Inside the studio with an electronic music producer

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Owen Casey/Cut Lewis rapping in his home studio. Copyright 2019. Jason Armstrong

By Jason Armstrong

More like a studio than a bedroom, Owen Casey resides in a room glowing purple from vertical lighting, with an entire wall converted to a projector screen and computer setup that resembles the helm of a spaceship.  

Owen Casey’s room is equipped with high-end speakers, a hybrid preamp digital-analog converter and mixer especially designed for electronic music production and a projector which covers an entire wall with visuals Casey says enhance the creative process.

Casey is a computer science major at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire who spends his free time producing electronic music which he shares and creates with his friends. After almost a decade of experience with his craft, Casey’s consistent creative output has accumulated to a library of over 600 songs. A select few of these may someday be released to the public.  

“Since early childhood, I was fascinated with computers,” Casey said.

Casey said he discovered Garageband, his first music production program, in 2nd grade and was immediately enthralled with the world of production. Casey said the day he discovered the program he had plans to go to his friend’s house but he insisted that his friend come to him instead to help produce his first album with his new program. 

“Aside from a handful of intermittent guitar, piano and vocal lessons, I didn’t have much formal training in music theory,” Casey said.  He described himself as a “tinkerer,” in the sense that he learns best by pressing buttons and turning dials until things make sense. This is largely the process he said he used to gather the technical experience necessary to operate more advanced tools of music production.

According to Casey, during his freshman year of high school, he watched a live stream by electronic music artist Skrillex that inspired him to invest in music production. He searched for the program used by Skrillex to make his music and found Ableton. 

Casey wanted to make dubstep, a genre of electronic music known for its high energy and intricate layers of digitally-generated sounds. He said he struggled to make anything resembling a dubstep song for at least a month. Casey said the barriers of technical knowledge required to make quality dubstep music led him to make much simpler hip-hop beats for his friends to rap to as a more manageable alternative to his dubstep ambitions.

After thousands of hours of tinkering with Ableton and the occasional Youtube tutorial, Casey said he gradually became so comfortable with the program that he now identifies it as an extension of his creative self.

Casey said that knowing how to efficiently use the tools available to him through Ableton has granted him significant creative freedom to pursue the kind of music he wanted to make early on and to make the electronic dance music which is now his primary creative focus.

However, Casey said the comfort he acquired through experience with his craft has not given him any cause to stagnate creatively.  Rather, he said he is very conscious of pushing his own musical boundaries to keep things new and interesting. In that spirit, Casey said he takes caution against the limiting effect of a rigid conception of genre.

Casey said “I think it’s really important for an artist to experience different genres and influences because if  you get stuck in an echo chamber it becomes almost incestuous and there’s no variety or genetic diversity. It takes a wide breadth of influences to synthesize and create something new.” While he now considers himself capable of competently producing a decent trap song that meets the requirements of that genre with ease, Casey said he gets more satisfaction from synthesizing the influences of different genres to create experimental new sounds that challenge the listener’s expectations as well as his own.

To achieve that synthesis, Casey said he often collaborates with local musicians from a variety of backgrounds and influences.

Casey admittedly does little to promote his music professionally. He said “I’m almost defensive of my music. In a way, your music is like your child. Releasing music is something I’ve been trying to force myself to do anyway. It’s part of the process.” However, Casey has also made clear that he is avid about sharing music with his friends often to get an outside perspective and incorporate new influences.

Casey considers himself a perfectionist, which, to him, means most of his music is in a folder on his desktop rather than on Soundcloud or Clyp. Casey said he ultimately makes music for his own enjoyment and does so rather compulsively. Casey said he produces an average of a song per day, a claim to which Casey’s roommate, Riley Hoey can attest.

“The sound of Owen’s producing is loud enough to shake the walls of our house.”, Hoey said. Hoey said Casey makes up for the ruckus by putting his skills to use by serving as a DJ when they host house parties.

Casey plans to become more involved in the local scene by bringing his music into a performance setting at house shows in the near future, an aspiration which he said could benefit from his collaboration and networking with local performers.

Casey has collaborated with local musician Wyatt Johnson on several occasions, some of which got Casey out from his studio and behind a mic stand in a traditional practice space to jam with Johnson, who plays drums. Johnson said of Casey, “He’s seems really comfortable improvising on the mic. He’s always freestyling, even when we’re not playing . So I think he gets a lot of practice.”

As Casey pushes himself out of the comfort of his studio into the live music scene, he said he plans to experiment with singer/songwriter instrumentation by becoming more proficient as a guitarist and vocalist.

In terms of professional aspirations, Casey said he would ideally make a living from his music. However, he said he doesn’t want to put all his eggs in one basket or face the stress of relying primarily on his creative output for his income until he’s ready.

Casey said the pragmatic path is to finish his computer science degree and enter the workforce while pursuing music on the side until his music can reach a wider audience.

Although he said he hasn’t given himself an opportunity to gain popularity by releasing so little of his work, Casey said he has a plan to overcome the inhibiting effect of his perfectionism in order to achieve his goals in the music world. [4] He intends to use his unique sound to produce comically ironic music in the hope of viral success on Youtube, among other social media platforms.

Casey cites Lil Nas X, Joji, Dojacat, and Rich Brian as examples of artists who have had success with this strategy

In the meantime, Casey said he will continue making music for the fun of it with his friends. Whatever the future holds for Casey as a musician, it will surely begin in that studio.