In an exclusive interview with Day & A Dream, local producer Trakksounds drops gems about The Other Side, the business side of being a producer, and more.

Nine times out of ten, you’ll find Trakksounds posted up in a studio in Southwest Houston, trying to put together the right combination of sounds to recreate the beat he’s made in his head. The Houston-based boardman and alumnus of the Space City Beat Battle has been on some of your favorite songs and you might not even know it. “I’m From Texas” by Doughbeezy? He did that. GT Garza’s “Slab?” He did that, too.

This month – tomorrow, actually – after years of contributing to the works of others, Trakksounds will release his debut album, The Other Side. But at the end of March, Trakksounds granted Day & A Dream the opportunity to sit down with him to talk about the album, his working style, his penchant to “stay in his own lane,” and more. We discovered over the course of an hour that, just like it is with The Other Side‘s colorful yet unique artwork, so, too, is there much more to Trakksounds than meets the eye.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Like, your history, backstory, and whatnot.

“I grew up 45 minutes south of Houston in a small town called Middleton, Texas. I then spent some time in New Orleans and lived in Angleton for my high school years and I played basketball there. That’s actually when I started making beats. When I went off to college, I stopped playing basketball and focused more on my music.

I actually started working in Rapid Rick’s studio downtown. That was kind of what put my foot in the door, because that was where I learned about studio structure, how to properly run sessions and things like that. Once I got that practice and expertise under [Rick] and started getting placements and learning about branding, it was really helpful. I’d done collaborations and worked with like two or three people helping me before, but [The Other Side] is the first time where I’m really sort of doing everything on my own.”

But The Other Side isn’t your first project, right?

“It’s not my first project. That was Intervention, which was a compilation with, and then I did Intervention II. I also did Instrumental to Society with DJ Holiday. [The Other Side] is like the fourth or fifth one, but this is the first one that’s gonna have all the ‘razzle dazzle’ to it – you know, it’ll be posted on streaming sites and everywhere. There’s a few tracks where I have a co-producer as well, but this is my first major release.”

When we spoke earlier (before the interview started), you said you had already known how to engineer. Did you teach yourself how to produce or were you using programs on your own?

“Pretty much everything engineering and production-wise that I learned, I taught myself. I watched a lot of YouTube videos, you know, back in the day when YouTube was still starting to get going. I’m 26 now, but I started fiddling with beats when I was 13. Watching other people was then and is still the best way that I’ve learned. Like, asking questions is good, too, but I got the most from watching people and observing what they’re doing.

“I actually went to HCC for a little bit for music production but I was in class and they were just making a simple drum pattern – and by that time, I was 20, I’d already had like six, seven years of experience. I’m sure I might have learned more had I stuck it out in the program. But also by that time, I’d already been working with Rapid Ric and Bruce [Bang] in their studio on the Northside.

“I didn’t finish at HCC but I promised my mom I would get my degree so I enrolled in U of H. I was bartending and working in the studio with Rick while going to school. I started out in business and that was SO demanding and cutthroat, so I changed my major to Hotel Restaurant Management, because that allowed me a lot more time to produce, bartend, and still make my side money. It taught me a lot about the business side, and I wanted a fallback, because, you know, who knows what I’ll be doing 10 years from now?”

So we might get a Trakksounds hotel or restaurant in the future?

Ha, you never know.

You’ve mentioned this name a few times, but for people who might not know – who’s Rapid Ric?

He’s Chamillionaire’s DJ and Bun B’s DJ. He’s actually a staple in Houston culture and Texas culture in general. I actually met him through some slick talking producer who brought to me to [Ric’s] studio one day. I’d just gotten done making a track for Killa Kyleon that Chamillionare was on. So we chopped it up and built a good relationship, to where when he had an opening in his studio, he invited me in. Rick still DJs a lot but he lives in Austin now. He’s definitely one of the most genuine people in Houston.

What made you want to start producing? Was there any one moment or person that inspired you to, say, take it further than just beating your hands on the lunch table?

Timbaland, for sure! Timbaland and Just Blaze have always been my two favorite producers, but I used to listen to Timbaland’s stuff and be like, ‘that’s amazing.’ Like if I ever met Timbaland, I would say you’re the reason I even got started. And there’s Mike Dean, who used to work on a lot of Z-Ro’s older stuff – he’s actually from Angleton, too, little known fact.

So Angleton out here representing!

*laughs* Yeah! But for me, with music, lyrics were cool but the music intrigued me the most. Like I was 13, 14 at the time and didn’t understand the levels and layers to making beats then, but it was amazing to me.

I’m not going to make you like choose your favorite or “top” Timbaland beat, but are there any that really stick out to you?

Oh, man, “Are You That Somebody?” I usually to literally recreate that beat at school. If I picked something more random, I’d say “Ugly” by Bubba Sparxxx. Coming from Angleton, which is really a country town, hearing a country sound beat with the crazy sound, was amazing to me. I also really liked “Supa Dupa Fly (The Rain).”

It’s funny you mentioned Bubba Sparxxx because I thought he might could’ve fit in our “Crunk Bracket.”

“Ugly” definitely might have been an honorable mention. But y’all left off “Hard in the Paint!” *laughs* I really liked the idea though.

Are there any particular artists in Houston you enjoy working with?

In Houston, I work a lot with Niko and T2 the Ghetto Hippie, they’re the two people I associate with the most because we all have a similar musical vision. But I also like working with Devin (the Dude), Doeman, Kirko (Bangz), Slim (Thug). I’m a fan of Starlito, even outside of always working with him. I’m hoping Step Brothers 2 is the one that takes him and Don Trip to the next level. Kam Franklin, love working with her. Randy Rhodes, an upcoming singer out here, is pretty dope, too. I’ve worked with a couple singers, like Jack Freeman and Rich Andruws, and there are some dope up and comers as well, like Rocky Banks.  There’s a lot of really good talent out here and it’s really just a matter of trying to get it to the next level out here.

Do you think there’s a difference between artists who write their own stuff and those who don’t? Is there a way to even tell?

Sometimes you can, but if you’re a performer, you might perform it so well that nobody would notice. Drake is like that. He’s always had stuff written for him – but EVERYBODY’S had stuff written for them, for years – but he’s such a good performer. But I think you can tell in an artist’s energy. You can also tell if you’ve heard a lot of their stuff. Like, when The-Dream was first coming up, When The-Dream was first coming up, he would have these signatures in his songs where you could tell he wrote it. But most of the time with the bigger performers, it’s not always easy.

If someone was interested in becoming a producer, where would you tell them to start?

I practiced A LOT. Like I spent many hours practicing and, like I said, watching YouTube when I started out. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn stuff, too. And also don’t be afraid to try new things or experiment in your sound. Don’t let people put you in a box and make the kind of music that YOU like, not just what people want to hear. Lastly, you get as much as you put into it. If you put five, six hours every day making a bunch of beats, you’re gonna progress a lot quicker than, say, only making one beat a day. So yeah, I would say to stay consistent and be patient.

When YOU make a beat, do you usually make it for yourself, or does someone approach you to produce for them or…?

It’s case specific. Like I’ll make personal beats for specific projects. But for the most part, I make the things I like to make or that I’d enjoy listening to when I don’t have a specific goal or project in mind. Like, very rarely will I finish I track I didn’t like, because then I wouldn’t have fun doing it and that would defeat the purpose. And making the kinds of things that I like has worked well for me. Like I’ve worked with Devin, who’s a legend and his music was kind of different. And so I stick to the formula as opposed to trying to change it.

So you prefer to do your thing instead of catering to popular sounds?

It’s just less crowded in my own lane, you know? I’d rather personally be driving in a lane that doesn’t have much competition and so many people to compete with. I tend to work with specific people who have a similar vision to mine. And so I always try to find my own path and create stuff that’s unique but which listeners can still comprehend.

What would you say is your biggest song thus far? Or your breakout placement?

2Chainz’s “Riding Thru The Clouds,” is my biggest one nationally so far. It came out right around when he had just gotten signed to Def Jam and came around time of “Riding Around And Getting It,” as well. So a lot of people remember me for that song. Locally, GT Garza’s “Slab” is what people know me for, it was my first radio #1 song. Doughbeezy’s “I’m From Texas” was big and did well, as well. So “Slab” and “I’m From Texas” locally, for sure.

For a producer, this might be a little different since you provide the beat – but what’s the importance of having something on radio? Do you feel Houston radio is supportive?

Locally, I think when 93.7 came along, that definitely helped because now there was competition. And so both stations had to reach out more locally. It’s still important to get a radio song but not as much as it was, say, 7 years ago – like getting something on FM radio. Independents will sometimes land on radio but most of the people who do these days have big money backing them. It’s moreso Soundcloud, Spotify and social media getting artists noticed now. So the radio is still influential but not as important as it used to be.

Do you think that’s changed the model for the better?

I mean, it’s easier to get out music these days but it’s hard to say if it’s a good or bad thing. Like, I got my start my putting out free music. But me personally, I do think it’s better. Sometimes there’s an overload, though. Like there’s so much music being put out and there’s no way to catch up. You can’t even promote a song or put momentum into it because, a week later, you have to drop something new just to be able to keep up. So that part, I don’t like.

I agree with that. Like, to use an example, Future. I’m not anti-Future but I think the argument could be made that he saturated the game (after his 2015 run).

You really don’t have time to adjust to different music. Like, for my own part, I feel like I won’t able to give a lot of time to several things. There’s so much different media now. With the album, for example, I wanted to hold on to more (before its release), but I know that’s an old school mindset – now, it’s “more is better.”

Plus, listeners’ attention spans are shorter now. It’s a cat-and-mouse kinda game, as attention spans are shorter because everybody’s getting out music. I don’t see us ever getting out of that. So I think it’s up to artists to keep putting out the best quality of music they can and up to the fans to support (buy) from the artists who put out what they actually like. Don’t be afraid to support artists, because that’s still how some people’s livelihoods are made.

In terms of Houston, do you feel like you’re supported out here? Have there been moments you felt like you weren’t?

I think everybody will feel they don’t have the support they should at some point. It happens. I just to try focus on building my brand and continuing to push I know has worked and the support I DO get.

Now, let’s talk about The Other Side. What’s the story behind its cover art?

My friend Jason Williams did the artwork – he’s a painter and a good friend who does all my artwork. We came up with a lot of different ideas but I wanted something abstract because I feel like I’m more involved with the other side of music. Like, most people see the big stars like Drake and Justin Bieber, but my beats and productions are different than the normal.

I wanted to be different than what’s out right now. I wanted rap, I wanted funk… there’s a song on here with Doeman, GT Garza and Roosh Williams that has a live drummer and guitar, so it’s like a rap-rock hybrid. But when you look at the cover, you’re not sure what you’re looking at. There’s a bunch of different of random colors that aren’t supposed to work together but they do. It’s not the norm but it works. And that’s what I’ve done on this album.

And the album itself is how long?

It’s going to be 15 tracks. There’s one with Rizzoo Rizzoo. One with Maxo Kream and Xavier Wulf. There’s another song with Maxo and Killa Kyleon. There’s one with T2 and Dizzy Wright, a Kevin Gates and Killa Kyleon remix. Of course, there’s the Starlito and Scarface collaboration. I also have a track with two 17-year-old twins from London called The Dollies. That’s probably the most unique one since it’s like electronic hip-hop but kind of R&B ish, too. And the very last track is from an artist who passed away – it was the last song he ever recorded, and Rich Andruws sings the hook, so it was really special for me to get that on there.

How long has the album been in the making?

I’d say about a year. I’d been very slowly working on it, and it had been a few years since my last project. So once I started putting the tracks together, I felt the time was right. People had started asking for more new original music from me, and I’d had tracks that got picked up, other tracks that didn’t – I wanted to make something happen on my own.

Besides “11:15” and its TLC sample, is there any other song on the album that has a sample that sticks out?

The Maxo Kream and Xavier Wulf song samples Master P’s “Bout It.” I think that’s the last sample style track on the album, or at least the last one that’s recognizable. It’s all very musical though. I used a lot of guitars, a lot of drums, bass, and keys.

Do you play any instruments yourself?

I just play the keys and the topbox. I have a lot of friends who are classically trained musicians though, and I do a lot of electronic stuff like synths and the like. But I DO like working with guitars because that’s my favorite instrument.

You also participated in the Space City Beat Battle. Do you have any memorable experiences from that?

There was one Beat Battle in particular at South by Southwest maybe, two, three years ago, where it was Team Texas vs. Team Toronto, and that was one of the most fun things I’ve done in my life. Even thought we lost – and I don’t feel like we should’ve – it was a lot of fun and the energy in there was really exciting, people still talk about it to this day. I’ve done Beat Battles elsewhere, too, like in LA. I went to LA and got beat by Black Metaphor (he’s produced for Rick Ross) pretty bad *laughs*. I’ve won some, too, though.

I always tell people to not be lazy finding music and don’t stick to just the people who are “always in front of you” and well-known. Keep an ear open for different kinds of music.

Do you have a team or are there any people you keep around you, to keep you grounded?

I pretty much do every thing myself, honestly. Jason does my artwork, mostly, and he’s often super critical of what I do. But for the most part, pretty much everything I do, I’m a one-stop shop *laughs*. I mean for this project, now, I had to get different people to help put it out. Like a publicist, distribution, all of that. Managing everything on your own can be exhausting but it works for me. In a way, you do it better yourself.

I will say, if you find somebody you’re comfortable working with, that’s helpful. If you find people and you all share a special skill and work together, that’s awesome. I’ve seen relationships with people go great lots of times, but I’ve also seen things go sour a lot of times, as well. So I’m the type of person who keeps my hands in a lot of things and hasn’t found the right people yet, and if you’re like that, work that way. I like to handle things myself because I’ve done things with other people and it just didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. So I was just like, “you know what, I’ve got it from here.”

Lastly, I kind of want people to get an idea of what a producer does. Because I’m sure you do more than just produce all day. Tell me how much time you spend working, say, on average in a week, on beats? And what else comes with the job?

There’s so much more I do outside of making beats. Like, people probably think I sit here and make beats all day, and I do spend time on that. But I also spend like four or five hours a day sending emails, answering questions, making sure my Spotify playlist is right. I mean, to be honest, it’s damn near a 24 hour job. I do my best to make sure I take time off and spend time with family and all, so I don’t get burnt out and stay centered. That’s critical to make sure you get time to yourself, and if you work so much, it’s a blessing when you finally do.

But even in your down time, your mind is always working. Like, I’m pretty sure I was with my girlfriend when I heard “Creep” and first got the idea to flip the sample and be like, “I gotta put that on a beat.” *laughs* So it’s always going for sure.

It took a while for me to build my personal connections, so you really just gotta be patient and work with it. And lastly, there’s a whole element to branding yourself as a producer now. Because who would want to work with you or buy your beat if they’ve never heard of you, you know? There’s so many producers, good producers, that you may never have heard of simply because they don’t know how to brand themselves. Like, you look at the DJ Mustards, and the major producers, and it used to be you didn’t always know who produced a song.

Like, quick example, my girlfriend’s friend. When we would hang out, she would say she had a favorite ‘sound,’ and she was trying to explain to us what it was. And she was like, ‘every time I hear it, I go crazy,’ and she was trying to recreate the sound and I didn’t understand who she was talking about. So one day we’re hanging out and she hears a song and she’s like, ‘That’s it!’ And it turns out the whole time it was that ‘Mustard on the beat, hoe!’ tag by DJ Mustard. *laughs* But I thought to myself, that’s crazy how she knew, just off that tag alone, that the song was going to be fire.

It used to be back then, unless it was, say, Timbaland or Just Blaze, the common listener didn’t know producers, but everybody knows, you know, Metro Boomin now, everybody knows Mike WiLL (Made It). Even DJ Khaled, he’s never really ‘DJ’ed’ anything, but he built his brand and he made connections. And look at him now, he’s like a global star. So I’ve learned, as a producer, it’s just as important to manage and make your brand as much as make beats.

Cover photo credit: Jason “JDubb” Williams.