Audio Perm had a hell of a December. The trio of hip-hop producers performed on Mike Mictlan’s night of the Doomtree Blowout, sold out its own Permed Out Showcase at Honey, and was booked to play the Triple Rock every Wednesday in January. Julian Fairbanks, Cory Grindberg, and Taylor Madrigal, who have been making beats as a crew since 2009, seem to have cracked the code of making music they love for fans that are digging it—all before reaching the legal drinking age. The guys took a break from preparing for their Permed Out Wednesdays series to offer a few keys to their success.
1. Make a beat for someone to rap on.
Asked what makes a hip-hop beat, the producers mention looped samples and hard-hitting drums, but their first rule is simple. “It needs to have space on it for someone to rap,” says Grindberg. A jazz student at Northwestern University, he usually creates his beats like musical compositions rather than building them around samples—a style that doesn’t always qualify as traditional hip-hop. “I would send my beats to rappers and they would be like, ‘It’s cool, but I can’t rap on this, it’s too much,’” he says. “So I’ve been trying to tone it down and make a rap beat that someone can spit on.”
That doesn’t have to be a limitation, though. The rappers Audio Perm produce for help shape what their beats can be. “If you’re working with a rapper who’s down to experiment and do some different shit, then you can do whatever you want with your beats,” says Madrigal. Grindberg adds, “To push the standard conceptions of what a hip-hop song should be.”
2. Find a balance.
Making space for the MC means that “the beat is 50 percent, the rap is 50 percent,” according to Madrigal. The beat should be interesting without overpowering the lyrics. “I try to keep it as simple as possible but also not make it boring, and that’s something that I’ve struggled with,” he says. “Cory’s stuff is like, ‘What’s happening next? What’s happening next?’ I think it’s always about finding that balance.”
Balance is important, too, when it comes to juggling the business and creative sides of being a musician. “Some people don’t think about the music like we do. When they go in to make an album, they might think a lot more about, ‘How can we get people to hear this? How can we promote it?’” Grindberg says. “I don’t think that works, really. The music dictates how the marketing will go.”
3. Focus on the music.
That habit of putting the music first and genuinely caring about it has led to much of Audio Perm’s success so far, the guys say. “Don’t spend all your time meeting people and talking to people and trying to get shows if your product isn’t dope,” Grindberg advises.
That genuine passion paid off, Grindberg says, when he released the instrumental album Crack for free download in December. “I was worried that people wouldn’t be getting it, they wouldn’t be feeling it,” he says. “But I really cared about this project, so I put my heart into it. And then when I put it out, I was amazed at the support people showed. They recognize that this is something I was sincere about, and they’re helping me out.”
4. Don’t be elitist about your methods or your samples.
The crew’s sincerity about their music also means that they won’t discriminate when it comes to the way beats are made. When searching for samples, the crew will sift through blogs as well as combing record stores. Grindberg says he’ll grab sounds from Super Mario or from metal songs his brother recommends.
“There’s a lot of people who are really elitist, like, ‘Oh, you get that from blogs? That’s weak,’” says Madrigal. “But if you’re finding and making cool music, flipping it, it doesn’t matter where you got it from. We don’t necessary have 500 bucks to get an MPC. Don’t have time or money to run to a record store,” Madrigal continues. “That doesn’t make us less real, I don’t think—if anything, that makes us more real, ’cause we do this shit how we can.”
5. Work with people you like and respect.
2012 should see releases from Audio Perm’s two side projects: Madrigal and rapper Scoundrel Spence are Biter Fighters, while Fairbanks and Grindberg collaborate with Chantz Erolin in Art School Girls. Getting to work directly with a specific MC, the guys say, is a lot of fun. “Everyone’s creativity affects the others’ creativity,” Grindberg says. “The way you make the beat affects how Chantz writes his raps, and things he says when he’s with us here affects how we shape the beat.”
The crew has also done production for several local artists, including Prof and Illuminous 3. Grindberg explained how he sends beats to MCs: “I make beats with a variety of different sounds. I’m always switching it up. That way, a lot of different rappers can listen to it and find their niche in my sound. They’ll pick those beats that represent it.”
Mostly, the guys just like getting to create music with their friends. Audio Perm itself formed because its members thought it would be fun to produce together. “When they asked me, ‘You want to join this group, Audio Perm?’ I was like, ‘Yeah! Those guys are cool,’” Grindberg says. “I had no idea we were gonna be selling out shows at Honey, doing a bunch of shows at the Triple Rock.”
“I’m glad that we got a crew that just respects music as an art form. It’s not just some little thing to us,” Madrigal says. “A tip would be to really build up the people that you work with. Find people that you click with and who are like you and who care about music like you do.”
The first Permed Out Wednesday at the Triple Rock, tonight, January 4 at 8 p.m., features rappers Greg Grease, Bobby Raps, Big Dylan, Yakub, Phonetic One, and The Org. For more information, visit the Audio Perm site.