“Producing something artistically different than the original”

Growing up, Gregory Rogers wanted to become an architect. Now in his second year at Western, he has in many ways become one; an architect of music. Taking the beat from one song, vocal overlays from another three, and instrumental pieces from others, Gregory deconstructs songs and reconstructs new ones with different meaning and different messages.

In FIMS we often discuss ideas of culture jamming and repurposing content. Long before coming to Western and enrolling in FIMS, Gregory discovered mash-ups on YouTube and found a genre of music that truly intrigued him. As he began listening he also began creating, and after a labour of three years, in the summer of 2012 Gregory released his first album (listen here).

After listening to Various Artists, I met with Gregory to learn more about his experience and to share his story with the FIMS community. As someone who meticulously and artistically combines his technical skills with his musical talent, Gregory is a FIMS student who truly culture jams and I’d say, does it quite well.

Student Spotlight

by Molly McCracken

Name: Gregory Rogers, Chalk and Charcoal
Program: Media, Information, and Technoculture, Year 2
Future Aspiration: Be involved in the the media/business side of small research based businesses that produce high technology

Tell us about your project:

A: I’m a mash-up production artist, basically i make mash-ups – there’s video mash-ups you see on youtube or there’s more of these audio mash-ups and that’s what I produce. It’s basically taking samples of songs and juxtaposing them together, sometimes one on one or sometimes a large chunk of them, and hopefully producing something that is artistically different than the original.

Q: What inspired you to start producing mash-ups?

A: I stumbled upon a video on YouTube when I was probably fourteen. So quite a few years ago. It was a mashup between Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Golddigger by Kanye West, it is still to this day one of my favourites. I had never heard of the concept before and I just saw the video and thought it was fantastic. I just started seeking out more and more of them and started becoming more familiar with “mash-up artists.”  The main influences were GirlTalk, Kids and Explosions, and the White Panda, and others over the period of a few years.

Because I’m kind of a computer nerd, I’ve built my own computers and have played around with a lot of tech, it’s a field that focuses on applying a lot of computer science concepts to music — and then I have a musical background as well — I play piano and guitar and I used to sing in high school,

So it’s this nice bridge of the two where I am able to take some of my technical abilities and some of my musical abilities and combine them.

Over the period of several years I did several attempts at it, tried different software, all these different music editing programs and had a lot of failures. It’s a very complicated method in order to do this stuff, when you listen to one of the tracks off my album it’s hard to appreciate more than just the juxtaposition of elements, “this song and this song”, and “that’s really cool that those work”, there’s a lot of technical work that goes into it. I have to turn off the vocals in one track or the instrumentals, I have to also sync them up to a metronome so they all line up on the beat and all of that goes completely unseen and it’s what you spend the most amount of time when you’re producing these songs. It took several years and several attempts to get to the point where I could produce these tracks and then around November of last year I had a little bit of a Eureka moment. I was playing around with songs and I had thought about putting Justice with Lil Wayne, and I got them synched up, and it was something that I would enjoy and listen to. Then I set a goal to produce an album this summer and that’s where we are. So it’s a relatively new thing in my life.

Q: What has been your greatest accomplishment so far?

A: Obviously I worked on the album over the summer, ten tracks, the first being Aretha Unchained which is basically a lot of Snoop Dogg raps and Aretha Franklin’s Respect and James Brown’s “The Payback” remixed by Gramatik. Those were the tracks that came together, with the inspiration for that track coming from the trailer for the new Quentin Tarantino movie “Django Unchained.” There’s a number of songs he overlays so I took a lot of those musical ideas from that trailer and took some of those inspirations and tried to get those elements into a track and it really started to come together and work. As soon as I got the Aretha Franklin in there, I said “this is really cool and it sounds fantastic.”

That was a great moment right there, it was this moment where I felt like there is something here and this is going to work out. I know it sounds so pretentious and musician-ny, but it’s true.

Q: And your greatest challenge?

A: Like any good music person you kind of have to be your worst critic. Greatest challenge for me was picking the final songs to put on the album. That was because, originally, back in august there was 16 tracks on the album. I had 16 fully mastered pieces, but I decided to cut five of them as they were not representative of my skill or artistic thoughts. So I sat on those eleven tracks and, as you know, the final album is ten tracks, so the night before I published the album to the internet I cut one more. I had this really anxious moment and I thought it was too personal of a track to put in and I thought it was too much, so I chose to remove it. So the hardest thing for me was deciding what to put on the album, what represented me and was a good variety.

Sometimes I feel the mash-up community is quite homogenous; It’s often whatever EDM track is this week with whatever TOP40 is this week, that’s like 90% of the community, so I wanted to do something that was a little more experimental than that.

The final song on the album, “Forget About Smiling” which is Dr Dre, Tupac Shakur, and then Ennio Marricone, who did the soundtrack for “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” is a symphony song juxtaposed with some rap songs. So maybe it doesn’t work as well as some of the others, but I wanted something different to expand the genre a bit.

Q: Do you have any advice for students looking to get involved in the mash-up community?

I know you see this from every artist, but it really is PERSISTENCE and PRACTICE. There is no secret sauce to success.

You have to be persistent about listening to mash-ups and remixes and taking notes on what you’re seeing and hearing, and asking “what are they doing?” “how did they do this?” “where did that idea come from?” And then on the other side you just have to keep throwing things at the wall until something sticks.  That’s really it, I’m not some genius it’s just something you have to work hard at and you have to spend a lot of time on. It’s ultimately  a time commitment, it took me three and a half years to actually produce something I thought was worthwhile. So yeah, it’s a time thing.

Something that is really interesting about the mash-up community is that there’s a certain sense of humour to it that I find a lot of people don’t realize. It’s supposed to be quite a lighthearted take on music, it’s supposed to reward someone who listens to a lot of music and who can pull out tracks and pull out samples, to some extent it’s supposed to be something you sort of laugh at. You hear the song and are like “oh my god I can’t even believe that worked as well as it did” or something like that, you definitely have to have a sense of humour in order to listen to it and appreciate it.

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