In case you haven’t been following, Empire is Channel 4’s outlandish and somewhat hilarious series following the exploits of a major hip-hop record label based in New York.
The plot revolves around ghetto-to-riches rap sensation Lucious who built Empire Records up from nothing, and various members of his family who are constantly vying to take it over in some way or another. Imagine JR. from Dallas crossed with Jay-Z and you’re most of the way there.
It’s incredibly hammy and overblown which is undoubtedly what makes it so watchable, but at the same time the music is directed by hip-hop heavyweight Timbaland. He’s produced Jay-Z, Missy Eliott, Kanye West and Justin Timberlake to name but a few.
Now in it’s second series, label owner Lucious gets banged up in jail where he meets some bro’s and decides to release a ‘joint from the joint’. Lucious doesn’t have the luxury of his madison avenue recording studio behind bars, so one of the guards sneaks him in a Macbook Pro, Akai MPK, Keith McMillen QuNeo controller and a mic.
Due to the turnaround of duty guards, Lucious and his homies only have 60 minutes to get down his track. It’s at this point that the similarities between Empire and the BeatCamp workshops we run become clear – a team of producers who haven’t met before are thrown together in a completely different environment, with basic portable equipment and given a fixed deadline to make a tune.
We haven’t started running BeatCamp from Wormwood Scrubs just yet, but it’s definitely on the roadmap after witnessing the creative benefits to be had. The added pressure of death-row is undoubtedly the defining factor that helps Lucious write a fully produced hit record in a broom-cupboard in just one take.
Joking aside, you need to start experimenting with these four ingredients in your own creative process:
- Escape your normal studio environment.
- Work with collaborators.
- Limit the tools you have.
- Give yourself a strict deadline.
Combining these will help you focus, finish better music and be inspired in completely new ways.