Brad Stroud graduated from Pyramind in 2010 and has gone on to release two full-length albums independently, toured with Moldover, and recently released his own sample pack. We sat down with him to catch up on all of his successes and capture some of his advice for current and upcoming students entering the music industry.
Split Screen Dreaming
So, you just came out with an album?
I did, yeah. I just released one on my birthday, in February, which is the second full-length B1 album. And yea, a lot went in to it.
It's your second full-length? When did the first one come out?
I released the first one in, I think, August of 2012. I graduated Pyramind in 2010 and started making a bunch of music and kinda found my own voice, maybe a year, year-and-a-half later and started the “B1” thing. And then after about a year of writing, I came out with that album and didn’t do anything with it (laughs). I was just producing it for the fun of it, and then, later on, I started getting offers for gigs and decided to start playing instruments with it and having guests on stage and made it more of a performance deal.
So, I had to backtrack and figure out how I’m gonna play all that music. This last album was geared a lot more towards playing this stuff live and that was kept in mind during the whole making of the album too.
So, the second album, as you were producing it, you were thinking more about the live show?
Leading up to that first album, were you producing a lot of singles and coming out with a lot of music?
Kind of yeah, I did a bunch of remixes during that era, between 2012, 2013. Some of them are still on my SoundCloud. I was trying to find my own voice at that time so I did a bunch of remixes, a bunch of experimental stuff, the album ended up just being a compilation of all the work I made in that year or two.
It’s interesting that it a took a little bit of time after graduating to, like you said, find your own voice and come out with an actual body of work. Did you have a lot of music production experience before coming to Pyramind?
I was in bands. I’ve been a guitar player my whole life. I didn’t know anything about electronic music. Anything. I didn’t even really listen to Hip Hop or anything that could be electronic. It was strictly metal and rock and blues, coming from a guitar background.
That’s funny, I was the same way actually. I didn’t know what an envelope filter was the first day I showed up here.
Yeah me neither. I like to think it’s kinda to our advantage that we’ve played music before. I felt like that was where I belonged because at Pyramind it’s always a big mix. You get people designing sounds for film and games and whatever. And then there’s a couple guys that have been playing music for a while. I was one of those guys.
There are always those couple of groups of people.
Yeah so it was definitely an interesting time, but yeah I did spend some time afterwards diving into electronic music production for a year or two before I ever came out with any music.
And your albums are purely electronically produced?
Was there any guitar work on the albums?
There is, it’s not all sounds coming from a computer you know, I have guitars, analog instruments, vintage synthesizers, you know real physical instruments but yeah it’s a big mix.
I’m sure you do a bit of guitar playing in your live performances then?
Definitely Yeah, I feel like that’s what was missing from it all was a way to play it. So I made all that music and then dived into controllerism and being able to play the stuff on controllers and how you can manipulate the software in a playable way, so that was my next step.
And you mentioned that this summer is a gonna be a big year for the B1 live experience and you just came off a tour with Moldover.
Yeah, I did.
Oh, that’s funny timing we just had Moldover here for our podcast series, Producing Out Loud. I’m sure you guys got to know each other pretty well touring together?
Yeah, he’s an amazing guy. Totally one of a kind dude and the stuff that he makes has inspired me a lot.
Yeah, he brought his first CD and his more recent album the one that looks like it’s on a tape cassette.
Yeah, he’s an artist man he’s made some really cool stuff.
The B1 Live Experience
So, going back to your live show, what is the process like for you when you’re taking your album, whether it’s your new album or it’s your first one, when you’re putting the show together, what does that look like for you? Are you just bouncing out stems and preforming them? Are you adding on guitar parts that don’t exist on the record? Walk me through that a little bit.
Yeah, there is a lot of stuff in the live show that is not on the record, and I thought that would be kinda exciting to do that. I made all these tracks in my studio that are a few minutes long, some of them have guitar on it, but when it comes to the live thing I try to put guitar on more than half of the songs, even if they didn’t have it on the record. I’d bounce a bunch of stems out to play on an APC-40 with some custom effect racks so I can manipulate those stems and improvise on the arrangement so that it's not even the same as the album. I can just play the song how I want to live while still using the original sounds from the album version. Most of the time it does end up different.
So, you’re obviously using Ableton for the performance?
And you’re working in the session view then if you’re launching clips with the APC-40?
That’s cool. You just launch a scene and then you can sit in that scene for as long as you want until you launch the next stuff?
Yeah. I’ve been accused of making things harder than they need to be. Moldover was telling me that throughout the whole tour. He’s like “It’s really awesome but you’re kinda making it hard on yourself. You could just be a DJ and sit back and press a button and chill for a minute, let it play out," but I don’t know. I like to press things and be active.
So how much of it are you manipulating in real time? When you’re not playing guitar, what else are you doing during the show?
It probably looks like I’m just pressing buttons. It’s kinda what it is, but yeah. I’ve put a lot of effort into the effect racks so that you’re able to play the stuff. You know, you can trigger a drum loop and then twist a button in sixteen different positions and get sixteen different beats out of that one beat – on the bass, or the melodies or anything. But that’s kinda where it’s at for me – taking simple pieces of audio and somewhat complicated effects and playing the audio with those effects.
Ok. So you’re mostly playing out audio. Are you doing any synthesis out of Ableton? Are you doing any synth parts for this?
Sometimes. I definitely have. The last couple shows I haven’t. It’s been mostly audio and then guitar. And then maybe percussion. I’ve had a live drummer a couple times. That’s coming up in my next couple shows actually. Working on that now.
What do you use to process your guitar? Is it going through Ableton also or do you have an amp on stage with you next to the drummer?
Good question. For the longest time I just had it going out to a guitar amp and I had messed around with hardware loopers. I always wanted to incorporate looping into it because that always snaps with people. It bridges the gap between guitar and electronic stuff. You’re using a machine to loop yourself. So I had messed around with the hardware loopers for a while. It’s a lot of money and a lot of extra gear you have to carry around. I was kinda hesitant to use Live for my playing engine and the guitar. I just wanted to separate that for some reason. But nowadays it’s all in one. I ended up plugging it in using Ableton’s looper and Guitar Rig. And you’re able to use controllers and map things very easily that way so that’s what I do now. It’s pretty much all through my laptop. All through Guitar Rig. And then some Ableton effects in there. I have an effect rack on the guitar too. But Yeah.
And it’s just two people on stage - you and a drummer?
Are you stripping out some of the drums from the tracks then? Or are you having him just play on top of them?
Yeah, I’m having the recorded drums played to my drummer. So he’s listening to those beats and then playing whatever he wants to that.
Cool. And he’s just playing an acoustic rock kit?
Pretty much, yeah. Just a real drum kit. And then we also have a cheap electronic drum set, but the sounds aren’t super professional so we usually keep that for the practice and then a real drum kit for the show.
Nice. So I’m guessing you’re not mic'ing it up and processing those drums sounds or anything, you’re just letting it be acoustic in the room?
I wish, yeah. We’re working on that actually – processing his drums live. We debated whether or not to start a whole new project just for that because that gets kinda hairy.
Yeah, that’s a whole lot of gear and setup. It can really take over the whole situation.
We’ve actually written a couple tunes just from practicing in that way so that’s why we might start a new project with that. But yeah, this stuff is all B1 tunes.
Life Lessons From The Music Industry
Cool. Your album that just came out. Is that something that you released yourself or are you working with a label?
Independent! It’s all me.
What are some of the big surprises around that and some things you’ve learned?
You can’t plan enough. That’s what I’ve learned. You know, I kinda wish that I spent more time promoting and playing the marketing world a little bit prior to releasing it. I really didn’t do too much of that and it came out and it wasn’t as big of a splash as I thought because I didn’t promote it as much. So I ended up doing more of that afterwards. I spent some money and did a small promo campaign for the tour and then had a single out. And made a video recently. But in hindsight, I wish that I had planned a little more for the marketing. I have a couple singles now that I’m working on with a few labels so that’s kinda new for me. I didn’t really plan on releasing this album with a label. It was all independent from the get go. Now I’m realizing I need a lot more help to get the music heard. That’s the next step.
So switching gears a little bit, you just put out a sample pack called Smack Pack. Is that something that you do regularly or is that the first time you’ve put out something like that?
This is the first time!
Did you make it with the intention of releasing it for sale or were you just putting it together and decided to give it to friends and then it kinda turned into something else?
It kinda snowballed a little bit, yeah. The initial thing was like, “Hey I got all these sounds from the album that I spent a lot of effort on and those sounds may never get heard or used other than what’s on the album" so I gave it to a couple of producer friends of mine and they were really stoked on it. And they started encouraging me to send it out to more producers and I did and everyone who’s heard it loves it so far. So I thought I’d kinda get it out there a little more. I’ve put it up on Splice.
So talking about sound design - do you have the type of creative process where you separate sound design from writing or do you have those processes intertwined so that you're creating sounds as you write?
Good question. I’d say probably 50/50. I spend a lot of time first trying to create a small library of samples that I get from vinyl records or related sounds in some way and then create a skeleton of a song with what I've previouly recorded or sampled.
So you’re a few years out of Pyramind now. You’ve got a couple records under your belt. You’ve done some touring. What’s the biggest surprise for you after graduating from Pyramind, entering the music industry as an independent artist. And follow-up question: what’s your advice for students who are incoming to the program or thinking about signing up for the program?
You’re gonna run into some unexpected things, no doubt. There’s no way I could’ve expected everything that’s happened over the last year or two, but on tour, you learn a lot. Every time you release a new song you learn something new. The more you get out there, the more you learn and you’ll never learn if you don’t get out there. That’s probably the best thing I can say.
Advice for the people who are thinking of starting here or who have just started here?
Yeah. Just do it and don’t stop. Go as fast as you can. Don’t waste a second. That’s probably what I’ve learned.
You heard it here first. Final question before we wrap up the official interview. What’s next for B1 music?
Any shows, tours, releases that you can talk about?
Yeah, there are a couple singles coming out. I have a new EP – 5 tracks. I think it’s gonna be called Cosmic Atomic and that’s gonna be coming out hopefully within the next 60 days, 45-60 days. Speaking with a couple labels about so can’t talk too much about it. And then I have a really awesome video that someone made for me. If you go to my website (b1music.org) you can check that out. And yeah, stayed tuned for more big things.