If you’ve been digging for quality house records for any length of time, Davidson Ospina is a name you will have come across often. His deep funky sounds and lively keys have graced many of the best record labels and livened up countless dance floors. Davidson chatted with me for 5 Mag about his path as a producer and his history in the music business.
Tristan: You’ve said you were inspired by the NYC breakdancing scene, can you talk about that music, that time?
Davidson: It was a time of culture, man, diversity. The things that people were into were totally different, especially growing up in my neighborhood, in Queens. There were little crews that were breakdancing, listening to music. And at that time I wasn’t really producing but was definitely into the music and going out and just feeling things out. The music back then was a lot of vocals, man, a lot of great vocals, a lot of great songs. There were artists performing consistently in different clubs when you would go out. And I didn’t know even this was going out in the beginning stages, because I was a lot younger so I wasn’t able to go out. From the time that I ended up going out, you could go to a club, you see an artist, you see a face with the song. That was a big deal. It wasn’t just the DJ playing the records.
That’s what makes it so different from today. Some people know some of the faces, when they do some research and stuff like that but you don’t see a lot of PA. Radio was at a different stage in the music industry. Radio had a really big play in things in the sound that was out during that time. Everybody worked together to really promote the records.
Those times… I don’t think they’re coming back. The infrastructure of that time of the industry was very different. And it’s probably changed even prior to me coming into this world and getting things.
But for my influence, back to the question, for my influence, all that has to do with it. The industry, the way people were going out, the music.
Today, the business, it’s like little businesses. Everyone is a business. Before I felt there was a formula to make it work. You produced it, you knew who to contact or you sent things out to certain people or you had an A&R meeting in an office. You would get feedback from the A&R person. Those times are done.
You think that your records are doing great, but this is the time that we’re living now. You could do all the records and all the things, you could read all the articles and you’re in the top ten. I gotta tell you, it still doesn’t matter.
In the dance world and the way that I made a living and the way that I was able to succeed doing what I was doing, there were other people that thought highly of either your talent or you or you really had to be on the radar. And the way to be on the radar was getting your record played, sending the demo out to the people, getting the feedback. Now it’s a lot easier, it’s simplified where you can send things out to certain people. But you know that interaction with people – it was amazing, bro. That’s a big deal, face to face. Going to the meeting. Getting the feedback right on the spot. Maybe going back to the studio, changing stuff up, coming back from a meeting. I developed a lot of relationships and to this day I’m very grateful to all the things that a lot of people did for me.
And it all started because I started doing a lot of independent records and I kept on doing ’em, and doing ’em, and doing’em and doing ’em, as many as I could until I was on people’s radar. Like “Yo, what’s that record that DJ’s playing? Why is that record getting played more than the record that I’m putting down on a major label?” So those things used to work hand-in-hand because it was like okay, so he’s the ears to the street and you’ve got an independent record rocking the clubs, but his record on a major label with a lot more money isn’t. So, they would reach out like “Listen, can you kind of put that edge on some of the commercial records?” That’s how it started. And of course people that were in that field, on the A&R and the dance departments at a lot of those places were also going to clubs. So they were listening to stuff as well.
There’s no more overhead of having a record label, now things are digital. The downloads, the streaming, and people are still struggling with really trying to find the right place to try and make that money, you know what I mean? And it’s unfortunate a lot of people won’t ever be able to experience what I experienced. And there’s a lot of other producers that, as things were changing, we kind of went with the course, with the change of things.
Tristan: How did your label come about?
Davidson: The label Ospina Digital came about at the beginning stages of Traxsource. Brian Tappert, at the time, was interested in a record that I was doing. Brian said to me “Hey Davidson, let’s try to do it different. Why don’t you open up your own label man? Digitally, and put your own record out. Make your own stuff.” Because at that time, he’s like “I’m going to pay someone an advance, but I could give him the upper hand, have his own label. He’ll be able to push his own stuff and put things out.” And here we are. I got a lot of compilations put together already on the label, really good artists, really good catalog from that time.
Tristan: When did you start production and how did you get into that?
Davidson: Production has always been my heart and soul. I started producing back in the freestyle days. I was dabbling a lot even earlier on, I was messing around and trying to find my sound. Trying to learn as much as I can writing songs, putting groups together. So I would say late, like early ’90s, late ’80s, like ’87. I would say like ’90s I just started producing a lot of freestyle records, man. Not a lot of things jumped off, but I think that production came because I just felt, I wanted to contribute something musically.
My family are musicians. I started really practicing and trying to listen and listen. You know, you’re young, you have the time to do stuff and I just was committed. I was committed to learning as much as I could.
Tristan: You went from underground house to remixing pop artists. What was the journey to get there?
Davidson: I went from freestyle records into more of the house records. I did a lot of records for a lot of different labels to even really get there. To get a really good…It’s like I was just making records to get better. To get better, to get better, listen, study them, go out, listen to what they sound like. These don’t sound too good, better EQing. Just practicing the craft to get it really rocking, to the point where every DJ wanted to play it.
When I had the first Chronicles, “Strings” was the hit. “Strings” – that’s the one that really broke in the UK and kind of gave me the opportunity to start remixing a lot of big artists out there in the UK and people started really listening. But it took me a long time. Took me a long time to really get a really good sound for myself, man.
My first two records on Henry Street, The Chronicles, made me crossover. And then my first hit record was “Toma,” which was a big Latin house record, a top ten record on Billboard. So here I am, having a little diversity, I’m a little deeper, and then you have the Spanish, more Latiny stuff. I would say those two styles, that fusion between funk, deeper, more classic house and then a little more of the Latiny stuff, people started listening. I wanted to be versatile, that’s the big word. I felt like back then it was taboo to be versatile but otherwise you might pigeonhole yourself, they’re gonna think you’re too much of a pop artist, you’re going to be too underground, and it matters so much to be versatile. Because all that time, all the independent labels I was doing stuff for, the guys that were on the major label side were listening. Can you put that style on a Britney Spears or a Christina Aguilera? So it gave me the opportunity to express myself even more musically. Because now I’m incorporating two things that I’m really, really inspired to do.
Tristan: Do you have a record, or records that you’re most proud of?
Davidson: “Strings.” Christina Aguilera. Britney Spears. Those records did really well man. I mean, that whole series of Chronicles was really good. Right now I think I like what my style is now with the Jenny Mayhem. I’ve been reinventing myself, learning my sound lot more, what worked. Playing out a lot more has helped me over the years to really get a better feel of what I wanted to do. But those would be my favorites.
I would say maybe David Walker is a really big record I did also which is the tribute to good ole’ “The More I Get The More I Want” – you know, from Teddy Pendergrass, that was a very big record for me too. MJ White was a very big record for me too. “The Well Of Love,” that was a big record in South Africa. I’ve had some really good records, man, the ones I just mentioned are the ones I’m really proud of, really good records.
Tristan: How do you think New York has changed over the time that you’ve been playing here?
Davidson: The sound that I know that I love and what influenced me and all the people that were from New York, you don’t see them anymore. You don’t see any of those crews, I mean I used to go out with Hector Romero all the time to go listen to them play, like every weekend, religiously. We used to hang out, because he has a long history as well. When I started, I feel like he was my influence to know how to work a crowd, music and the technique. There was just a lot of things incorporated when I would go here and play and some of the places that were just rocking, there would be a couple of parties happening. But the sense of the community and people into the music in these places was awesome. The owners were into it. Those places are long gone now, man. They’re not around anymore.
So you have a lot of the DJs and you have a lot of people traveling and going away, finding their outlet someplace else. Me personally, everything changed for me on the scene wise – and this is going somewhere else – when I started playing in the burner community, in the Burning Man community. Where it was about all the politics, or any of the stuff, or anything that you did was irrelevant. It didn’t matter, it was like what can you give us now? How can you make us dance? That’s what it is and that’s how we’re going to keep on following you. And it’s been like that for years now.
It’s fantastic, I would play one festival, people would hear me, and people that were into the music. And it was like very little of the hustle, and who can you bring out and what could you do this, and what the club is gonna get for the bar, it’s all that bullshit was out of the water. All the ego. I just kind of kept on playing the best that I could, tried to get myself some way into getting an opportunity to show people what I was doing. More than one time, they kept on getting familiar with it and it was just constant. I could get booked to festivals and do things where I’m exposed to people that would have never ever heard of me. My history comes after the fact. They’re like “Wait, a minute. You’re a producer, too?” I’m thinking holy shit, there’s a lot of work to be done! You think that your records are doing great, but this is the time that we’re living now. You could do all the records and all the things, you could read all the articles and you’re in the top ten. I gotta tell you, it still doesn’t matter. They’re open to anything that you give them, they’re going to have a really good time.