Interview with STEVE 'BLAST' WILLS, publisher and producer for Nelly, Chingy, Murphy Lee - Apr 28, 2008
"One hit record is a major accomplishment".Steve 'Blast' Wills wanted to get rich from a young age, and has pursued his dream ever since the first demos he produced at the age of 14.
Simply by developing his network, he has become a multi-platinum producer for urban stars like Nelly (No.1 US), Chingy (Top 10 US), and Murphy Lee (Top 10 US).
His success never distanced him for his feel and openness towards up-and-coming artists, as he reveals to HitQuarters - as well as stating exactly how quickly he can finish producing a track he's into.
Can you describe your work tools?
My personal work tools are electronic instruments inside software, LOGIC 8, REASON 4.0, tons of AU instruments, Macbook Pro which is the brains of the operation, JBL 4300 series monitors, and I recently purchased a NeKo Gen 4, my current favourite. The essence of my work are custom drum sounds and bouncy organ riffs!
Are you using any real instruments like guitars or drums?
Yes, I am a drummer and percussionist myself, and there are several guitar players on the team.
If an artist has a certain idea in their head and you have a certain idea in yours, how do you bring that together without reaching a dead end?
By using the artist's idea as a platform to build the overall direction on top. The objective is to accomplish a solid finished product.
How much input does an A&R or manager have in the production?
Independent organisations are usually less influenced by A&Rs and managers. Artists and producers signed to larger companies have more pressure to convince the A&Rs or management to accept material, or give them that 'warm and fuzzy' to get to the next base.
What and who are your influences?
I was influenced by the classics, the music that made you feel good. People who I still admire are L.A. Reid, Russell Simmons, and Berry Gordy. Businessmen that pioneered eras of urban music with no blueprint and still found success and acceptance.
How much influence do your surroundings (like the city or country you live in) have on your production and the way you work?
It can be influential if you get absorbed into your surroundings. Sometimes I pay extremely close attention to trends in certain markets, others times I shut out everything and just enjoy the moment of being completely unique. Also, I have plans for being creative in environments totally outside of the US. I'm just waiting for the right opportunity.
How do you get inspired by the new wave of urban music? Do you have to go out a lot to see what young people are into?
The reaction of the people is usually what inspires me try something new or different. Step out of the box, see what gets young people moving and excited. I have young people around me all the time. If I go out, it's special invites primarily.
How do you normally come up with a track?
Tracks have a personality of their own. With me, some come through new drum samples, or maybe a custom keyboard patch, or a melody I'm humming in the shower.
How and when did you start off in the business?
When I was 14 and in middle school, there were two groups in my neighbourhood that I produced demos for, and both entered a high school talent show. They won 1st and 2nd place out of over 30 other acts.
When they announced the final winners they both gave me great thanks and appreciation on stage in front of a crowd of over 2,500 people. After that I was the go-to guy for production and songs. I have been recording ever since.
Did you always want to be in music?
I always wanted to be a wealthy businessman. The guy with the mansion and the yacht. The business I was planning to get into was music publishing.
What have been the important events that have bought you forward?
Tiny pieces if recognition that let me know I was on the right track. Acceptance from people who were very hard critics. Accounts and contracts that aided in handling responsibilities.
Can you describe the process of searching for music?
Now the process is primarily buzz related. MySpace buzz, Soundclick buzz, radio, sales, managers or attorneys with excitement about the new hot sound. I keep my ears open to what is new and catchy.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
I will listen, but I don't download all material. My email is no secret, it's email@example.com. Reach out and say 'hello, I am an artist working on some material, take a listen'. I will click play...and you never know.
What is the first step you take after finishing a song or an album?
After lyrics, track, mix, and mastering, an outlet would be helpful, IE radio, internet, contact list of publishers etc. A team is essential in the new age of independent music. Pass the baton to the marketing arms.
How long does it take you to produce a finished track?
If I'm feeling the vibe, a few minutes.
How did you come to work with Nelly?
Nelly and I have mutual associates. I got a call saying they were putting together a hot project and if I would like to be a part of it. I accepted and the rest is history.
What’s the difference between working with an up-and-coming artist and someone with international success?
I try to treat all artists like artists. The personalities do differ, if it's a new artist there's less red tape and less security. Up-and-coming artists are sometimes more flexible. Larger stars have larger demands. I enjoy artists that love to be artists, that focus on the creative process.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on growing my new publishing company Urban International Publishing llc. We are accepting material for games, TV & film, and album projects. I control a handful of producers that spend 90% of their time creating songs and tracks. We plan to bridge international gaps and bring catchy urban sounds to marketplaces abroad.
Would you keep it strictly urban?
You never know. Urban is a becoming a widely accepted genre, Snoop Dogg is an urban artist but a song like 'Sensual Seduction' is closer to a pop record. The lines are definitely starting to blur.
Have you ever been with someone in the studio who you thought you wanted to work with and it didn't work out?
Never. I take pride in making an artist and affiliates feel comfortable. We usually ask if there are any specifics we need to have on hand for artists or even his management. Hospitality is what we take pride in. Maintain a work-conducive vibe.
What other areas of the music business would you like to work in?
Outside of publishing and production we are writing two reality shows that are still on the table.
What do you think the reason is for so many people going entrepreneur these days with clothing lines and TV shows?
It's about filling the void and expressing ideas. Everybody wants to have the new fashion, be entertained by a new show, there is a demand to look inside the lives of people with fast lifestyles.
How do you view the current state of the music business?
Good for some, bad for others. Independents are now pocketing more income from sales than ever before. The majors are really trying to understand how to get a hold of the piracy and illegal practices that are eating them alive. I believe once they set up some good compromises they will be fine again.
How does the internet effect you?
Positively, it has bridged the gap between consumer and artist. People can communicate like never before. Information is everywhere. You can Google anything and get instantaneous results. Find out who is doing good business or filing for bankruptcy. It's amazing.
How much of your work is business and how much creative?
I spend the majority of my business day handling business. Only because I have individual production houses focused on being creative. I accept the responsibility for making sure publishing aspects are handled and the balances are correct at the end of the quarter.
How much of your work gets out there and how much is left on the shelf?
With the new digital age, 95% of material is going somewhere. We have been doing TV and film for over four years.. Independent projects hit mix tapes, Myspace, labels are selling CDs in many cities in the US. Once the business is handled on the song or track we let external organisations market it the way we feel is effective for the situation.
A lot of people get one hit and disappear, how do you foresee something like that?
In this day and age of electronically produced music, the turnaround is faster than ever. The charts are fluctuating back and fourth. If an artist can rise and get one hit record, that is a major accomplishment and can create a lot of revenue, which is still a lot more than the majority of artists who never get in the charts at all.
Tell us a bit about your publishing company.
Blast Music Publishing is a boutique publishing house with affiliates that we have accounts with. Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, Columbia House. I currently have a staff of in-house producers that all work independently to keep productivity high. We solicit to upcoming album projects, TV and film with the intent of getting new music placed in areas that can create revenue and excitement.
Urban International is the future of urban music publishing. The plan is to establish overseas contacts and provide outlets for new up-and-coming writers. Feel free to get in touch for more information.
Give us a little insight into your daily schedule.
From 8:30am I discuss strategy of several different projects we have working. I have an office in Dallas and Saint Louis. Emails, phone calls, and meetings consume 80% of my day. Letting new clients know we are here.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself as an international music business liaison. Bridging the gap between urban communities to consumers, globally.
What's up next?
Urban International Music llc. Multilingual artists on hot urban music beds, consumers feeling warm and fuzzy about the energy the new sound has created.
So Are you the guy with the mansion and the yacht?
Mansion yes. Yacht soon.
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Interview by Leila Rozario
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