Trevor - Welcome back to Have You Heard. The podcast where we discuss underappreciated music from different genres, artists and eras. I'm your host, Trevor. In this episode, we're gonna be talking to Northwestern artist Jay Towns. Hope you enjoy.
Jay - Cool. What's up, man?
T - What's going on? Thanks so much for hopping on.
J - Dude, thanks for having me, for real.
T - Yeah, I remember … I'm a transfer, I'm new to Northwestern. So, I remember the first, like videos, when I was just applying and everything, you were the first one to pop up.
J - Appreciate it.
T - So it's cool to finally get to talk to you and stuff.
J - Yeah, you too.
T - Going back to that sort of social media stuff … It seems like you have a lot going on, just all the time, so I wonder how you balance that with school and everything.
J - Well, the great thing about what I'm studying: theater, music tech and entrepreneurship – lots of the things that I am learning in classes I directly apply to stuff I do outside of class. Obviously, there's still school work that's kind of annoying to have to get done. But I'd say like 80% of the things that I'm learning in class, I apply to some project that I'm doing currently. To me, it doesn't feel so much as school, art, work. It kind of all blends together. Because I'd love to do my art for my job, which is what I'm studying. You know what I mean? It's not too bad, actually – the balance. Obviously, you know, with my own projects, like the YouTube channel and music and things that I'm not actively endorsed to do at school, that is what I use my extra time on.
Actually, I feel like this is a perfect time to do this podcast episode, because I'm right now, in the midst of planning for a music video I'm shooting tomorrow – maybe we could talk about that later. But the balance … I'm very used to it. But I think I think it's pretty, my schedule’s always kind of, like something’s moving. But that's the way I like it. And I think that Northwestern, for better or for worse, has kind of conditioned me with the “and” is in our DNA mindset, which can be toxic at times. But for me, most of the time, it's more of like an encouragement. I feel empowered to do not only whatever I want, but, whenever I want to do it. Oftentimes that coincides with other projects. And that's just kind of the lifestyle that I want to have. Starting it early, I guess.
T - Yeah that’s so dope. I guess we could just jump into the music right now if you want. So do you direct your own music videos, and how much creative control do you have in that sort of process?
J - So I do direct my own videos, but I've also … I have one video up on my channel right now, that was directed by a friend of mine. But even in that case, which was a great video, that was the “Green” music video that was directed by my friend Hannah because I had made that song to be featured in her film. So that was really cool. And she actually was editing the music video while she was editing the film. And so there are actually clips of the film, like intertwined with the music video pretty seamlessly.
So that was dope. And in that case, she directed it because she definitely had the vision for the project. And it was also to serve for promo for the film. But other music videos I've directed, and I'm directing this next one that I'm doing. But even when I'm not, even when in the case of “Green,” I didn't ever feel like I didn't have creative control or creative input to say the least. I think, though, that the director usually is the person who is seeing how it's going to come together in the end product. And so, more frequently than not, the director is also going to edit a music video. And so in the case of “Green,” I wasn't editing it because I didn't have the footage, so I felt like Hannah would have been more appropriate to bring that vision together – which she's very good at. For songs like “19,” which is another music video that's up on my channel, I had the whole idea in my mind. I just needed somebody to help me shoot it. And so in that case, I directed it because I also ended up editing that. So that's kind of how it goes with directing and creative liberties.
T - Yeah and I wonder, how was it when you first started making music and putting stuff out?
J - Dude, I was just thinking about this the other day. It is such a combination of kind of … you have to be kind of either like I don't know if it's like in love with your work or just kind of naive. And I mean the passion obviously has to be there. The passion, I think is the number one thing but like, because I look back – I was literally thinking about this yesterday – I am so proud of the music that I'm making currently. And like just the production value of it, I feel like I spend a lot of time on it and I feel like it just sounds professional.
And it's strange to think about the music that I made, just like a year ago, that I'm still proud of writing-wise and inspiration-wise, because I'm like, “This definitely came from the heart.” This was something I wanted to get out as, like artistic expression, right? But I'm like, I would never listen to this just because I was so new at producing. Most of the tracks that I've released before like, just aren't at the caliber that my stuff is at now and that when I compare what I make to what I listened to, just isn't the same. And so I was thinking about that the other day, I was like, man, my friends really like … reposted that on their stories. And I'm like, I don't know, we were all just on the train of like, “Yo, this is artistic expression. And so that's what matters,” or if they were all secretly like, “Whoa, this is actually trash, but we support Jay.”
And the funny thing is, I'll never have to know because that gave me the confidence to keep going. And now I feel like I am at the place where I really am putting up dukes with anybody who could be on the radio, you know what I mean? But it definitely took that confidence and that support group at the beginning to keep going, because I swear I almost could guarantee if people were like, “Stop making music,” when I had started, I probably would have stopped because it was a new thing for me. And I think that new artistic expression requires support to get going.
T - And how were you learning in the beginning? Was it just through YouTube videos, just, you know, throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks? Or…
J - It was a combination of both, you know, I've been a musician, I would say for the majority of my life, always musically in tune. But when it came to producing, that was a completely different thing. And something I was really excited about doing and never really had time to get into until quarantine hit and there was literally nothing else to do. It was a lot of YouTube. I always suggest when people ask, “How did you learn how to do that?” Just go on YouTube. I learned all the music theory I ever needed to learn on YouTube and more. That translated to me doing, like, AP music theory in high school and being very comfortable with music theory in college. Everything you ever would need to know is on YouTube. You don't need to take classes or anything.
And that was the same thing for producing. So I came into 2020 — I know, musically what I want in my head. But it was so frustrating getting to a computer. Having to figure out routing audio and quantizing MIDI tracks – just things that you don't think about when you're in artist mode. And that's kind of when I started going into producer stuff. And now I understand what it takes to get the idea from the head to the computer and out in the exported track. Which is a completely different skill. And so, yeah, that was really frustrating to work with at the beginning. But it was just, yeah, it was lots of trial and error. Lots of hours just sitting at my computer, hunched over my computer — just my computer crashing, like my laptop not, CPU not being able to work. My next investment probably has to be in another computer just because files are getting too big, et cetera. But anyway, I digress. Yeah, I learned almost everything I know how to do from YouTube.
T - It seems like you're sort of able to translate what's in your head onto the DAW, how often are you making music? Is it as frustrating as it was before?
J - To answer the first half of the question. I'm making music consistently, but not frequently. So basically, I consistently, on a consistent basis, I will pour a whole day into a track, but I don't work a little bit every day. My schedule is not really conducive to like, I'm going to work for an hour on this song today. It's more so like I get in the grind. It's usually a Saturday or Sunday. And I sit down with tea at 10am and I'm there until like five. And then I have a song. I definitely have gotten a lot more efficient with my time. And I tend to work in blocks and chunks. And I feel like lots of artists tend to work this way. Producers, I feel like have more of the approach of like, I can whittle this down, day by day. But I feel like I'm more of an artist who learned how to produce out of necessity rather than like a producer who just loves to sit and work at my computer.
I'm really hoping to get better at producing to the point where I can feel comfortable producing for other people. Like I'm also thinking about that as a possible route to go with my life. Don't really even know how that's gonna go. But so like, I make music consistently. Consistently, I'll do it about once a week for like hours at a time. And yeah, it's gotten a lot faster. It's just getting comfortable with the DAW. I use Studio One, which I think is amazing. I got it because it also allows me to compose music on there. If you have heard of Sibelius or like Finale, basically, there's like music transcription that is a part of it, which is for me as a composer, musical theater writer type stuff, that's also very useful. So kind of like two birds with one stone.
And yeah, I mean, I got it Christmas of 2019, didn't use it until 2020 when everything stopped, and I've been using it ever since. And I love it. And the more you use it, I mean, every song that I've made so far, I have learned something that I wish I had put in every other song before.
T - And I love what you said about consistency, but not frequency. I think, you know, artists – when they're not making music or when they don't feel like making music what do they do to get in that zone? What’s that for you?
J - Man, I mean, it's — this is so cheesy — but it's just like living life. It's because, and this is the same thing with acting too, which is something I'm also very passionate about. But when it comes to art, I feel like you need to have your experiences to then pour into your art. If I don't feel like making music, unless I'm commissioned to, like if I'm making it for something. But if it's just me, and I want to sit down and make a song and it's not coming, like, I don't think anything good comes from forcing that. I go out and I just live my life. I hang out with my roommates. I eat sushi. I occasionally freestyle to beats I find on YouTube in my car. I just live and then something happens that inspires me or makes me think of something or I hear a melody. A song I'm working on right now was inspired by — my next door neighbors play violin. And I just was walking out one day going to class and I just overheard this violin classical piece. And something about the melody just was really catchy. Quick on Voice Notes I just was like:
I'll save that for later. That was something that I was able to build off of. You just never know where the next thing is gonna come from. And so I try not to force it. I think I'm naturally inclined to make something when I feel something so I don't really feel the need to, like, force that. It definitely comes when it needs to. I wouldn't call myself like a professional music artist like it's not my only thing. I don't feel that pressure to have to make something to make money. You know what I mean? I think for artists out there doing it, it's a different conversation. For me like, it's a very fun, very invested-in hobby, but still a hobby, so I don't I don't feel the pressure, you know.
T - That's great. Honestly, I have a ton more questions, but I just want to make sure we get in your music video that you said you're filming tomorrow.
J - Oh, yes. Yeah, I appreciate you making time for that. I just feel like it would be a great opportunity to talk about while we're here. I am shooting a music video for a song called “Moves” that I made. It was one of those that was, I felt like a really good catchy idea that I ended up finishing it in like two weeks, and was like, “Okay, I'll totally make a music video for this one day.”And then I was selected to compete in Battle of the Bands for Mayfest to compete for a spot a set for Dillo. And they required a 20 minute set. So I was like, “Hmm, got this new song. Got this music video idea. Let's incorporate that.” So now, my plan is to incorporate this music video, another music video that I've been sitting on, and a Tiny Desk-esque kind of set for some stripped versions of some other songs that I've made to compile into one big Mayfest set.
So I'm very excited about the opportunity to put so much of the new stuff I've been sitting on out at the same time and debuting it for Battle of the Bands. I just think it would be a really great idea. So, I mean, I got this together super quick. I put out the first interest call — I think on Wednesday. Since then so many people have just reached out, volunteered to just be like, “Yeah, I'd love to be in it” or “Yeah, I'd love to help out with it.” And so it's always for me, when I see other people investing in my vision — half the people didn't even know what the song was called, or what the music video is going to be about. But they were like, “Jay Towns is making a music video, I'm down.”
That inspires me to make it something that is worth somebody else's time. It's so exciting to me. I can't believe something that I like walked outside, heard this melody, put it into a MIDI track, made a little beat, put some words on it. And now I'm about to meet a bunch of people I’d never met before tomorrow, and make this awesome thing that we can all share. We'll also be serving a purpose for like my set, like, that's dope.I love that process, I fall in love with that process. So that's what the music video is about for “Moves,” and I'm super excited for you to see it for other people to see it. And especially for people to feel like they're a part of it, the people who are going to show up work on it and be acting in it. So I'm very excited about that.
T - Hope you enjoyed that episode. Thanks so much for listening. This is Trevor Duggins for NBN Audio.