The setting is your typical California day; the type you see on TV all the time. The sun, the cars, the people and the sand leading to the famous Santa Monica Boulevard which is filled with a plethora of interesting characters. Just another typical day? Really? Not for R1CKONE; actually there is no such thing as a “typical day” for R1CKONE. On this California day, a Wednesday, R1CKONE starts off as he usually does with a trip out of Santa Monica to one of the many studios he works out of to engage in what he does best, make beats and produce music. Today he happens to be working with credit-worthy producer Alex Cantrall where he will proceed to walk into a studio, again, and shock everyone with what he calls his “Hit Box Mobile”. Now you might ask, “what the H&!! is a Hit Box Mobile?” His production partner Lance Jones who is part of the AristoTrax with R1CKONE will tell you: “These are boxes [computers] I built for me and R1CKONE, and they are basically packed in with the best software and hardware utilizing SONAR 8.5 and Intel Core i7 technology at the helm. We can take these anywhere and plug them into any studio and it’s off to the races. As music creators, SONAR really gives us an edge when we work with other producers and artists. The workflow is ridiculous and it has the tools in the box which allow us to take our music away from the norm.” (See video for more on the Hit Box Mobile.)
As this “typical” day progresses, R1CKONE is in the zone working with Alex Cantrall when his phone rings: “Sorry guys – I forgot to turn this thing off, let me see what’s up, this is Shifty [Shifty Shellshock from Crazytown] calling in.” As the newly created beat-in-progress rips from the nearfield monitors and drops down to about -20db, we hear some dialogue: ”Oh for real?, that would be dope, let’s do this. I will call you when I get out of here,” and just like that R1CKONE finds out that he will be on his way to South Africa in a week with Shifty to DJ and perform at the premier World Cup parties for the final round.
As you can get a sense for the theme here, “typical” is not really a part of R1CKONE’s being, nor is the term a part of his innate qualities. Rick Dixon p/k/a R1CKONE™ moved from Las Vegas, NV to Santa Monica, CA in the year of 99 to join a hip hop group called Blood Of Abraham, which was once signed to Eric “Eazy-E” Wright and his record label known as Ruthless Records. During that time R1CKONE™ then had the pleasureto have met the people whom he says really influenced him in many ways, these people are the whole Black Eyed Peas/Grassroots Productions family. From that day on R1CKONE™ says he is very thankful and blessed to have picked up pointers from his good friends DJ Motiv8 (Black Eyed Pea’s first DJ) and Will.i.am by being at the Stewchia, which is the Black Eyed Peas studio and office building near Los Feliz, CA. Instead of us telling you these pointers, we figured it would be best to have R1CKONE give it up himself:
[CW A. R.]: R1ck, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. How did working alongside of Will.i.am and Motiv8 help you to become the producer you are today? What are some of the specific things you have carried along the journey from them?
[R1]: Overall I feel that the most important thing is that I have picked up the work ethic of Will and I carry it with me every day, “thank you Willy for letting me sit in during the making of Elephunk”… I have a studio set up where I live so I can just wake up & start working, I wouldn’t say that I work hard because I love what I do but I stay focused & I’m living the American dream!
[CW A. R.]: Your beats are really original sounding, what are some of the SONAR features that you use to break your stuff away from the norm?
[R1]: Does a chef give out his recipes?? 😉
[CW A. R.]: What is your favorite feature or tool in SONAR?
[R1]: Believe it or not I love the DR-008.
[CW A. R.]: Who are some of your influences? Who did you listen to growing up before you got in the game?
[R1]: Kraftwerk, Afrika Bambatta & The Soul Sonic Force, Maurice Starr, Davy DMX, Art of Noise, Man Parrish, Kurtis Blow, T La Rock, Mantronix, Nucleus, Grand Master Flash, Run DMC, there are definitely a lot more but these are the ones I was listening to growing up…
[CW A. R.]: You are a fast worker in terms of music creation and I know you recently finished all the drums for a Don Was record way ahead of schedule. Can you briefly explain how SONAR helps you accomplish this?
[R1]: It’s the workflow. The way the MIDI flows with the audio is sick. The “groove clip” function is redic too – it just keeps me creative and faster. It’s like the program is thinking with me as I create.
[CW A. R.]: What are some of the recent projects you have been working on that you can talk about, and that you are psyched about?
[R1]: I am really excited to start working w/ Shauney Baby, she was the drummer for Will.i.am on his “Songs About Girls” tour for his solo album. We both are definitely going to push the envelope on this collaboration. At the present moment I am also producing & submitting tracks for this kid Cody Simpson. I recently produced tracks for The Broshigeez which is a group that was put together by Apl de Ap from the Black Eyed Peas. I recently produced 3 tracks for Shifty’s solo album, he was the frontman from the group Crazy Town that had that hit single “Butterfly”…
The AristoTrax production team is comprised of RICKONE™ and Pop-R&B singer/producer Lance Jones who has been a SONAR user for almost 10 years. Lance came onto the LA scene in a very different way than R1CKONE, but his talent and timing proved to be something that opened up some doors of opportunity on which he capitalized. With a story almost straight of Rolling Stone, Lance was an aspiring music professional working the dreaded day-gig at a café in LA when he crossed paths with Shifty Shellshock of Crazytown. Almost on a daily basis, Lance would serve up a piping hot “Americano” to the superstar and finally one day the two had an exchange which was more than just caffeine and dollar bills. While an Al Green song was playing over the café’s system, Lance decided to ask Shifty if he knew who it was and to his surprise and to Shifty’s credit, he knew exactly who it was with authority. Lance being a diligent student of the “LA starving artist” scene was ready and well equipped with a CD containing his most current original music, and the events that followed this exchange were fast and furious. Within 6 hours Lance was on the phone with Shifty and his manager, and within 14 days he was in Italy serving Shifty with live support instead of Americanos. “It was an amazing break and an amazing time” said Lance. “It’s cool that someone can work so hard for so long and then have an instant run at success. It’s like you have to be prepared for it – I was psyched to have the opportunity to even get the chance at stepping up to the plate, but also in a weird way I always knew that I would get some sort of a break. I think the best part is justification. You work so hard and then when someone like Shifty really gets what you are doing, all the work and everything else start to make sense in terms of your musical path as a whole.”
[CW A. R.]: Lance, thanks for taking the time here. I know you have been using SONAR for a while, what are some of the specific features that you use in SONAR on a regular basis and how do they apply to what you do with your music and productions?
[L.J.]: Thank you for having us Jimmy. We really enjoy using SONAR to do what we do. There are lots of things I like about SONAR, but to name a few, key binding is awesome. It allows me to set up the keyboard shortcuts to suit me so I can work more they way I want to. Also, I like the ability to groove quantize and/or Audiosnap so i can change project tempos on audio as well as the MIDI tracks. I like how the synth rack/softsynth system is set up. For me, it flows nicely. I like the new feature in SONAR where I can highlight any clip in the track view and then scroll to where I want to edit; and edit freely while the project is playing back. This has been a major addition to my workflow.
[CW A. R.]: I know you have a feature track on Shifty and the Big Shot’s new record due out at the end of the summer. How did that song/track come together? What was the inspiration with the writing?
[L.J.]: Shifty and I actually had a group together called “Cherry Lane”. The name comes from “Cherry” from the movie/book called “The Outsiders”. Shifty actually nicknamed me “Pony Boy” because I relate to that character in the movie/book -haaa. Anyways, when we formed the group, we wanted a location in that movie/book as our name. One day I said Cherry Lane accidentally because Diane Lane played that character “Cherry”. Well, it sounds like a location, but it is actually an accidental name as you can see. So we wrote a song called Cherry Lane. Well, Shifty and I switched up our plans and started working on our own solo projects. I’m proud to say “Cherry Lane” made his solo record. That song has gotten a lot of props’, and so that’s pretty cool.
[CW A. R.]: What is your vocal chain going in when you record? What are you using on vocals during mixdown?
[L.J.]: I don’t have any real expensive mics. I have used many mics in studios, even some really really expensive ones. I just don’t seem to need those to get a good recording. The mics I have do have work really well for me. I have a R0DE NTK, Alesis AM51, an MCA-SP1 ($50 mic!!!), and finally my most used mic, the Gauge ECM-87. After I heard the Gauge mic in a session and was blown away, Gauge was kind of enough to get me a mic to try for myself. I really like the sound of it. Smoooooth. I use the ECM-87 the most, and the Alesis or the SP-1 second for vocals, believe it or not. The NTK is great on acoustic guitars though. I recorded Alain Whyte from Morrissey with the NTK on his acoustic, and it sounded great. I go through a Presonus Eureka. That preamp sounds great and I really like the sound. As far as mixdown, I use an EQ (usually the TimeWorks eq from SONAR 2 XL, still love it!) sweeping the low end a lot, often up to 150-250hz, then I use the VX-64. I like to use the “fat vocal” setting, and then I use perfect space reverb to taste, and maybe a little Sonitus Delay, or another delay like Voxengo Analog Delay or something like that, but usually Delay is used per track or clip, not on the vocal buss. At the end of the session, I’ll also add Voxengo tape bus plugin before the EQ and adjust it to taste (usually the “voice” setting) to soften and smooth out the vocal up some. I’m also going to be playing with the new vocal channel in SONAR 8.5 in coming sessions as I liked the demo on that all-in-one plugin, and I think that is going to be a useful addition to my sound. These are my standards. Of course, the tool kit is ready on every project for whatever is needed.
[CW A. R.]: What is your go-to synth in SONAR and do you have any secrets or methods for getting your sounds?
[L.J.]: I use many synths to tell you the truth, both SONAR native synths and third party synths. As far as SONAR native, I like Rapture a lot for lead stuff. I like to try presets and then tweak them to taste. I don’t have one go to synth. I like to mix them together.
[CW A. R.]: How does SONAR help you to write in terms of the workflow?
[L.J.]: Besides the things I mentioned in your first question some other things that I love for workflow are the option to freeze tracks to free up CPU resources for low latency recording, the option to insert a plugin in the effects bin of a track or just in a clip of that track. I often get an effect right (for example, Delay) on a clip and then bounce that clip for a permanent print because I only want the Delay on that clip. There are other ways to do this, for example using automation, and the multiple options are again something that increases the workflow. Overall, SONAR does a very good job at providing me with the tools I need to accomplish anything musical.
After that European tour and upon arrival back into the United States, Lance was pulled into a music circle through Shifty’s friends “Apple”, “Motiv8” and “Will.i.am” where he was invited to into some recording sessions. At one session, while he was waiting for DJ Motiv8 to show up at the studio, he heard some non-vocal tracks coming out of another studio that caught his inner sense of melody through the metal studio door. Again, with the same spirit of that very day when he handed Shifty his demo, he knocked on the metal door to inquire about the compositions he was hearing. On the other side was R1CKONE, and after a few “what’s ups” and some good conversation, Lance walked away with three tracks from R1CKONE where he had his graces to finish the songs with lyrics and melody. From that day forward the two have collaborated in many ways on many levels and have now officially started “The AristoTrax” production team which is part of Listen Deep Music (Poet Name Life’s company).
The AristoTrax who operate out of their own studios as well as other studios via their SONAR “Hit Box Mobiles,” have been busy working with established artists as well as selectively developing new artists. The production team takes each project on with a fresh tailored outlook suited toward the vision of the artist R1CKONE explains. “It’s all about the vibe in the studio. We consult with each artist to make sure that their vision is on point with reality and then we custom-fit from there. No two productions are the same and we start from a fresh slate. That is the beauty of SONAR, it’s so quick for building tracks that we are able to pretty much start from scratch from each artist. Features like track templates help us to get the foundation laid down fast so that we can spend more time working on the music.”
As the day winds down I get a chance to sit with both R1CKONE and Lance Jones in the AristoTrax studio in Hollywood. It’s a modest spot with a great ambiance and a great space to create music. After spending some time with these guys a few things are obvious:
1.They have created their own path and capitalized on opportunities along the way.
2.They are music creation addicts.
3.They approach their work in a way that sets them up for success.
With these three factors at the forefront of their mission, it is safe to say that The AristoTrax are at the forefront of a movement. In a recording world of “industry standards” and replicated-and-regurgitated beats, The AristoTrax step outside the safe zone to excel from “good” to “great” in terms of music creation; on their own terms. Here at Cakewalk it’s refreshing to see a production team like this take command of their talent and we appreciate being the catalyst and giving them the tools to make it all happen.