As we wrote about a couple of weeks ago, this year's S.L.U.M. Fest Beat Battle Champion James "JBJR" Bishop explained how he shuts out the world when he sits down at his computer to make beats. Beat making, after all, is a solitary craft. In other mediums, local artists can get together and test styles and bounce ideas and push each other to new limits. Rappers syphon freestyles and rock stars jam. But producers rarely get a chance to informally collaborate.
In January, Bishop realized that local producers should have their own creative arena too. So he created The Producer's Network group on Facebook. The aim, he says, is to give producers a place to simply help each other out. This take many forms, from exchanging tips on mixing techniques to trading notes on which beat making software has the best bang-for-your-buck. Most often, though, the group serves as a social media peer-review forum.
"Even though you always want the opinion of the audience, nothing tops the constructive criticism that you can only get from other producers," he says. "'Yo, how did you get that drum synth? How'd you get that sample like that?' 'Well, I did A, B,C,D.' It's just learning from whoever you can, however you can."
The group started local, but then somebody knew someone in Chicago, who new someone in Detroit, who new someone in Baltimore, who knew someone in New York, who knew someone in California, who knew someone in Germany, and within a few months Bishop stopped keeping track of all the places represented in the group.
As of today there are 197 members, which is modest for a Facebook group. But Bishop expresses that a high majority are active members, who post and comment and listen and link. A few big names have jumped on board. 88 Keys, 9th Wonder and Indiana Rome, among others, occasionally pop up on the wall. All the competitors from this year's S.L.U.M. Fest Beat Battle are a part of it too.
There could be more members, but Bishop and his team of moderators have kicked a few people out. There was the one guy who would "post, like, twenty times in a day," which gets especially annoying when you're smartphone is connected to Facebook, explains Bishop. He gave him a polite warning, but the posts persisted. Then there was the guy who handled constructive criticism like Derek Anderson after a can of Red Bull. Someone would comment under the guy's link that he should try to work on this or that and then the guy would go on an ALL-CAPS rampage, barraging unsuspecting "check out my new track" posts with absurd and profanity-laced fury.
"I want everyone to feel comfortable in the group," says Bishop. "It's nothing but love for each other. Just trying to get a fuller understanding of the craft."
Bishop hopes the group keeps growing. Already, some days bring dozens of posts -- technical queries and drafts of new beats and information on shows and philosophical questions like "Do you ever think the 'boom-bap' style beats (9th Wonder, Pete Rock, DJ Premier, etc) can ever come back in style to mainstream radio? If so, why and if not why not?"
If nothing else, the network assures a solitary artist working in his darkened rooms with his phone on silent that he's not alone. And that there's probably around 200 other people doing the exact same thing. So he better make this beat even more perfect.