Rick Beato has taken YouTube by storm, especially in the music production community, since he started his YouTube channel a few years ago. He has some really popular segments, such as What Makes This Song Great and various production techniques of famous music producers.
Rick also has a background in teaching, which he makes good use of in his advanced music theory videos, and being a music producer. Rick co-wrote the hit song Carolina by Parmalee which sold 1 million copies when it came out in 2013.
In this interview, Rick talks about how he started out, how having a good ear for pitch can improve your engineer skills, the difference between hearing frequencies compared to intervals, the future of music and so much more in this wide-ranging interview.
You started out as a musician, studying jazz and classical music. How did you become a producer and an engineer with your own studio?
A friend of mine had asked me to work on the melodies on a couple of songs and at the same time, he was making a record with his band in his basements so I went over and helped him out. They asked if I wanted to produce the rest of the record and I said, “Yea, I guess, but I don’t know anything about production”. I had done a lot of recording in the past but I didn’t have any technical knowledge of recording so I had to learn that all on my own afterwards. I taught myself how to engineer and mix and after 10 years, with some successful records, I bought my house and put my studio in it.
When was this?
I started making records in 2005 and because of Pro Tools and the Digidesign Digi 001 interface, which was the first system people started using at home to make records, I bought the house and all the gear and started doing it myself. Also, the record business really took a dive at the beginning of the 2000’s, financially, so I knew that there was not going to be the same budgets any more.
What did you do up to that point? Was it solely as a musician and a teacher?
I was teaching up till 1992 and from 1992 till 2000 I was playing in bands. I played in a band called Billionaire and we were signed to London-Sire Records which eventually got bought by Universal Records.
You spoke about why you should never give up on your goals and how that related to your goal of studying jazz guitar at college. Why didn’t you give up? Were there any specific techniques you used to stay determined and focused to reach your goal?
I don’t like to fail at anything and this has kept me going at times when it was really difficult. I’m a really determined person and when it comes to learning things and what my goals are I work as hard as I can to make them happen. I never had to be motivated to do things, I have always been self-motivated.
So, your way of reaching your goals was purely working hard?
One of my friends calls it brute force and that I do everything by brute force. I never take the easy way to do things, whether it’s me not using the shortcuts in Pro Tools or Final Cut Pro, I get the stuff done by share will.
Your video with your son and his incredible perfect pitch went viral a while back. What are some of the best techniques for training your ear to obtain a really good musical ear? Can this skill improve your engineering skills as well?
There are three kinds of “an ear” that you can have, perfect pitch, relative pitch and then there are people who are just tone deaf. Most people don’t fall into the tone-deaf category and most people can learn relative pitch if they practise. Only babies can learn and retain perfect pitch, not adults. However, there might be some adults who discover they have perfect pitch when they are adults but they would have always had it since they were babies. If the pitch is really important to a language, such as tonal languages, you have a 30% incidence of perfect pitch.
When it comes to pitch and engineering, like myself, I don’t have perfect pitch but I have a really good pitch memory and relative pitch so I use music theory and engineering together. For example, if I hear a woofyness on the note E which is at 82 Hz or at 41 Hz I know where to EQ exactly, sometimes I will even EQ and octave above or below. Furthermore, I find that there’s a lot of masking that’s going on if you don’t record parts properly, for example, you can have some strange anomalies in the snare drum that will be out of tune with the track so you need to know where to EQ them out.
So, having a good ear for pitch is really important for engineering and can be utilised to a great degree.
There’s a big difference trying to learn to hear different intervals compared to learning different frequencies being boosted. Do you know why that is?
Because there are multiple steps involved in the process. The concept of intervals has a certain complexity to it and you have to know music theory to understand intervals. It’s also easier knowing that your snare needs 7 kHz to hear the snare wires or 1.2 kHz to hear the crack. It takes much more time to learn to improve hearing intervals and learning relative pitch.
Also, the concept of intervals is a bit esoteric because it involves particular names and the same note can be named in multiple ways which to the ear sound the same, such as diminished fifth and augmented fourth, or augmented 2nd and a minor 3rd, they all sound the same but are named differently.
Recently there has been some talks on your YouTube channel about the current state of pop music, how it’s written and that much of the music sound the same, do you have any tips for people who’d like to break out of this and create their own sound?
I recently did a video called Chord Substitution For Pop Songs and one of the reasons I did that was for this exact reason. It’s to show people what some of the other possibilities are instead of sticking to Major or Minor chords. In this video, I show some other types of chords you can use and substitute to, such as a Minor 11 chord or a Major 7 11# chord. I also give examples of songs that actually use these kinds of chords, for example, the Minor 11 chord and the song Clarity by Zedd, it starts on a Bb Minor 11 chord, not a Bb Minor chord and this is one of the reasons why the melody sits so well. It uses hipper chords than you would usually use.
Do you have any other tips or new ideas for people who like to make a living doing music?
For people to make a living in music there are many different ways, some of which never occurred to me, such as YouTube or being a music producer. I was a jazz teacher when I was in my 20’s and I never listened to Rock or Pop music back then. If you would have told me when I was 25 that I would be a music producer I would have said, “What, I don’t even know how to plug in a microphone”. The further I got into my career as a producer I found that the more different hats you can wear the better, for example, if you are a producer you need to be able to engineer and mix. You need to be able to play every instrument, program synths and be able to be the whole band if you need to. You also need to know how to use social media.
Looking at the current state of music, do you think it’s going to change or are we going to keep getting more of the same?
There are all these micro-genres that people get into and music just get’s chopped up into so many sub-genres now. It used to be a million sub-genres of metal but now there’s also many sub-genres of EDM, Rap and Hip-hop.
It’s also difficult for movements to happen when you have this stratification of music and it’s difficult to get any movement behind a group of artist that are similar in any way, like how it was in the past, such as 80’s was the Hair-Metal era, 90’s was the Grunge era then in the early 2000’s it was the Nu-Metal era.
Also, if you check the charts on Spotify almost everything is Hip-hop or Pop, there’s almost no Rock music and I see it staying like that.
What has been your hardest decision as a producer?
Probably quitting. Leaving production and focusing on my YouTube channel was difficult because I have been a producer longer than I have done anything else and even though my channel involves talking about production I don’t have artists in here every day like I used to. I worked for years doing 6 days a week and having artists in for months at a time making records.
As a producer, the hardest thing was choosing the right projects. Sometimes you would get an artists to work with and there’s nothing special but you find these small things that are amazing about them which has the potential of becoming something. That’s what you need to be able to find and see in the talent.
What are you looking for in an artist and how can you see that an artist has a certain potential?
I personally look for people who have originally sounding voices because anything else can be changed, such as lyrics or melodies but you can’t change a persons voice. Those are what I gravitate towards, people who are great singers. Doesn’t matter if it’s Pop, Rock or Country, all the successful projects I have done have had phenomenal singers.
Do you have a favourite failure in the studio, as in failure that set you up for later success?
I did a record a few years ago with an unsigned artist named Owen Beverly, a 19-year-old singer-songwriter. He ended up not getting a record deal but we made an incredible EP which I ended up getting a lot of other projects from. It was a failure because he couldn’t get a record deal because he couldn’t pull off the song live but the record did incredibly well and got me a lot of work.
There are a lot of records I worked on that failed commercially but were very successful in getting people to work with me because they liked the sound of them.
How did you deal with that setback with for example Owen? Have you had that situation happen to you any other times?
Yes, many times. I have a lot of bands getting a record deal that I have worked with. Probably around 25 bands/artists that I have discovered and developed that eventually got signed to major record label. However, very few of them got successful and many times it was because the artist couldn’t find the right manager and didn’t make the right decisions. Some of the best projects I have worked on got signed but then failed and that’s tough to see and very disheartening.
Looking at the other side of the coin, do you have any moments where thought that everything was great?
Probably the biggest one was working with Parmalee. I wrote a song with them called Carolina in 2007 which didn’t sound like any other of their other songs because they were a metal band, but 6 years later the emailed me out of the blue saying, “Hey, do you remember that song we wrote together called Carolina?”, and I thought, “No”. They said they had just got signed and that it will be their next single. They cut it as a country song, which it always had been, it went number 1 and sold a million copies.
Could you tell that it would be as big as it got during the session?
No, it’s total luck. There are so many people involved in this decision-making process to get a hit song. There’s not one person with a vision anymore like there used to be. In the old days, you could have a talented A&R guy that might have a lot of say, such as Gary Gersh that was at Geffen Records who in the early 90’s signed bands such as Nirvana and Counting Crows. You also had Micheal Goldstone that signed Pearl Jam and Rage Against The Machines. Those people would have a knack for finding things and if you got signed by them you had a good shot at getting your record released.
Do these people still exist, the ones who go out to scout bands?
Not really. Nowadays, people find things online that have got a reaction, something that might have a few million views on YouTube and things that do well on social media. Those are the things that tend to get signed nowadays.
For a beginner looking to learn more about music theory, could you recommend any books or videos that are easy to understand?
I have my own book called The Beato Book that I sell which starts out with the basic of music theory, such as intervals, how to build chords, scales and how to improvise.
Let me know in the comments what you think of this interview and share some of your own thoughts on the future of the music industry!