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Interview with Adam Cerda

Cerda, Adam
Hebard, Melissa
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming Obstacles; Relationships with People and Places; Then and Now; Tolerance and Respect
Adam Cerda talks about his experiences working in the music industry.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Melissa Hebard interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
AC (Adam Cerda): You're not going to hear yourself on the tape.
MH (Melissa Hebard): ( ) OK go ahead. OK Adam is now going to talk [laugh] about the music industry. Go ahead Adam.
AC: The music industry, well, you want more of the juicy, sordid details.
MH: Hold on. OK go ahead.
AC: The music industry. I had a dream once of becoming a musician, most specifically, probably a producer slash rapper-writer extraordinaire in the music business and all of my hopes and dreams were shattered once I actually got involved in the music industry. Um, specifically, I guess, more the recording aspect and dealing with the people that you have to deal with in the music industry on a day-to-day basis in that supposedly creative environment, and, um, where to begin? Let's see I started in the music industry when I was very young, um, as a DJ and--
MH: \\How old were you? \\
AC: \\My mother thought \\ how old was I? I was probably 12 or 13 years old. My, and I somehow managed to convince my, my mother and stepfather, of the time, to uh get me a couple of turn tables and started mixing songs and scratching and doing all that DJ stuff. And, uh, it was cool and it went on like that for a while. And, uh, as I continued, I got more into actually making the music that people would, I guess, rap over and from there I hooked up with a few different people that were rappers, if you will, and, and, uh, kind of developed my own interests in actually writing words and that sort a thing. And this is, I guess, after, after high school, kind of right before college, actually, while I was in college, before I went away to school, while I was still in Brooklyn. And so I was working with a few people anyway, um, went away to school and got more into it and managed to do a little business deal with a few friends of mine that enabled me to get some equipment to actually produce music on a more professional level. And, anyway, uh, anyway, went on from there, started doing a lot of stuff in college working with um one person specifically.
MH: [Laugh] You can stop it.
AC: Anyways where was I from that interruption? Was working with somebody in college and, um, a kid by the name of Phil and, uh, you know, we put a few demo tapes together and that kind a thing. And he was more active in naturally shopping and, and some, some positive feedback. But really what we were, the subject matter and content probably was a bit far into the hip-hop audience. Um, it seemed like we were more interested in kind of promoting a level of consciousness, and most other people were interested in talking shit about gang banging, you know, the whole gangster rap thing, and that got really big. So NWA and some of the other Dr. Dre, and just some other people that were kind of involved in that. So anyway, so we, uh, got some response and, and kind of adjusted things, but after, uh, after a while we kind of went our separate ways. I, uh, went off to do my thing and he went off to, to some other things, and, uh, anyway, um, to make a long story fairly short, I got married, and being married gave me a little bit of freedom as far as what I need to do to make money because my wife was working and making enough to support us. So I was able to get out into the actual music industry the recording industry and, unfortunately, one aspect of the recording industry, when you get started, a lot of times you have to do either very low-paying or non-paying internships to get into the recording studio. Specifically, I mean, if you want to work at, work at one of these places, they, they, uh, generally have a lot of free help, so, uh, you're not going to make a whole lot of money doing this and they expect you to put in a full time schedule so you really can't work another job. But at any rate, I had this, this freedom and, um, the girl had come into my life to, to go and pursue this dream, so, um, I started working at place called D&D Studios, which was known for doing, um, a lot of hip hop music, kind of stuff similar to what I was interested in and I was hoping I'd be able to make some, some connections at least, maybe do a little bit of networking there, and, uh, I met some pretty cool people, did some really kind of really interesting projects, um, but--
MH: What kinds of people?
AC: Well, let's see, people that I've met. A, a DJ by the name of Funkmaster Flex, who put out a few albums and I don't even remember what they called. The Mix, Mix Tape Volume One and Two and Three to whatever it is now, and a guy by the name of DJ Premier, who worked with, um, Gangstar, a group called Gangstar, and, uh, another guy named Jerry O'Danagar, who also worked with a guy named Jay-Z, who's pretty popular right now, um, a guy from out west named Exhibit, and, uh, basically a very a kind of a close knit group of people that did this professionally that, that really mostly came from Brooklyn and a few other areas of New York City. Anyway, the studio itself was kind a dingy, it wasn't very professional. It was really dirty and had a reputation as being such, um, kind of a grungy atmosphere, environment, but where you could do what you wanted to do and get stuff done and what have you. From there that was kind of frustrating me a little bit, going into, um, sessions every day or every night and having 15 people around me smoking fat blunts, drinking forties of Old English, and really not getting a whole lot of stuff done that was, it was, it was just depressing. And, uh, seeing people with no real creative potential getting paid to do music wasn't very encouraging or inspiring to me. So I needed to get out of that environment. Um, so I began looking around for other studios that I thought might, uh, have a higher level of professionalism. From there I went to a place called Battery Studios, which had everything that, that I was looking for. It was, uh, a very established studio and had put out a lot of, um, I guess, well known artists, and it was actually, it was affiliated with Jive Records, um, and Jive Records, I guess, at the time, had, their big act was the Backstreet Boys, and they were recording the Backstreet Boys' first American released album. So I got to work on that a little bit, um, and I actually met the whole, the whole other caliber of artists. But then, also a lot of the same, that, uh, that deal with the D&D and it was a much cleaner environment. They, they definitely had a lot of pride in, in the appearance of the studio and how well it was maintained, which was nice. It was nice to at least be working for people who seemed to care about where they were and how things were handled. And I met some interesting people there, and, um, D'Angelo was probably one of the most interesting people that I met there and just, just one of the most down to earth artists that I, I have met in the industry. Um, also a pothead, but not really so consumed with it necessarily. Sort of, it was just kind of how he worked. He did things very slowly [laugh] and I don't think that wasn't necessarily the weed that he smoked, I think he just had a style of working and that was how he did it. I also worked with The Roots while I was there and their sessions were just hectic.
MH: You didn't like them?
AC: I liked them, but, yeah, no. I like them, but they, I think, which CD does she have?
MH: Um.
AC: Things Fall Apart?
MH: I don't know. Black cover.
AC: Black cover?
MH: Black cover with white, black and white.
AC: Black and white yeah. I think I have credit on that CD actually.
MH: You do?
AC: Yeah on some of the songs yeah. If, if it's Things Fall Apart, yeah my name is in the album binding as an assistant engineering credit on the creative cut track.
MH: So what did you actually do?
AC: I helped people put their music and their vocals to tape. Basically, um, the engineer is pretty much the one that, that mans the, the mixing board and adjusts all the volume levels and equalizes the, the different instruments and sounds and separates things and adds effects to it echoes and--
MH: So do they actually change the tone of people's voice?
AC: They can change the tone of people's voice yes.
MH: Do they do it a lot?
AC: They don't do it a lot but with, with artists, um, that really can't sing very well that are very big artists that they need to have a perfect sound on the recording, they do. There was one particular woman I don't recall her name. I think her first name was Patricia, and I don't really recall her last name, but she was a French artist. They were comparing her to, the French Mariah Carey is actually what they described her as, and I, I never heard of her before being there, and haven't really heard anything of her since, but I remember they were doing an album of hers and everyday after they would do it they would give a digital tape to a different engineer who would then take it in the back room and correct her voice. Basically if she couldn't hit a note he would digitize it so that she did.
MH: Um.
AC: And they did that a lot with her specifically.
MH: Don't they do that a lot with like Britney Spears and people like that?
AC: Well with Britney Spears I think what they probably do is they, um, they've got a lot of back up singers that can sing, and they kind of blend her voice into theirs when she can't quite do it. And another, another technique that they kind a use is chorusing, where they will allow you to basically record your vocal the same, the same verse, or the same whatever, the same words, the same lyrics on a few different tracks, and they'll kind a blend it all together so that it, it almost sounds like one very full voice. They also have a lot of, uh, effects processors that they can run it through that will add harmonics that will kind of smooth out the voice. You know, echoes and stuff like that. It just kind a fills it out a little bit makes it a little easier on the ear especially if they can't sing but. Well, Battery Studios was great, but it was just, uh, it was just hectic because once if, if they actually liked you and they liked how you worked there and you got along well with the artists and the engineers and stuff like that they would work you to death. I had, had put in several weeks that were between 60 and 90 hours a week.
MH: Tiring?
AC: Yeah, I mean, it was kind a it was rough especially on a young marriage when, when you go into work at six P.M., you know, basically crossing paths on the way out as, as Kim was coming in and get to work stay at work until five A.M. come home as Kim was getting up and getting ready for work, go to sleep, she goes to work, I wake up, eat, shower and all that good stuff, and then, uh, she's coming home and I'm going out again. After doing that for a couple of weeks it's kind of like, "Damn," you know. We didn't get to spend any time with each other and just being married, and, you know, within a year or so or a year or two it was, um, Kim being unfamiliar with, with New York City and not really liking it very much. It was kind of, it's sort of, it seemed unfair to me to, um, to subject her to that, and plus, I mean, the schedule was just starting to take a toll on me as well, and you can only put in so many 80 hour weeks before you kind of break down from it.
MH: Uh-huh.
AC: Plus, I really wasn't making the kind of connections that I wanted to make. Unfortunately, um, at least like with managers and producers and, and other, I guess, industry executives or industry people and other people that really could make decisions about things, when they're in the studio working with somebody else that's what they focus on. Plus being there and watching how they dealt with other people you kind of pick on people's shadiness and, and bullshit so that they just, I mean you kind of see people for what they are when they don't have their guard up as much and under those kind a those conditions they really don't have their guard up that much they're just kind a relaxing and being themselves and it's kind of scary to see [laugh] what some people are when they're being themselves.
MH: Uh-huh.
AC: But, uh, I guess I did that for it must have been close to, um, a year and a half maybe, and then I decided not, and ended up leaving. I think, uh, Fourth of July was my last day there in 1998, maybe '99, but it was fun while it lasted, you know, it was a lot of cool experiences, got to meet a lot of interesting people, um, got exposed to what I thought I might want to do, it, and decided that I didn't really want to do it, so, I guess, uh, it was a learning experience and one I don't have any regrets about it, but it was a lot of fun and--
MH: You can stop.
AC: Yeah.
MH: Uh-huh.
AC: OK good.
MH: Thank you.