Jordon Manswell is humble—almost to a fault. “There’s probably people making money off me right now. But I try not to even think about it too much. I try to think really positively,” he says.
We’ve been on the phone for almost an hour when I ask the Toronto producer if he’s ever had a beat stolen. He has. But Manswell isn’t keeping tabs. He reasons it’s his fault for putting his beat tapes online with no tags. Besides, he just landed his biggest placement to date on Daniel Caesar’s Freudian.
“I sent [Daniel] a voice recording of the idea I had on iMessage and he was like, ‘Yo! What is this?’ And I’m like, 'This is trash!’ And he was like, 'I have a song for this already!'”
That is, of course, the condensed version of how Caesar’s “We Find Love” began. It started as an improvised piano melody that Manswell slapped together. Then he sent it to Caesar, who passed it off to producers Matthew Burnett and Jordan Evans, who reworked the record into its final iteration. “I wasn’t even trying—it just happened like that,” Manswell explains. He sounds dismissive. And you can tell he’s trying his hardest not to come across as too boastful.
Manswell was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist and grew up heavily involved in the music community at church and in school. For fun, he started programming drums on Beatcraft and eventually made the switch to FL Studio. In 2014, he won Battle of the Beatmakers—Canada’s largest beat battle and producer competition.
Winning a beat battle is a big deal, but Manswell was worried. He didn’t want to get labeled as a “banger” producer; he aspired to do more than craft turn-up beats. So he pulled a 180 and started making beat tapes instead.
The beat tapes were surprisingly successful, racking up tens of thousands of streams online, but Manswell wasn’t making any money off his music. He’d been so worried about boxing himself in as a rapper’s producer that he’d inadvertently boxed himself in as a beat-tape maker instead. It was finally time to start making records, he thought.
DJBooth’s full conversation with Jordon Manswell, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Tell me the story of how you first fell in love with music and how they led you to become a producer.
Jordan: I just remember dressing up as Kirk Franklin when I was a kid. Me and my brother used to dress up in whatever he wore and he would take a pencil and use it as a mic. And I’d use a pencil and a marker and beat on the drums on a Kleenex box. My mom always told us, “You’re going to be involved in music somehow!” Music always hit me in a different way. And I just wanted to figure out how I could do it myself.
Kirk Franklin is a gospel singer. Did you grow up in the church community?
I’m of the Seventh Day Adventist faith. So I’ve always been around music. I went to a Seventh Day Adventist school as well and music was such a huge part of that entire experience. My cousin discovered this thing called Beatcraft, by Acoustica. It was this program where you could only do drums. I started off only making drums on the computer. And after that, we discovered FL Studio, which was still seen as a joke production platform because not a lot of people were using it. The huge software back then was still Pro Tools or Reason or something. FL Studio was still brand new to this game, but it was a good mixture of what we were using before with Beatcraft, except you could also make melodies.
So walk me through how you begin making a beat.
It’s funny because I started only programming drums but now I leave the drums for later. It’s melody first, always. Most times I’ll play the piano and just see what comes out. I think music is a really emotional process. I like to take whatever mood I’m in and put it on the canvas. So I’ll hop on the piano and then I’ll start off that way. If it sounds good and I like it I’ll continue. If not I’ll look for a sample.
How do you decide what samples to use?
I have a sample library that not a lot of people know about that I kind of keep for myself. I’ve been collecting samples for over four or five years. When I was younger I liked to go shopping so I could Shazam music. There are certain songs I wouldn’t be exposed to if I stayed inside my house and looked on YouTube. It’s more fun to go out and go to the mall or go downtown or something or hear something on the street and say, “Hey! That song is cool!” Then I’ll take out my phone and Shazam it. Sometimes I don’t even use the sample right away. So in the event I don’t feel like playing something on the piano, I go through those samples and it ends up working out. Before, you would go to a record store and look through the crates to see what catches your eye. The 2000s version is using Shazam. It’s the new crate digging.
You said when you start a beat it all stems from a mood. Is there one beat, in particular, that you crafted from sadness?
“We Find Love” by Daniel Caesar came about when I was sad. It was a kind of gloomy day. I was feeling a little lazy. I didn’t go to work or school that day. I was kind of just there. My girl was in Romania for an extended amount of time, and the time difference was bothering me. I was working at the Apple store in Square One Mall in Mississauga. I was going to school at the University of Toronto, so my days were usually busy. There was a lot going on at that time, so I put that all on the piano. Even though I can’t play very well. I love just going on there and laying it out. What’s the worst that can happen, right?
So it all started with a piano jingle because you were sad?
Music is such a collaborative effort. And it’s really important to know your strengths. If you understand that you’re going to be so much more okay with making mistakes. “We Find Love” was just an idea that I sent to Daniel and he loved it. His guys Matthew Burnett and Jordan Evans went in, replayed it and made it sound really cool. They’re real musicians. I started the idea—the bop. And they took it and ran with it and made it sound even better than I could have.
What does it mean to have a record like that on Freudian?
It’s so much more special to have a record on that album because me and Daniel came up together. Our families know each other very well. His parents and my parents come from the same church and come from the same religion. We’re doing music full-time and really going hard and showing people that there are more possibilities outside of just performing at church.
It’s really inspiring to see him doing what he’s doing and still bringing me along for the ride. He sampled Donnie McClurkin’s “We Fall Down” on the record, which is a gospel song that all of us know and is such an important song in our faith. So to have it be on a record Daniel performed at the Junos and stuff like that… it’s just like, “Wow! That stuff is real!” So that beat is the most important to me.
It’s such a good record but I don’t think it’s finished growing yet. It was so organic how the whole thing happened. He actually wrote that song before I sent him the beat. We were texting and he said, “Send me some ideas!” Even though he has his set team of producers—Jordan Evans and Matthew Burnett, who do literally everything for him—he still reached out and said, “Let’s keep creating regardless!” I was actually one of the guys who introduced him to his team right now. So we always have that love for each other. That’s just our relationship.
You started your career by releasing a series of beat tapes. Why did you decide to do that?
It came from studying the game. J Dilla put out EPs, and other people did that as well, but the reason I did it was because I won Battle of the Beatmakers. After you win a competition like that you kind of get labeled as the “beatmaker”—you’re supposed to make super hard beats that make the crowd go wild. But coming from the extensive music background I come from, that’s not all I am. So I had to find a way to show people—this isn’t exactly me. Yes, it is a part of my artistry, but it’s important for me to show that I can do more.
At the time I’d just gotten into U of T, and my name didn’t hold as much weight as I wanted it to. So I didn’t have a lot of clientele, but after the Battle of the Beatmakers, most of the people hitting me up would be rappers looking for a certain type of beat. So there was a disconnect when we were communicating because they’d be like, “I want that!” and I’d be trying to give them this. But it wasn’t exactly what they thought I could provide.
There were concepts for the tapes—it wasn’t just me putting together beats and putting it out there. I have a story with each of them. Because that’s what producers do—producers put together albums. Producers can cohesively make the decisions of what sticks on the album. I figured I’d have to do that to show people this is what it is. It was also to get my name out there too so I could get a more extensive range of clientele.
I never thought of it that way. Winning a beat battle kind of boxes you into being a “banger” producer.
A huge part of my come up was those tapes, because people wouldn’t take my work seriously. I wouldn’t be able to send beats and just have people use them. For some other producers, they could easily just make a good beat and then people would use it. People weren’t using my beats though and I couldn’t understand it. These same beats I put out on these tapes were beats I sent out to people before. And they didn’t respond to it. So I said, “Hey, Let me use this to my advantage and benefit off it.” And now people are in my email wanting those same beats that people passed on. I knew I needed to get my name out there somehow. It’s not gonna happen through these guys—guys who are gonna take my beats and possibly not even give me credit and possibly not even pay me and possibly sweep it under the rug. So I decided to use the internet. I went to school for communications, which also had a huge emphasis on marketing. So I decided to put out my own stuff to see what the world thinks and to see if they think it’s good. That’s how I got my name out and it worked.
How do you assert your worth? And have you ever had anyone steal your beats or not give you due compensation?
That happens to me every day—especially with me having beat tapes out. The beats are just out there and there are no tags so you can kind of just take it. I’ve definitely heard people take my beats and release songs without notice or credit. But I’m gonna get mine regardless so it’s not a thing where it’s really going to hurt me. I think very literally.
Back in the day, I used to charge like basically pennies for beats. If I didn’t get paid it’s not one of those things where I’m gonna pull up to their house or make a big thing out of it or tweet them all day. All that does is make me look salty and bitter. This stuff is going to happen and it happens to the biggest of producers. That stuff never goes away. People are always going to undervalue you or not compensate you properly, but the most important thing is that you value your own work without letting anybody tell you what you’re worth.
I’m still figuring out this business as I go, so I don’t have all the answers, but I do know most of the time if you value yourself people will reciprocate that energy.