Most of us are familiar with exceptions to the rule, "work hard and you'll get to where you need to be." We know about the Steve Jobs, the Mark Zuckerbergs, and the Bill Gates. But today we want to bring to your attention living proof that adhering to that rule can give you the best shot at achieving your lofty dreams. That proof lies in Bionik. The multi-talented musician and engineer went through the grueling path of grinding his way up from coffee retriever to an internationally respected and sought after producer. Bionik didn't take any shortcuts, nor was he the recipient of any heaven sent interventions. Instead, he worked hard and got to where he needed to be.
Stefon "Bionik" Taylor grew up in Minneapolis and had a close relationship with music. His dad got him hooked on P-Funk, James Brown, "the Philly sound," and Reggae, all of which he states influenced his musical perspective. His first memory tied to music is hearing Bob Marley's "Catch A Fire" when he was 5. His dad continued the "cool dad" streak by introducing a young Bionik to RUN-DMC and The Fat Boys, which led to discovery of Public Enemy and BDP. In his own words, "This was the beginning of a connection with Hip-Hop and bass driven music that still informs a big part of my sound today."
Bionik's early love of music paved the way to immerse himself into a sonic oriented world. He never received formal musical training but found his way around instruments by being an "ear cat." He kept company with musicians who were better than him, allowing him to ask a lot of questions and practice in jam sessions constantly:
"I wanted to learn how to play guitar, how to play drums, keys, sing, record songs and generally create any weird sounds that I could with the gear that I had accumulated. Music for me is a constant learning process that is fed through collaboration and continuous re-invention."
He followed through and started playing guitar and bass at 12. By the time that he was 17, he understood that music was his calling so he moved to Chicago to work out of a studio. He felt the need to be in a bigger city in order to grow, and he was right. That same year, he also created his first beats. They were the result of his obsession for making sounds and not having enough musicians around in the studio at 3:00 AM. So, he took it upon himself to learn how to play whatever instruments and parts he needed to complete a piece of music. Being someone with a natural ability to learn by ear, he sharpened that skill as well as become more confident in his perspective on music by watching and listening to the other musicians who came through:
"I have never been short of ideas, or opinions. As I watched producers in the studios I worked in, I realized that being opinionated could be a strong suit. I had always told my bandmates to tune up, interjected ideas for breaks, or told a horn player how a line should be played. What annoyed my high school bandmates and friends, turned out to be valuable skills for a producer."
But perhaps the most important aspect of his time at the Chicago studio was his mentor, producer, engineer, and musician, Peter Mokran (R. Kelly, Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera). Bionik would study up, learning the inner workings of engineering, sound design, and production: "Recording and 'comping' vocals for R. Kelly was an invaluable lesson in making an artist feel comfortable, while at the same time trying to pull the best performance out of them. Also, saving and cataloging sounds (I have over 20,000 sounds now) for my productions became a routine that I still do today." He also picked up some invaluable wisdom from a genuine legend: "I learned a lot about fried rice with tons of sweet and sour sauce from R. Kelly."
In 1998, Bionik was in Boston to jam alongside a Reggae band that played with touring artists from Jamaica. This experience would make an indelible mark of Reggae on his music and his "use of Backwoods cigars." After being an in house engineer and producer at a local studio in Roxbury called Murder One, he headed out west again, but this time it was Los Angeles to advance his career even further. For seven years, he made new connections but still had New York in the back of his mind. He finally made his way to Brooklyn and moved back to Minneapolis after "a tumultuous and expensive one year stay.
It goes without saying that his travels within the states have helped develop his style today. But it goes both ways when he collaborates with a new artist. He not only tries to mold his sound to the particular artist but also pushes the artist to go outside of his/her comfort zone "in the hope that we both discover something new about our music." Since his inspirations draw from all genres he wants to be able to dip into all of them as a producer:
"I love any music with bass: Reggae, Hip-Hop, Trap, Funk, EDM, Juke, but I also feed my brain with Jazz, R&B, Bluegrass, Pop and anything else that can keep my attention for more than 30 seconds."
As a result, Bionik's production is as varied as the artists he's been in the studio with. He has the ability to morph from experimental Hip-Hop to festival ready Dance music to his trademark hybrid of Moombahton and Trap at will. When we asked him if he foresaw any issues with the rising trend of blending genres he replied in the negative: "Every new genre has been a recombination of existing genres and sounds. I think that some combination of Trap, Hip-Hop, Tropical and EDM will be a prevalent sound in the near future. Polyrhythmic, bass driven electronic dance music."
Live, Bionik would consider his shows more of a performance instead of a DJ set: "I am actually not a DJ. I can blend records and scratch, but I focus on doing live interactive arrangement and remixing of my own original productions. I wouldn't disrespect real DJs by claiming to be one." Here's a sneak peek at how he prepares for his live shows:
- I bounce separate stems of the drums, bass, melodic elements, EFX and vocals.
- Then I bring them into Ableton and warp the individual stems.
- Next I create a scene with all the clips. Once I do this for numerous songs, they can be combined and rearranged in countless ways to create new versions, remixes and transitions on the fly.
"Doing live breaks and playing drum sounds, live dub effects, floating acapellas over new tracks… It's like bringing the studio to the stage. When I prepare a set, I choose songs based on genre, tempo, and then key to try and create the most seamless transitions and changes between songs. I want my sets to be the perfect soundtrack for that time and place."
We couldn't let Bionik go without sharing some of his expertise for new producers aiming to follow in his footsteps. He obliged with invaluable career and business advice:
"My number one piece of advice for a budding producer would be to build as many original, sample free compositions as possible. The more you create, the better you will get. Once you have completed 50 tracks/songs, you will not only start to define your personal style, but you will have a way to solicit artists, license your work and start building your catalog of intellectual property. As a musician, the publishing/writers/masters rights are our only tangible assets. Build your legacy."
1. What is your favorite movie of all time?Alien. I'm an H.R. Giger nut.
2. What is your current set up at home?Live rig set up: Macbook Pro, Ableton Live, an SP-404 sampler, a Pioneer mixer and one CDJ (for scratching), and Roland drum pads.
Production set up: PowerMac, Pro Tools, Nord/Moog/Akai synths, Roland drum pads, found instruments.
3. What's your favorite record of all time?Hard question. If I had to choose only one I would pick Pangea by Miles Davis.