Alex Da Kid: ‘Blurred Lines’ verdict ‘doesn’t apply to the Internet Age’
Alex Da Kid is in the business of creating icons – globally recognized as one of the music industry’s elite creative forces and locally recognized as a captain of industry, having captured the attention of Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti and a swath of entertainment tycoons.
You’ll know him as the co-writer and producer of undeniably huge hits like “Demons” and “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons (for which he earned a Grammy), “Love The Way You Lie” by Rihanna, “Coming Home” by Skylar Grey & Diddy, “Airplanes” by B.O.B & Hayley Williams, and frankly, too many others than the word count on this article will allow.
Chalk it up to time lost operating his record label KIDinaKORNER(Imagine Dragons, X Ambassadors, Skylar Grey, Jamie N Commons) or in the black hole of windowless studios, but this year is the first time Da Kid has made the music pilgrimage to Austin’s SXSW.
We cornered him hiding from the rain in the backroom of Austin dive bar, Valhalla for a cross-examination centered on pilgrimage-appropriate questions: Why are we here and where are we going?
The transcript of our exchange below:
Death + Taxes: So, this is your first SXSW.
Da Kid: Yes.
DT: Why are you here?
Da Kid: I’m here because I’m speaking on a couple of different panels and one of my bands is performing. X Ambassadors, they performed I think six or seven times so it’s good to come here and support them. I just wanted to come here and check it out. See what all the fuss is about.
I’m not a huge fan of festivals in general personally because I hate standing up for like 17 hours. I get bored easily, I guess. In general I love the idea. I love live music and checking everything out. I’m trying to go to more. I’m gearing up to go to Coachella this year too, maybe.
DT: As record producer, you find magic in the studio and here you’re surrounded by live music – where artists are trying to deliver that magic live on stage. What are the differences between the processes of each?
Da Kid: They’re very different. In the studio, you have a lot more control. The goal is the same in that you want to move people. I mean, obviously performing live is a lot more instant. You get that instant gratification and you can see the reaction of the people as soon as you play something whereas when you’re in the studio, it will take you eight or nine months to see the reaction.
DT: For so many artists here, SXSW is about discovery. What is it that you look for in an artist that dictates whether you want to work with them and scale them up?
Da Kid: First and foremost, I like them to be able to write their own story. That’s important for me. I like them to be able to contribute to the writing themselves. Second of all, they have to be able to convey that story live. So being able to tell that story in a convincing way to an audience that doesn’t give a shit. That’s important. Also having a clear vision, that’s super important.
DT: SXSW presents such an intersection of so many industries. Music, film, branding, technology. Where do you see music sitting in all of that?
Da Kid: I’m biased because I think music is the most important. I think it fundamentally drives everything. It drives the human experience. I studied how music affects the brain. All the studies are a bit inconclusive but you see all these tests done on children when they listen to music. They can’t even speak or understand the environment that they’re in but they move to rhythm and melody. That’s powerful. It’s a major part of the human experience.
The business model might change. It might suck at times and you might not make as much money but in terms of the importance of the actual content [of what you’re doing], I think it’s the most important.
DT: The human experience. That’s a tough thing to bottle and sell. How do go about crafting that?
Da Kid: I factor in all of my life experience. My perspective. The most important thing you need is a definite opinion. Nobody is right or wrong, it’s art – it’s subjective. You just have to have a definite opinion.
DT: Outside of your own portfolio, who are some stand-out acts from the last year who’ve really achieved this?
Da Kid: I don’t really listen to that much music outside of mine honestly. I love James Blake. I think he’s super cool and innovative. I think Drake, whether you like him or not, has pioneered a lot. I can’t remember somebody copied as much in one genre of music. I feel like he’s pioneered the sound. He’s become the urban sound that everyone copies in some way or another. So you’ve got to respect that and I think he’s a great songwriter.
DT: While we’re on the tip of copying sounds, what’s your take on the “Blurred Lines” verdict?
Da Kid: I think that’s interesting. I think that a lot of these laws that we deal with are so old and antiquated and just ancient. We have to revisit them. When you’ve made a law in say 1904, it doesn’t apply to the Internet Age. So copyright law in general needs to be looked at.
I think the [Blurred Lines] ruling could be dangerous because they are essentially saying that Marvin Gaye came out with a sound and nobody else could make that sound – it’s so ambiguous. How can a judge or a person define what a sound is? When you’re mixing art, which is subjective, with law which is so not subjective – so black and white – you’ve got to really think about how you govern those two things. It’s art. It’s not too easy to figure out at all.
DT: Do you feel that any sounds from the past have snuck into your own creations?
Da Kid: I don’t really listen to that much music outside of my own and I don’t even listen to my own that much honestly. The way I create is: I live my life – working and doing business and then I go into the studio and let out what I’ve been doing. I don’t really sit and listen to a ton of old music or new music. It’s like a release for me, which is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because my music isn’t really influenced that much by what’s currently on the radio but I’m not trying to do a different thing than what’s on the radio.
The latest Katy Perry hit – I don’t subconsciously copy that, which happens a lot to quite a few people. Subconsciously being super influenced by [other music]. I just honestly don’t have the time [to listen to other music]. I go into the studio and release everything that’s inside of me and it comes out in a musical form. It’s what I know how to do.
Obviously I’ve listened to classic music but on a daily basis? Not really. I’m just doing my thing. A true artist, to me, gives a true representation of what they see in the world. It’s not so much about other artists that came before them. Not that I’m an artist but as a creative I try to learn from great artists and just be true to what’s in my brain.
DT: What do you think pop music needs right now?
Da Kid: I think pop music is in a pretty good space and it’s only going to get better. I’ve been in the studio with highest profile people and with people who are just starting out. They’re all influenced by radio – by what radio is going to think about their music. Now, with the Internet and people having more choices, the gatekeepers are going to become less relevant. It’s going to be great for art.
You’re going to start seeing more diversity in the top 40 because it’s going to reflect what people want. It will have to because the data is in there. You can see what’s being streamed, you can see what’s being played. It’s not just about a radio guy saying, ‘well I think this is gonna be a hit’, it’s about real data that shows what people are listening to. It’s going to be great for art because it’s not going to be about making a three-minute song because it has to get on the radio, it’s going to be whatever you want. The only thing you need to have is people enjoying it, to have engagement there. So, I think music is in a good space and is only going to keep getting better.
DT: Where are we at in the relationship between creating a single versus creating an album?
A: I don’t know how much young kids have a tolerance for conventional albums anymore. I don’t know if they have the bandwidth because they have so much access to information and entertainment. I know young kids that when an album comes out, don’t even really listen to it because they don’t have the time. They’re just so busy doing a million things on YouTube and online and streaming individual songs that they just like. I think the album concept is going to absolutely change. I think there will always be people who like a body of work like that but I just think, you know, people who are a lot younger are just not going to care about it as much. I think the single is going to become more important.
It’s going to become about a collection of songs or a playlist of whatever moves you. The consumer is going to be in a way better position because they’re not going to be forced to buy an album just because they like one song. They’re going to be able to stream whatever they want whenever they want to.
DT: What do you see as your biggest success?
Da Kid: A tangible thing or just anything?
Da Kid: I think my biggest success is just being able to create a world where I have complete and total creative freedom to do whatever I want whenever I want to do it. When I first started working, all I wanted to do was just be able to make music 24/7 and I didn’t know if I’d be able to do that. I’ve made it to a certain place where I can do whatever I want. Where I can just go away for a year and go to Jamaica to make music. Having that option in my life is the thing I appreciate that most. Also having the means from my label and the publishing company to put it out and get it out to the world without having to worry about someone telling me I can’t.
DT: Do you create better with freedom or with deadlines and pressure?
Da Kid: Everything includes confinement when I create. In general, I think it’s good to confine yourself. So I don’t have the biggest studio or the most equipment I could possibly have. When you have a lot less tools to create, it makes you solve problems in a different way. Creating for me, is a long line of solving problems. It’s about how you solve the problems that defines it. Having less tools makes you more creative with the ways you solve the problems. I like to confine myself in that way but I love the freedom of doing whatever I want to.