Willie Green: The Art of Production
When we first sat down with NYC-based producer and engineer, Willie Green, he made sure to let us know he is more than “just a producer” – he is an artist. Like any artist, Willie takes pride in his work, and puts a piece of himself in everything he does. He creates, he manipulates, and he expresses his thoughts; he communicates through his music. When he has something to say, he wants you to listen.
A graduate of Berklee College Of Music in Boston, with a degree in music production and engineering, we met Willie through a mutual friend and client, PremRock. After interviewing Prem back in October about their upcoming “Kill Your Idols” tour, in which they promoted their joint effort, PremRock and Willie Green, we knew Willie Green was someone worthy of our spotlight. When we finally met Willie for coffee, he had just left the set of their latest music video, Jogger.
Willie is a man that wears many hats, and sees the value in doing so. Within a few minutes of our meeting, Willie shows us that he can seamlessly transform from artist to businessman. For him, the personae are often one in the same. It is, after all, called the music business for a reason. We decided to explore his world and see both the music and the business from the eyes of someone whose field is often overlooked as an art form: the producer.
We now turn the Spotlight On… Willie Green.
Your real name is Paul Womack. Where did Willie Green come from?
I kinda stole it. More than kinda. I got it from the movie Dolemite, that’s the villain’s name. When I first got serious, me and my homeys all had a ton of different names, and that’s the one that stuck.
Man, Warren is the illest, and probably the best person on the planet. He heard that beat on the Four Seasons – Spring beat tape, and hit me up like, “I wrote something to this, can I come through the lab?” Warren always picks my favorite beats, like this and the song Reach In that he did with Otis Clapp.
How do you determine how to price each track (free download vs. name your price vs. set price)?
I’ve given away a lot for free for a long time, I kinda feel like I paid my dues with that. Not that I won’t do it again, but I believe my work has a lot of value. Like, I gave away …Of Heroes and Villains. Now, that was my first full solo album, but that’s gotten over 50,000 downloads. If I even just sold that for $1 apiece, that’s real money. But, you definitely have to give music away in today’s marketplace. Your average fan thinks music should be totally free, so that puts up-and-coming artists in a tough position. But, like I said, I paid my dues with that, so if it’s more than a single, I’ll at least give folks the opportunity to support me financially.
It says on your Bandcamp that everything is produced under Paul Womack Media and is copyrighted. We take it you are an artist who knows how to balance the business with the music. Do you find the balance difficult or have you always thought of yourself as a businessman? What do you think is the most difficult obstacle many artists who don’t consider the business end of it face?
You definitely have to think of it as a business if you want it to be your livelihood. Whether it’s producing, mixing or live sound, audio is all I do. I don’t have a regular day job that I go to, so I have to keep my financials right. Do I enjoy it? Not really, I’d rather be creating. I think the biggest obstacle people face is alternative revenue streams. Not knowing all the various ways of getting your money is not a good look.
You were recently signed to Isolated Wax Records for an album release. What has been the biggest difference you have felt from being an indie artist compared to a signed artist? Do you prefer the one-album model? What would you say to an artist who may get a similar offer?
It’s nice to have a team supporting you. “Do-It-Yourself” doesn’t mean “Do-Everything-Yourself-Even-If-You’re-Bad-At-It.” I’m no publicist. I don’t really have any interest in dealing with distributors; I just want to make records. So it’s a nice luxury to have someone handling that side of things.
Isolated [Wax Records] is actually the third label I’ve put out releases for; I did Law & Order with Nasa for Uncommon Records, and I also have a deal with Backwoodz Studioz, who put out …Of Heroes and Villains and Dirty Jordans. Backwoodz is also putting out my album next year as well. The album I’m doing this summer is with a Czech label called Everydays.
So I obviously like one album deals haha. In today’s industry, things are more flexible than ever, so I like to find the right deal to fit my situation. The main thing to look out for is to make sure the label can provide you with what you actually need. A lot of “labels” don’t actually have a real infrastructure, and don’t actually provide anything you can’t do yourself.
You left in October to tour Europe, promoting Willie Green & PremRock under Isolated Wax Records with PremRock for one month. Tell us about that.
The “Kill Your Idols” tour was incredible. It was my first full tour, so just going on the road seeing places I’ve never been and performing for all new audiences was amazing. The most incredible part was just rocking in so many different countries and seeing these kids rap Prem’s lyrics right along with him, regardless of their native language. The worst part was easily the Paris Metro workers going on strike and making us miss our flight the morning we flew back to the States. Definitely the worst.
What did you learn about preparing for a tour of that size?
Plan things way ahead, but be flexible. You can’t over plan, know what you’re doing. But when things change, which they inevitably will, you can’t freak out in the middle of some foreign country. That’s not gonna help.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received/biggest lesson you’ve learned in this business?
This one has stood up for over a decade. My high school band teacher told me “Know what you don’t know.” It’s great to be confident in everything you can do, but if you know your limits, you’ll be even stronger.
What’s the worst criticism you’ve ever received and how did you react?
Haha, when Dirty Jordans dropped one commenter on a blog just wrote “Clown Beats.” I actually laughed out loud, and still find it hilarious. But seriously, I haven’t really had too much completely negative criticism so far, hopefully that doesn’t change. I just hate when people pigeonhole me into certain things, like I hear “Willie can’t make bangers, he only makes those down tempo joints.” I’ve got a very diverse discography with more than 100 releases over the last 10 years. Do your research.
What do you think is the best piece of advice you can give to an artist when looking for/first collaborating with a producer?
Be open. It’s very difficult to be objective about your own music. That’s what the producer is actually there for – to be another set of ears and an outside opinion, not just to give you a hot beat.
If you could work with anyone (famous/underground, dead/alive) on your next project who would it be and why?
Janelle Monae, hands down. Her and Ghostface [Killah]. On the same joint maybe. Can someone make that happen?
How can people get in touch with you?
The contact info is there, the music is there, everything.