Finding his rhythm: Music Technology grad engineers a career he loves, one beat at a time
By Coriana Constanda, Marketing and Communications
Not many people can say they make a living from making music. But Adam Castillo can. One of his favourite things about his job is connecting with artists and learning their stories. He works as an audio engineer with rap, hip-hop, R&B and indie vocalists, and started his own production company, MDKNGHT Studios, in 2016 while attending the Music Technology Diploma program at Douglas College. He mostly makes music for the local Metro Vancouver scene, recently mixing and mastering three albums: Wishful Thinking (artist @fleetwoodhueyy), the Casper Project (artist @dxadpoxt) and M3 (artist @gravehearted).
“A lot of artists think that to make it in the industry you have to move to places like Toronto or Los Angeles, but I feel like there’s going to be some really good music coming out of this city within the next five or 10 years,” says Adam.
Most of the vocalists Adam works with are emerging artists who haven’t recorded any tracks professionally. He connects with them largely through recommendations, word of mouth and social media. Although he produces music to share all kinds of stories, the sad songs – the ones he and his audience can relate to – often move Adam the most.
“When I started out, it was with friends who just needed a way to get what they had in their heart into a song,” says Adam. “I was going to school at the time, so I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll help you with that.’ Sometimes people come with a heavy song about hardship or heartbreak. So it’s almost a therapy session, just through music.”
From play to passion
Adam’s parents were always singing karaoke or playing music at home when he was a kid. As he got older, he got into Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Then, one day, he decided to play a real instrument. He got an electric guitar and started learning songs by Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. He joined some bands in high school and practised for hours every day. Music wasn’t just an interest, hobby and skill for Adam, it was also a way to process and express his thoughts and emotions.
“Music has always been a means of expression for me. If I go through a tough experience and keep it bottled up, it doesn’t get resolved. Music is a creative outlet for that energy.”
After high school, Adam’s parents wanted him to become a doctor or police officer. So he stopped making music and took some college science courses, but he wasn’t enjoying them and his grades weren’t great. After a few years at college, he took a break from school to work for a while. It was at this point he discovered the Garage Band app and, as he started experimenting, he remembered how much he loved making music.
Around the same time he was getting back into music, he saw an ad for the Music Technology Diploma (MTD) at Douglas College. He considered a couple of other options for music programs, but Douglas offered one with practical application and it made the most sense financially.
“I made the decision to attend the MTD program thinking, I’ve spent all this time on things I’m not into. This time I’m going to try something I’m decent at and that interests me.”
Throughout the program, Adam took courses on music theory, production, audio engineering and recording, branding and marketing, film scoring and more.
“What I appreciated is that the instructors are also musicians,” says Adam. “They’re down to earth and genuinely helpful, they’re creative and passionate about teaching music. One of the greatest benefits of the program was making industry connections and collaborating with likeminded people, as well as getting different perspectives on the industry.”
One of Adam’s biggest challenges was the extensive coursework and projects each semester, including a final showcase at the end of the program. Although he struggled a bit at first, learning how to effectively manage his time and balance his workload helped prepare him to succeed.
Inspired by music legends
Although Adam also plays his own music, he chose a career in production because he prefers to be behind the scenes and enjoys creating the atmosphere for the artist. His musical influences include everything from Eminem and Dr. Dre, to Pink Floyd and the Coldplay, to classical music. He’s inspired by diverse genres, as well as the sounds of nature and his surroundings, his personal experiences and other people’s stories. He wants his work to evoke a wide range of emotions and take audiences on different journeys.
“I want the listener to feel like their vibe is heightened. There’s a time and place for party music, but I want to talk about real things as well. So I think the challenge is to mix both. Ideally, I want people to feel like they are in a different place for a moment. To be immersed in the story.”
Some of the artists he admires most include The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Tupac and Biggie Smalls. When it comes to his creative production process, Adam’s approach is a combination of going with the flow and efficient time management.
“If I’m feeling a certain way or if I’m experiencing an abundance of a specific energy, I try to channel it through music. In my opinion, the ‘realest’ art is created this way.”
Making dreams come true
In the future, Adam would like to open a fully equipped co-op studio to provide a recording space for artists, as well as opportunities for younger producers and audio engineers. Another dream of his is to teach in the MTD program at Douglas and work with up-and-coming talent.
When it comes to the next generation, Adam’s advice to young artists interested in entering the industry is to learn the technology and software side of the work as much as the business and marketing side, so they can streamline and promote what they make. He recommends being open to constructive criticism to improve and hone one’s skills, and reminds young artists to enjoy the process.
“Have fun, trust yourself and create what makes you feel good,” says Adam. “Don’t force creativity. If you’re not feeling it, set it aside for a bit and go recharge. At the end of the day, if you’re happy with what you’re making then you’re on the right track. Also, keep in mind that there is no end-game as an artist or musician. Even the best in the world are still improving and learning new things. So never stop growing and always strive to be better than yesterday.”