The goal, irrefutably, is to live your life doing what you love. Some may say this is easier said than done, but New York-based producer, Kallie Marie is the living testimony that these things are only as inaccessible as we desire to make them. When she wakes up in the morning, her day is blank canvas just like the rest of ours, but in the vein of Pollock, smatters it with a surfeit of colours: producer, composer, journalist and teacher.
If we trace her path back to her beginning, it is not straightforward; her path is a winding one, and it starts as a dancer – some worlds away from who she is today. “I was exposed to music through dance. I went to a performing arts school because I wanted to move in those circles. I was always intent upon being a dancer – I just knew. I was also interested in fine art; I’ve always painted. But once I got to high school I couldn’t dance anymore as we couldn’t afford the classes, so I got into playing music because there were free guitar and piano classes. I got really into it, and when I left high school I decided I wanted to be a fine artist. I was starting to get back into dance, and I was envisioning a career of dance and maybe becoming a classical animator. I’d always wanted to study classic animation, but a friend encouraged me to take these recording classes at a community college. I said, “Why the hell would I do that?” and they said, “Because you have a band, and if you take these classes no one will be able to force you to sound a certain way.” That was a very attractive idea to me, so I took the classes and fell in love with it, and I remember at the time I was learning all about MIDI and working with digital performer and analogue consoles. It was the late 90s, and I can remember thinking that I’d never be able to afford all this stuff, or to do this. But with the accessibility of technology these days, it worked out quite differently.”
One question that has universal relevance to every person involved within the music industry is how they perceive their role within an ever-changing sector. “I think the music industry is like riding a wild bucking bronco that is constantly evolving into a different animal so you’re not quite sure what you’re trying to tame. I am positive, however: people are better connected and more aware, there is better access to technology, tools are becoming cheaper. Sometimes it makes it harder for artists to be found because there are so many of them out there, and so much high-quality material – but I feel very hopeful, now more than ever music is very important. I know that music is a commodity that nobody pays for and nobody thinks about, but all the arts have an immense power to link people together, inspire them and keep them comforted. In regards to my place, I feel lucky and grateful everyday when I wake up and realise what I’m doing for a living, I think it’s the coolest thing ever. I guess I feel like I’m glad I was right, since so many people told me not to do it. “You should give up, it’s too hard”, they’d say. I feel humbled by all the people I get to work with. They humble me with their talent and their trust.”
It would be naïve to think that doing what you love means that you are exempt from challenges, doubts and difficulty. In some ways, doing what you love only heightens these things, as your personal devotion to it is tenfold. We were curious to know how Kallie maintains the balance and continues to merge her passion with her living. “I think the challenge is to not get fatigued. You have to be able to organise your schedule, you have to be able to work efficiently and you have to be really good at time management. Luckily, I have learned to develop that skill-set, but it’s so easy when you’re in the middle of it to overwork yourself and to not take the time out we all need. I think that I’m constantly timetabling out time to rest so I can be efficient for the people I’m working with, which is really hard sometimes for people to understand. When I have to say, “I’m going to be offline tonight”, “you can’t have me tomorrow” or “I’m not going to be answering e-mails on Fridays”, something like that, it can be hard because you don’t want to disappoint people and damage the connections you’ve made. We are in a mindset of immediacy because of the technology that we have. As a producer you have to give a lot to get something out of people. It’s like being in multiple relationships, really: balancing everybody and keeping everyone happy and trying to stay healthy.”
Connections: what we all need but never seem to make. Connections, connections, connections. They’re the ‘x’ in the equation, yet it’s easier said than done to find them. Kallie had this to say: “You know, I feel like it has to come from a genuine place. Everyone is going to connect with people differently. If it’s genuine, it can’t be rushed, and you have to be patient enough to develop a relationship. I think that sometimes the music industry makes people feel like they have to make a contact and they have to make something happen and things have to move forward really quickly. It’s not usually going to be fruitful, and it someone is really shy, that can add to the anxiety of it all. Find people that you feel comfortable around. Build projects that come from a passionate place. Someone gave me some really good advice once when I was struggling. I didn’t have enough work, and I was struggling to make more work somehow, and he said “Make your own work, and the work will come. If you’re doing nothing, then you’ll feel worse. It’s better off to just make something and have something to show others in order to progress. Otherwise your skillset is going to get rusty and you’re going to lose confidence to the point where you wonder if you can do it at all when an opportunity does come. You’ll just continue to shrink further and further back.”
Kallie, despite being a polymath of the creative arts, is first and foremost a producer. For our readers interested specifically in the production of music, she has some invaluable advice to offer: “Here’s the thing: I think it’s really confusing to know what a producer is and isn’t. There is a lot of confusion with the term. That’s one thing. The second thing is, which really confused me for a long time, is figuring what kind of producer you want to be which can be difficult because of that lack of clarity around the term. Some producers are more recording engineers, whereas others are more song-focused, and come from a music background; they can really play and read music really well. There are many different kinds. If you’re aiming to be a producer, know what one is and what one does – which is not make beats. That can be a part of production, but that does not make you a producer. Once you know what one is, knowing what kind of producer you want to be is a good place to start. It doesn’t mean you can’t change, but once you’ve got that confusion out of your head, it makes it easier for you decide what skillsets you’re going to hone. I think, if you’re going to be more of a recording engineer type-based producer, then you need to know your gear, software, signal flow and above all, studio etiquette, which isn’t really taught anymore. If you’re going to be more of a song-based producer you need your organisation and people skills down. It’s not just about being a shit-hot musician or making plug-ins and doing cool stuff. It takes so much more than being just good at one thing unfortunately. Ultimately, know what producer you want to be and knuckle down on the skill sets in order to achieve that.”
In an industry so saturated with talent and young blood, how can we stand out? “There are two facets: the first is on a personal level. Be harder working than anyone else, be prepared to work your ass off, don’t make excuses, be honest if you don’t know something, be humble, don’t backstab, be known for being trustworthy, be known for being hardworking. The second facet, which is not lesser, is know what your sound is: it will emerge, you can’t pick it. You have to let it evolve. Find out what it is, define your sound. Once you find out what sound you have – such a hard thing for any artist to do – ensure you can definitively do it, but also communicate that that’s what your thing is. If people can’t understand what you do or what you’re about, then they can’t connect with it. They can’t come to you if they don’t know what it is. I guess it’s like any marketing. If you have a shop and I don’t know what you sell, every time I walk past your shop I’m going to be really confused, like “I feel like they’re doing a thing in there, but I don’t know what it is. Great!””
Finally, what can we expect to see from Kallie in the future? “I’m yet to score a full length feature. I want to write music for a video game, so I intend to keep knocking on people’s doors. But I definitely want to keep producing bands, I love it so much. There are so many artists I love to work with, if anyone wants to work they just have to say hi.”