“Fuck no,” Kenny Beats says with a chuckle. He’s sitting behind a drum kit at his home studio in Los Angeles, and he’s just been asked whether he ever aspired to be a teacher.
“I have a lot to learn, is how I’ve always felt, and I still feel that way,” continues the producer behind projects by Rico Nasty, Vince Staples, and more. “But now the things I say hold weight to certain kids, because they’ve seen me actually go and do it. So I guess it makes sense.”
Over the past year and a half, Kenny has become something of a hip-hop production professor, spending much of his downtime in the pandemic pulling back the curtain on how he makes his songs for a large audience of fans on his social media. Now those the casual tutorials are becoming more formal: Music creation service Splice has named him the platform’s first ever artist in residence, bringing him on for a six-part, 90-minute educational series set to cover a wide range of topics from basic beat-making tips and tricks to using samples and recording vocals. The six episodes will drop weekly starting October 13th.
While star producers are often protective of their processes and techniques, Kenny is notably transparent. He often shares stems from his work and he’ll frequently walk his viewers through his production tips on live streams on Instagram and Twitch. It’s a very conscious decision to showcase so much of his production style, one that comes from his own personal obligation to share the wealth that’s come with his platform.
“As a white producer from Connecticut who works primarily in Black music, and who’s been given a shot to work with so many people I never thought I would be able to work with, what am I giving back other than a good song?” he says. “In the past, all I ever thought about was making music, but I need to use my platform for something bigger. I need to help give somebody else a shot who might not be getting it.”
Splice itself is one of the most popular production services for artists of all sizes, in part because of the large collection of royalty-free samples at its subscribers’ disposal. As Splice grows, it’s looking to further define itself beyond a production tool into a broader springboard for empowering artists to create. Kenny Beats’s appointment as artist in residence is the latest expansion of Splice Skills, the platform’s video tutorial section that covers many of the nuances of song production, from layering vocals to mastering tracks. Splice CEO Steve Martocci hopes that Kenny will help the platform offer content that highlights an artist’s individual uniqueness and ingenuity instead of merely putting out standard, one-size-fits-all lessons.
“We always say our biggest competition is people giving up on themselves,” Splice CEO Steve Martocci says. “I think about picking up a guitar the first time — to make it sound good takes a lot of work. Most people quit before they can play a chord because it’s so hard. Software has changed that because it’s opened new ways to empower artists, for us to cultivate the raw creative spirit. Educating helps that too. And Kenny, even when he’s not trying, is a teacher. He’s so knowledgeable and he cares so much that just expressing himself, people are going to listen.”
Martocci says Kenny was by far the most highly requested instructor from the Splice community for the new program. While the producer will continue to showcase his own technical skills through his curriculum, Kenny also plans to use his Splice videos to impart other kinds of wisdom to up-and-coming artists.
“There’s plenty of simple how-to production videos on YouTube, but I can talk about what goes on in your career that isn’t just songwriting,” Kenny says. “You never see people talk about what it was like during their first session. What do you do if you mess up, if you get paid nothing or end up not getting credited for your work? There’s all these tangible experiences that I’ve faced that I couldn’t watch a tutorial on, so I talk about my experiences and what has or hasn’t worked for me. I’m trying to create a video on the internet that can fill in the blindspots that weren’t filled in for me when I was getting started.”
Kenny and Splice have a longstanding relationship that began before the artist in residence appointment. Kenny is a heavy Splice user, and the company also partnered with him for the third season of his popular YouTube series, the Cave. He’s enthusiastic about the ongoing democratization of music that has come with software like Splice; while Kenny himself is a more traditionally-trained producer, previously attending the Berkelee College of Music, he welcomes the notion of bringing in a class of musicians who haven’t had those opportunities.
“Making music is the most accessible it’s ever been in history. So many people want to make music now,” Kenny says. “There may not be 10 bassists, drummers, or guitarists at a school — but I promise you there are 10 kids who can open Traktor or know how Ableton works. It doesn’t matter anymore if you went to school for music, if you play an instrument, or even if you’re necessarily musically inclined. Some people really hate to hear that, they hate that instant gratification is hitting the music industry so intensely. The barrier now is ‘Do you have ideas? Do you have songs you feel you have to get out there?'”
As the program launches, above all, Kenny hopes the series will provide a well-rounded course to start audiences on a similar path to the one he was able to follow, albeit with more knowledge than he had at the beginning.
“If there’s anything to take away from this whole series, my career completely changed when I started to cover my blindspots,” he says. “No matter who you are and what you’re best at, there’s always a new technical thing to learn, always another conversation to be had. Slowly, one by one, I’ve gotten better those things, and I became a Swiss army knife for the artists I work with. If you need me to record, vocal produce, set up microphones, or just make a beat, I’m comfortable in all those chairs, which is invaluable. To impart that on younger people who want to do this is way more impactful than putting out another couple big records.”