Keeping our Beat Maker series going, Connor Barkhouse recently sat down with us. Originally from Houston but now residing in Philadelphia, the up-and-coming producer has managed to build himself a well-respected reputation. In this interview, Connor discusses various topics ranging from favorite projects he’s worked on, what his production process is like, and how to navigate around the gray area of producing for friends.
How did you start producing and what gave you the motivation to stay with it?
I started producing back in 2011. I got inspired by a group of kids around me that were making music. I’m from The Woodlands, which is a suburb north of Houston, and nobody out there (that I knew of at the time) was making music in their bedrooms like that. That ultimately got me started. Music is really the only thing I’m good at, and its the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. When I first started making trash beats in Garageband, somehow I was crazy enough to know that music was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So slowing down or stopping really isn’t an option, especially since I’ve gone to college to study music and the music industry. I have too many eggs in the basket to stop now!
What are some of the biggest mental tools you can obtain to be successful in this field?
Knowing how to take criticism is a BIG one. Somebody is going to tell you that whatever you’re doing is trash. It’s going to happen, I promise. Knowing how to take criticism and apply it to your work is very important. Developing a sense of whom to trust and being able to read people are also important tools. People will try to take advantage of you, and it can get ugly. Self-confidence is necessary as well. Not too much but not too little. Nobody wants to deal with some egotistical maniac or some self-conscious noodle in the studio.
Being from Houston but currently residing in Philadelphia, how is the underground music scene different/similar?
When I was in Houston I honestly wasn’t plugged into the underground scene like that. I was in high school at the time. Back when I lived there, people didn’t know who Travis Scott was yet. Philadelphia’s scene is interesting. There’s a lot of grunge/punk/rock bands that perform out of basements, which is sick. You’ve got PLENTY of rappers, some good, most aren’t. I would say the main difference is the punk scene, I didn’t really pick up on any of that while I lived in Texas, but again, I lived in a suburb.
Do you have a favorite musical project that you’ve worked on?
I think my favorite project I’ve worked on is either UglyHouse or Chris Holloway’s debut album (coming soon).
What do you like to do for fun outside of working on music?
I honestly like playing video games a lot. It’s nice to get a new game and roll something up and get lost in a different world for a few hours. Video games are kind of like my mental self-care. I can accomplish and finish a video game when I can’t necessarily complete all the goals I have in my head, which gets a little stressful sometimes.
From a producer standpoint, how involved should the artist be in the recording and post-production stages?
I think the artist has every right to be involved in it. It would be nice if they all educated themselves a little bit more. Communication is key, and when one party can’t effectively communicate what they want themselves to sound like, it makes the engineer/producer’s job drastically more difficult. If someone’s describing how they want the song to sound via some ridiculous image they have in their head, it doesn’t exactly translate well when you’re just trying to EQ something.
How have you been educated in production? Do you think official education is necessary?
I’m about to have a Bachelor’s degree in music technology (production, mixing, mastering, etc) and music business. I don’t think its necessary for everyone, people’s paths will differ. It helped me a lot, but I was lucky to be able to go to college for music. Not a lot of people have that luxury, but you don’t necessarily need it. You can still succeed without official education, but it doesn’t hurt. If you can/want to do it, do it.
Do you think producers should learn how to mix, master, an engineer?
YES. The more technical skills you learn, the better your music is going to become. This is super important. Understanding gain staging, EQ, compression, learning how to balance things are all so important. You want to make yourself as well-rounded as possible. You may get the opportunity to mix a big record or record a big song, but if you can only do one thing, that opportunity will float past. Enable yourself to be able to do the most.
Do you prefer to work with big names or newcomers?
I don’t have a preference, as long as the music is good. Working with newcomers is easier though. The bigger the artist gets, the harder it becomes to work with them because there’s way more moving pieces than just you (the producer) and the artist.
How do you navigate the gray area of producing for friends?
This is a tricky one. I see producing for my friends as sort of long-term investment. I’ll give close friends plenty of music hoping that in the future, I’ll be compensated (whether that be opportunities or financial compensation). If I don’t see that kind of potential, I’ll charge usually, or I’ll charge if it’s not a close friend. I sell beats to people who are looking, but I’m much more into working hands-on on somebody’s project than selling a few exclusives.
Are there any marketing tips you can share with young producers coming up right now?
Hmm. I guess it depends on what kind of producer you want to be. If you’re one of those dudes grinding out tracks assembly line style for Traktrain, your approach to marketing is going to be different from someone trying to go the more “artistic” route. I guess figure out what role you want to play, and cater to your audience. If you want to sell beats like that, grind and push your Traktrain.
If you were to describe your sound, how would you describe it?
I’d describe my sound as diverse. I always find it hard to pin down my sound. There’s definitely a heavy industrial element in my music. I’m a really big fan of angry music with beautiful moments. One of my friends called me the Trap Zoo Kid, and that was crazy. I’d honestly say diverse, I wouldn’t necessarily want someone to be able to say “Oh Connor definitely produced that.” I’m dropping an EP as part of my senior project for school in 2018. That sound is going to be really heavy, and aggressive. I try to channel the emotions I feel in my head in my music. So one day it may be some sunny, happy shit, other days I might just make a metal song, who knows?
How do you organize your beats?
I’m slightly insane about how I organize my music. All of my project files are named clb (my initials) and then a number. If there’s something important about the song, it gets labeled in parentheses directly after the number. Ex. clb830(swidlife collab). I’m so extra about the digital organization because if you don’t have a system, you can really get lost in your drive once you start piling up tracks.
What’s your producing process like?
My process is super cut & paste. Ableton lets you drag clips/tracks from other sessions into your current session, and automatically changes the tempo to fit the new session. So I may program drums like a year ago, and write a chord progression today…I’ll remember those drums from a year ago and place them on the new record. On the Chris Holloway album, the outro track has drums that are like 2 years old on it. I just pasted them over a beat I made last spring. It’s kind of meta. So a lot of my music really utilizes my random ideas, because I have a huge catalog of music…something like almost 850 beats on my hard drive. So I can pull from those to make newer ideas. I also will do this thing where if I hear an idea in my head, no matter how good/bad it is, I will ALWAYS record it down in case one day it sparks something.
You’re on death row, what would your last meal be?
My mother’s famous truffle mac & cheese, or fettuccine alfredo, or butter chicken from a really good Indian spot. My mom’s macaroni is insane bro-like, I don’t really have words for how good that dish is. So I’d probably eat that.