Until recently, even as a lifelong music lover, I didn't really understand how a song actually make it from the studio to the radio. If I heard a song by someone like Rihanna, I sort of assumed it was written by her or her producer, that in some way it came from their imaginations. People helped, sure, but it was their ideas that spawned the tune. Right?
What I've learned since is that a pop song released in 2015 is typically made by something that looks more like a movie production team than a singer/songwriter duo. The producer is at the center of this process, but there are others involved: songwriters, A&R people, label heads, demo singers, and session musicians.
I spoke with Ivan Corraliza (aka Ill Factor) who has produced hit songs for artists like Justin Timberlake, Ginuwine, Matiyahu, Kevin Rudolf, Cobra Starship, Cody Simpson, Jason Derulo, Macy Gray, and Groove Armada. He's part owner in a Miami studio with legendary producer Jimmy Douglass and is the founder of Beat Academy music production school.
As someone who spends every day working inside the music industry as well as being an incredible songwriter and producer, Ivan is the perfect person to walk us through the process of how a song gets made and becomes a "hit."
Adam Foster: How did you get involved in pop music production? You originally started working under Timbaland and Jimmy Douglass, right?
Ivan Corraliza: Before I started producing music for pop artists, I began producing and DJ'ing drum 'n' bass at events in Miami. I met Jimmy Douglass while working at a local music store, and he was interested in looking for someone to remix some of the projects he was mixing. I had no idea who he was at the time, but I knew it was a big opportunity, so I put my best foot forward and cranked out the best possible remix I could deliver. It was well received, and that led me working with Jimmy and the Timbaland camp. So I did what anyone would do, I quit my job and became a full time music producer.
How does your production process usually start? Do you typically write a song or create a production first? Once it's done, is it then shopped around to different artists, or is each song created specifically for an artist or a project?
Writing great songs is all about understanding your strengths and weaknesses. I have always leaned more on the production side of things like beat making, sound design, and melody writing so thats where I usually start.
My weakness is writing lyrics, so I'll partner up with great songwriters I know, and together all the pieces of the puzzle come together. Once I have a record I am happy with, I will make the calls and shop the record around in hopes of landing it on a major artist. Very rarely do I go in with a focus and force myself to write for a specific artist. I find that method to be very stressful and I end up uninspired.
How do you decide the meaning or message of each song? In my experience, it seems that a lyricist may change the lyrics around to fit the song, but it seems like the mood of the song is already there in the production.
That's why music is so powerful, in how it can express those moods and emotions without using any words. I usually know what mood I am looking for when I have a specific artist in mind. The artist or the A&R usually gives me some idea of the "statement" they want to make with this particular song.
Once you have an outline of the song done, do you typically send it to a songwriter? I know you do your own vocals for the demo versions.
I have gotten used to recording my own vocals for demos. I feel like nobody else really gets across the conviction and attitude the vocals should sound like other than myself. The most important thing I've learned in my years of working in the industry is just to always hit record. It does not matter how it sounds, the most important thing is to capture the moment of inspiration. Once I have a melody in place, I will send the idea over to songwriters to start filling in lyrics.
After the lyrics are written and the production is done, do you use a demo singer on the track or send it to the artist?
It usually comes down to the relationship I have with either the artist or their managers and A&R. If I have a great and open relationship with them, I can send rough ideas with my vocals. As general advice for producers, I strongly suggest using professional demo vocals for all of their tracks. Find someone who can sing well enough to get the idea across. You only get one shot at getting someone's attention with any song you show them.
Does your creative process get affected by deadlines or input from labels and A&R people? How can you avoid letting these pressure affect the production of the song?
Sometimes it leaves me with more frustration than anything. When there are too many "middlemen" involved, things get lost in translation and nobody is really certain what the artist wants. I usually get the typical "we need hits" response which is a standard industry answer, but still does not really provide any real creative direction.
Let's say the song gets picked up by an artist for released as a single or an album, do you get involved with the release and marketing of the song or leave that up to the label?
When it is an artist signed to a major record label like Interscope, Warner, Sony, etc. they usually handle that part. Lately, I have been working with a lot of independent artists who handle their own releases, tours, media, and more. With those artists, I'll work with them to create a strategy for growing a fan base by using the right type of branding and marketing.
Have any advice for up and coming songwriters, artists, and producers?
Absolutely. Find your niche. Know who you are as an artist, and get ready to put in the hard work. Just because we can access music so easily now, that does not mean you will access fame and fortune easily too. Get some accountability, find someone you can have mentor you and give you the right proper guidance you need.
If anyone is interested in working with you, where should they go?
Anyone who wants to know the ins and outs to making their own music and making it in the industry can check out Beat Academy. I provide the coaching someone will need to learn how to create their sound, master their craft, and achieve the success they are looking for. I have a heart for seeing people live out their dreams in this field because I have been very blessed to live out mine.
What projects are you working on right now?
I'm working with JR Rotem on some records for the rock group 5 seconds to summer, Natalie La Rose, and also just got a record done with Iggy Azalea that'll be out soon. I have a new track coming out with Kygo and Sia that I'm very excited about as well.
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