016: Conrad Clifton, Music Producer
Conrad Clifton, Backstage, 2015

016: Conrad Clifton, Music Producer

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Welcome to Notes on Doing, conversations with people who love what they do.

Our next NODcast episode goes to Conrad Clifton. Conrad is a music producer whose sounds feel a mixture between hip-hop and electro. He has five incredible albums out, and his fifth titled “If I Were Me” just launched Friday.

Here’s what Conrad had to say about music being a language, who his music is for, and the virtue of fearlessness.

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Conrad: Working… I have been nonstop working on my EP finishing it up. So mixing… mastering. That’s what I’ve been doing all day today. We went to breakfast this morning, but… my focus is finishing this EP. And I think I might be done. I might be done. So I’m very excited. I need to listen through again and make sure but, ah… it’s crazy. This one is a lot different. It’s more. It’s more than I’ve done before. It’s deeper. So. That’s what I’ve been working on.

Jenna: What do you mean by deeper?

Conrad: Are we going? [Laughs]

Jenna: Yeah, we’re going.

Conrad: Oh wow…

Deeper… The sounds that I’ve used, the sequencing of the songs… just the changes in mood, in just a single song, there’s just a little bit more to it than maybe there was before, just a little bit more. My mixing and masterings, they’ve gotten better. You feel everything and you hear everything in the mix. You could hear it before but now it’s just getting a little bit better. Maybe I’m the only one that can notice it, but yeah.

It’s… I don’t know. I would love to play something for you, but yeah we’ll get to that. I got some live instrumentation on this one, some guitar and it’s just I don’t know, it’s something… It takes me to another place. I hope it does that for everybody else too.

…I’m excited.

Jenna:  I’ve never asked you how you got started in music.

Conrad: How did I get started? I feel I’ve always been doing some form of music. When I was, I don’t know, in grade school, I would sing in the choir in the chorus, school chorus or whatever you want to call it. They had me singing at church but I was too shy so I didn’t do that very long. So I got out of that and my parents put me in the piano lessons when I was about seven years old.

I’ve been doing music seems like forever. My parents always tell me the story that when I was a baby, I would get fussy and cry, whatever, but they could try to rock me, they could try to do all these kinds of things. The only thing that would shut me up was music. They would play some 70’s soul, soul R&B stuff like Al Green, Ohio Players, stuff like that. That is what they say was the only thing that would calm me down.

I’ll always remember that.

What got me started in doing what I do now is I’ve been in love with hip-hop for so long. I started rapping when I was 15 and I started making beats when I was 18. That’s what got me into making music was hip-hop. Wanting to rap and needing music to rap to. That’s what really got me started.

Jenna: What were your lyrics about then? I know that a lot of your stuff now is mostly instrumentation no?

Conrad: Yeah, everything is instrumentation now for me. It’s interesting that you say that, because I use to go back and forth between which one I loved more. Rapping or producing. Sometimes it would be one, sometimes it’d be the other, and producing won out obviously. Yeah, I used to rap about… I used to tell stories. I used to want to tell stories. My favorite rappers were Nas and Wu-Tang Clan. People that had interesting lyrics, interesting things to say, and not just bling bling and… you know… can I cuss? [Laughs]

Jenna: Yeah. [Laughs]

Conrad: Not just bitches and hoes and clothes and whatever. They told interesting stories that made you see the world that they were living in, and that’s the type of hip-hop that I was always most interested in. That’s the stuff that I tried to write. My world is not as interesting as theirs, but I was able to tell stories about other people, other things that I have seen, or stories from other people’s point of views, which I feel is interesting to hear.

Kendrick Lamar is one of my favorite rappers. He does the same thing every now and then where he’ll speak from the point of view of somebody that is a drug dealer or somebody that is a pimp, or somebody that’s a father or a mother, just speaking from their point of view and telling you the story that is like, “Wow, this is engaging. And it’s blowing my mind that he’s phrasing this in a way that’s really cool that makes me bob my head.”

Hip-hop is really an important thing to me in my life. Yeah, I don’t know, I hope that answered your question.

Jenna: Is music an art, a job, an outlet, a passion? How would you describe what it is you do when you’re producing album?

Conrad: When I’m producing, music is a language. It’s a translation. This is why I love production and this is why I produce the way I do is because it has a vibe, it has a feeling to it that whoever is listening to it, it can translate something, it can mean something different to whoever is listening to it.

To somebody it might mean heartache, and to somebody else it might mean love, or struggle. It just depends on who’s listening to it, what they get from it, but the point is that it has a feeling, and a vibe. You have to feel something to it. For me, when I’m making something, I’m translating whatever I’m feeling at the time. So… yeah, that’s the best way I can describe it.

When I’m picking sounds, it’s really in the moment. I’m just doing what I feel at the moment and it comes out in this weird, strange artistic way. That’s my art form. That’s my paint brush. I feel maybe painters, they might feel the same way when they’re painting something. They might feel they’re translating something that they feel in the moment. Other painters might just want to paint something pretty, but for me it’s definitely what I feel. At that moment.

Jenna:  Have you had any jobs in music where you’ve… Did you have a first job in music or has it been the job that you gave yourself in a way?

Conrad: Yeah, I gave myself the job. For sure.

For a while, I did work at a studio, where I would make music that was in the vein of another producer that was big. He is still big. Tricky Stewart, you might look him up. Some of his bigger songs are Rihanna’s Umbrella. He’s worked with everybody, Madonna, Britney Spears, I can name all these incredible people.

My job was to make music that sounded close enough to what he does so that he would have something to work from and make new compositions for artists. I did that for a while and… I tried. I tried, but the problem for me was that I couldn’t take myself out of it. I couldn’t take my sound, my influence out of the music and just do what his sound is. His sound is incredible. It’s very well-produced, it’s incredibly composed. He is a classically trained pianist. He can play. He is incredible.

But he does what he does and I do what I do. It’s two very different things. For me, it was just difficult to take my own influence out of it. I think that kept me from opportunities, because I tried, but it wasn’t natural, so… it was difficult for me. That lasted for a little while and then I think I got a little jaded because of that and also, we were working with our artist, me and my business manager at the time.

We were working with a few artists, trying to get them signed and trying to get their albums done. It just wasn’t happening. The sound at the time was very different, my sound was different than a lot of things that were going on. What’s crazy now is that the sound of today, hip-hop is similar to what I was doing back then.

So… that’s one of the reasons I keep doing what I do because if I feel it’s quality, and other people feel it’s quality, then there’s something to it and I shouldn’t give up. I shouldn’t give that up. It might just not be the right time.

Yeah, I did that for a while and like I said, I got a little jaded, I fell out of love with music a little bit… I stopped producing for little while.

I moved to New York from Atlanta. I moved to New York and I started DJing, and DJing is what got me my love back for music. Because I started to expose myself to a lot of different styles in music. It’s just like it… breathed new life into me. I started DJing and I just started to having fun with music again, and then I got back to producing, because I had new inspiration. Yeah, fast forward to now…

I’m back at it and I’m doing what I want to do, which is the most important. I’m doing what comes natural.

Jenna: It seems like it takes a lot of perseverance to stick with it in the music industry?

Conrad: Yeah. For me, I tried to do something, but what I do naturally got in the way. I genuinely feel I would do music regardless if I was getting paid by a career in it, if nobody listened to it besides me and my friends or whatever, I would still do it.

If nobody listened to it, I would still do it.

For me, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the music industry anymore. That doesn’t hold much weight with the decision to do music or not because I love it that much and I naturally do it. That’s just who I am. It’s what I do. I would do it anyway.

It does take perseverance. And anybody that’s getting into music, you should understand that you’re not going to get money. You might not get any money ever. And if you do, it might be far down the road.

My advice would be, love it. First. If you don’t love it, you won’t stick with it, you won’t continue to do it. It has to be your passion. It has to be something that you live.

That’s what it is for me.

Jenna: How do you live music everyday?

Conrad: How do I? I don’t know, it’s probably a problem for my wife, because I’m always working on music. I’m always working on something. Even if I’m not working on something, meaning composing or mixing something, or DJing or whatever, I’m searching out new music, new artists, new interesting sounds, new songs, everyday. This is everyday. I’m always listening to something that I haven’t heard before.

And if I have heard it, why do I like this so much? is this is something that I would do on the regular?

If I’m listening to something I’ll repeat, I’m listening to an album over and over, what is it about this album that I love so much? Why do I love this song? Is it the mix? Is it the guitar? Is it the chords? Is it the voice, the vocal? I don’t know what it is. That’s me everyday, as much as possible. It just… it stands out over anything that I’m doing in my day. It’s just something that I experience all the time. I’m always in it. I’m always in it.

A cool thing is that my wife loves music too, so she’s cool with it. She lets me do my thing and we have conversations about music. It’s always good to have somebody to talk to and understand your love for something, that goes a long way.

Jenna: You said before that music is a language?

Conrad: Mm-hmm.

Jenna: If music is a language and you’ve put out how many albums now?

Conrad: Four, I think.

Jenna: [Laughs] Four albums later, what do you say with your music?

Conrad: …Wow. That’s a good question. [Laughs]

Jenna: Thank you!

Conrad: What do I say? Hm.

…My music is this mixture of euphoria. And bliss. And ass bouncing. And hood shit. And lush melodies. And… no words. For me, it’s… I don’t know, maybe the word is, “balance.” Maybe the word is “balance.” Or “freedom, of expression.” Yeah.

I want the listener to translate it in their own words, in their own thoughts.

Jenna: What is… an example or maybe an instance that you’ve experienced where someone’s listened to your music and felt something really real and then told you about it and you were like, “Wow, you’ve got that from my music?” Was there any type of… I guess to make the question simpler, people are experiencing it their own way, they’re interpreting it their own way, were there any interpretations that were surprising at all or that have stuck with you over the years?

Conrad: I feel when I was producing for artists, it would be interesting to me what they would write to my music. When I would give someone a piece of music, and they would write something that spoke about their childhood or their aunt that just passed, and their aunt was like a mother, because their mother was not around…. And they would tell me that it was the music, “the music was what really brought that out of me and what took me to that place of reflection and sorrow, and joy.”

When they tell me that, that’s confirmation, affirmation maybe? That I’ve accomplished to what I set out to, is I gave someone a feeling that they were then able to translate into a story. So that the listener could be on the same page with them. That’s one thing I do miss about working with artists is that, that translation. Because you have a music fan or somebody that listens to songs that they like and they connect to. That person is understanding the artist’s, the writer’s, the writer’s translation of the composer’s music. And then it’s full circle.

That’s something I do miss. That happened a lot, where I would work with an artist and they would write something that is like, “Oh, man. This is incredible.” They are like, “Yeah. You know. It’s what you did. It’s those chords right there. They got me.” They struck a chord literally, so yeah that’s happened a few times and I miss that.

Jenna: I know that what you do is really fulfilling to you and you’re really passionate about it. Does that passion come from those moments where people read your language the way that you intended it to be read, or is it those moments where people just get it and you don’t need words? You don’t have words in your music right now. And you call it a language. So is it finding someone else that speaks that language?

Conrad: When somebody gets it, that’s just icing. On a cake. That’s not my passion. That’s not where my passion comes from. It more so comes from the fact that I found something that I love to do, that now I do naturally. I found a skill and a love for something that now I do it naturally. The passion is in the completion of a song, of a composition. At the end of the day I can say, “I love what I came up with. I love what came through me,” because I don’t know where it came from. It came through me.

When I can say that, “I love this. I love what this sounds like. I love how this came out,” that’s a passion for me.

The goal is to be able to make a living doing what I love. That’s my whole focus. If I could do that, then I’d be set. I’m good to go! Ya know what I mean? That’s my focus, but the passion is that I love doing this. I love coming out with just weird sounds that shouldn’t work together, they should not work together. And this sound is not a drum sound but I’m going to use it like a drum.

This is not a snare and this is not a kick, and this is not a guitar, but I’m going to put these weird sounds together in a way that you’re like, “Oh my God this is beautiful.”

It’s like ingredients. I don’t know how to cook, but somebody, yeah a chef, a really good chef can take some nasty flour, you’re not going to put the flour in your mouth because it’s nasty. He’s going to take some eggs, you’re not going to put raw eggs in your mouth. I just saw this somewhere, but he is not going to take yeast and whatever and feed that to you, but once he puts it all together, you’re like, “Oh my God. How did you make this cake taste so amazing?”

That’s what I love doing. I would imagine that the chef… it feels the same way.

Jenna: Who is your music for?

Conrad: That’s a good question. I don’t know who my music’s for. What do you mean? Who do I make it for, or at the end of the day, after it’s all out and I’d put it out into the world who is it for?

Jenna: You just asked yourself two questions, so you’re going to answer both of them.

Conrad: [Laughs] Wow, I don’t know. I guess it’s for me. I guess it’s for me in a weird way. I never, I don’t really think about that, but it’s… it’s like asking who do you wake up for? You know? That’s kind of how serious it is for me. I don’t really wake up for anybody, I just wake up. And I go about my day. Because that’s life. So I guess the question is, who do you live for? Who do I live for? I don’t know, I just live. You know?

I live a creative, artistic life, and… my life and my music are for anybody that can connect with what I’m doing.

Maybe I don’t know who it’s for but maybe they know that it’s for them. That’s what’s important.

Jenna: You spoke before about a time when you got a little jaded from music. Was there ever a time when you really doubted yourself and you were like, “Screw it. I’m just not going to make any more music anymore.” Doubt. Not just being jaded from a job, but, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Or “I can’t do this,” or insecurity at all.

Conrad: I think I got to the point where… I didn’t like what I was making. I didn’t like the songs. I didn’t love the stuff that I was making. I liked it and, it worked for somebody, people would like it, but I didn’t love it. That took the joy out of it for me.

There’s so many different types of music out, and there’s always been different types of music, but there’s certain things that kind of float, or not even float, are pushed to the forefront, and maybe 10 years ago this was more the case, where radio ran everything, and musically radio ran everything and told you what was popular, and MTV told you what was popular, they don’t even play really music anymore…

They told you what was popular and the majority of people that listened to music took those opinions to heart and said, “This is what’s hot.” And for a while, what was hot, I just felt like it was just so horrible. That was just garbage to me. Being a part of the music industry, I was expected to emulate the garbage. Like I said, I tried. But my heart wasn’t in it so it didn’t really work out for anybody that was involved.

So I tried to make some garbage and that didn’t work for me. Then I started to go completely left field and I got more into rock stuff and I wanted to make just something else. Something that was so far removed from what I was doing, that I felt I was being creative.

Yeah, I did some more rock stuff. I just needed to change. That was cool for a while, but it turned out that that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing either, and it wasn’t what I did naturally. Actually, that wasn’t necessarily working out. Just kind of got like, “Man, I’m not loving this right now. I think I just need to step back.”

So I stepped back and I didn’t make anything for a little while, for maybe a few months. And that’s a really long time for me. That’s a really long time for me. After I did that, it was not a good period for me.

Jenna: How did you get out of the rut?

Conrad: The only thing in my life that was good at that time was my girlfriend. She moved, she left. So that made it worse. She left and moved to New York. I supported her. She didn’t leave the relationship, she just left the city, the state.

I was in that place at the same time that she was gone, so it was just really bad. That was the time that I realized that I couldn’t live without her anymore.

She was the only thing in my life that would make me happy, and that would fulfill me regardless of anything else that’s going on, regardless of anything. Yeah. So I decided to ask her to marry me. That was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

I asked her to marry me. I wanted her to move back to Atlanta, but she didn’t do what she needed to do yet in New York. I didn’t force her, and I decided to leave Atlanta to come up to New York with her.

That’s probably the second best decision I ever made. Because once I moved to New York… it’s a completely different world here than anywhere I’ve ever lived before. New York is a country, it’s not a city, to me, in my personal experience. This is a country. If you ever lived anywhere else and came to New York, you would know that there’s nowhere like this.

Moving here not only reunited me with my wife, but gave me this whole different energy that told me, “Dude, it’s okay to be weird. It’s okay to be strange and it’s okay to express yourself however fuck you want to, because look around. You know what I mean? Look around. You can do whatever you want to. As long as you pay your rent, even if it’s late, just get it to em. You can do whatever the fuck you want to do.”

That energy just lit me up, man. Yeah, it lit me up. Then I started listening different music, I got in DJing. Like I said, that turned music back on for me and I haven’t stopped since. Yeah, that’s that.

Jenna: How has New York influenced your sound?

Conrad: Really… it didn’t directly influence the sound as much as it influenced me to be okay with doing something that’s not… expected. Or already proven to work in music. That was the influence that New York gave me, was to say, “Man, if you want to try something, try it. Go with it. As long as you love it, that’s what’s important. And if you love it, somebody else is going to love it.” You know? It might not be everybody or you might not have a huge, “fan base,” that a record label might want you to have, but… the people that really enjoy what you do, they’re going to fuck with you, hard.

I know that from experience because of the music that I love. It’s, “niche,” maybe, but there’s hundreds of thousands of people that love it and enjoy it. So… why not? Why not do what you love? It’s about finding your audience, finding your tribe, the people that get it, the people that at least get what you do. That’s another thing about New York is that there’s all different types of people and all different interests all in this one country of New York City.

Everything is here and if there’s something that you’re into, I’ll guarantee that there’s somebody else that’s into it. That’s where New York took me. That’s what it did for me.

Jenna: What do your family and friends back at home think about you in New York and think about your music in New York?

Conrad: Most people that know me seem to think that, “Oh we always knew you’re going to end up in New York at some point.” It makes sense. It fits. Because I’ve always just been the oddball. You know? What they think about my music, I think… honestly, I’m not sure. I think a lot of people maybe don’t get what I do, but they know that I’m passionate about it. They might think that I’m good at it, even if they don’t listen or really understand what it is I’m doing.

A lot of people in general don’t understand what it is that I do or what a DJ does or what a producer does. These things are the Wizard of Oz. There’s some dude behind the curtain and they don’t know what he’s doing, but they like the fucking green lights.

I think maybe that’s a barrier that… people are proud, my family’s proud that they’ve seen some of my accomplishments. My friends, they congratulate me on the things that I’ve done, but they probably don’t understand fully what it is that I do.

All I want people to do is just listen to the music. If you listen to one song, then you could probably say, “Okay, now I get it.” You compose music, but it’s like “I’m listening to hip-hop without the words” or “I’m listening to electronic music, or I’m listening to EDM, I don’t know what I’m listening to but I like it beats.” It doesn’t really have to be anymore difficult than that. I make music that I love and I hope that you love it too. That’s really it.

And when I go out and I perform, I perform mostly my own stuff. Since I learned how to DJ, I can transition between my stuff and other stuff that is similar or in the same vein so that if you’re familiar with this guy over here, you don’t know me, you could say, “Oh, okay… this is like that. Okay, cool. Now I get it,” or if you like my stuff but you don’t know this other song that I’m playing, I’ve now exposed you to something new that you could fall in love with.

I’m giving you something that you didn’t know that you wanted, and that’s my gift. To you. And that’s what I enjoy doing.

That went somewhere else I think, but yeah.

Jenna: You do this for you. And you spend a lot of time making music at home or in your studio…

Conrad: Mm-hmm.

Jenna: You also spend a lot of time performing in front of a lot of people.

Conrad: Yeah.

Jenna: How do you balance that transition? How do you feel that out, because in one instance you’re playing for yourself and you’re creating these melodies for yourself. And in another one, you’re watching who’s around you and feeling their energy, and then putting that into your music.

Conrad: Yeah, that’s where the DJing comes in. The DJ, their job is to feed off of the crowd. Their job is to give the people what they want. The way that they do that is to study the people’s body language, their faces, to make sure that they’re enjoying themselves, and if they’re not, they have to change the energy of the music, the energy in the room.

That’s what a DJ does. That’s the short and sweet. A lot of DJs will be mad because I didn’t say a lot, I didn’t say enough. That’s a short version.

When it comes to my performance, I incorporate that understanding with something that I’ve already created away from the people, away from the crowd, in my own space, something that I feel I love so they might like it too. When I go and I perform in front of people, I give them some of what that they want and I introduce them to something that …I give them a little bit more of what they want and then introduce them to something more or something else new.

It’s a give and take really, the performance. Otherwise, I would just be doing DJ set, which is highly enjoyable where I still do the same thing. I’ll play what the crowd is feeling at the moment and then introduce them to something that’s little weird and little off, but it still feels good and then I go back to giving them what they want to dance to. Just the ratio is different when I’m performing my own stuff.

I guess that’s it, because you don’t know how people are going to respond to your original music that they’ve never heard before. I just balance it out and to give them something what they want and something what I want them to have. Hopefully they like it.

Jenna: Who do you look up to? Have you had any mentors that have really helped you along the way or anyone maybe that you didn’t know personally but you saw what they were doing and it gave you inspiration, or hope, or knowledge to bring you forward?

Conrad: Somebody that I’ve look up to is a producer. He passed a few years ago, J Dilla or J.D. He’s a hip-hop producer. He’s known in hip-hop to be one of the best hip-hop producers of all time. He was the first producer to expose me to the fact that you can have hip-hop beats without words and people will really enjoy it. I did and a lot of other people did too.

He was the first person that made me realize that and whenever I see something like that, it gives me the energy to say, “Okay, if he could do it then I can do it too.” Or “If anybody can do this, I can do it.” When EDM started to really blow up a few years back, I started listening to Deadmau5 and Kaskade through my wife. She loved that stuff.

But I was stuck in the, “Okay, I’m a producer so I’m supposed to make beats for artists.” That’s what you’re suppose to do. That’s all you can do. EDM was another thing that showed me, “You don’t have to do that. You can actually make music and you can go out and perform it. You could play it at the club and you can whatever, do whatever you want with this music. It doesn’t even have to have words. People will dance to it and enjoy it.”

That just changed my life. Being exposed to EDM, that’s what actually got me into DJing, because that’s like, “Okay, I’m putting the pieces together.” Okay, these guys are EDM but they’re DJs, so “yeah I need to learn how to DJ.” I have to learn how to DJ. “Okay, so if I learn how to DJ then I can be in all the clubs and then I can one day play my own stuff. And then I can only play my stuff. And people will want just that.”

Okay, shit I’ve got to do that. “I have to do that.” That’s what I’m going to do. “I want to learn how to DJ.” That was the path that I took.

My plan on top of that, after all of that was to look at Pharrell and Kanye West, Dr. Dre, whoever. All of these guys that are huge producers that people, record labels, artists, rappers, singers, song writers, everybody go to these people because of their unique sound, because they love what they do, not because they can make something that emulates something that’s hot at the time.

“No. We go to them because we love their sound and what they do. It’s unique, it’s special, only to them. Only they can do this.” So, that is the full circle for me. “I’m gonna learn how to DJ, I’m gonna go play in the clubs, I’m gonna go play my own stuff, then everyone’s going to love my stuff.” Then I want to come back around and the labels and the artists and the songwriters and everybody to come to me because “I like that sound. I want what you do.

I don’t want you to do what’s hot right now, I want you to do what you do naturally, normally, and I’m going to pay you for it. You keep doing what you’re doing. I want to give you a check. Just do what you do. I want what you do.”

That’s my focus. That’s what I want to do. Yeah.

I don’t remember what the question was… [Laughs]

Jenna: You’re good.

Conrad: but yes. [Laughs] That’s been my whole thing. It’s that circle. That circle of planning that is years in the making for me. I don’t necessarily know if anybody is going about it that way…

So. I’m going to do it.

Jenna: One of your favorite quotes is “Our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Why does that resonate with you?

Conrad: Because fear is, oh God, fear is a disability.

Fear stops people from doing anything. Fear can stop people from doing anything. In general. There is no reason to fear anything. At all. You shouldn’t fear people. You shouldn’t fear situations. You shouldn’t fear trying things. The only thing if you were to fear something, I’ve thought about this…

This is a Nelson Mandela quote, “Our greatest fear is that we’re powerful beyond measure.”

That just means that… for me, I’m afraid that I’m limitless, so… what sense does that make? You should have no fear. Why would you be afraid to have no limits? Why should you be afraid to shine as brightly as possible? That doesn’t make sense. You should not be afraid to make someone else feel that they are not as great. What you should do is make someone feel they can be great too. Through your example of shining as brightly as possible, and doing your best.

You are now an example. You’re a teacher. Teach by example. If you hold yourself back, your only example is, “Just wait, don’t do it yet. Don’t do it. Just see what happens. Wait until somebody else does something and then see what they do. Let’s see if somebody else trips and falls before you go.” That’s your example if you hold back, if you are afraid to step out and take a risk.

Our greatest fear is not that we’re inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. You should not have fear.

Do not be afraid to be great.

Jenna: What does great look like to you?

Conrad: I think greatness has nothing to do with money, financial success. I think greatness is self-confidence, fearlessness, positivity, virtues. Not financial riches.

Greatness is wanting to give to someone else, wanting to provide for someone else. Greatness is taking what you built, and sharing it. That’s the same with success. People’s definition of success I think varies and… to me it’s not about money.

It would be great if I can make living off of doing music, which means I will be getting paid to do music, but that wouldn’t make me successful. That would make me successful in a way but not overall.

I’ve had many successes. I’ve been able to perform in front of people and they didn’t walk out of the room. They enjoyed what I played. That was a success. That was an accomplishment.

I think success and greatness are one of the same. When you take a risk and you push yourself to do something that you feel is incredible and you actually go through with it, come out on the other end and say, “Wow, I can’t believe I did that,” and someone else sees that and says, “Man, that was fucking incredible. I think I’m going to try to do something that I like too…” that would be cool to me. Yeah, that’s how I feel.

Jenna:  K, I’m going to ask you a mean question.

Conrad: Uh oh.

Jenna: Favorite songs of yours…

Conrad: Hmm…

Jenna: [Laughs] If you couldn’t choose, maybe if you can’t choose favorites because you love all of them, which is that you were saying earlier, what are some that speak to you hardcore right now or some that you know, every album you’re like, “That song just is from that time and that place and that feeling that I had.”

Conrad: I feel like… Yeah, it’s a tough question. I feel my song called, “H.E.R Tattoo,” is one of the songs that just… it hits me. It’s the guitar, it’s just I found a sample and I chopped it up and I put echoes on it and all this kind of stuff. The guitars are there strumming, picking this chord progression. You have these makeshift percussion that are around it, but the percussion has a, what’s the word, I don’t know what the word is, it’s just inorganic sound.

It might just sound I don’t know, you might be hitting a tin door or something like that, the side of a car door, something like would be a part of the percussion in the song.

The combination of the guitars, the chords, and the makeshift percussion, you feel it in your soul. At least I do and that’s why that one always stands out to me.

Also, at that time, I was learning more about how to manipulate the sounds in my programs that I use and how to manipulate them and morph them into something that’s unheard before maybe. And it’s the combination of those things that gives you that feeling in your gut. It’s like, “Oh man, this is really deep. I feel this inside. I feel it. Yeah, H.E.R. Tattoo is probably one of the stand outs for me.

It’s a good question. I like that question. You said you’re going to ask me something mean.

Jenna: Yeah, because you said you love all of them, right? It’s asking someone to like…

Conrad: [Laughs] …Pick one of their kids.

Jenna: Yeah, because you love each in its own way, right? Even if you have a song that’s like…

Conrad: Yeah, they got different vibes. If you ask me that a certain time in the day, it’s going to be one over the other. Sometimes you want to have that high energy like, “I want to bounce around and dance and get crazy.” Then I would probably say, “Gold grilled salmon.” It just got that bass and it’s got this wonky synth in it. It just makes me bounce. It makes me feel good. You know?

I love it. I can’t wait for you to hear the new stuff. It’s crazy. I’m excited. I’m so excited. The new EP is going to be released from a label in UK called, “The Playground.”

This will be the first project that I am putting out with a label other than myself. Somebody else to do the leg work, to do all the artwork, and the promotion and the distribution, and everything. It will be nice to hand it over.

So yeah, I was able to focus more on just being creative and perfecting things and I actually pulled in a guitarist, somebody that play with in a band called Cloud Fighter.

If you want to check our Cloud Fighter “Bloom,” that’s our song. That’s our first single. Russ Flynn plays guitar on one of my new songs. The song is called, “If You Are Here, I’d Be Home Now.” You’ll get it when you hear it. It’s… dope. If I should say so myself, I love it. Yeah.

Jenna: What do you want to be able to say about your music when all is said and done?

Conrad: “I did it. I did it. I did what I wanted to. I did what I wanted to do. I made what I wanted to make. And you know what? Somebody actually liked it. Somebody paid me. Somebody paid me! To play my music! Can you fucking believe that? Somebody paid me to play my shit. I couldn’t believe that. When it’s all said and done, I want to just be like, “I took all these risks, I spent all my money. And I invested in myself in order to do what I loved. And I did it. And somebody liked it. Somebody liked what I did.”

It’s simple, but that means the world to me. Because you put yourself out there. That’s the risk, you putting yourself out there, not knowing what people are going to think or how they’re going to feel or what they’re going to say. That’s the fear that you have to get over. That’s the fear that everybody has to get over, not knowing what people are going to think of you or say about you and get to the point where you say, “I don’t really give a shit. This is what I love.”

When you do that and somebody else really enjoys what you do, that’s life changing. That’s life changing. Yeah… I guess I said it.

Jenna: Is it life changing because you give it to someone else? You’re not just keeping it for yourself, but it’s life changing in that you got to the point where you shared it and someone else gained something from it?

Conrad: … It’s so… it’s difficult to put it in words. Maybe it’s spiritual. Maybe it’s spiritual. Just that there is something inside of me, something that came through me that I didn’t completely understand, that I put out into the world, disregarding the fear of what somebody else is going to think of me. Whatever that thing was that was inside of me or came through me, turned out to be fucking amazing. Maybe that’s what it is, it’s spiritual. That’s the best way I could put it.

I feel when I produce, when I make music, it’s a meditation… I’m somewhere else. If you were ever around me when I’m producing, I’m only partly in the room. The rest of me is somewhere else. It’s just like the spirit of the music, whatever, I don’t know, ancestors, God, whatever you believe in. It’s coming through and I’m allowing it to happen and I think that’s another reason why I can love my own music, because I feel like it’s not all me. It just came through, and I helped translate it and… it’s beautiful. So yeah, maybe it’s just spiritual and maybe that’s why I just feel so connected to it.

Jenna: …What date does your new album come out?

Conrad: [Laughs] That’s a good question. I don’t have a date yet. I just finished it tonight actually.

Jenna: Really?!

Conrad: I just finished mastering it. Yeah.

________

Thanks for listening to Notes on Doing episode 016 with Conrad Clifton.

Check out new album “If I were me,” on Spotify, iTunes, SoundCloud, or ConradClifton.com. I honestly think its the best music I’ve ever heard.

Also, guess what? Conrad composed that Notes on Doing intro and outro that music you hear with each episode. 😀

And finally, subscribe to Notes on Doing to hear who’s next (or to binge on our thirteen other episodes). Episodes are released weekly, every Monday, on iTunes.

Until next time! In the meantime, always do.