We are happy to present our recent interview with Randall Dean, a producer who has taken our ear after his previous 2 releases. With his remix of Bootleg Contraband hitting all the right Chicago House spots for us, lets find out more about this guy.

What sparked the initial flame of creativity that led you to pursue a career in music?

I’ve been in bands since I was 15 years old so the dream was in me at an early age. Growing up very modestly in a small town that was an hour’s drive through corn fields in every direction, there wasn’t much to do as a youth but get into trouble or dream big and work hard. I dabbled in both, but mostly worked hard and kept my eye on the prize.

Can you walk us through your approach to crafting a new piece of music, from the initial idea to the final product?

My workflow has been evolving a lot lately, for the most part, I usually throw a kick drum on a loop and go right into writing the bassline. The funk is important to me in anything I create because an up-front, sexy bassline is mandatory to get me and my crew moving on a dance floor. After that, I spend some time designing the drums to set a groove and then lay down some rhythm keys which I play into Ableton on a midi keyboard and then season to taste with whatever key, organ, or synth resonates with me in that moment. I used to spend days, weeks, and years writing lyrics to my live music projects and some of my earlier works in House Music because when I went to the studio to record, it was not cheap so I had to be ready to get everything down in a few takes. Ever since I built my studio and put in a vocal booth it’s completely changed the way I go from the rough draft to the finished product. Now by the time I’m done with the foundation of the music, I will have one or two lines pop into my head and then I jump in the booth and sing improvisationally off of that one line. I’ve been coming up with some of my most expressive, and personal content allowing the energy of what’s on my mind or in my heart at that moment to guide the way. It’s been very fun and rewarding. What used to take me eight weeks of tinkering, now takes me eight hours. After that, I spend about 100 hours on sound design, composing, arranging, and mixing it. Along the way, if I get an idea that’s outside of my abilities to translate, I’ll call one of my tribe to collaborate which is very rewarding. Lately, I’ve finally started meeting a few people who I work well with and that has led me to going outside of my comfort zones more and more with the confidence that comes from having some amazing people who are ready and willing to tag in on a project. The last 20 hours or so I spend listening to bits and pieces of it on repeat making small adjustments that only a few would notice, car testing, floor testing at gigs, and listening to it on a variety of low budget speakers I keep for that purpose until it’s finally ready for mastering.

Many artists in your genre have a distinctive sound. In your opinion, what sets your music apart and gives it a unique character?

Without a doubt, it is my voice and my turn of phrase. I’ve been singing for most of my life and production is only a newly discovered ability of mine borne through an extremely intense one-year personal challenge that I’m finishing up about a week after the release of this one. I’m not featured vocally on this “Only If You Mean It,” but many of my follow-up tracks this year will feature me. I’ve found that no matter how passionate I am about one of my songs, sometimes, a female vocalist is just better at getting the message across, or cutting through a very energetic mix that doesn’t cater to a baritone.

Your career as a musician is no doubt full of challenges and obstacles. Can you share some of the biggest challenges you have faced and how you overcame them?

Moving to Chicago with no local friends or support network, and aspiring to have a career in House Music while surrounded by two or three generations of people who have lived during its creation and in many cases helped foster it to become what it is, was daunting, to say the least. When I moved here, music on the internet was barely a thing. The closest thing to a DAW was Acid Pro 1, and later Fruity Loops (nothing like it is now), and nobody to teach. I was a singer with no band and no classical training in music. There was no Youtube University, and I had no mentors nor would I for over 20 years. The Chicago scene is like a family which has grown up together and been, in many cases, attacked at every turn, with insane events such as the “death of disco” nonsense that took place at Sox Field in the 80s, and laws making it impossible for large factions of the community to enjoy the music the way it was brought into this world. The dancefloors were always friendly to me, but there weren’t a lot of accomplished House Music producers, mostly still using expensive limited resources like DAT tape in very expensive studios that were willing to open their doors to a random country kid who rolled in eager and motivated, and rightfully so. My challenges pale when stacked against the adversities that most of the people I looked up to had to face to get where they were. Keeping that guarded seemed only natural to me at the time, and it took years of building relationships and working my way up the ladder until I landed my first Friday residency at a spot called Lava Lounge, (Thanks Tony Martin), that year I turned some heads and a lot of my best friendships and connections came out of that dank joint. Still, it would be another five or so years before I had anyone invite me into a studio to let me see the inner workings of what would one day be where I spent every day of my life from bell to bell. It was like being in a spaceship and I knew I had to have one. Another ten years have gone by since that day and even though the lockdown stunted much of the momentum I’d built in the decade prior, every day I wake up on this side of the dirt has me feeling lucky.

The music industry can be a complex and demanding place. How do you navigate and balance your own artistic vision with the industry’s commercial demands?

It’s about the ven diagram. Take what you love, overlay it with what the industry is looking for, and look for common ground. It’s similar to courting a potential mate. You should always be yourself because if you’re fake, and they accept you, you’ll have to be that fake person for the rest of your life to keep them and that will eventually eat you up from the inside. If I don’t make music that people want to hear, I’ll never accomplish my dreams, but if I make music that doesn’t truly resonate with me and I’m forced to play it over and over at gigs and put on a fake smile, it would take away everything that has kept me in it for so long and tarnish the things I earned with that effort. It can be hard. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been told “We’re looking for House Music but something that nobody else has done before not a carbon copy of DJ XYZ,” but when they hear my music they say, “it’s not enough like DJ XYZ and I’m not sure who we’d market it to.” This game is not for the weak-willed or thin-skinned.

Could you give us a sneak peek into any exciting projects or collaborations that you have in the works, or perhaps a dream collaboration you would love to pursue in the future?

Gladly. This year I’ll be putting out a collaboration with a man I respect a lot. Vic Lavender and I started the collab a few years ago before everything…. And just recently reconnected. He’s killing the game right now and has been super busy growing his label and his brand and he is always in the studio putting out more music than most. Look him up if you like deep house. I’m about to finish up a song with an amazing singer, GoldGrrl, from Panama that will be coming out on my friend DJ Jes’s label Fresaca later this year. I have a remix I did for a band called Bootleg Contraband coming out in a few months and very soon I have a song being released on Quantize Records (DJ Spen) with a remix by Micfreak who heads up one of Spens Imprints called Qu3. As far as dream collaborations, I’m not sure I’ve earned the right to have that dream yet, but I’m working hard and one day I will.

Looking back at all the performances and shows you’ve had so far, is there one that stands out as the most memorable or significant to you?

I can say without a doubt that closing the biggest dance music festival in Chicago, Spring Awakening Festival in 2019. I played in the Electric Beach dome sponsored by Corona (no relation) with my friend Tomcat on live trumpet. It was my birthday and closing out the whole festival with all of my friends kicking up sand (yes they set up an entire beach with air conditioning! Props to the Electric Beach crew!) was something I’ll never forget. It was a close tie to my set later that year at the Amsterdam Dance event which ended up getting me signed to an awesome label with some of my favorite producers actively putting out music on it. So amazing, but that’s a whole other long story and I fear I’ve talked your ears off already.

Creativity is a fickle thing and can sometimes be difficult to come by. How do you keep yourself motivated and inspired, especially when you find yourself facing a creative roadblock?

In all honesty, I don’t know that I’ve ever had a creative roadblock… if I tire of a song, I usually just start another one, and the next thing I know the sun is coming up again and I’ve been working all night on my new “favorite song” for the time being. My friends tell me to get out more though and a recent gig in Mexico showed me that some time away can really recharge my creative batteries in ways that I didn’t know I was lacking.

What advice would you offer to aspire musicians and producers looking to make their mark in the industry?

A lot of what I wrote above touches on it. Mostly it boils down to this. Make sure you’re enjoying every step of the process especially the music you’re making. If you’re not, and it seems to be a trend, take a step back and course correct. If you get to a point where you can’t go any further because you don’t have the aptitude for an aspect of the process like keyboard playing, social media, or promo, it’s up to you to work harder and find people who DO have that skill and find a way to bring value to them, collaborate, barter, get a second job and pay them if that’s the best arrangement you can get, but do what you can to keep the ball rolling. Be humble, be patient, and be grateful. I never really started noticing improvements in my skills as a songwriter until I cut way back on hanging out at bars and clubs all weekend. Defo support your homies and such, but being a true artist demands sacrifice and the biggest one is your time. After doing so, I found myself suddenly having the money for the tools I needed to compete at the level I was aiming for and I had brain cells left on Sunday to work for 12 hours on a song. Here’s the best advice I can give and I’ll leave it here. It’s not about who you know, it’s about how you know them. It is the relationships you build with the people that are in a position to grant you access that you should focus on. However, The people in these positions have a lot of people sucking up to them so if you want to do it right, it has to come from a place of genuine sincerity and common interest. It can’t be faked, so it’s important to try and build relationships with people you actually see a kindred spirit in, not just because you need something they have. Find a way to bring value to their life in a meaningful way and you’ll b surprised at what happens. I hope that helps.

As an artist, what do you see as the role of music in society and how do you aim to contribute to that through your work?

In my eyes, it has many roles, but the one I resonate with is to uplift people, cheer them up, make them dance, make them horny, be the soundtrack to an amazing experience, and maybe even inspire them to make some of their own.

Are there any non-musical influences or sources of inspiration that have a significant impact on your music and creative direction? Can you give us some examples?

Having logged over 4,000 hours in the studio since last February the one thing that’s really juiced me up is traveling. I love seeing new places and new cultures and exploring them.

Lastly, what can fans and followers expect from you in the near future and where do you see your music taking you in the next few years? Medium-long term goal is to start augmenting my DJ sets with live aspects such as me singing, playing some of the parts live and hopefully having some of my tribe join me up on stage.

Thanks again for your time and your support,
Randall Dean


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