Stevie Stone’s great ear for beats paid off when he stumbled on a beat from famed producer Johnny Juliano. The beat would later turn into a song called “808 Bendin”, a certified club-and-sub banger that sounds like nothing Strange Music has put out before and features one of Tech N9ne’s most schizophrenic verses to date.
We talked to the producer of the lead single from Stevie Stone’s debut Strange Music record Tech N9ne Presents Stevie Stone – Rollin’ Stone, and got his thoughts on the track. Along the way the talented producer also shared his philosophy towards production and shed some light on his background.
Aspiring beatsmiths take notes. Johnny has produced for the likes of T-Pain, Rick Ross, 2Chainz, Young Joc, Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, Krayzie Bone, French Montana, Bow Wow, Soulja Boy, Twista, Nipsey Hussle, Messy Marv, Project Pat and Mistah Fab amongst others and had many great gems of knowledge to drop for those trying to peep game.
Was the beat for “808 Bendin” a free beat that you were offering on JohnnyJuliano.com?
Yeah basically. It was a couple months ago, whenever I had my beats available at Soundclick as a free download. I don’t have free downloads on my website anymore. It was just at the the time basically to just generate traffic. It’s not for a free beat, it’s just for people to get the tagged version of it.
Have you ever produced for anything for Strange Music before?
I think I’ve submitted in the past but I don’t think I made any connections.
Did Stevie reach out to you then and say “This is hot, I want to use this?”
Yeah somebody from Strange reached out to me actually and I talked to them directly and handled the business and negotiation and what not.
So obviously you’ve heard of Strange and its artists before this since you had been submitting beats.
Oh yeah. I respect Tech a lot actually. He’s a very good role model for all independent musicians in general. He doesn’t have any type of middle man in his situation. He pretty much handles all of his business on his own which you should and has full creative control
The song came out recently. Had you heard it before that?
Yeah. I got e-mailed the track. I really like it. I’m really proud of it. I think they’re both very talented and i hope the song does as well as it can.
Any thoughts on how it came out?
I think in general it’s what Strange fans wants. I think it’s just classic Strange Music in general. I think they both did their thing on it and I think it’s got more of a mainstream appeal to it as well.
One of the big tells that the beat was produced by someone who knew what they were doing was the low end. It’s very well-tweaked to give you the punch and gut you would want to hear but mess up your speakers either. How important is that to you?
I think it’s definitely important. Really whenever I go about mixing, I take a lot of pride in my mixing and just my whole process. I’ve been mixing just as long as I’ve been making beats off and on for ten years, even though I’m only 23. I’ve been doing it for a really long time and really at first I mix in headphones, and then I go into my nearfield monitors and listen to it on there and just keep going back and forth and keep referencing it. Then I’ll even listen to it on my MacBook just so I can get a good feel for it and everything. I make sure everything is sitting right in terms of the low and the mid-low, just like you said.
What are some of the other guys that you’ve produced for?
Early on I had a decent amount of major success. I was about 17 when I started producing solely in-house for Wiz Khalifa. I’ve done mostly all in house for his projects for all of his mixtapes up to Kush & OJ, that was his last project that I was involved with. I also did his single “Say Yeah” which was off Warner Brothers which was his first major debut single.
Where are you from?
I’m from Pittsburgh as well. I’m a Pittsburgh native.
When you first got into producing was it something that you did just for the love of the music or did you just go all out and tell yourself “I want to do this for a living”?
Well it sounds cliche but Pittsburgh is kind of a crab in a bucket type city. It’s all blue collar workers. The ratio between low-income families and high-income is kind of imbalanced. I came from a low-income area. I dropped out of ninth grade to pursue music fully. Really I just never looked back. I started making instrumentals in general because I wanted to rap myself and I didn’t have any sources to get my own instrumentals so I started making my own.
Out of necessity then.
I came out of an area where, when I was 14 or 16 and started taking it seriously, there really wasn’t a YouTube. Everything is easy now. Everything is given to you: tutorials, everything like that, and that wasn’t really around when I was coming up. I’m kind of the bridge between the old heads and the younger generation. It’s kind of an awkward thing.
You can sense that because there’s a lot of current motifs in your beats but they’re also a lot more musical than a lot of production these days. Even though “8o8 Bendin” was simple you could definitely tell it was not a lazy beat.
Yeah. That’s the thing. You can make something simple sound extremely detailed with the small details. That’s what it’s really about. That’s what Quincy Jones said. He would make a record and if he couldn’t play it with one hand then he wouldn’t go forth with it, which is kind of weird. He would really stick with his simple melodies as opposed to something over-complex is what I’m trying to say.
Do you look back at your beginnings and say to yourself “Thank you for not giving me so many resources, because it made me into a much better producer than I would’ve been”?
Oh most certainly. I don’t look at new producers for inspiration. I would look at the older musicians. Even as far back as Morris Day and The Time. I’m a big fan of that funk era of music in general as far as the synths go and that’s really where I started getting the whole vibrato with my synths and different stuff like that. Just thinking about back in the 80s: “How could they emulate acoustic sounds from nothing?” Basically anything with an oscillator you could use and make acoustic sounds with is basically what I’m trying to say. The less things you have, the more creative and imaginative you have to be.
There’s a Neptunes interview where they say something along the lines of “Don’t be obsessed with getting gear but just learn with what you have and stretch it out as much as you can,” which brings me to my next question, for people who are just beginning to get into production, what advice would you give them?
My thing is this: I think you have to learn your origins before you go forward and progress into anything new. You can apply that to anything that you want to do. For instance if you like the Neptunes and you’re interested in that sound in general, then I would say don’t emulate them in general but look at who they were inspired by and then look them up instead.
Like if you have a Dre obsession, check out what he’s sampling.
Exactly, like P-Funk and all that stuff. Listen to their music and see “Where did he draw all this inspiration from?”
If you don’t then it’s a second-hand inspiration basically and you’re not getting it from the roots.
Yeah it’s like the saying “Don’t walk in other people’s shoes, just seek what they sought.”
Do you think you have any trademarks to your production? What are some of the things that make your beats distinct or are you kind of a guy that adapts to whatever situation?
I would say either or but more so in general I like doing what I like to do. And there’s a lot of things that I think I’ve coined and a lot of things that I think people have taken from me in the industry. I’m not trying to toot my own horn or anything like that but I do feel like there’s a lot of things that I’ve done that people took. There’s a lot of things I could name but if you ask anybody or just look online or what not and just see, there are certain things. Like with the synth style or a certain vibrato, bringing back the old funk sound with the leads and what not. Just small things like that.
Where can people go to check out your stuff and what are some projects that they should look for if they want to hear what Johnny Juliano sounds like?
First of all my catalog online is JohnnyJuliano.com. But I’m also about to drop my own website. I have a lot of plans for it and am going to have all my own placements within it and what not. Just give people more of a wider array of things to see that I’ve done because I don’t really have a big catalog that will show all the stuff that I’ve done. Like recently I’ve done a single for a Jive artist Trai’d that has Twista and T-Pain on it. I’m not too sure what happened with it. They didn’t push it too much on the radio.
Are you still trying to push your beats over here at Strange?
Oh yeah for sure. My whole thing right now is that I don’t know exactly what I want to do right now as a musician but if I can get into another in-house situation like I was with Wiz, that would be perfect. I prefer working with particular artists.
When you’re working just with one artist, you can bounce things off of each other. Did you do that with Wiz?
Most of the time I would just do my own thing and let people listen to them when they were done.
What do you think has been the most instrumental to your success as a producer?
I would just say the independent thing honestly. The placement thing is good. I have a lot of placement with over 50 major artists but it’s like at the end of the day, if it’s just mixtape joints, it’s really not going to do much for you. A lot of the times the artist won’t even credit you as being the producer. So it’s almost like you’re chasing something that’s not going to get you anywhere. I would say independently that’s really your bread and butter and just promoting yourself.
Do you have a background in music or is this something you just kind of dove into?
No. A lot of people think I went to Full Sail or went to some kind of school for music. I taught everything myself. Even with playing, I play everything by ear. I dropped out of ninth grade in high school just to pursue music and was pretty much just self-taught with everything, from mixing to everything.
Even chords and progressions?
Yeah. My whole theory on it is, especially if you drop out of high school, if you make that decision, albeit I don’t think anyone should do that, but I’m saying if you do and if you don’t have any back up plan, you might as well be the best at what you’re doing. You gotta dedicate 200 percent to it if you don’t have anything else.
Is there anything that you personally feel that you want to improve on as a producer?
Well I mean that’s what I do everyday. If I’m not making music in general I’m just beefing up my arsenal. I’m teaching myself Pro Tools right now even though I don’t really need to. Just in general learning different things. And mostly sound design. Sound design is the most important for me because the more you know the more you can progress. I take a day out and I’m learning sound design. I literally recreated the whole TR-808 kit from scratch. Like I just had a basic oscillator synth and I can make a kick drum from scratch, I can make anything from scratch.
This is such an often asked question but is there anyone you want to work with that you might not have had the chance by now?
Personally I wanted to work with Tech and I’m happy that I got to work with him. That was a personal thing just because I respect him so much as an independent musician.
What did you think of his verse on there?
It was sick! I liked it a lot, I liked both of them a lot. They really both did their thing.
Also one of my influences coming up when I was younger was definitely Kanye. I would love to work with anyone in G.O.O.D. Music. I think Pusha’s very talented lyrically. Just good musicians in general. That’s my thing. I want to work with artists with substance, that’s all.
What trait to you admire the most in other producers or musicians?
I tend not to pay attention to most modern producers. It doesn’t really interest me if I can pick apart a beat and tell every single sound that you’re using. Like if you’re just using downloaded drums and out of the box presets, like no one else is probably going to pay attention to that but to me I end up getting turned off. That’s why I like older producers, where it makes me think a little bit.
For the ones that you do like what are the traits that you respect about them?
I like it whenever I can’t figure it out. Whenever I can’t reverse-engineer something, that interests me and it makes me go look for it.
Who are some of the producers that are influential to you and people that you respect?
Not even mainstream. Like a lot of the time I get a lot of influence from stuff other than rap. There’s these cats from Canada, they’re named Chromeo and they do a lot of vintage, 80s-sounding funk stuff and I think they’re amazing. This guy’s got a big collection of vintage synths and it’s just amazing how he puts it together.
How about some old school cats?
Like I said Morris Day and the Time, Hall & Oates…umm…lemme think about this. P-Funk. Even a lot of Japanese video game composers like the old Sega Genesis games. Just that in general, like composers. There’s this composer, he does anime for Studio Ghibli, Joe Hisaishi, and it’s just amazing the progressions that he plays.
Those old video game soundtracks are nice.
They just sound so different. I don’t know how to explain it, they just sound so good.
There was this old game, Streets Of Rage, that had a really cool soundtrack.
That’s specifically one of the ones I was going to name but I didn’t want to say! (laughs)
That’s funny as hell man because I haven’t thought about that game in probably 15 years.
But the music in it is amazing. It’s like early-90s dance music but it’s pretty tight though.
I’m going to stop before I keep this geek-sesh going on for hours. Is there anything you want to say before we wrap this up?
Nothing in general, I just want to thank you for giving me some time.
– Interview Conducted By Jeff Nelson, Senior Blog Editor For Strange Music
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