Welcome to MMI’s Fellow Spotlight series featuring our amazing teaching artists. Not only do MMI Fellows lend their talents to supporting and engaging Memphis youth all over the city, but they also help build and sustain our arts ecosystem through their independent projects.
Today, meet producer Roger Rowe AKA KingPin Da’ Composer! This is Roger's first year as an MMI Fellow, and we're so excited to have him on the team. He is a super talented producer with a number of projects coming out this year, so be sure to check out his Soundcloud. This year, Roger is working with MMI youth at Grandview Middle School and Central High School. Roger recently chatted with MMI about his first year as a teacher, the freedom that comes with making beats, and why music production is all about discipline.
This is my first year working with students as an MMI Fellow. In fact, this is my first teaching opportunity! It’s going pretty well so far. I'm learning a ton, taking the bumps in the road as they come along, and staying positive. But for the most part, it’s been smooth sailing.
I teach music production—showing students the ropes on how to make a beat. Music production is an area of music that hasn’t always been offered to students, and I feel like it’s needed. Especially right now, when so much of life is being lived online. The truth is, there are so many students who love music, but don’t necessarily want to play an instrument. They just want to create beats, and through that, they have an outlet to do what they love. There’s a lot of freedom in learning music production.
I’m from Memphis, born and raised. Ever since I can remember, I've been involved in music in some capacity. The earliest music memory I have is from when I was five years old with a pair of drum sticks in my hand playing drums. Most of my family either sings or plays an instrument.
I started making beats seriously around 2007 or 2008. That’s when I really just buckled down and said, "Okay, I'm going to learn how to do this and I'm going to do it the right way." At the time, I was taking classes at Southwest, including some music-related classes. I was also playing drums in local blues bands, gospel choirs, and a little jazz here and there. I kind of filled in when I was needed.
The internet, at that time, was kind of new territory for creators. I had always been somewhat tech-savvy, and, of course, always had a love of music. There was a website back then where a lot of the top producers were working. They actually made a living doing what they loved. So, that interested me, and I decided to try it out. I made some money here and there, but it wasn't about the money—it was the fact that there were more opportunities online to do what I loved from my own home. I discovered that I could reach so many cities and states outside of my own city.
What I find so powerful about creating music on the internet is that you have access to so much talent. The talent is out there, and I could relate to other creators from all over. I knew that I had found what I really wanted to do, and I really pursued it, did not deter from it. I knew it was going to be hard, but I also knew that I was going to stick with it.
Over the years, I've seen more artists and producers like myself get access to a wider audience. And I've seen more musical opportunities for independent artists and independent producers. The internet has really opened the door for a lot of us. I know a lot of people say it's harder to get noticed online, because it's so accessible. But at the same time, it gives you an opportunity to separate yourself from the pack. You have an opportunity, you have an audience. You just have to figure out what it is about your sound that’s unique. It really pushes you, because the competition is definitely out there.
I really believe it’s a great time to be a musician in Memphis. There’s no better time than right now.
When I’m working with young musicians, I listen to their concerns. Honestly, many of them are worried about the money. And I get it. But I tell them, "Look, it's good that you have a goal, and it's good as you want to make a living off of this, but one thing that you have to understand is, it takes discipline, it takes patience, it takes persistence, and it takes practice.” Now, if students follow those guidelines, then the money will come. But integrity is so important. You have to work hard every day, but eventually, the money will come.
My advice to young people who want to make a living as a producer is to challenge yourself every day. Go inside, load up those sounds, and just practice. Practice, practice, practice, practice. You get to mastery level once you complete your 10,000 hours. That's important. You have to practice every day. If you're not hands-on, think of melodies every day, or think of a rhythm every day. You have to put yourself in isolation if you want to get better—not isolated from the world, but within your creativity. It's kind of like when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. It has to make a cocoon. Similarly, you have to engulf yourself in your creative process to become that butterfly. You have to do it nonstop.
It’s all about discipline. As human beings, we learn through repetition. The more repetitive the thing is, the better chance you have to master it.
Something I love about working with young people is sitting down face-to-face with them and showing them what I do, picking their brains, and just talking to them. Discovering what their interests are, who their favorite producers are, and what genre of music they like best. For me, it’s all about meeting them where they are, and building on that foundation.
For all the benefits of the internet age, there are also drawbacks. It can be hard to keep students’ attention, especially when they’re making beats online. When it's time to learn the basic fundamentals of production and how to do it, a lot of times, students think they can just crank out a hit. But there are fundamentals that have to come first. It can be hard to teach terminology and keep students’ attention, because they just wanted to just load up a bunch of 808s and just get to work. But I get it. They're excited. So, I understand.
I also think it’s really important to try to impart some musical history, and I always want to keep it Memphis-centered. We’ll talk about Stax Records, Sun Records, Memphis Underground, and so on. I try to incorporate those elements in our lessons.
Our final project is to create that instrumental, and get it mixed. That is the endgame—to show them production, how to produce, how to make a song, how to format a song, how to sequence a song. They’ll leave the class with something tangible.
Right now, I'm working on four independent projects. My production team and I—along with LJ1S and Sunny Dizzle—are working on a follow-up of our first project, Molotov, called Molotov Two. After that, we’ll have a Christmas instrumental album coming out, featuring Christmas songs with hip-hop beats. I'm also working on an independent project with a rapper by the name of Omega Forte. It’s going to be an EP.
Eventually, I’d love to have a nonprofit working with the youth and showing them music production. That is the final endgame for me aside from, of course, winning a Grammy and an Oscar and all that. [laughs] But my dream is to give back to the youth, and get them all in on those skills. There really isn’t anything like that right now, so it’s a good opportunity. I already have a beat battle league, Let's Get Loud Memphis, and we've been around for four years. Some of the youth have participated in our events. But while those events are cool, I want to give young people something more tangible than just a beat battle league. I want to give them a real home to really hone in on who they are as producers or creators, so they can pass it on to upcoming generations.