The DJN Project – comprised of Ruben “Swift” Vidal & Ricardo “Rick Galactik” Wilkinson – is a duo based out of NYC & Atlanta – and their body of work is overwhelming. I’m amazed by the amount of high quality work they’ve produced, as well as the quantity: they record about four new songs every three months, and for 2011 they plan to release about two records each month.
I interviewed them via conference call (in NYC and Atlanta) and they were as pleasant and personable as they are talented.
Interview by Charles Matlock.
How did you guys get started… in House and Hip Hop?
Swift: I got started when I was 14 as a rapper [he’s now 30] and I got a chance to open up for Wu Tang Clan and then started doing street promotion for them. I then got a chance to work on the business side. When I was a rapper I wrote my own rhymes and had others do songwriting and production for me.
Do you have any plans to go back to producing Hip Hop?
Swift: Not really. Hip Hop is being pushed by sponsorship and is not as positive as we would like to see it.
I started listening to the stuff that you sent me and I got overwhelmed… there’s so much. How do you keep up such a breakneck pace and produce so much high quality music?
Rick: I’m based out of NYC and Swift is out of Atlanta and we produce whenever we get together. We bring our life experiences and our experiences traveling into our music.
Swift: I put together the basic chords and drum programming and then I send it to Rick a week or so before I go to NYC. It marinates with Rick during that week and then when we get together we crank it out. Just as we were about to get into making House Music, we created an album of 14 to 16 songs and we didn’t know what to do with it. We got with Oscar P and then put some more songs with that and then we had about 30 songs and then started dropping them. When we go back and work on songs which we had written before, we sometimes hear things that we want to add which we hadn’t even considered at first. Things just keep expanding.
How many hours a day do you commit to writing and producing?
Rick: I do most of the writing and Swift does most of the production. Swift produces about six hours a day.
I start with a melody and then start writing lyrics and I tend to go with my first instinct and stay with it. My songwriting may take from two weeks per song to writing one on the way over to the studio… it just depends.
How did you get in touch with so many superstars in the House Music industry and work on their projects?
Swift: I reached out to a bunch of folks, and at first we were ignored. But as the heavy hitters in the industry started taking us seriously they’re now coming on board and like what we are doing since we are reaching out to a younger crowd. Also, they like our consistency in coming out with quality music.
The whole point of us making this music is for it to be played today and in the future. We’re trying to make music that will stand the test of time. We’re also making music that is merging styles and I think that helps.
How did you develop your warm, soulful sound?
Swift: When I first started listening to House, KOT’s “Finally” really moved me and then we met Big Moses and DJ Spinna and we really started to use a lot of melodic sounds in our music.
You are one of the main groups producing videos along with your music projects. How did you get into the video production aspect of the game?
Swift: When I was 14 or 15 in Florida, I took TV production classes and got an internship and started winning awards on the Beta Cam. I brought these skills to House Music and then started borrowing cameras and we just started doing it. I introduced Rick to House – we were both in Orlando at the same time and his manager introduced us.
Ballpark, how long does it take you guys to finish a song project and how long does each video take to produce?
For our songs, it can take two months to make a song and a maybe a year to release including remixes. For our videos, it may take about two hours of shooting and then about 20 hours of post-production. For another artist’s videos it may take up to ten hours to shoot and about 30 hours of post-production because we work with the artist and we value their input.
Considering that the main outlet for House Music videos currently is youtube, do you see a House Music video show on one of the major networks (VH1, MTV, etc) on the horizon?
Swift: It will probably be a few more years before House Music videos get on major networks but as more people get into it and videos go viral there is more opportunity for advertising.
What do you have coming up and where do you see yourselves going in the future?
Rick: I see us working with more artists, maybe some exclusively but always coming back and doing DJN. We see ourselves as the “Outcast” of House Music.
Did you DJ before you were producing music?
Swift: No. I started DJ’ing in about September of 2010. I know chord structure and how songs should be programmed. Sometimes I can hear the bass line of one song and because of my knowledge of music, I’ll know that it will fit with the vocals of another.
When you spin, do you play stuff similar to what you make?
Swift: I spin soulful and I’ll spin anything if it works. I won’t spin a whole techno set though – I need some lyrics.
When you spin, do you play unreleased versions of your work or rough mixes of upcoming songs?
Swift: Heck yeah! I play stuff to get the crowd’s opinions and I take them into consideration.
Any final words?
Swift: We want to work with everybody and if you need a video produced, hit us up, particularly singers and artists under 25.
Rick: We can make the same product as the stuff in Billboard. We want to make the next Mariah Carey or Maxwell – we want to make the next superstar. If you have music you would like to release, send it to us, and we’ll do the marketing and promotion and we can shoot the video. Send it to Newav at firstname.lastname@example.org.