My path to producing began at the tender age of 6. My parents decided that I should start piano lessons. This of course was all part of the master plan to shape me into the Bach-playing, medical school enrolled, rainbow suspenders-wearing, ultimate Asian stereotype prodigy of all time.
After 10 years, I admit I got pretty damn good at the piano. However, I never really learned to enjoy music up to that point. It was drills, techniques, and the mastery of any other finger exercise my Nazi teacher had for me. Eventually, I begged and pleaded for my parents to let me take some time off. This “time off” became uhh…forever off. With my piano skills tucked away, I began to explore other instruments in band (if you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a nerd) from a bass clarinet to the drums.
In high school I learned that a friend of mine, Christina Cho, could really sing. I wanted to collaborate with her, so I lied and told her I could make tracks for her to write to. Let me tell you, some of the tracks I made were absolutely horrendous and she had no problem telling me. It was so embarassing, but that alone motivated me to try to make something at least passable.
Fast forward to college, California State University of Long Beach. I was still sending tracks back and forth with Christina, but music wasn’t the priority. Aside for a brief stint with shoe-collecting (STILLWATERLA on NIKETALK!), nothing really was a priority. School was intolerable for me, there’d be so many times I would drive to campus (I commuted 20 miles from home each way), park in the parking lot, open the car door. Step out the car. Pause. Step back in the car. Drive back home. I willingly failed my classes.
The beats had gotten better, but they were nowhere near professional. I decided one day to post my remixes on Myspace Music (http://myspace.com/stillwaterbeats), I think it was around 2004. Another producer reached out to me and told me they were interested in collaborating. Without realizing it at the time, I accepted and drove to South Central LA to work in my first studio and what became the defining moment in my life when the hobby transformed into a serious career.
After that fateful meeting, I decided to really give music a shot. I partnered up with that producer, and learned and absorbed as much as I possibly could. I started producing tracks for the underground-hip hop scene known as Project Blowed, an artist in particular named Trenseta. It was an amazing experience, and I’m still very proud of the work we did together.
The ladder climb began, and it was time to make money. I opened my very first studio in Inglewood, continuing to work with other hip-hop artists such as Ras Kass and Royce Da 5’9″. I started to come in contact with a lot of people within the industry (working people), and began familiarizing myself with names and faces of executives.
It’s a bit embarassing to mention, but there were many times I stalked people I wanted to meet. Whether it was calling their office 100 times a day (yes I would count), or e-mailing with fake referrals, I did whatever it took to solicit a response. Sometimes I was successful, most times not so much.
Of the people I was fortunate enough to meet, many of them raved about my potential but most made it clear that there was still work to be done. I really had to dig down and hone my craft. First, it was grasping the idea of a strong track. From the concept, to the execution (the arrangement, the instrumentation choice, the mix).
It took 3 years from that point for me to sell my very first track to a major-label. The first song I ever sold that was released was “Till the End of the World” by Michelle Williams on Sony/Columbia. I produced the track, and the song was written and vocals produced by Rico Love (Google is your friend).
Over time, I began focusing my transition from just a beatmaker to an actual producer. Understanding the whole song creation process, from the creative side down to the budgets, studio bookings, the egos…the everything!
It’s been nearly 6 years since my song with Rico. I’ve had many placements since, within the US and internationally, my work has been featured on video games, movies, and TV. I’ve been blessed with the chance to work and produce for many amazing and talented artists/songwriters. I’m thankful everyday for the opportunities but at the same time I know my willingness to learn and my dedication to the process played a vital role in moving my career forward.
Obviously this story has an open ending, but I hope I was able to provide some insight into my journey! For more gems, check back on my blog soon. When I figure out how to make one.
John & Mya recording at Chalice Studios
John's blinding white skin and Babyface at Brandon's Way Studios
John, Jimmy Burney and Cody Simpson at Eagle Rock Studios
John, Tiwa Savage, Paul Kim and Shawn Stockman
Feature in Urban Network Magazine