When Wiz Khalifa was 16 years old, he interned for Eric "E. Dan" Dan—one of three producers who make up Pittsburgh-based music production and engineering squad ID Labs—in exchange for free recording sessions.
Almost immediately, Dan recognized Khalifa's talent, but he knew that, with guidance and support, he could really become something special. 11 years later, Khalifa is sitting on 26 RIAA certifications, 10 GRAMMY nominations and an estimated net worth of $45 million.
In a new interview with BeatStars, Dan talked about his early work with Khalifa, developing a relationship that has led to more than 75 production credits over the past decade-plus, and how young producers can sidestep the full-time "hustle" by aligning with young, promising talent before they blow up.
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"For younger producers coming up, just finding somebody who is giving you something back musically, that you can jump in there with and make music, you might come up with something different, or something new or something great," Dan told BeatStars host DJ Pain 1. "As opposed to looking at it like a hustle all the time. If it's what you do and it's how you eat, you've gotta have the hustle aspect to it, but you can't forget the music part and doing it in a way that you're really enjoying it with somebody who you feel like is bringing something to the table."
For a young producer (or artist), finding a young artist (or producer) who believes in your talent and is willing to play the long game with no promise of a payoff down the line isn't easy, but thanks to social media, everyone is literally a click away from the start of a healthy, potentially long-lasting working relationship. Long before Twitter's rise as the ultimate breeding ground for collaboration between artists and producers, there was MySpace, which is where Macklemore first connected with his one-time production partner Ryan Lewis.
Not a fan of social media? That's cool, there are plenty of MC and producer unions that derived from mutual friends or local connections: Drake and 40, Chief Keef and Young Chop, Russ and Russ, the list goes on.
As Dan pointed out, with the state of the music industry always in flux, "hustling" to get placements with established artists isn't a practice that hungry producers should completely avoid. At the same time, though, if the key to making great music is enjoyment—and sending off a batch of beats and waiting for a response isn't what any producer would deem "enjoyable"—running the rat race cannot be the only approach taken.
Long story short, find yourself a talented new friend.