Recorded and mixed in a modest home studio, 'Day 'n Nite' has made stars of singer/rapper Kid Cudi and producer Dot Da Genius.
For someone with such a self‑aggrandising name who has already enjoyed major success at the age of 24, Dot Da Genius turns out to be surprisingly modest. The keyboardist, composer, engineer and producer is the studio tech‑head behind, and co‑writer of, Kid Cudi's mega hit 'Day 'n Nite'. Having enjoyed hit status for nearly two years, it will feature on Cudi's debut album, Man On The Moon: The End Of Day, out this autumn. On the album, newcomer Da Genius will be rubbing shoulders with established hip‑hop stars like Kanye West and will.i.am.
'Day 'n Nite' reached the top three in the US and the UK, and while Da Genius and Cudi's original version is the most well‑known in the US, in Europe it's the remix by Italian DJ duo the Crookers that has most caught the public ear.
Da Genius, real name Oladipo Omishore, explains that his professional name came from people calling him 'genius' when he was playing around with beats while studying electrical engineering at Polytechnic University in New York. Another nickname was 'dot': he tended to spell his real name O. Omishore, and the 'dot' bit was easiest to pronounce. Hence, 'Dot da Genius'. His aptitude for music was nurtured by his parents from the age of seven, when his father sent him to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for piano lessons. Da Genius really wanted to play guitar, but playing keyboards turns out to be "very beneficial now that I'm doing production”.
"The way everything unfolded was kind of crazy,” exclaims Da Genius. He continues by describing how he got into programming beats in 2003 at the Polytechnic, using Image Line's Fruity Loops program. "Programming and music gear immediately had my full attention, just like any glimpse of a recording studio I would see on TV or in a magazine. But I was a broke college student, and so my parents funded my dream. My mother bought me an MXL V69 microphone, I had a custom PC built at school, and my father bought me the rest, which included Sonar software and a Korg Triton LE. Everything was installed in the basement of my crib [his parents' home in Brooklyn], and I taught myself how to make beats and how to engineer. It took five years before I really had that down.”
We're talking 2004 when Omishore obtained his first studio, and while he continued his course at the Polytechnic (he graduated in 2008), his studio activities gradually expanded. He met Kid Cudi in 2006, and the two immediately hit it off. In the same year, Da Genius upgraded to the gear on which 'Day 'n Nite' was programmed, recorded and mixed, this time without help from his parents ("I maxed out the credit cards!”). Head Banga Studios, as it is now named, includes a Roland MV8000 sequencer, Yamaha Motif ES7 and Novation X‑Station keyboards, a PC with a Didigesign M Box interface and Pro Tools LE recording software, Neumann TML103 mic, Presonus Eureka preamp, Event ASP8 and Yamaha HS80 monitors, and a Mackie Universal control surface.
Da Genius: "I use the MV8000 to do my rhythm programming on. I had the option of buying an [Akai] MPC, but every single producer that I was aware of had one, and so I went for the MV8000 just because it was the least popular one. I've used the MPC since then, but I'm still comfortable with the 8000. I also wanted to have a control surface, because I always wanted to have a big board at home. So I laid the Mackie out in three pieces, to mimic a big board. I can mix in the box, but I prefer to mix outside, I prefer to use a control surface. I feel the music more when I have my hands on the fader and am moving it up and down to pinpoint the exact spot where I want something to sit in the mix.”
Da Genius explains that his studio had by his time moved "from the basement of my crib to the upper floor, where my father helped me build something that looked good. Cudi and I lived together for two years, and we usually came up with really good stuff in that studio. I have a whole bunch of tracks from 2007 to now. He is an extremely creative person, and when we're both in the studio it's like a no‑brainer. We made his first MySpace page, and we put music up and started getting fans and a buzz building. When we put up 'Day 'n Nite' [at the end of 2007], he was getting thousands of plays a day and things went to another level. The song really got him recognition as an artist, and he did a deal with Fool's Gold for 'Day 'n Nite' as an eight‑track single.”
Outside MySpace, 'Day 'n Nite' took time to catch on. Fool's Gold spent most of 2008 enthusiastically pushing the single and EP, and early this year, Cudi's deal with the label was bought out by Kanye West's GOOD Music and Universal, who have since occupied themselves with releasing and promoting the song outside the US. There are now at least 10 remixes in circulation, and it has also been used for several video games. The song propelled Cudi to stardom, and he has gone on to work with West and the Black Eyed Peas, among others.
Life for Da Genius, meanwhile, has also changed greatly. With his new-found fame and money, he and business partner Andrew Krivinos opened a new studio called the Brewery. He has signed a publishing deal with Universal, employs an engineer and mixer (Jay Powell), has started his own Head Banga Muzik Group label, and is scoring music for the American premium TV station HBO. Phew. "Life is pretty good right now,” he admits. "I can't complain!”
According to Da Genius, Kid Cudi came up with the lyrics and basic hook for 'Day 'n Nite' some time in 2007. "He has these ideas in his head, and often the lyrics written out, and a melody that he's singing. During our time together his style has shifted from being a rapper to becoming more of a singer, and 'Day 'n Nite' is an example. When he sang the idea to me, I immediately said, 'OK, let's do it.' The chemistry between us was already really good by that stage, and I pretty much played and programmed the beats for the song there and then on the MV8000. The MV8000 was sync'ed to Pro Tools LE via MIDI, with Pro Tools as the master and the 8000 the slave. I played the different drum patterns in 'Day 'n Nite' individually, looping however many bars I wanted to loop, and then adding other things in. I had the MV8000 loaded with sounds from my own library, which I had been building up over the years by getting sounds from other producers, web sites, and so on.
"Once I had the beat programmed, I quantised it. I quantise a lot, because I like a strict feel. The drum track on 'Day 'n Nite' is very simple: there are only three tracks, kick, clap/snare and hi‑hat, and once I was sure about the tempo, I immediately recorded the drums as audio, so it was locked in and I could start building the other elements of the song on it. I rarely stay in MIDI for long, I just use it to be able to keep time and avoid latency problems. After doing the drums, I added keyboards, using the Triton, Motif and Novation. The Motif was the main keyboard I used on the session because it was the most recent sound module I owned. The bass was a Moog sound from the Novation. Once I had all the instrumental tracks recorded in MIDI, and quantised the drums, I recorded everything as audio. At the time I still thought that I needed more keyboards if I wanted more sounds, but since then I've found out about soft synths and I am now using more VST Instruments than hardware.
"You can see all the beats and instrumental tracks in the Pro Tools LE beat window. It also includes four 'chant' tracks, which came from the extended outro in the original version: 'yeah yeah' [chanted] like a crowd. That outro came out of a mistake: I accidentally pressed shift and spacebar, which plays the song at half speed in Pro Tools, and we thought, 'This is crazy, we have to implement this!' So I time‑stretched the beats to slow things down, and added some more synths from the Triton on top, which is 'Synth 4'. It was good, but it was long, and by the time the single was ready to be pressed for vinyl, I was told that it was too long, so I had to cut it short. I did some drops [edits], and moved some of these 'yeah yeah' chants forwards.
"The instrumental tracks add up to 10 stereo tracks, and with the four 'chant' tracks I had reached Pro Tools LE's maximum at the time, which was 24 tracks. So I mixed this session to a stereo pair, pasted them into a new Session, and recorded Cudi's vocals into that. The finishing touch was the 'Wha' vocal, which was sung by my friend Lex, who I have since made my manager. Leaving the 'chant' tracks aside, there are 10 vocal tracks. Today I mix everything in one Session, of course, and I usually wait till I have every part of the track before I really start mixing. I throw effects on vocals during the recording, and focus on tweaking and adding the other effects after I have all parts of the song.”
Da Genius: "Cudi likes very hard‑sounding drums, so I usually compress them, and also add a gate just to help with the sound quality of the samples, ie. to get rid of some background noises. Almost all plug‑ins I used on this session are the Digidesign ones that came with Pro Tools LE. At the time we were working on this Session I couldn't afford to buy many other plug‑ins, so I mostly just used what I had. In this case the Digidesign compressor beefs up the sound of the kick drum. Many people think that compressing is only for flattening your sound, but it can also make the sound larger. I also added some EQ with the Digidesign seven‑band EQ to increase the low end of the kick, again to make it sound larger. I added just 2.4dB at 100Hz. I put a one‑band EQ on the hi‑hat to make sure it's heard a bit better among the other sounds. Sometimes the hi‑hat can drown among the other sounds, and when that happens it needs some help. In this case it was particularly important to make sure that the hi‑hat cuts through, because the drums are so minimalist. The gate on the hi‑hat also helped clean up the sound. Again, because the drums are so sparse, I wanted to make sure that they were really clean‑sounding and present.”
"The Novation Moog bass has some Digidesign compression on it, just like with the kick, to beef up the sound. I also added seven‑band EQ, mainly boosting around 100‑200Hz and dropping some highs, around 2500Hz. I added compression to the 'Wind' and 'Keys' tracks to help them sit better in the track. Some sounds do get a bit louder in a mix, and so you want them to sit right at a certain level, in which case I'll compress them for that reason, in addition to using it to beef up the sound. The VCV plug‑in on 'Synth 2' is called Vocal Chorus Spinner and is one of the few non‑Digidesign plug‑ins in the session. It adds a vocal chorus effect to the synth sound, panning it to both sides, so it makes it sound really full and wide. I experimented with it, but am not sure I used it in the mix.”
"The four 'Chant' tracks on the beat window all have a compressor and one‑band EQ. In fact, I put a high‑pass filter on all that I recorded at Head Banga, because the booth we were recording in wasn't treated, and the mic picked up a lot of low vibrations from the room next door. So the one‑band EQ, cutting 6dB at 57.2Hz, is there to get rid of that. Cudi's main vocals, 'K‑M', have a Digidesign de‑esser and a compressor on them. Again, I don't compress heavily, I use it to really just shave off a couple of dB, to get the vocals to sit level with everything else.
"I also used Auto‑Tune, just to keep Cudi on pitch. Cudi sings a lot on the tracks we do, and he's a great singer, certainly a lot better than many other rappers that try to sing. I used Auto‑Tune in moderation. It's not necessary to have T‑Pain‑like vocals for someone who can actually sing, like Cudi. You can see on the screenshot that it is an older version of Auto‑Tune, and I've blanked out 'B' and 'C#', because he doesn't sing these notes. Even if you use it very subtly, Auto‑Tune still has a sound, with that slight robotic vocoder‑like effect, and I wanted Cudi's vocals without any Auto‑Tune effect in a couple of places, so I copied the 'K‑M' track in these places to a track called 'K‑M.dup1'. There's no Auto‑Tune on that track, but all the other plug‑ins are the same.
"The EQ on the four chorus vocal tracks, 'C1'‑'C4', is the same as on 'K‑M'. The compressor on these tracks is a little different. I compressed a bit more on the chorus vocals. Auto‑Tune is again there to keep Cudi's vocals in check. 'Day 'n Nite' is a very singalong record, and the vocals needed to sound very effortless and right. On the 'Wha' track I have the Antares Tube plug‑in, which an engineer I was working with at the time recommended to me. To be honest, I'd never used it until I did 'Day 'n Nite'. I wanted a very 'hot' effect, and it worked well. When my manager did that vocal, it sounded way too clean. So the vocal is heavily treated by the Tube plug‑in, giving it the effect as if it's a signal coming from a radio, or a very bad speaker. One of the delays at the bottom of the Edit window was created specifically for the 'Wha' track, with the Extra Long Delay plug‑in, and the other delay was for the chorus vocal, with slightly less delay. The reverb on the 'Reverb' Aux track is very subtle. I didn't want the track to sound too saturated with reverb.”
"'Master 1' was the mixdown track. I mixed back to Pro Tools, because it was all I had. I used a compressor on the final mix, to make the mix sound a little bit more beefy. That was all I felt was necessary. The session began as 16‑bit, 44.1kHz, because I was not running a very fast PC and didn't have a lot of memory, so I had to be space‑ and speed‑conservative. But by the time I balanced it, which was a bit later, it was 24‑bit. What happened was that we initially were going to turn over the Pro Tools Session to a professional mixer, because I was not that experienced in mixing at the time. But I was asked to do it, and I took my time, and I trusted my ears, and everyone seems to like the result so far.”
Two 24‑track Pro Tools LE Sessions were used in the production of 'Day 'n Nite': one for the beats and instruments, the other for the vocals. They are fairly easy to understand, but a few a few things need clarification. At the bottom of the 'beat' Edit window (above), Dot Da Genius has three 'Delay' and one 'Reverb' Aux tracks, which are not the same as the 'Reverb' and 'Delay' tracks in the vocal Edit window. Da Genius: "The three delays on the instrumental session were quarter‑note, eighth‑note, and whole‑note. They also had different intensities. The 'Reverb' Aux track is the Digidesign DVerb. I wanted a very natural reverb, not sounding too much like an open space. I didn't bus many things to it; the reverb is just there to smooth the sound.”
In the vocal Edit window (above), the 'Motif' and 'Triton' Aux tracks are simply the default tracks on which the audio outputs from these instruments appear in Dot Da Genius's rig. 'KM' stands for 'Kid Main' and is Cudi's main vocal track. 'C1', 'C2' and so on are the chorus backing vocals. 'Wha' and 'Screwd' are vocal tracks, towards the ending. The two 'Outro' tracks are more vocals from Da Genius' original long outro.
Although Da Genius has recently set up the Brewery, a professional studio with proper acoustic treatment, he still regularly uses his original Head Banga studio. The latter, he says, "is my primary working place. I usually start off with an idea at Head Banga, and will take it to the Brewery to record top lines and vocals, and to finish it up. The booth in the Brewery sounds really good, whereas the acoustics in Head Banga don't. Plus it's not insulated for noises that come from outside.”
With 'Day 'n Nite' recorded and mixed on the entry‑level Pro Tools LE with M Box, it is not surprising that Da Genius has since moved on to more professional hardware and software. He did this initially at Head Banga, by upgrading his Pro Tools software and getting into VST soft synths. "I'd been using my keyboards, the Triton, and Novation, and Motif, for so long, that I was starting to re-use my sounds. I'm very particular about all my sounds needing to be 100 percent customised by me, and while I use presets to start with, I really get into changing all the parameters, like oscillation and envelopes, and so on. The soft synths give me a lot more possibilities. Both Head Banga and the Brewery have lots of soft synths now, and I rarely use my hardware keyboards anymore, other than as controllers. My main controller at the Brewery is the Akai MPK4.”
More surprising, certainly more unusual, is the fact that upgrading his tools of the trade involved a shift from Pro Tools to Logic.”I primarily work in Logic now,” he explains. "I tried out Logic Express a while back, and I liked it so much I had to try out the full version, and I love it! It's really great for making beats, and I find myself composing and arranging better music with Logic, because of the way it is laid out. I also really like the EXS24 sampler and use it all the time. Plus a lot of the plug‑ins are free! After having done my arrangements and beats in Logic, I transfer the Session to Pro Tools, in which I track audio, and mix.
"I have to admit that I love the new Pro Tools 8, and it's kind of tearing me, because it's making me want to go back to Pro Tools. But it's much easier to travel with Logic, because when you use Pro Tools you need to carry an interface with you. They have this little micro‑joint that you can connect to the USB port of your laptop, but I like to be able to simply carry my laptop around and be able to work with any software or hardware that's around. I just came off a tour with Kid Cudi, making sure the sound was the way we wanted it, and was really glad I was using Logic.”
Audio files to accompany the article.
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