Producers Corner: Nicolay
Record labels may be complaining about the effects of file sharing, but if Nicolays not complaining about the Internet. Based in the Netherlands, the producer linked with Little Brothers Phonte and sent tracks back and forth online until they came up with what became Connected, an album the duo recorded as Foreign Exchange and received both critical acclaim and approval amongst hip-hop snobs. The Internet got me where I am today, so Im far from mad at it, Nicolay laughs. I wont lie, it costs money out of my pocket toobut the possibilities far outweigh the downsides.
But these days, Nicolay is more than the hottest thing on the message boards. Since Connected hit stores in 2004, he has released his own solo album Here, jump started his City Lights instrumental series, and crafted soundscapes for the likes of Strange Fruit Project and other Justus League acts, thus establishing himself as a respected independent producer. And with the start of his own label, another Foreign Exchange album and other projects on the way, hes just getting started. In an interview for HipHopDXs Producers Corner, Nicolay talks about the value of live instrumentation, the Internet, and the next Foreign Exchange project.
HipHopDX: First off, when did you first start taking production seriously?
Nicolay: Well, I think that I have always taken it seriously, but lets put it this way: it didn't become a serious in terms of being able to make a living doing it until 2004, after the Foreign Exchange album came out. All the while before then, it was a 'for the love' type thing mainly.
HipHopDX: Well how did you get into production in the first place?
Nicolay: I have always been a musician, first and foremost; playing in bands, that kind of thing. But after a while it kind of became clear that it was tough making a living that way. So I kind of made a radical decision, quit playing and got myself a job, to be able to pay my bills and what not. I started producing in my free time, really as a way to keep the music going. But at first, definitely way at first, I was doing it for myself more than anything.
HipHopDX: What kind of job did you get?
Nicolay: I was working for an internet access provider; first on the help desk, and later managing that help desk.
HipHopDX: How many bands did you play with, and what instruments did you play?
Nicolay: Played with about 4 or 5 groups, Id say. I started out playing bass and guitars, and later I mainly played keyboards. The last group I played for, I played analogue synthesizers.
HipHopDX: That helps it lot with your production then, right?
Nicolay: Yeah, tremendously. It helps in the sense that, I dont have to depend on just samples. I can add keyboards, bass, guitars or live drums, if I want to. And I find myself doing that more and more to a point where I dont so much use samples anymore, really. It depends per project, though; some projects are more sample heavy than others.
HipHopDX: Do you wish other artists would use live instrumentation more?
Nicolay: Not really, because everyone does what theyre good at. There's cats that suck at sampling, and there's cats that suck at playing instruments [laughs]. I think everyone should decide for themselves. But for me personally, I know it makes my music much more interesting, with a lot more depth and variation than a lot of other stuff you hear nowadays.
HipHopDX: So how often do you play live now?
Nicolay: Not a whole lotthe last time in public was the release party of Here, in September of last year. We had a band for that one. But [I dont play live] as much as I'd want to.
HipHopDX: Do you plan on getting in more live performances, or is it just not feasible with all you've got going on?
Nicolay: I'd love to. Its harder budget-wise to have 5 people involved instead of 1 or 2. But I think especially in this day and age the future of music has a lot to do with live music. Recorded music really gets more and more depreciated to a point where I think hardly anyone will want to pay for it. But people will probably always go and see live music.
HipHopDX: What kind of rushes do you get out of playing live and producing? Is there one you have more fun doing than the other?
Nicolay: Its really different for me. I think ultimately the better situation for me is the studio, because in the studio you can work on something that you can go back to and have full control over. In a live situation, you are depending on all these outside elements that will sometimes make it fantastic and sometimes make it suck. I think in the studio is where my talents ultimately come out most.
HipHopDX: Now you're stateside at the moment, right?
Nicolay: Yes sir. Wilmington, North Carolina.
HipHopDX: How often are you here, and how often are you in the Netherlands?
Nicolay: I pretty much live in the states presently, but Im in the Netherlands visiting, probably like 3 to 4 times a year.
HipHopDX: When did you make that move?
Nicolay: May of last year.
HipHopDX: How much work had you done with US artists aside from Phonte before the move, and how much have you done since the move?
Nicolay: Pretty much only American artists both before and after, outside of the lucky few Dutchies [laughs].
HipHopDX: You had done the first Foreign Exchange album entirely online. How difficult is it to work with artists online, instead of in-person?
Nicolay: Its probably easier. For us, at the time, we didn't really know any better. It was just what we did. Little did we know, that a few years later, this is how most people in the underground work, even domestically. Thats just easier, cheaper, etc.
HipHopDX: So how much do you, personally, stick to working online and how much do you work with people in the studio?
Nicolay: Even right now I'd say 75% online, 25% in the studio. More or less.
HipHopDX: You still find it to be efficient though? Do you have a preference?
Nicolay: Efficient? Its more efficient than anything I can think of, in terms of not having to travel, working at your own pace etc. So I dont know man, so far it has been working out real well for me.
HipHopDX: How does the new Foreign Exchange album compare and contrast to the last?
Nicolay: Wowits really different. But ultimately, people will have to decide for themselves. Ill tell you this: its the logical next step for The Foreign Exchange, musically, vocally, etc.
HipHopDX: What else do you have coming up?
Nicolay: Well, I just started my own label, Nicolay Music, so Im very excited about that obviously. And there's several new projects that are on the verge of being completed. A new Dutch Masters album, a new City Lights album, and Im releasing an album that I did together with Kay, of The Foundation. EMC (the group of indie mainstays Wordsworth, Punchline, Strick and Masta Ace) have their new single out now, too, and I produced that one. And Ive got three tracks on Medians new album. So there's a lot of music coming out.