Stormi Bree Is Not Your Typical Music Producer
When you think of music producers, you might picture a hip hop head in Yeezys putting in hour after hour at the studio while blunt smoke pours out of his mouth.
But it’s 2016, and as long as you have a MacBook and an insane amount of drive, you can master the art of music production too. And that’s where Stormi Bree comes in. The former pageant queen and American Idol contestant is not just making a name for herself as a musician, but also as a producer and a music video director.
She used to be in a band called Ugly, signed to Chris Brown’s label, until recently. In June, she plans to release her first solo EP or album, complete with music videos directed by her. She’s also directing about 10 music videos for Project Saro, which should also be out this summer. But right now, she’s focusing on producing music for the singer Emi.
“My job is way too fun,” she says of the project. “It’s not like a job.”
We caught up with Stormi about what it’s like to be a young female music producer in 2016. Read on for her thoughts, plus amazing photos shot by Amber Asaly.
What makes you go for a cinematic feel in your solo music?
I come from the theater world, and opera — and obviously some country stuff because I’m from Tennessee — but [writing film scores] what I want to do until I’m like 80. I wanna be sitting in a dark room tweaking on a computer and scoring until I’m like 80. That’s how my brain processes: in strings and orchestra. So it’s kind of like I’m incorporating that into the project. While I’m young, I thought I would do songs I’ve written and put them in that world.
What makes a song sound cinematic to you?
I try to follow the hero’s journey in all my songs. It has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It starts in the regular world, then there’s a call to action, and I like to take it somewhere so it has an apex. I like to take people on a journey with my songs so it’s not flat, it kind of progresses and leaves you feeling different from when the song started. I use live strings, too — the whole bit.
So it’s not just a cinematic sound — it’s also your approach to songwriting.
We had a song with the band called “Fairy Tale.” It starts with this kind of creepy, dark world, it’s really slow and ambient, and then it has a definite high point, then it takes you back to the world you’re in before. It’s like the song structure and everything work together to tell a story.
You don’t hear about many young female producers like you. Is it because they’re not out there or they just aren’t getting credit?
I think there’s more of us lately. It used to be really difficult to produce music. The technology was archaic and it was something you had to dedicate your life to — just production — because you had to learn every single instrument and everything to work on a song. And now, it’s easier. So I feel like it’s kind of a newer, easier technology now. I think there will be more [young female songwriters]. I had downtime when I was in the band to really sit and focus on the technical side of it. I really like it. I’m a technical kind of person, so I liked learning all of that. All the programs and software and everything. I’m a slight recluse, where I like to just kind of stay home and work.
Also now you can just download producing software on your MacBook, you don’t need to know a person who already has all of the stuff.
Exactly. Sometimes I work off of Logic, but when I was in a band, this guy taught me how to produce on Ableton and I got into it after that. It’s about sound engineering and design and I love that. Now I’ve gone back to Logic so it’s easier to write songs off of, it’s more linear. Logic is really easy to use. If you take a second to learn it, it’s easy to use. It’s good for a songwriter.
It’s crazy to think of how music would be different if there had always been female producers.
I’d love to hear more women in production because it’s such a technical thing and it’s such a male-driven industry that I would like to hear the quiet, soft, sweet approach that women have, but applied in the technical world. I think it would be really, really interesting. Because whereas a guy would want a track to be quote-unquote bangin’ — like really loud and epic and everything — I feel like if more women learned it, it’s so intricate, so I would love to hear what came out of their brains if they took the time to learn the technical side.
Women’s brains are so much more detail-oriented — there could be whole new genres.
I think they’re coming, but it is kind of newer that women are in the industry. There are some absolutely fabulous women producers but in a younger world. I feel like they’re coming.
Grimes really put young female producers with laptops on the map.
I love that, I respect that to the highest. I’m nerdy like that. I love to see girls that like sit in a dark room and tweak all day. I love that.
Who are some of your favorite producers?
Right now who I’m working with, Rex Cudo, I love him. He’s one of my best friends. They call me the mom of the studio and him the dad and Emi is the child. They’d probably hate for me to quote that, but he’s like, he worked on Post Malone’s “White Iverson.” Also there’s this guy Bobby Raps, who helped develop Spookie Black who I’m now newly obsesed with. He’s like a really strange kind of soul, a deep voice, a James Blake-ish voice. Bobby produces a lot of it. And I think my favorite producers are the ones that I really like to work with.
What’s it like being in the studio producing for hours on end?
The team that I work with now, we’ve gotten our dynamic worked out. We have a really silent understanding how to work now and it’s awesome. I’ll show up at what I call rapper time. I show up at like midnight, 11 p.m. or midnight, and stay until probably like 8 or 9 a.m. We see the sun come up literally every single night, it’s ridiculous. We work out of the Palisades at Rex’s house and we come into the session, kind of get a vibe first, listen to some stuff that we’ve worked on earlier in that week. If we have a writer or someone else in the studio, we’ll listen to something they’ve been working on and catch a vibe for an hour or so.
I usually try to come up with something during the day, a piano riff or a part on the piano I’ve written or a song. Rex will pull up a new session, record that, maybe record a bass line, and then I’ll go into the booth and do some vocal chops and ambient vocal parts, and then come back out and start working on the track and completely flesh it out by the end. And sometimes when Emi will be there, I honestly can say for a guaranteed fact Emi is gonna be gigantic in the future. I’ve been in the music industry for a long time and seen people come — she’s a lock. She’s gonna be fabulous.
But she’ll come in and she usually has songs written, like the words, so then she’ll go in the booth after the track is kinda done and record. And it’s really crazy to watch her. She comes out with it completely pretty much perfect. And a complete song, the melodies, everything. She’s so fast at it. When she records, we’ll choose best melodies and lay down vocals and flesh out the track. We usually have one or two done a night. Just because she’s got a rhythm.
Do you ever think of something when you’re producing for someone else in the studio and think, ‘Oh shit, maybe I should save this for myself’?
I used to be like that. I don’t wanna give my good ideas away, I could use that idea for myself. But I feel like as I work more, I thought I’d run out of good ideas. But I’m a creator so I feel like I’m never gonna truly run out of [ideas]. There’s so many different ways to put things. I’m not stingy with lyrics or melodies anymore. Our genres are different enough to where they don’t even overlap really. My songwriting is darker and more abstract than like a couple of the songs [Emi and I] have worked on. It’s pretty obvious what works for her and what works for me or what would work for Young Thug or 2 Chainz or something. It’s so different that we never really overlap. And I also like, if I have an idea that I really think is good, I think, oh, this could work better for someone. Hopefully I am an open book of never-ending ideas.
Can you tell me a little bit about your training and musical background?
I started piano at five, I played my whole life. I play by ear. I took 10 years of theory but I’m crap at theory. I also grew up in the theatre, I did my first production when I was seven. I think I did like 18 productions. My whole life I was an employee of a theater company so I split my time between that — work and school. And I was home-schooled for a little while while my dad traveled but I grew up in theater. And then when I was 18, I went to film school at New York Film Academy for acting and I did some indie films and some short films. I eventually wanna do more acting but for the moment, like in the last three months, I’ve slowed down on he acting so I can really focus on my own music and finishing it and putting it out and also production.
Before producing, how did you learn how to write a song?
I started writing songs when I was I think like seven. I did my first song, I wrote the music for it on the piano. I used to sing myself to sleep every night on the piano. I literally would play and sing myself to sleep. I wrote my first song for a dance recital in my hometown. The ballerinas danced to the song I made up and after that, seeing anyone care about what I just did — I don’t know if they did but they thought it was super cute. It was probably the worst song ever. But it got me inspired to do it. I lived in Nashville for a while and wrote some country music, too.
Acting and music seem so different because with acting you’re inhabiting someone else’s brain and with music you’re so fully yourself. How do you do both?
I feel like that’s why I kind of had to stop acting so much lately. They both take complete focus, acting does and music does. It takes complete 100% focus. You can’t halfway do both at the same time. And I started directing last year full time and for other artists, not just my own projects, actually working on music videos and content. When I started focusing on the directing side, it made it harder to [be part of] someone else’s project they’re working on rather than creating my own. It became harder to be able to be directed as opposed to directing. I think that made it harder. Music is… they both take complete focus but music is like, yeah, it takes 100%.
When writing for yourself, what do you usually write about?
One of my favorite songs was for the band DMT. I like to write in metaphors. It was about being in an alley and shooting someone and they’re already on the ground and looking at them being like, don’t go. It’s a metaphor for a relationship. You don’t know that it’s dead and you’re standing over this thing that you just killed. I like writing in metaphors because you can express emotion without it being too loaded. It can be more relatable because you can take it either way. You can take it and make your own story about it. I like to kind of give things a double meaning. It’s fun, it’s more interesting like that. And also obviously relationship stuff and the dynamic between two people and missing someone always gives you a lot of content that you can write about. I like to keep it kind of general so you can make your own story out of it. Or at least keep it abstract.
Do you have advice for girls who wanna learn how to produce?
The internet is insane now and there are YouTube tutorials on how to start any program. And I would suggest Logic just because it’s more user-friendly and it’s easier. It’s an easier program to run. Also the biggest people use Logic. In our studio, we use Logic. I would just download Logic on a MacBook and tutorial yourself.
You just have to start doing it and not be scared, right?
It just takes the want first. For me, it took frustration. It took [a feeling of], “I don’t want to work with these people anymore, no one can get the idea out of my head faster than I can if I just take the time and learn this.” It’s such a valuable thing, being able to have an idea and lay it down in that moment that you feel that, not to have it diluted with other people’s ideas and styles and doubt in your project. It really came out of just frustration for me. Now, I love it. I can’t not do it.
Photos by Amber Asaly