Lisa Roy interviewed Will I. Am on producing the Black Eyed Peas Monkey Business back in January 2005. Here’s excerpts on Will’s take on Pro Tools and the future, as well as a few tips for Pro Tools users.
EQ: Chris Lord-Alge said that when he worked with you he really respected you because as a producer and an engineer, “Will saw the finish line and I helped him get there. He heard in his head the way he wanted it, and all his comments were just, which I respect.” How do you feel the role of the producer has changed?
Will.i.am: I think the role of the producer’s the same as it ever was. There are just different tools to execute your thoughts and ideas. The tools have made it a little bit easier to articulate your thoughts, made it a little bit more user-friendly to those that are aspiring producers to bring forth the things they have in their heads. I remember recording and editing on two-inch tape. But now it’s totally different; we can do so many things, it’s limitless now.
How easily did you make the transition from analog into the digital world?
Dave Pensado said [imitates Pensado], “Hey, Will, you can do really good with this Pro Tools stuff, you should give it a shot. Go meet with Rhett Lawrence, he will teach you all the things you need to know about Pro Tools.” So I went to meet Rhett. He showed me a couple of tricks. I would call them to troubleshoot. They were really, really helpful.
You’ve got a studio in your house in LA. Dish on the goodies?
Pro Tools: I’ve got the Digi 002, the Control 24, the M-box. Then, I have some vintage analog gear like a Clavi, Moog, Hammond organ, drum set.
And no going back from Pro Tools?
I don’t program on a sequencer anymore. I do it all on Pro Tools. For me, it’s the now and the future. I don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring; all I know is that right now, the way I produce music, I wouldn’t want to change it, because I see it on Pro Tools. I see the way it forms. I see the grid, I sequence on that, it gets played there and edited there and mixed there. I used to use the Akai MPC; I do everything on Pro Tools now. It wasn’t designed to be a sequencer, but I sequence on that and program on that. So I get my drums right, or the combination of my stock sounds that I created and a live kit, and I manipulate it to make my program.
When you go into your studio what comes first?
The beat. I have a live kit, but instead of playing the whole kit or sampling a hi-hat, I just play hi-hat for three minutes. Then I’ll go play the snare for three minutes; then I’ll program the kick. That’s what makes hip-hop, hip-hop—the focus the drum machine gives each drum without the bleed. So why don’t I interpret what a drum machine does live, take out everything else and just play the hi-hat? Then, I will treat the drums the same way I would treat vocals. The way you would do a vocal and ad-lib a vocal, I have a drummer come in and ad-lib my drum program and put the fills and the crashes in.
What tips would you have for someone in the deep end of Pro Tools possibilities?
Well, I would like those people to keep this in mind: this equipment is becoming more and more affordable, so you’re going to get a lot of young guys that are going to do all these crazy tricks. The one thing that technology can’t mimic is that natural raw magic. Capturing that is worth more than any crazy trick and plug-in that you could put on a vocal. You can do all the editing tricks in the world, but natural magic is natural magic, and capturing that is priceless.