QuestloveEach week as I scour the internet for relevant topics and trends to write about, my girlfriend always comes to me with her recommendations of what she thinks might be a great topic or article. Bless her heart; I usually am dismissive on what she recommends.  Sometimes she brings me an article that I end up using. Like my recent Rick Ross articles, and even the Snoop Dogg aka Snoop Lion ‘Reincarnated’ one (which I might add, I recently saw the movie and it was phenomenal. Highly recommend it). Much of the time I find something I usually feel more passionate writing about, and usually go with that instead of her suggestion. Over the last month she kept recommending an article featured in last month’s issue of Red Bull’s magazine, “Red Bulletin.” It is actually an interview with ‘The Roots’ stellar drummer and music guru ‘Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (collectively known as ‘Questlove’). The Roots (Grammy Award-winning hip hop/neo soul band, formed in 1987 by front man Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and “Questlove” in Philadelphia. They are known for a jazzy, eclectic approach to hip hop which includes live instruments. The Roots are also the house band on late night talk show “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”). I continued to procrastinate even reading the article, not because a lack of an interest in The Roots. I actually love their music and their message. Even worked with an artist they collaborated with on their biggest hit ‘The Seed 2.0’ with Indie phenom of the mid 2000’s Cody Chesnutt, take a listen:

Awolnation-Megalithic-SymphonyI just always either had something else more pressing to attend to, or I would be wrapped up in writing about another article I found. But, last night I finally caved and decide to read it. Initially it was only to just appease her. The interview was fascinating. Questlove discuss his views on the current music industry, growing up in a musical family, how today’s fans limit their music exploration, and what he feels is the future of both hip hop and music as a whole. In the middle of the article I saw a blurb that was a side text to the interview. It was about something called the “Red Bull Music Academy.” Not only do I pride myself on being on the cutting edge of trends and changes in the music industry, I am also quite familiar with Red Bull’s venture into the music industry. A fellow colleague and friend I have known for many years was signed to Red Bull’s record label – Aaron Bruno aka AWOLNATION who scored success with his debut album and this song:

He also just had a song featured in the new Iron Man movie. But, I have to admit I had never heard much, if anything about Red Bull’s new music Academy. When I decided to do some research and find out about it, I was pleasantly surprised and excited about what they have been doing.


RED bull music academyAs the ever popular Wikipedia page states, “The Red Bull Music Academy is an annual international music event where up and coming producers, singers, arrangers, DJs and musicians get the opportunity to learn from top industry professionals.” It is a world-travelling series of music workshops and festivals that initially started in 1998, in Berlin, Germany. It was co-founded by Many Ameri, Christopher Romberg and Torsten Schmidt, of the consulting company Yadastar. In 1997 Red Bull Energy Drink approached Yadastar about creating a company side project to foster and utilize the underground dance music scene and culture. Despite what I first thought, it is not a DJ or techno music event exclusively. Although it sort of originated as one, Red Bull Music Academy has expanded itself to accommodate all genres and aspects of the music industry. The event takes place in a different city every year. As their website states it is “a platform for those who make a difference in today’s musical landscape.” The Red Bull Music Academy works in a very unique and compelling way. Applicants prepare a demo of their work, (the demo can be original productions, songs, DJ sets, etc). Applicants also need to complete an application that contains a questionnaire, and mail it to the central Red Bull Music Academy offices in Cologne, Germany. Then each application is taken into consideration to participate in the event. Cool thing is that there really is no criteria to be selected. Not even country of the applicant or music genre are not used in the criteria for selections. From these applications, 60 are then chosen and broken down into two groups of 30. The 60 applicants are then flown to the location of the that year’s event for two “fortnightly terms” each. For two weeks, the participants have the opportunity to work in approximately twelve world class studios. These studios are specially set up for the Red Bull Music Academy. They are equipped with the latest cutting edge recording gear. They are then tutored by the Red Bull Music Academy’s “Studio Team”, which is a group of experienced music producers and engineers. The participant’s also take part in lectures by various guest speakers, which also includes some Fame Wizard Senior Advisory Board members like Brent Fischer. The list of guest speakers range from composers, engineers and tech pioneers, rappers, singers, and music industry executives and entrepreneurs.

The Red Bull Music Academy also releases a double-CD each year, which is a compilation of music that is recorded at the most recent Academy event. It even has a really unique title to it. They call it “Various Assets – Not For Sale”. The Red Bull Music Academy compilations have featured original music from more than 300 artists. The first edition was released in 2004. Artists who have been featured on it include Dorian Concept, Flying Lotus, Lusine, Theo Parrish, Aloe Blacc, Mark Pritchard, XXXchange, Om’Mas Keith of Sa-Ra, Tony Allen, Mr Hudson, Dennis Coffey, Hudson Mohawke, DJ Zinc, Wally Badarou, Benga, Phonte (of ‘Little Brother’ fame), Jake One, Steve Spacek of Spacek, and Natalia Lafourcade. Pretty great group of artists who interestingly enough, many have gone off to land pretty lucrative deals and careers in the music industry. In the application phase, the Red Bull Music Academy hosts various workshop sessions in about 50 countries each year. The workshops resemble some of what occurs at the actual Academy events each year. They consist of one on one conversations with guest speakers, studio team members, and staff. There are also hands on studio production workshops, studio sessions, art exhibitions, and night activities that consist of concerts and parties at local clubs. Cool thing is that these pre-academy events are open to the public and have a strong focus on local and international topics.

Here are just some people from the extensive list of recent guest speakers and participants:

  • Drummer for the roots, and music producer ‘Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson ‘(This Year)
  • Hit Rap Producer ‘Bangladesh’ (This Year)
  • Session drummer, and influential and innovative of funk, ‘Bernard Purdie’
  • Legendary rapper from “Golden Era”, ‘Biz Markie’
  • Founder of Moog Music, pioneer of electronic music, best known as the inventor of the Moog synthesizer, Bob Moog
  • Award-winning, record producer, mixer, engineer, ‘Bob Power’
  • Hit Rap Producer ‘Boi-1da’ (This Year)
  • American funk bassist, singer, and songwriter, and member of Parliament-Funkadelic,  Bootsy Collins
  • Grammy Winning composer, arranger, Brent Fischer (Fame Wizard Advisory Board Member)
  • Former member of Talking Heads, solo artist, and producer of Coldplay and U2 ‘Brian Eno’ (This Year)
  • Star rapper Bun B of rap Group UGK
  • Founder of seminal rap group Public Enemy, and social activist ‘Chuck D’
  • American keyboardist, composer, arranger, and bandleader ‘Clare Fischer’
  • American DJ, record producer, former member Ozomatli, and Jurassic 5, ‘Cut Chemist’
  • Rap Producer and one part of legendary rap group Gang Starr, ‘DJ Premier’
  • Rap Producer ‘Drumma Boy’ (This Year)
  • Hip Hop artist and producer DOOM aka MF DOOM
  • American singer, musician and producer ‘Georgia Anne Muldrow’
  • Award winning music mastering engineer ‘Howie Weinberg’
  • Indie Rap phenom and recent signing to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, ‘Jay Electronica’
  • 4x Grammy Winning Producer and Engineer Jimmy Douglass
  • Rap Production team ‘J.U.S.T.C.E League’ (This Year)
  • American soul musician and songwriter ‘Leon Ware’
  • British electronic, dance, alternative, hip hop and world music artist, ‘M.I.A.’
  • Rap producer and artist ‘Madlib’
  • Rap producer ‘Mannie Fresh’
  • Grammy Winning musician, producer, artist, DJ and co-founder of Allido Records. ‘Mark Ronson’
  • Rap Producer ‘Nottz’
  • Producer, and record label Stones Throw founder, ‘Peanut Butter Wolf’
  • Music Producer ‘Prince Paul’
  • British rapper ‘Roots Manuva’
  • Legendary rapper and one part of groundbreaking rap group Eric B. & Rakim, ‘Rakim’ (This Year)
  • Superstar producer, film composer and member of rap group Wu-Tang Clan, ‘RZA’
  • Sir Mix-A-Lot, or ‘Baby Got Back’ fame
  • Prolific Jamaican rhythm section and production duo ‘Sly & Robbie’
  • Pioneering composer of minimal music ‘Steve Reich’
  • Young hit rapper ‘Tiga’

RED BULL NY 2013The next edition is going to be held in New York City this spring. It also marks the Red Bull Music Academy’s 15 years anniversary. This is the first time Red Bull Music Academy is being held back in the United States, since 2005 when the event was held in Seattle, Washington. Instead of the usual 2 sets of 30 participants, this year there will be 2 sets of 31 participants.

Take a look at a video of a recent guest speaker from this year, the legendary artist and producer Brian Eno, discussing “everything from why people are afraid of Abba to what made the Velvet Underground niche.”

Feel free to also take a look at this incredible video from this year, featuring someone who many consider the greatest rapper ever, Rakim.

20080409_red_bull_music_academyOne of the points of the interview in the ‘Red Bulletin’ that really drew me in was when Questlove was asked about emerging talents “honing their skills” and what he feels are necessary “building block skills” that are essential for this industry.  Unfortunately artist’s rarely get today. I agree with his view that this can be very detrimental to an artist.  So many aspiring musicians want overnight success, and are more concerned with getting discovered and becoming a star, than making a legitimate career in the music industry. He explains that artists can be overwhelmed and end up struggling today because the ease new technology and social media could offer. Technology and social media are great tools for us today, but we must not be solely dependent on them for our growth and development as artists in this industry. He says, “You just wind up isolated. In the age of YouTube, yes, you can sit in your bedroom, cover a Little Dragon song and be a star overnight on the Internet. It’s cool, but it’s temporary. It doesn’t make a 20-year career.” He later explains how in ‘The Roots’ early days, artist’s had to work hard and go through some necessary struggles along the way, which actually will benefit a musician. That struggle not only gives them some necessary tools and experience, but also could prevent them from becoming shell-shocked by the rigors and stress of being an artist. He explains that the grind and road to success is essential in the longevity and success to a musician. He says, “It’s the idea of a workshop. The idea of patience and waiting. It is kind of lost on this time period. I wish there was a just-add-water solution where you could get that seasoning. Working here, I’ve seen situations where artists with only a year or two of experience are in the dressing room shaking and running to the bathroom. The Roots were nervous out of our heads our first two Late Night shows. But now I laugh thinking back, because we have done it so many times. “

3 Responses to Red Bull Academy

  1. Nikki says:

    Don’t even get me started on how much I LOVE “The Seed” with Cody Chesnutt! Anyway, if there is any thing I love giving the most, it’s tough love lol. I always say, “How is anyone going to learn if you don’t screw up first.” lol Adding to what Questlove said about working towards a career, not towards 5-minutes of fame, I wanted to say that some artists today arent doing it for the right reasons. The younger generation only see the “ease” of the internet, so the efforts and creativity isn’t sparked as it should. The 80’s was my favorite era. Everyone was colorful, different, outspoken, and there were almost no rules!!! Well, not true when it came to being on MTV. But, artists need to learn to earn and put their work, heart, and soul into this as if it is the only thing they got.

  2. scott alexander says:

    Can you make me sound better than I am. I’ll answer that one. Of course.

  3. Shecky says:

    Excellent perspective on the industry! I agree that with the “tools” of today it seems more accessible to success but that is no viable replacement for honest hard work and talent. The sustainability of artists in today’s market is a mystery to me. I often think about my time learning how to be a recording engineer. They didn’t have Pro Tools back then. You actually had to use your EARS to listen to the cuts. Now it is so common to create records with your EYES. Blows my mind and I think the same trend falls into todays industry where artists don’t need to use the talent as much because you can “fix it in the mix” (words an engineer just loves to hear). I emphasize with my clients in the studio, close your eyes and listen to the playback. Or when they ask me if I can make them sound like Robert Plant, I say YES! just sing like Robert Plant and its done.

    Great article! Thank you,

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