the mic to them to speak about their lived experiences and their paths to where they’ve gotten to today, sometimes hearing that can be a thread of inspiration for someone who may be on the fence about their own path as, as a music enthusiast and as a student.


EMRA does have a universal impact and is both the future and the present of music. So, I think learning to embrace this versus shying and rejecting it because of the fear of the unknown is the way to go about it. And I think understanding that everybody has their own perspective coming into learning EMRA is a cool way to look at it, you know? Every painter has a different approach to the canvas, and that can be expressed as a poetic way to compare it to, to EMRA too.


So, it’s also the opportunity to feature multi-talented artists on this platform with a really cool STEAM, you know, lens. And when I talk about STEAM, I’m talking about science, technology, engineering, arts, math. That is also a really cool component when you think about all the tools that music production and the recording arts do utilize. It really is a STEAM approach and so I’m excited to, to hear from these different artists about how their cool approaches make the sounds that they make.


So going into the rest of the series, as we listen to different artists and producers, engineers, musicians of all (laughs) different types of genres, what they have to provide and, and what their stories are, there are some questions that I think that we can start to ask when it comes to EMRA.


The first is, how does access to resources, gear, et cetera level the playing field when it comes to disparities in music education? The next is, can EMRA level the playing field? Can EMRA be a way to bring students together, keep them engaged and active in their education? And lastly, how can EMRA impact lifelong learners as well and be beneficial for students of all ages.


I think if we can really start to think about how EMRA isn’t as strange of a concept and much more, I think, immersed within our lives anyway as we lean more into technology, hopefully this can be a podcast that serves as an introduction to see what’s on the other side of fear, to encourage somebody who might be on the fence about just trying the one thing they, they’ve always wanted to try to go for it.


And I don’t know about everybody else, but for me, sometimes inspiration is what finally motivates me to go for it. And so I look forward to the next few episodes. Thank you once again to Project Amplify and McPhail Center for Music for making this possible. Once again, I am your host, Krysta Rayford. I will see you on the next episode of Tune Tools.


You’re listening to Tune Tools, made possible by McPhail Center for Music and Project Amplify.

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