Having crafted some of the biggest hits in pop, Adam King Feeney, aka Frank Dukes, built an ambitious sample library to help others do the same.
“I love popular music, and I like music that veers on the stranger side of things. So I love pop music that veers on the stranger side of things! It’s what my favourite artists like the Beatles, Nirvana and Wu‑Tang Clan did. They made popular music that was atypical. As a result, I’m also known for making the stranger pop records. But they are not the consequence of a conscious decision to go out of the box. It’s not intellectualised. It’s simply me doing what feels exciting.”
Speaking is Adam King Feeney, better known as Frank Dukes, the name under which he has operated since the early ’00s. He has contributed to a swathe of major international hits by Drake, Eminem, Taylor Swift, Lorde, Kanye West, Camile Cabello, Post Malone, the Weeknd, the Jonas Brothers, and many, many more. Having cut his teeth in the hip‑hop genre, Feeney went on to become one of the world’s leading pop songwriters and producers. Since 2014, Feeney has won an astonishing 11 ASCAP Awards, 16 BMI Awards, three Grammy Awards, and 29 Grammy Award nominations.
Feeney says that his aim was “to be one of the best producers in the world and to work with the most exciting artists of our times,” and the above suggests that his is very much a case of mission accomplished. He also clearly is proud of the fact that many of the records he’s been involved in making have staying power.
“When I look at all my records, also my early hits, they were not meteoric, straight‑to‑number‑one songs. Instead they started slowly, and made their way up to the top 10 gradually. But once they get there, they stay in the top 10 longer than many other songs. I’m happy to be the guy who makes slow‑burning music that sticks around. I think there’s something authentic in the records that I produce that maybe makes them resonate on a deeper frequency than some of the songs that were designed to succeed.”
Feeney: I’m happy to be the guy who makes slow‑burning music that sticks around. I think there’s something authentic in the records that I produce that maybe makes them resonate...
Feeney has been invited countless times to share his secrets and process, but for some reason he has been reluctant. There are relatively few interviews with him online, and his appearance here is his first ever in a specialist music technology magazine.
Talking via Zoom from his home in Los Angeles, the Canadian traced his career so far. Feeney was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1983, received piano lessons when he was five, and went on to also play guitar and drums. In his teenage years he collected records, especially from the ’60s and ’70s, which got him interested in record production, and led him to buy an Akai MPC. He also got into skateboarding and via that into hip‑hop and DJ’ing.
In the early 2000s, Feeney took on the Frank Dukes name (based on a character called Frank Dux in the 1988 martial arts movie Bloodsport). He started working with rappers, doing remixes and getting placements, and he produced the track ‘Money’ for Drake. He also began a collaboration with producer Boi‑1da, and ended up working with many different artists, most notably 50 Cent, several Wu‑Tang members, and hip‑hop/jazz group BADBADNOTGOOD.
Frustrated by the practical and financial issues surrounding the clearing of samples, Feeney started to create his own, and in 2011 set up the Kingsway Music Library, which initially consisted of collections of his compositions that could be used as the foundation for samples. It has since become legendary, and has become a blueprint for how samples are made available and used, as well for the quality of samples in general. Countless artists and producers, amongst them Drake, Boi‑1da, Vinylz, Kanye, Mac Miller and Rihanna have used Feeney’s samples.
His next career move came in 2015, and followed a meeting with producer Louis Bell and Post Malone in 2015. It led Dukes to participate in the writing and producing of pop songs, with his name appearing on the credits of over 300 songs to date. Thirty of these have gone platinum.
“My career has taken many different forms over the years,” Feeney says, “because I was just following what I was most excited by at any given moment. In the beginning it was just the very idea of being able to make music. Sitting in my parents’ basement with my MPC making beats was amazing to me. Just the magic of starting with nothing and ending up with something. That was amazing.
“My next step was, ‘OK, it would be nice to work with other artists.’ So I get very excited about having rappers on my beats. Once I had done that, it was like, ‘OK, what’s next?’ I had made a beat for 50 Cent using a sample by the Menahan Street Band from New York, and they invited me to New York. When I went over I saw this process that was for me entirely new: real musicians playing instruments and recording themselves to tape, using vintage equipment. The results sounded texturally just like the records that I had grown to love and that I had been sampling. That was eye‑opening.
“When I get excited about something new, I just want to do it compulsively. So I got really into analogue gear and the process of recording on analogue. I maybe didn’t realise this at the time, but I was beginning to understand how my favourite records from the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s had been made, and the sounds I loved and had been sampling. Using analogue gear, I started making music that sounded similar, that I then used as samples.
“That was my obsession at the time. Eventually I was making more music to be used as samples than I was making beats, and I was sharing these samples with friends who were making beats. I set up the Kingsway Library to share these samples with everyone who was interested. This is how I got my first big hit record, when Boi‑1da sampled a piece of music by me for the Drake song ‘0 to 100’ . It led to a publishing deal and was the first time I made real money from music.”
Feeney regards his contribution to the world of sampling as one of his greatest achievements. “Many producers said to me, ‘You are known for your sounds, why give them to everybody?’ But I love the idea of sharing. I just like to make things I am excited about, whether I make money from it or not. There’s something unique to my experience that affects how I do things, and other people will use my sounds in different ways than I.
“I love the idea of making things that sound great and that ultimately contribute to the canon of music and makes music sound a little better. So I’m proud that what I have done with samples has contributed to evolving the musicality of hip‑hop. Non‑sample‑based hip‑hop music from before 2010 was much simpler and much less musical. The idea of making your own samples was new at the time. But today it’s all over.
“There are these kids everywhere who are just loop or sample makers who send their stuff to producers. That did not exist. I see kids making great samples of things like full string sections and you almost cannot tell the difference between something sampled from old records and what’s in the new music libraries. It’s amazing.
“While the archetype of that kind of music-making was created by the concept I was exploring, I would never claim to be the first. The first person who I saw doing this was Nick Brongers, who was also referencing things that sound like old music. The innovation that I added was to focus on making things that sound new and that are ideas for beats, and not necessarily deal with old‑sounding samples.”
Older records nonetheless continue to be an important reference point for Feeney. When asked what records influenced him the most, he replies: “There are so many, I don’t even know where to start. I love Arthur Verocai, the Brazilian composer who made a record in 1972 that was largely overlooked at the time, but when it was sampled by MF Doom [in 2004] it got really popular and has since often been sampled. To me the album is a masterpiece of songwriting, arrangement and production.
“My taste ranges from the most obscure to the most popular. The Beatles, Nirvana and Wu‑Tang were all incredible and obscenely popular at the same time. My ears are definitely subconsciously attuned to good popular music, and it’s why I write catchy songs. The Beatles evolved songwriting and the idea of what pop music can be, and they also evolved production techniques, doing incredible things with George Martin.
“The old music I love the most was pioneering at the time, but I would never recreate something to sound old just for the sake of it. I make music in 2021, not in 1960 or 1970. My perspective has always been to take things that I love and modernise them. That’s what makes it compelling. No‑one wants to hear what has been done.”
In mentioning writing “catchy songs,” Feeney has landed on what, until recently, was the latest phase of his career. “By the time I met Lou and Post, I had built up a catalogue of credits, and I had come to recognise certain producers as being really good at making drums and others at writing particular types of songs, and so on. This meant that I had been learning about true production and having an overview and bringing in certain people for specific things, while having control over what the final product would sound like.
“Producing and songwriting were whole new explorations that I got excited by. Up until that time I had not really co‑written songs, but that transition was really easy, because I was already playing and writing music and making production decisions. Co‑writing and co‑producing songs for artists became my new obsession, and that transitioned into artists working with me for entire projects, and me executive producing their albums.
“My career evolved to a place where I felt I had arrived as a fully fledged record producer, and not just a guy who was only making beats or samples. For me that was a great arrival, because I felt confident to go into a room with any artist at any level, and be able to deliver. I have done so many different things and worked with so many different people and explored so many avenues, and they’re all meaningful to me, because one cannot be without the other. I’m as proud of what I have done with the Kingsway Music Library, as of the records I have co‑written and produced.”
Until 2018, Dukes travelled regularly between his home town of Toronto and Los Angeles, where most of the records he was working on were made, but in that year he bowed to the inevitable and decamped to LA. In May of 2021, he moved again to his current location in the City of Angels, where he now lives on a property with several old cottages, one of them housing his Lyric Studio.
The studio gear at Lyric is as modern as one would expect, with ATC SCM45a monitors, UA Apollo x16 and Apollo x8p interfaces, tons of mic pres consisting of a four‑channel Neve Portico 5024, two Chandler TG 2‑500s, two API 512c preamps, and two Neve 1073LB modules.
The vocal and guitar chain at the studio consists of a Townsend Sphere microphone going into an API 512c and then the Apollo x16. The piano is recorded with two AKG C414s going through the Portico 5024, and with regards to the drums, the kick is miked with an AKG D12, and the hi‑hats with a Shure SM57, both going through the 5024. Snare top and bottom each have an SM57, through Chandler Germanium preamps, and overheads are recorded with the Townshend Sphere in stereo, through the 512c.
Feeney’s analogue gear comes most into play with the extensive collection of keyboards and guitars at the studio. The collection includes a Yamaha CS60, Hammond organ with Leslie cabinet, Wurlitzer electric piano, Roland GR‑500 Guitar Synth, Black Corporation Kijimi, Moog Matriarch, a modular rig, Sequential Prophet 10 and Prophet X, Korg Mono/Poly, UDO Super 6, Samick upright piano, and Elektron Digitone Keys, while the guitars are by Fender, Gibson, Martin and Hofner.
Feeney: “I have been collecting analogue keyboards and synths for over 15 years, and acquired tons of them. As I said earlier, excitement is the most important currency to me, and analogue keyboards definitely excited me! At one stage I became obsessed with analogue keyboards, and would be digging into Craigslist for deals, and looking at eBay, and going into local music stores, and I just bought anything that looked cool and made cool noises, and that I felt would inspire something.
“The first analogue keyboard that I bought was probably some crummy Crumar synth that has just three sounds, but I was blown away because it sounded like the records I loved. I think the next synth was a Roland Juno‑60, and then a Yamaha CS101. The first really big synth I got was a Yamaha CS60. But I am less precious about them at this point. When I was younger, it all had to be analogue, but today it does not need to be so extreme.”