How to Produce Like Kanye West

Kayne West performs at KROQ's Almost Acoustic Xmas at the Gibson Amphitheatre on December 14, 2008 in Universal City, California. Photo: Karl Walter/Getty Images

Hive Five: Our daily listicle of musical musings

“I’ve been working with Kanye West for about nine years now, since before he was a signed artist,” says Ken Lewis, a Grammy winning super studio wiz. Having recently launched an online engineering school, along with helping to mix, produce and arrange mega-hit records by Eminem, Lana De Rey and 50 Cent, we prompted Lewis to reveal all about how Kanye gets down behind the boards. Here’s five suggestions.

1. Never Stop Rhymin’

The first time I was directly in the studio with Kanye, I was creating music for a song he was producing for Memphis Bleek and he was sitting on the back couch with a couple of his friends and he was just rhyming non-stop for hours. I had no idea he had any aspirations to be an artist — I just thought he was a producer — and I was listening to what he rapped and thought, “This guy’s going to sell ten million records or ten records.” And then several of the lines I heard him spit that night ended up being on The College Dropout.

2. Keep It Creative, Not Technical

Kanye is not really technical. He’s more of the creative force behind the music. When recording, it’s his vision and his ideas and his guidance and general direction and then usually we handle most of the technical stuff on how to get there. He’s known for his ego, but he can be very smart and humble with his choices about who to bring in to help out.

3. Study Your Chops

In the studio, he doesn’t do anything I haven’t seen other guys do, but the way he chops up samples is really brilliant. His sense of musicality while he’s doing it is far and beyond most other urban producers by a long shot.

4. Embrace the Vibe of the Day

There’s a lot to Kanye’s personality in the studio. I’ve seen him many times where he’s supper focused and really concentrating hard on getting his lyrics right, and then other times there’s 25 people in the room and he’s rhyming non-stop to the beat just to try and entertain everyone. And I’ve definitely seen the sessions get a little wild sometimes…

5. Be a Perfectionist

Kanye knows exactly how he wants every part of the record to be, and he’ll often keep working on tracks when other producers would have been happy with them a long time ago. Whether it’s adding a whole horn section, like I did for him on “New Day,” or tweaking something a lot of people might not even hear, he doesn’t sign off until he thinks the song’s perfect.

For more insights into how Kanye operates in the studio, check out this clip of ‘Ye and Jon Brion:

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