Our First Cut interviews are for up-and-coming acts, and this month, we’re featuring Stoni Cooper – who is not only an outspoken and cutting-edge producer, but also a product specialist for the likes of Native Instruments and ROLI… so perhaps the ultimate artist to talk tech…
We love featuring artists who are using technology in innovative or perhaps extreme ways. This month, we have someone who has not only been inspired by a rich and diverse background of music, but one who’s better versed than most in music technology, having been a product specialist for several high-tech companies including Native Instruments and (currently) ROLI, Stoni Cooper.
MusicTech: So who is Stoni?
Stoni: An outspoken, powerhouse music producer who’s unafraid of making waves and unapologetic for changing the musical landscape. Born in Brooklyn, NY, I grew up listening to everything from Sam Cooke and Stevie Wonder to Prince and Michael Jackson, but my influences don’t begin and end there. I cut my teeth alongside some of the legends of hip-hop and rock music, and was mentored by engineering legends.
I gained a vast knowledge of the inner workings of the music and recording industry and discovered a love for sound design. It was my passion for sound manipulation that led me into production. I’m very hands-on and I work very hard. I always have. My work ethic is unlike anyone I know and I believe that this is what determines your success. I love what I do, and for me, that is the ultimate success.
MT: Tell us about your sound or philosophy?
Stoni: I’ve been told that my trademark was the hard crack and thump of my drums, but it’s really the emotion that my music evokes. My approach to production comes from the heart, meaning whatever I’m feeling at the moment that I’m creating a body of work.
If I’m having a bad day, or feeling generally frustrated about a particular situation, I’ll use the aggressive energy from that and pour it into the music and that’s what is reflected. If I’m feeling super relaxed or very Zen-like, you’ll get a track that will feel much smoother, more melodic and less syncopated.
When I produce other people, I allow the artist to be themself at all times. The goal is to get the most authentic performance from them – anything less than that just isn’t believable. You, the listener, should feel everything that person is sharing with you. If you can’t feel all of that, then the music is disingenuous.
MT: Do you have a typical way that you put a track together?
Stoni: There’s isn’t one process that defines my overall sound. I’m continually learning new things and adding various processes to my workflow. I’m a consummate student of the technology. Whenever anything new comes out, I learn about it, study it and if it works with my existing workflow, then I’ll incorporate it. If it doesn’t, then at least I still know more about the hardware and software than the average producer would and I can share that with others.
I will share one trick that I love to do with you. I have this process where I take my voice and make a sine wave out of it. I then proceed to create a melody with that same vocal sample. I then add an acoustic sound (guitar or strings) to give it that organic quality. I continue to layer a VST instrument from either Massive, Kontakt or whatever VST fits what I’m feeling, in that space. The end result is always a crowd pleaser.
MT: Describe the Stoni sound…
Stoni: Eclectic. The beat is hip-hop based, but the music is really different. It’s world music. It’s global. It comes from the kind of music I listen to everyday, which could be French music, hip-hop, electronic, jazz, music from any and everywhere. My sound at its core is very beats-driven – aggressive and edgy – but it does have many soft elements to it and lyrical ones as well.
The music has to flow well for it to make sense and elicit a certain feeling or emotional response. Musicality is very important to me, so I make sure that the beats aren’t the only thing you’re hearing. My music makes you feel good. It’s the kind of music people just want to dance to.
MT: How do you produce your music?
Stoni: When I approach making music, the process usually starts with how I’m feeling. I like to sketch my ideas while sitting on the floor, legs crossed or on a bean bag in a relaxed sitting position with the Rise or my Maschine Mk2 in my lap. Then I will comb through different sound ideas.
It could be acapellas to trigger inspiration, or it can be a synth, maybe even a simple hi-hat pattern that might send me all the way into my zone. I have various methods that I use to cut a track together, from building patterns and layering them into a song, or I open up a DAW and have it in a linear form and create melodies and drum patterns across a timeline.
The role of the producer is to be a visionary and complete a body of work (a song or an album) from A to Z. I’m the one who sets the tone in the studio session. A producer is supposed to give the artist, beat-makers and musicians direction.
I select which musicians I want to use for a particular song, and then lead them through the creative process. “Sing the riff more soulfully, don’t play that line so staccato, make the groove feel lazier,” etc.
I’m like the leader of the band, so I have to be clear and precise in my instructions and know where I want the music to go so we can all arrive together in the same place, otherwise the song and the sound will fall apart.
I’m also an excellent listener, because it’s imperative to hear the artists’ or musicians’ intention and then work together to bring it to fruition. I am the person who orchestrates what the sound will be on the project.
Meaning, I determine what sounds are used and what musicians will embellish the track best. I’m also the person who sits with artist to discuss their lyrical content, assist the songwriter with the flow of the song, and contribute to vocal production and arrangement. I’m responsible for the format of the album, meaning the order of songs based on content and context. I create the beats and the melodies.
MT: What gear do you use?
Stoni: The main components in my studio are the MacBook Pro, NI Maschine Studio, Maschine Mk2, Komplete Kontrol Keyboard, Ableton Push 2, Moog Sub 37, Seaboard Rise 25, 49 and Komplete Audio 6. The history behind me using the Maschine is very simple.
For starters, I loved the amazing browser that it has. There’s so much you can do with this unit. I realised that portability has a big influence on what I use at home, as well. Having the Komplete sound collection, coupled with various synths and plug-ins, allows me to write and make records anywhere and at anytime.
The Seaboard Rise allows me a level of creativity that I’ve never been able to achieve with the standard keyboard. The 5D touch allows me to manipulate sound in a way that shapes the direction of my creative vision.
My go-to tools are Maschine, the Moog, Ableton Live Instruments, Komplete Ultimate 10 Bundle, Arturia, Reason Refills, Serum, and U-he. I have a lot of fun using the Push 2 and it keeps my creativity flowing. I love the way you can play chords and melodies with the pads.
Using the Moog Sub 37 creating new patches is awesome. I never know what the end result will be, and lately, I’ve been diving into using the iPad apps with my Ableton setup. Man, that Link option is so powerful, it turned my iPad into another instrument. That’s the best part of using these tools on a day-to-day basis. The creativity and fun never stops.
MT: What’s on your wishlist, gear-wise?
Stoni: A UA Apollo Twin and all the UA plug-ins, PMC Passive MB2S, Neumann U87, API Lunchbox, and an aluminium Moog Voyager.
MT: What would you like to see developed on the music-tech side of things?
Stoni: I’d like to see a more cohesive system with all the DAWs, across the board. I would like to see more hybrid platforms for controllers, so that producers and DJs can work with or without the laptop.
MT: What advice do you have for working in the music industry?
Stoni: The best advice that I’ve picked up in the music industry is: Be as self-contained as much as possible; master your craft and learn all of the ins and outs of whatever it is you choose to do; build solid relationships, because ultimately, those relationships will help you grow; be selective about the company you keep and make sure the producers you are around are as productive as you are.
MT: And from working in the studio?
Stoni: Studio etiquette is everything. Your behaviour in a studio will either allow you to grow or cause you to not be invited back. Become the consummate student. There are several aspects of the music industry to learn about. Working consistently in the studio will give you the opportunity to meet A&Rs, engineers, artists, songwriters and ultimately, label executives.
Watching what these people do in the studio, listening to the things they talk about and the things that are important to them, will give you a plethora of information and arm you for the future.
Do more listening and less talking. It’s great to share your ideas with like-minded individuals because it gives you a sense of validation, but the best thing you can do sometimes is just watch and listen. Some of the most invaluable lessons I’ve ever learned came just by listening.
MT: Tell us about your new EP?
Stoni: It has been long-awaited, not only by me, but by my loyal followers. I had a great time putting my experiences into musical form. There’s a tremendous satisfaction you feel when you have a vision for yourself and you make it manifest. This EP will reflect the different styles of production
I’ve brought together by using the most unlikely pairings, which make for the most amazing music. I want the people I’ve met and who’ve been connected to me through music to have something tangible to walk away with and listen to over and over again.
MT: What do you have planned for the future?
Stoni: I plan on touring and playing the songs on the album on the road. I’m creating a performance set for the people who enjoy the music and I’ll get the chance to meet my fans face-to-face.
I also plan on signing a few producers and giving them the opportunity to work on projects with me and build a team of creatives. And the next project I release will feature a few new collaborators and artists who I believe are really going to make a big impact on music culture and the industry. Stay tuned.