Many of our RRF students are already familiar with our livestreamed, weekly hangout series “Connected,” hosted by DJ IZ and Cloie Wyatt Taylor, offering helpful advice to viewers along with weekly tips on job openings (or “grind opps,” as IZ calls them). DJ IZ also happens to be a multi-Grammy-winning producer, part of the sibling production team Avila Brothers, whose credits include El DeBarge, Chaka Khan, and several tracks on Usher’s iconic R&B album Raymond v. Raymond, among others.
If you haven’t become a viewer yet, you’ll want to sign up to watch “Connected” THIS MONDAY, (January 23 at 11:00 AM PST). On the program, DJ IZ will be laying out the details of a unique scholarship opportunity where “Connected” viewers can apply for a $10,000 scholarship to attend the RRF school of their choice!
In the interview below, DJ IZ reflects on how he got into the industry and the importance of mentors in his own life, and he pulls back the curtain on how “Connected” came about.
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RRF: So tell us a little bit about how you and your brother got started in music.
My dad was a keyboard guy, and the guy who had all the gigs, and had his own band…He would make me and my brother go up on stage when the band would break, and we would go up and play… So the great thing was that without even noticing, I mean, we just kind of overcame being nervous in front of people…And because my dad always had equipment around the house we slowly but surely started playing with drum machines, you know, turntables, and other stuff and just eventually started making our own music.
RRF: So how did this turn into your break into the music industry, and what were some of the challenges?
So my brother actually had his first recording deal at the age of 13, which was to RCA Records. My brother was 13, so you figure we started playing when I was, you know, 6 years old. He was eight. His ability to just pick up any instrument even at that age, I mean, he was like a genius…My dad had shopped his music around, and RCA ended up signing him. So it literally went from 0 to 100 really fast for us. And through that process, I mean, that was like our real introduction for us to the industry. You know, being on RCA, then doing a world tour. And that demand and that pressure, now performing in front of thousands of people, now you’re performing your own songs that you wrote, the whole nine. It definitely caused us to learn really, really fast…
So when his career took off, I then, you know, took the back seat and continued to polish my musicianship skills and creativity, songwriting, producing. And then, you know, at the age of almost 14, and we had just worked on another record for my brother, which was going to be an independent record….Terry Lewis happened to call in, and he heard our music in the background. And he asked the mastering engineer at the time, Brian, ‘Hey man, what’s that playing in the back?’ And he said, ‘Just some young kids, you know?’…And Terry Lewis said, ‘Hey man, are they looking for a deal?’… And two weeks later, me and my brother were in Minneapolis with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis…Learning from Terry Lewis on the way you put a song together, the melody, the lyrics, I mean it was just, it was like going to college. And through that process we built an incredible relationship with them, and you know, Terry Lewis kind of became our, like our godfather, our mentor
. And for me personally, that’s when I kind of began to really come into my own as far as my own songwriting, my own producing.
RRF: Let’s talk about producing for a minute. What does your job look like as a music producer?
Everybody kind of has a different view on what producing is, especially just the new generation of creators, you know? Some people think it’s a beat maker, some people think it’s, you know, a business person who knows music…And for me being around guys like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, or Babyface, or guys at that caliber, or even with Quincy Jones, what I learned was that a producer doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a musician, songwriter, or a beat maker, what have you. A producer’s most valuable component is being somebody who can look at an artist, understand that artist, understand what they’re great at, understand what they need to be better, take the vision of that artist, and put people around that vision. When I say put people around it, I mean, if you’re working on an album then you’re going to put together an album for that artist, you go get the right bass player. You get the right keyboardist. You get the right guitar player. You get the right songwriter. And you put this amazing team together and you create music that complements that artist’s artistry. And first and foremost, you start something, and you finish it all the way to the finish line. To me, that’s what a producer does.
RRF: You mentioned Terry Lewis as a mentor. What role has mentoring played in your development, and what does mentoring mean to you?
I always looked at a mentor being able to give me so much more than a teacher because I think an experience of a mentor is completely different than an experience of a teacher. When I’ve sat down with teachers, the most they can give me is what a book has given them. When I’ve sat down with mentors, the most they can give me is what they’ve actually have done and have created and have, you know, put the mileage in as a professional musician or, you know, being a musical director, writing a song that has had thousands of plays in a region, or has sold X amount of records. To me, the experience has always been different. And I think through the mentors I’ve had throughout my life, I mean, it’s completely different than what I would’ve gotten from a teacher, you know? I’ve been in rooms with Norman Whitfield, who wrote most of Motown’s biggest records. And to sit in a room with him and have him tell me what his formula for songwriting is, you know, I can look at that and take in that information, and say, ‘Now this isn’t the guy who’s just talking about what he read in a book. This is a guy who’s done it over and over and over again.’ So it’s a completely different experience.
RRF: So let’s talk a little about the show “Connected.” How did you become part of this, and how would you describe the mission of the program?
“Connected” Hosts DJ IZ and Cloie Wyatt Taylor
DJ IZ: Well, “Connected” actually came about–it was an idea that me and Brian [Kraft] sat down and kind of just brainstormed. We just wanted to take his experience and my experience and kind of put this model together of reeducating the next generation of creators, entrepreneurs, who were into film, music, radio, engineering, and just make it exciting and make it very informational, and very inspiring. And we came up with the name “Connected.” And you know, the overall goal of this show is to not just educate, not just share my experiences, but to kind of reintroduce the fundamentals and values of what it takes from the very beginning, from your craft to showing up on time, to being able to execute, to be able to be the one that’s, you know, the first one in in the morning and the last one to leave. Just the fundamentals of presentation, work ethic, the grind, and kind of just bundle it all together and refine it for a community of folks who are looking to do what I do, or looking to figure out how to jumpstart a career path in such fields, and make it exciting, and make it very conversational, make it very intimate…
One of the voids I’ve noticed in this culture is the lack of understanding for work ethic. And you know, coming into this thing with no self-entitlement whatsoever, but more or less, willing to be a sponge, and reintroducing those habits, you know, into this culture again…My overall goal with “Connected” is to just share the information that I’ve been given, and do it in a way that’s real…Like when you get on “Connected,” you feel like you’re talking directly with me. There’s no hype. There’s no smoke and mirrors. And I’m just laying it out, you know, and I’m showing you what my day to day looks like…showing people what sacrifice means in this world, you know?…And I enjoy it…It does so much for me, just mentally and just in my spirit alone, being able to be on the ground with them and be a part of that process.
NOTE! Don’t forget to sign in to “Connected” live stream this Monday, January 23 at 11:00 AM PST to hear details of how you can apply for the Connected Scholarship Contest! Sign up is free! If you miss the show live, you can still catch it in the archives here.
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