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Tonedeff Interview

  Tonedeff Interview with Production Tips For Home Studio Recording
(March, 2005)

If you don't know who Tonedeff is, let me introduce you to not only a rapper with one of the sickest flows in the game, but also to an impressively inventive producer.

Hailing from Miami, Florida, Tonedeff has appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show in his earlier days of emceeing. It would be years later, though, that he would engrave his name in the game with collaborations with KRS-One, Wordsworth, an appearance on a Masta Ace LP, and a showcase on MTV2.

Needless to say, throughout his rise in the underground Tonedeff has proven to possess not only superior emceeing skills but also production abilities that stand out very well on their own.

With his latest 2005 release, Archetype, as well as an impressive collaboration on Cunninglinguists' "Love Ain't" from their Southernunderground LP, Tonedeff has proven that he not only commands one of the best flows in the game, but also that he posesses an uncanny ability to produce quality beats.

We had the opportunity to ask this underground icon a few questions that up-and-coming MCs might have in regards to recording audio, making beats. Below is the interview along with some pretty useful production tips.

Let us know what you guys think and feel free to throw any questions you may have for Tonedeff at us, so that we may have them on hand for a future follow-up.

Tonedeff beats are available for sale through his site at www.QN5.com

Check out the interview below and as always get back to us with any questions or comments you may have.

"If you can make it sound hot on a
fisher-price radio you found
in the trash...go for it."


(Below is a sample of Tonedeff's music. Please allow a moment for the song to buffer)
   Tonedeff - Move In, Ride Out

TheStateofHipHop: So when did you record your first rap track via PC?
Tonedeff: I've actually been recording in professional studios since 1989. Digital Audio recording wasn't really around at that time (affordably). The first time I used a PC to record a song was in 1994 on a program called "Logic Audio". They still make that program today...but that was actually the first song I'd ever recorded on a computer at this studio I was at.

Since then, DAWs [Digital Audio Workstations] have been a mainstay at every studio, even though I did The Monotone EP (1997) completely on analog equipment and tracked to an ADAT [Alesis Digital Audio Tape – digital multitrack recording system]. I never owned a computer until after college, and it was then (‘98) that I began toying with freeware programs and sampling on a regular home PC.

TheStateofHipHop: Alright and how did you first learn to create beats via PC?
Tonedeff: As I mentioned before, I've been producing for years. I'm a crate digger by nature, so sampling has always fascinated me. But in the years before, sampling was difficult because of the short sample times machines like the SP-12 and the Ensoniq and the MPC (pre-zip drive days) were limited to. Once Pro Tools came along, the sampling became more layered and adventurous. At home, I would use Acid Pro, Cakewalk and a free program called Hammerhead for drums. Basically, just a lot of practice and experience rolled into one.

TheStateofHipHop: You're also an avid producer, what are some of the software that you use(d) and recommend?
Tonedeff: Honestly, make use of whatever you're comfortable with and can render a nice clean, professional sounding product. That's why there's so many programs and utilities out there. They all pretty much do the same things...they're just laid out differently. The things I can do in ACID PRO or SONAR XL just make sense to me, so I use it often. To me, those programs seem to be built with the hip-hop producer in mind, because things work on "loops" and things of that nature. But in the end...it's whatever you wanna use.

TheStateofHipHop: What kind of hardware do you use to record (i.e., condenser mics? Soundcards? Headers?) and which are the most necessary for beginners? Advanced? Any recommendations?
Tonedeff: I have an old Dell PC (running Sonar XL, Acid Pro, T. Racks, Sound Forge 7 & B.Box from Steinberg), Gadget Labs 8/24 Soundcard, Yamaha CS2X keyboard, Alesis 16 Track Mixer, 2 Turntables and Audio Technica condenser mic.

Again, make good with what you have. This isn't the best setup in the world, but I've learned how to milk it for the best quality possible.

TheStateofHipHop: What would you say is the minimum amount of money one should expect to invest on hardware to produce tracks of...lets say Monotone EP quality?
Tonedeff: The biggest component you're gonna need to spend money on is the pro sound card interface. Those can run you anywhere from $300 to $1000, depending on the manufacturer, etc. The Monotone EP was recorded on old ass analog equipment and then tracked to an ADAT. It would have sounded a lot better with the most minimal PC DAW setup that most people have today. But once more...if you can make it sound hot on a fisher-price radio you found in the trash...go for it.

TheStateofHipHop: What are the basic parts to a track (bass line, melody, beat?) and how do you normally go about putting it together through your software? Is there a particular order you find works best?
Tonedeff: Well, It depends on the track and whether it's a completely original beat, or is sample-based. Normally, I'll dig through crates and find something hot, and sample it into Sound Forge and save it for later. At some point, I'll come back to that sample and chop it up and bring it into ACID, lay the drums in with B.Box and import them as separated tracks. After which, I'll add all the keyboard elements, (bass, piano, strings, etc) on top of what I have to flesh out the beat. But if it's a straight up keyboard thing...I have a little recorder I take around with me...that I hum melodies into and then save for later. Once I get a chance, I just start laying stuff into Sonar via MIDI and tracking it all out till its done. Everyone's process is different.

TheStateofHipHop: Any personal recommendations (technical or theoretical) you have for people trying to learn how to put together good hip-hop at home?
Tonedeff: There's too many hobbyists now due to the proliferation of affordable hardware and software. Nowadays, everyone thinks they're Premiere because they chopped a piano sample on an MPC. Everyone thinks they're a producer now, when in reality, all they're really doing is just "making beats". Real producers have range, and a talent for doing many genres of music, because they understand how music is really put together. Looping 2 seconds of an old R&B record and tossing drums on it doesn't make you a producer. Try to branch out and create original productions in other genres. Hip-Hop is somewhat basic in structure compared to something like Jazz or Classical music. So, in order to really learn how to REALLY make music, you need to study up on other genres.

In other words, try to make the hottest, most innovative and compelling music possible. If you love hip-hop music, then you'll stop trying to recreate 1994 and do something for 2010. Good hip-hop isn't really about theories or sound quality (in most cases), but it's about soul. If you ain’t pouring your soul via this music...it's worthless. Simple as that. I don't care if you made a song in a shoebox or mixed it on a NEVE console...if it doesn't have any soul, it's not good hip-hop. PERIOD.

Update: June 2005 - Tonedeff's official debut album "Archetype" has finally been released!!

>> Enjoy this Tonedeff Interview? Listen to and get Tonedeff Archetype and more here.