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Inside the Red Bull Music Academy – New York 2013

Inside the Red Bull Music Academy – New York 2013


On the two days I spent at the Academy, you couldn’t have had two more contrasting guests. Todd Rundgren, the long-standing American songwriter and producer talked about growing up in Philly under the watch of the harsh father which lead him to a career in music. He discussed his work with Nazz, Daryl Hall, Tame Impala and his own extensive music discography.

Herb Powers at RBMA by Dan Wilton.
Herb Powers at RBMA by Dan Wilton.

Better yet, was Herb Powers Jr, a mastering engineer for over 30 years whose passion for his craft was infectious and who was watched proudly by his wife in the audience. His dad was a quality control engineer in a Columbia records studio in New York when he started and “I became one of my dad’s main clients because I screwed up so often.” He shared fascinating insights into his mastering work which he gleamed from work on records like R Kelly, Justin Timberlake, TLC, Jay-Z, Salt-n-Pepa and Run DMC. He played mastered and unmastered versions of records he mastered from Kool & The Gang and others to show his work and explained how he scratched ‘it’s a hit!’ on the wax of the vinyl of Afrika Bambaataa’s ‘Planet Rock’ when he cut it in the studio. Indeed, it was Powers’ first gold record. He also shared nuggets of info like 20 minutes is the perfect length for a side of vinyl “in terms of it sounding its best.”

“Obviously we have lots of legends, people who have sold millions of records and who have won Grammys and that’s a great thing. But at the same time, you have to get in people who are closer to the participants,” says Bortot.

“El-P was talking about how might have made groundbreaking records but it doesn’t pay his bills,” explained Bortot. “He took on studio jobs he didn’t want to do. Those kinds of conversations are even more important than having having Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons there.” – Bortot

“I loved Brian Eno’s talk and his simple appreciation of a cup of tea,” says Emma Quietdust. “He had to finish his talk early because he needed to pee so it’s nice to know Brian Eno is human.”

Giorgio Moroder  DJing for the first time ever @ Output, NYC.
Giorgio Moroder DJing for the first time ever @ Output, NYC.

Outside the Academy’s walls there’s 38 public events in various venues big and small around New York: from Four Tet, Jon Hopkins and Koreless in Webster Hall to Giorgio Moroder’s first DJ set ever at the ripe old age of 73, a Culture Clash involving Just Blaze, Trouble & Bass and more DJ crews at the Roseland Ballroom, Metro Area in a Chinatown restaurant basement, a DFA records special and public interviews with Brian Eno, Erykah Badu and James Murphy.

“Playing Larry Heard’s ‘Missing You’ to Paul Riser and convincing him about house music,going B2B with Ross HudMo with Erykah Badu vibing beside us on stage and meeting MF Doom.” – Krystal Klear recounts his favourite moments at RBMA.

Each participant also gets a slot at one of the gigs so they can perform in public outside of the Academy. So by day, they listen to inspiring lectures and make music. By night, they head to whatever Music Academy gig is on that evening. Some of the participants talked about how, rather than come back to their hotel after the gig, many would head into the studio on West 18th street, energised by what they’d heard in the club.

Four Tet performing live at Webster Hall. Photo by Dan Wilton.
Four Tet performing live at Webster Hall. Photo by Dan Wilton.

The Red Bull Music Academy is not a business or industry-focused event. The Academy won’t be telling you how to get signed by a label, or how to market your music or how to get a publishing deal. “A lot of those kind of conversations happen around the Academy because of the live events. You might happen to be in a car with a successful independent label person at 5am after the club and that conversation will happen there. They’ll exchange emails and it’ll happen naturally.”

The Red Bull Music Academy Culture Clash. Photo by Tony Blasko
The Red Bull Music Academy Culture Clash. Photo by Tony Blasko.

A week after arriving on home Dublin soil after two weeks of RBMA activity, Emma Quietdust still can’t really sum up her experience other than the simple phrase “unbelievable”.She too, emphasises the importance of the collaborative effort at the Red Bull Music Academy. “One track we made had eight people who worked on it together,” she recounts. “Most songs made during the first term, had four or five people contributing.” Emma has plans to record vocals for fellow participant Throwing Snow.

QuietDust - Performance

“Before I went I had little faith in myself about my abilities. Now, I have more confidence and I really want to make more music and share it with people,” she says.

“It really helped my outlook on making music and exposed me to new ideas, music and collaboration,” says Krystal Klear of his time in the Academy in Madrid 2011.

Red Bull Music Academy is an impressive and noble musical operation. The brand is the patron. They foster the next generation of musicians, DJs and vocalists, and by doing so, ensures it gets early access and recognition from those who go onto bigger things, some of who will be more readily willing to play Red Bull-sponsored stages at festivals and events worldwide.

The theme of surrender came up often during the week I spent in New York. By being here, RBMA participants are letting themselves go and giving in to a larger process. Bedroom producers used to isolation are shoved into the light outside their comfort zone into a cooperative environment with some of their musical heroes dropping in to offer advice and knowledge. By doing so, they push their musical abilities and horizons in ways they’d never done before, and in New York city, where the nightlife feeds back into their process almost instantaneously.

Questlove - Lifestyle

Julia Holter performing at Improvised Round Robin Duets @  Brooklyn Masonic Temple. Photo: Christelle de Castro
Julia Holter performing at Improvised Round Robin Duets @ Brooklyn Masonic Temple. Photo: Christelle de Castro

Nialler9’s presence at Red Bull Music Academy was covered by Red Bull.

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